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Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 at 2:32 pm  |  44 responses

Run n’ Gun No More

Closing thoughts on the official end of another Suns era.

by Todd Spehr

Without purposely trying to ooze with sentimentality, I viewed Monday night’s Suns-Knicks game as a funeral. It was a game that provided an opportunity to say good-bye—not to Mike D’Antoni, but to a period of time, to a four-season hoops version of utopia that produced an unprecedented offense ran by a unique group.

Mike D’Antoni received the warmest of receptions during intros—just pretend you saw it NBATV viewers—which was a classy gesture by fans who were, truth be told, spoiled rotten in recent years. D’Antoni and Steve Nash would commemorate their time together the only way they knew how: Score over 100 points, combine for about 60 3s, and treat the defensive end with the enthusiasm as a dentist visit. Finally, it was Nash who delivered the eulogy, busting a three in the final minute that ended the game.

Perhaps the thing I love best about the D’Antoni era in Phoenix is that each of the people involved—Nash, STAT, Marion, Diaw, Bell, Barbosa, heck, you can throw D’Antoni in there as well—will forever be defined by their time together. That’s special. Nash used to speak of “the journey” being capped by a title, and that’s where the fulfillment would draw from. Well, the Suns didn’t win a ring during their most successful period, and it didn’t end well, but really, the beauty of it all was the journey itself.

It’s too bad, because the last 10 months in Phoenix have played out like that scene in Life, where the inmates depart one by one, eventually making things feel foreign. You get the feeling that no one wanted it this way.

Boris Diaw’s parting shot was that things were no longer fun; the excitement was, like D’Antoni, long gone. Amare Stoudemire openly pined for more offensive opportunities, a gripe that would’ve been unimaginable in prior seasons. Nash, the glue that kept those amazing teams together, spoke last week about how he felt as though he was the one who’d been traded, so gutted was his once-feared squad. D’Antoni openly admitted to being unable to watch the Suns this year—not even for scouting purposes—because of his emotional investment in what he still considered “his guys.”

No one wanted it to be this way.

This was the backdrop for the Knicks visit to Phoenix. D’Antoni playing the part of tour guide, bringing his kids into a museum where special things once happened. It’s ironic, but he’s treating his Knicks with the same philosophy as his 2006 Suns: Live (and die) with the three, force mismatches at every opportunity, operate with little size, and stick to the strictest eight-man rotation.

Their opponent was a shadow of the team D’Antoni once ran. The recently departed included Diaw and Raja Bell, meaning the Suns now possess just three players from the 2006-07 rotation. Amare Pst, come to N.Y. in two years...complained of lack of touches, lack of The Man status. Nash has, deliberately or not, sent messages through the media to Terry Porter on the subject of pushing the ball. Speaking of which, Porter has all but thrown the entire 2007-08 Pistons playbook at his new team, hardly a publication that would lead to offensive inspiration. Steve Kerr has promised more defensive effort, like his darling Spurs, yet his most recent trade were in direct contradiction to that idea.

And so they played. The Knicks couldn’t convert from deep, though not through lack of trying. The Suns went for 30-plus in each of the first two quarters. Shaquille O’Neal, in Phoenix in large part because of D’Antoni, was wreaking havoc; all he needed was some pinstripes, some hair, and Penny alongside and you’d swear it was ’93. Al Harrington, D’Antoni’s new all-purpose scorer, was off but you got the feeling he was still getting 20. He didn’t let us down. Phoenix threatened to break it open, but New York hung around, hung around some more, even had a chance to get within one on a Nate Robinson three late, but couldn’t get close enough. Nash wouldn’t let them. He may not be what he once was, but he’s crafty, and he walked that tightrope of do-I-shoot-or-do-I-pass beautifully in the final two minutes. Suns 111 Knicks 103.

While the game itself was largely uneventful, it is stocked with significance. D’Antoni put to rest the demons that were oh so present when he departed. The Suns showed signs of a new identity, one that they must forge if they’re even to make the postseason.

And for a night, things felt right in Phoenix again. That vaunted offense may be gone, but its impact isn’t. Seven Seconds or Less.

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  • Ken

    I will really miss that style. Such a good combo of a coaching style and the ideal PG for it, it made everybody look good.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Just a reminder: That team was constructed with the idea that it could win an NBA championship. It was never good enough to do that.

  • http://lastknickstanding.blogspot.com Bryan

    Terry Porter is just not a good fit for these guys.

  • Drinky Crow

    co sign ryan. all this sentimental crap, for what? they didnt do anything. theyre most proud of losing 4-1 to the spurs? ha

  • http://palehour.com Pale

    Great article. Made me sad.

    Nash to play with Lebron in NY, 2010? I can see it happening. Given his age, he’ll take league minimum to play for Dantoni again.

    This is, in a way, even more depressing for Phoenix fans.

