A Daily Babble Production
For whatever reason, Bright Side of the Sun's TexSUN just seems to bring out the worst in me.
Back when I hosted the 48th Carnival of the NBA in August at Taking it to the Rack, I linked to a beautifully written piece by TS and attempted to provide a compliment in the form of "Props, good sir." Little did I know that "sir" wouldn't be the best possible label for TexSUN, given that TS is, alas, a female. Ah, the wonders of the Internet.
Somehow, I overcame my initial bit of foolishness and ignorance to be able to move forward with some very pleasant basketball discussions with Tex. We chatted on a few occasions after the Carnival ran, mostly about our differing views on Shawn Marion, and I greatly enjoyed our interaction. It should be no surprise that she was my natural choice to be our guest voice on the Suns. Yet after a few months of not chatting with TS, somehow, I goofed again this time around. Apparently, last week's discussion with Tim MacMahon of the Dallas Morning News was still on my brain, because in my first question, I managed to ask her to give me an idea of what it's been like following the Mavericks this season. Ay caramba. Some interviewer I am.
But fortunately for me, in her infinite grace, TS managed not to simply throw her hands up in disgust and give up but instead to do what she always seems to do: provide great insight on all things Suns-related, and as a bonus, the Mavs, too. Though we're only running the Suns-relevant portion of the discussion today in advance of tonight's Suns-Celts match-up in Beantown, TexSUN's thoughts on her boys' West rivals could be making an appearance in this space sometime soon. But for now, away we go into the Valley of the Sun...
[UPDATE: The folks at Bright Side had some questions for yours truly as well. My answers can be found here.]
SW: As you're all too well aware, the national discussion around the Suns of late has centered on the acquisition of the Big Aristotle in the middle. What are your impressions of Shaq as a Sun thus far? How do you see the trade ultimately playing out?
TS: Putting aside future concerns (Shaq's long-term health and salary) for the moment, and just focusing on the here and now, I think you can sum up my feelings like this: Have you ever watched a movie that you knew was great and all your friends loved it, but for whatever reason, you just couldn't get into it yourself? I think that's how I feel about the trade right now. It's pretty obvious the Suns are a better "playoff" team with Shaq and Amare running the show than they were when everything centered around a pint-sized point guard going wild, and the Matrix was soaring high. For a lot of fans, perhaps even the majority, the Suns are even more fun to watch now that they have a real center. After years of watching the Suns get pushed around and be labeled as "soft", fans are really loving the new-found toughness that Shaq brings to the team. He's been diving into the stands, hustling for loose balls, getting the crowd fired up, and it's clear both the players and fans adore him. Unfortunately, I'm in that 1% of atypical fans that are stubborn. I find it much more satisfying to win unconventionally than to give in and conform to what everybody else does. But that's my problem, not Shaq's.
The truth is, the Suns are a better team today than they were before they made the trade. They are scoring about the same, they're individually playing better defense, and most importantly, they aren't getting beaten up on the glass anymore. They're also way less dependent on Steve Nash to create plays for everybody. That's great from the standpoint that it makes the Suns a better team, and harder to defend. Not so great if watching Steve go Houdini every night was a major reason you enjoyed watching the Suns. But this trade was about making the team better suited to win a championship, and in that respect, there's little room to deny that it does. The question is, can Shaq stay healthy for the duration of his deal, because that's where the situation could get sticky.
SW: In a similar vein regarding the Suns-Heat blockbuster, on several occasions before, you and I had discussed Shawn Marion and his somewhat enigmatic nature. While I've long leaned toward the "Shawn's a basket case" and of the spectrum -- and by the same token, you had always been a bit more supportive of him, and understandably so as he was 'your guy' -- there was never any questioning in our conversations of what this guy brought to the team on the basketball court. Which brings me to this: Was dealing the Matrix worth it for the Suns? Had his 'tude and never-ending quest for respect simply reached proportions too great for the team to successfully entertain anymore? Would his attitude have ultimately doomed their chemistry? Or did they give up and pull the trigger too quickly on dismantling a relationship that could have been preserved, at least long enough to win or contend for a title?All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog. Check him out!
TS: I wish I could tell you what really happened there, but unfortunately, I'm just a fan with no real insider access to the team. My best speculation is that Shawn still wanted to leave, and that the Suns were convinced he would opt out this summer if they didn't go ahead and grant his wish to be traded. But that's just guessing. The truth is, I really don't know what happened, other than hints I've read in the media.
