When you look at the Phoenix Suns’ off-season, the first thing you notice is that they lost Amare Stoudemire to the New York Knicks. Obviously, losing a player like that means a complete overhaul of the Suns’ offense. Stoudemire ran countless pick and rolls with Steve Nash last season and was the only guy Alvin Gentry could call an isolation set for.
Losing Amare is huge, no doubt about it. But with Stoudemire heading West and a fellow Western Conference power forward in Carlos Boozer going to the Bulls, multiple pundits started to believe that the power was shifting from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference.
Its an easy statement to make but the fact is, despite all the hubbub in Miami (which retained its own player and brought in two fellow Eastern Conference players), the movement of two power forwards does not shift the power from one conference to another. And, more specifically, the departure of Amare has dropped Phoenix out of contention, at least if you listen to those who believe the East went from Least to Beast because of Boozer and Stoudemire.
But when you really look at what Phoenix has done this off-season, they’ve done a manageable job replacing what they had with Amare. Of course, it’d be really hard to find a better combo than the one Nash and Amare formed during their tenure in Phoenix, but as much as you can replace a player like that, Robert Sarver and his vacant GM spot have done a nice job doing so.
The player the Suns have brought in to take on most of the responsibilities that Amare had is Hedo Turkoglu. I know, I know, he’s a small forward, he was horrible last season and he parties too much.
All of those are valid counterarguments for adding Hedo, including the partying part, but if there has ever been a team that has revitalized careers, it’s the Suns. Whether its the magical medical staff or the joy of playing aside the game’s top distributor in Steve Nash, Phoenix has brought many a career back from the grave and there is no reason to believe that Hedo will not have a resurgence next season with the Suns. Plus, I hear the nightlife in Phoenix is rather somber.
Grant Hill is the latest player to have another three or so years added to the their playing career, and Shaq got the same treatment before him. Unlike those guys, Hedo does not have any serious lingering medical issues and most of his problems last season arose because he was uninterested in playing for a non contender in Toronto with some pretty poor teammates and an undefined role.
Flashing back to his time with the Magic, preferably his last two seasons there, Turkoglu thrived as the crunch time ball handler and one of the snipers Stan Van Gundy placed around Dwight Howard. In Phoenix, he won’t have to do as much ball handling, but Alvin Gentry as indicated that he would like Hedo to take some of the pressure of Steve by initiating the offense and allowing Nash to play off the ball and as a spot up shooter. Not a bad plan, considering Hedo is one of the better passing forwards you will find and Nash is the best pure shooter in the entire league.
When you flip that around, you have Nash, the game’s top passer, and Hedo, a career 38% three-point shooter, on the floor at the same time with multiple options. Whether Hedo is playing some four, which seems possible at this point, or is spotting up in the corner, Turkoglu figures to get a lot of open looks because of Nash’s playmaking abilities. And the last time Hedo got open looks (both of his final two seasons with Orlando, when Dwight kicked it out to him on the double team), we saw him score around 18 points a game while shooting close to 40% from deep.
Again, he’s not going to be Amare and there will really never be that good of a fit for that system as he was, but when a guy who has proven himself as a crunch time scorer and as a consistent three-point shooter and is willing to take half the money to come to your town, that’s a deal you can’t pass up. Especially when you have a magical medical staff to clean up all lingering issues and another magician in Steve Nash that will get the best out of everybody he plays with. Giving up Leandro Barbosa is tough but he hasn’t been the same over the past two seasons and the emergence of Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley made him expendable.
The player that will be filling Amare’s shoes only because he plays the same position is Hakim Warrick, whom the Suns also acquired this off-season. Warrick will never be mentioned in the same tier as Stoudemire when you’re ranking the game’s best power forwards. Not close. But when you consider what Amare brought to the team on the offensive end, there is actually a chance that Warrick could produce a fraction of what he did despite being not nearly as talented or experienced.
Warrick is six-foot-nine and is a monster athlete. He’s not as physically imposing as Stoudemire upon first glance but his ability to finish at the rim in undeniable, which makes him a solid candidate for the Nash pick and roll. The ability to pick and pop as frequently as Amare did may be out of the question, but Hakim has somewhat of a jumpshot and has the ability to go on a hotstreak or hit 40% of him long two point jumpers for a season. On the roll, Warrick put up 1.14 points per possession in Milwaukee last season, good enough for 35th in league. He did not have a lot of attempts in the P&R, but he did produce when he was in the game.
At the very least Warrick is an athlete and that alone is good enough for Steve Nash to work with. As long as he can set a good screen, there is little reason to believe Nash won’t get him the ball in places he can succeed from.
The Suns bench also received an a nice addition. Six-foot-eight shooting guard Josh Childress was acquired in a sign and trade with the Atlanta Hawks for a 2012 second round pick. For a former sixth overall pick, that’s not a hefty price tag. Of course, Childress didn’t play in the NBA for the past two seasons and it doesn’t sound like his time in Europe went all that well. It will take some time for him to adjust to the NBA game again but if there was ever a place to get acclimated to fast paced action, why not go to the Suns?
As with Hedo and Warrick, playing with Nash will be an obvious plus for Josh as he tries to get his feel for the game back.
Before going to Europe, Childress averaged 11.1 points per game in four seasons while shooting 52% from the field. Not bad numbers. They aren’t those of a former sixth overall pick but they aren’t bad for a player signed to play a back-up role. With Dudley, Dragic, and Channing Frye (who was re-signed this 0ff-season as well), handling the three-point barrage and keeping the Suns’ MO in tact, Childress (who is a career 36% three-point shooter) can spend his time attacking the basket and trying to draw fouls. He will obviously get some open looks from the outside but he will be best served as an attacker. At six-foot-eight, the Suns will now have another guy to throw at Kobe, which is never a bad thing.
With Warrick and Turkoglu both coming in to fill the forward spots, that likely means Grant Hill will be headed to the bench. That gives the Suns a 10-man rotation that includes these five coming off the bench: Dragic, Childress, Dudley, Hill, and Frye. That’s pretty darn good, and when you consider how good each of them fits the system there’s not a better bench in the league, if you ask me. With Nash, Jason Richardson, Turkoglu, Warrick and Robin Lopez lighting it up with a variety of scoring options, the bench will always be there to rain in three’s when they need to spark a comeback (see: almost every game from the Western Conference Finals).
The Suns may have lost Amare but the patch-up job the Suns’ management has done with this team is admirable. They took a couple of gambles but in the end, I think they’ll pay off. To be true title contenders, at least in the Western Conference, you have to match-up well with the Los Angeles Lakers, and that’s not something I would say about the Suns. In the Western Conference Finals this past season, size was their biggest disadvantage and when you lose Amare, you can’t really say you’ve helped in that regard. However, if the Lakers are taken out early in the playoffs, by a team like the Thunder, the Suns are one of the few teams I would look at to represent the West in the NBA Finals.