After representing one half of the qualifiers in the Western Conference Finals last season, the Phoenix Suns find themselves as entrants into this year’s lottery. With eight games to go, the Suns are 5.5 games out of the eighth seed and everyone seems to be winning except the Suns, who have lost five of their last six. Where did it all go wrong? If you’re just tuning into the Suns Zoo, here is the breakdown.
1. Amar’e Stoudemire. Letting Stoudemire go for nothing was painful, a pain that was lessened by last season’s amazing playoff run but getting nothing in return but cap space set the team way back. However, it was the offseason and this move could have been overcome with the right signings, which leads us to the second thing that went wrong.
2. Hedo Turkoglu. The biggest name the Suns brought into the fold in the offseason was Turkoglu in a trade from Toronto. I’m sure when Steve Kerr left his office at the end of last season, Turkoglu’s name was nowhere to be found on his to-do list. It seems to be such a happy coincidence that one of the first announcements made by team president of basketball operations, Lon Babby, was trading for Turkoglu. Babby was Turkoglu’s longtime agent. Even though Babby says he stepped out of the picture once it became evident Turkoglu was coming to Phoenix, there’s no doubt who got that ball rolling. Speaking of Babby, enter problem number three.
3. Lon Babby. The man charged with replacing the franchise player whiffed on just about everyone in the offseason. Turkoglu was a disaster. Bringing Josh Childress made no difference. Hakim Warrick has been inconsistent at best. The only smart thing done in the offseason was the signing of Channing Frye to a new deal. Three people were tapped to provide some type of power forward by committee and they all failed miserably.
Last offseason there was a bumper crop of power forwards to choose from. Chris Bosh, Al Jefferson, Dirk Nowitzki, Carlos Boozer and Jeff Green were just a few of those guys. Kevin Love could have been had for a song but no team sent him an offer. Any of those players would have taken the offer Stoudemire turned down and filled his role admirably. Instead, Babby chose quantity over quality and the biggest name he could pull was his former client Turkoglu. Two words. EPIC FAIL. Speaking of epic fails, Babby also had a hand in problem four.
4. Jason Richardson. If Babby doesn’t bring his boy Turkoglu into Phoenix the Suns never have to trade Richardson to Orlando to compensate for his error. Richardson was the new leading scorer, the closer and the compliment to Steve Nash. Even though he was less of a big name than Stoudemire, he was established as the new number one option. Once he was traded, the Suns had no one to fill in his role and evidence of that fact can be seen in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter of almost any Suns game since the trade.
Mickael Pietrus has been lost on the court when he’s not shooting threes. Vince Carter has been a waste of space that head coach Alvin Gentry has failed to instill any sense of leadership or purpose into but that’s not his fault. Carter has been a selfish ball hawk since his days at UNC and now his career is over. He just doesn’t know it yet. Orlando knew, which is why they dumped his brittle bones into the Suns graveyard. The only good player to come out of the midseason blockbuster trade was Marcin Gortat. Gortat has been brilliant since he came over and has averaged a near double-double since coming to the Suns, putting Robin Lopez to shame. While we’re on the subject of the Sideshow Bob look-alike…
5. Robin Lopez. The Suns expected Lopez to pick up where he left off before the end of his season was cut short by a back injury. Lopez was showing great hustle, rebounding, altering shots and forming a nice tandem next to Stoudemire in the paint. This season, Lopez has disappeared. The hustle is gone. He looks like he’s running in slow motion and he has been abused by opposing centers. Since Gortat has arrived on the scene, Lopez has declined even further and it is very apparent to everyone in terms of effort who the Suns center of the future is and its not the player who has been in the system for three years. It’s the player who has been on the team for three MONTHS! Even Gentry has admitted defeat and finally installed Gortat into the starting lineup, even though Gortat has played more minutes than Lopez in almost every game since he arrived. Lopez needs to go. NOW.
In a nutshell, no legitimate post presence was brought in. The people who were signed failed to live up to their expectations. The number one option was let go in the offseason then this season’s number one option on offense had to be traded. With only Nash, no star and a bunch of role players the Suns never found their rhythm or their identity.
The Greg One lays the blame for the season on management for trying too hard to stockpile unproven talent and having no one, except Gortat, pan out. I’m not saying tank the rest of the season, but it may be time to see what Garrett Siler can do and shut down Lopez. It may also be time to let Zabian Dowdell and Aaron Brooks get thirty minutes a game and see if they’re worth keeping around for the future. At this point, the more ping pong balls you can get, the better.