I always felt that Shawn was like that guy at the office who complains incessantly about his boss, about not getting enough credit, about not getting paid enough, etc., but when it came right down to it, would be absolutely devastated if he were laid off. But maybe I was wrong, since it seems Shawn did indeed welcome the trade to (of all places) Miami. The flip side, though, is that we also hear from the media (and I heard it myself personally when I interviewed the Arizona Republic's Paul Coro a few months ago) that Shawn is a really great guy in "real life". They say he always takes time to ask reporters questions about themselves, and seems genuinely interested to hear what they have to say. Since he was one of my favorite players on the team while he was here, I'm choosing to remember him that way--and for all the times he made the game so much fun to watch.
SW: Without a doubt, this season has represented another major breakthrough for stud forward Amare Stoudemire. In fact, I wrote earlier this year about how impressive the growth of his all-around offensive game has been, and the statistics have reflected as much. But the concerns about STAT over the last couple of seasons have largely ceased to be about his offensive game. The knock on STAT has long been that for all his athleticism, he has been quite a putrid defender for most of his career. From box scores alone, it's easy to tell certain things (although certainly not the whole story) about the improvement of STAT's offensive game, even for those who don't watch the Suns all that much. The same can't really be said on the other end of the floor. How would you assess STAT's development as a defensive player over the course of this season?
TS: I think bringing Shaq on board has been huge for Amare. While I always hated reading quotes that might be construed as "whining" about his having to play out of position, he did have a point. It wasn't really fair to make him guard the Shaq's and Yao's of the league, then pound him for his inability to stop those guys. Having Shaq to take on the bigger guys has really helped Amare on both ends of the floor. The Phoenix crowd has even begun to bestow upon him the "MVP" chants that used to belong to Steve Nash. (Of course, they had a little prodding by Amare himself on that one). The main thing Amare needs to do at this point is figure out how to play defense while staying out of foul trouble. Once he does that, he really will be a serious contender for MVP.
SW: What is the biggest below-the-radar X-factor for the Suns heading into the playoffs this year?
TS: Honestly? Maybe Gordan Giricek. I was one of the few fans who was actually happy that Brent Barry snubbed the Suns in favor of returning to San Antonio. My main thought: If it was such a tough decision for the guy, then obviously he didn't really want to be a Sun (plus I was conspiracy theorist enough to suspect there was never any true intent there to begin with). On the other hand, Giricek wanted to play for the Suns, very much so it seemed, and he was someone who had a lot to prove after his last two stops ended badly. I had a good feeling about him from the get-go, and so far, he's making me proud of my prognosticative prowess.
The Suns have essentially replaced Shawn Marion with Shaq, and Marcus Banks with Giricek. Regardless of what you think of the Marion/Shaq part of that, Giricek is a no-brainer upgrade over Banks. The rotation can now go a true eight deep with Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, and Giricek all coming off the bench.
SW: The brutal honesty, ruffle-the-feathers-of-one-fan-base question coming right back at you: Amare or KG?
TS: I like Amare on offense and KG on defense, but I'll let Amare's age be the tiebreaker. I love KG, though. He was on my short list of "players I'd be willing to trade Marion for" back when that was still a viable option.
SW: More brutal honesty: Can this team win a championship as currently constructed? Could it have done so prior to the trade? Why?
TS: Before the trade? Yes, because anything can and does happen. Would it have? Probably not. The West is just too deep, and the Suns didn't seem to have that "spark" they had in previous seasons. Was it possible they might have rediscovered it just in time to make a push? Yep. But that's something we'll never know now.
I think the post-trade Suns can win it all too, but again, the West is tough. The Suns will have to figure out how to keep the Lakers from "pick-and-Pau-ing" them to death. They'll have to figure out how to keep Utah's big guys off the three-point line. They'll have to be ready to run with the Warriors in one series and slug it out with the Spurs in the next. They'll have to hope the Hornets fall victim to that old cliche about playoff experience trumping regular season dominance. Of course, you can say the same thing about any team in the conference. Nobody has an easy path this year. Not even the much-ballyhooed Lakers.
SW: Got a score prediction for tonight's game?
TS: Gotta pick my guys to win in a nail-biter. We'll say 107-105.
Thanks again to TexSUN for joining us today and for putting up with my general dopiness...as seems to be the case far too often.
Now if only she could manage to be wrong about this score prediction...go green!