  • Sparker

    ah, bull. they came close, and could have won twice if it wasn’t for f*cking jerry stackhouse taking out joe johnson or f*cking robert horry hip-checking steve nash. i lost interest in the nba after jordan retired, came back to watch lebron and d-wade… but it was the suns that got me rooting for a team again. between what’s happened to them and the raps this year, the hoop fan in me is on suicide watch

  • Dark

    As a Knicks fan, it’s great to see D’Antoni instill confidence and see them compete every night . . . on the other hand, this style is so fundamentally flawed with its dependence on shot-making. And D’Antoni is crazy stubborn about offense first; I read that Kerr initially only wanted D’Antoni to bring in Thibodeau (the Celts defensive guru) to help on that side of the ball, but D’Antoni just refused. Then Thib joined Garnett & Co. and got himself a ring. Run&Gun is fun, but winning rings is even better.

  • Bostwik

    I miss those days. Just not the same anymore.

    I blame Donaghy.

  • Todd Spehr

    Ryan, you’re absolutely right: No championship came from that team. Should have it though? Most definitely, just tough luck, I guess. No Joe Johnson in the 2005 West Finals; no Amare in 2006 (when the Mavs took care of SA for them); and the oft-covered suspensions in 2007. So close, yet so far away.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    I’m completely surprised this wasn’t authored by Russ Bengtson.

  • NACHOveli

    die hard suns fan here. to say the avg fan here in phx were spoiled is an understatement. our window isnt closed just being held open by steve, shaq and amare’s finger tips. long live 7 seconds or less. and thanks to mike D and the rest of the crew for pumping some of that aba /1980′s substance into a stale league. even if the sternbot oesnt think so….

  • http://nothinpersonal8.blogspot.com/ nothin personal

    I honestly believe that if it wasn’t for some awful front office decisions by their stingy owner, this group would have won at least one ring. Too bad it wasn’t meant to be…

  • fatlever_is_underrated

    todd….do you think that vaunted piece of paper that doesnt allow you to sleep at night in Porter’s hand is Detroit’s half-court offensive sets?!?!?

  • http://www.azcentral.com/sports/suns/articles/2008/12/14/20081214spt-p2young.html Be A Real Fan

    I always thought trading Joe Johnson was what ruined it all. He played SG, backup PG and was the quiet tough dude next to Nash that complemented him so well. QRich brought up that this past week. If you wanna read the article I linked it to my handle.

  • Tommy Patron

    Who cares that they didn’t win a title. They were instrumental in the re-emergence of the 200 points and over NBA game.

  • EC

    I thought Steve nash was the 2x mvp that made everyone else better? Why did it matter if joe johnson and amare were out in those west finals? Or was it the fact that they shot as soon as nash passed it to get assts and pad his stats. anyone can get those numbers if you over dribble til someones open and they shoot every time. Nash is simply a product of a system that even makes duhon look good in ny. Nash’s the most overrated player by far

  • EC

    I thought Steve nash was the 2x mvp that made everyone else better? Why did it matter if joe johnson and amare were out in those west finals? Or was it the fact that they shot as soon as nash passed it to get assts and pad his stats. anyone can get those numbers if you over dribble til someones open and they shoot every time. Nash is simply a product of a system that even makes duhon look good in ny. Nash’s the most overrated player by far

  • Todd Spehr

    EC: Injuries can ruin seasons. That stuff is hard to overcome. Even Duncan couldn’t get SA by LA last year, largely because Ginobili was hurt. Injuries hurt teams, especially in the playoffs, just ask the ’87 Celtics.

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    Nice writeup. However, D’Antoni’s style isn’t unprecedented. Doug Moe, Don Nelson and several others have played the uptempo style that D’Antoni favors in other locales. (RUN TMC, those old Nuggets teams) D’Antoni just brought it back in vogue.

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    From the article linked by Be a Real Fan:
    “I was especially disappointed about Joe. I know who Joe is, and the way they tried to portray how everything came down. . . . I watched the game when he came back here when they were booing him. Anybody who knows how Joe is, they know he won’t say anything controversial. He just took it with a grain of salt and played. But anybody that knows him, knows the spin that was put on it, it was never like that.”
    “The whole season long, they told him he’s the top priority in the off-season. Then he’s not the top priority. Then they tell him to go get a new deal. They signed Raja Bell before they got him signed, so if he’s the top priority, why are any moves being made before he’s taken care of?”

    I’ve been saying this for a minute.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    The Doug Moe Nuggets were awesome. Alex English for President!

  • Todd Spehr

    Doug Moe’s offense was basically to push it, then pass-and-cut; D’Antoni’s Suns ran more sets. Yes, they both wanted to push it, but they did it, in my opinion, in different fashion.

  • Dark

    It’s amazing how many draft picks they just gave away – Rudy Fernandez, Rajon Rondo, and I think Luol Deng. Coulda had some bench.

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    Todd
    I don’t know. It’s not worth and argument, but I don’t know. I think the Suns success was predicated on their ability to spread the floor, drive and kick, or create mismatches on the pick and roll. That was the same blueprint that Nelson and Moe used to success. Now, the Suns may have had some different sets, but basic principles and overall look of the offense was similar to stuff that came before it. So, it might have been somewhat innovative, but unprecedented is a bit strong. And I love D’Antoni’s offensive system, I just think there is a little too much hype around what the Suns were doing.

  • Todd Spehr

    Yeah, I don’t want to make a big thing of this, but I would say “unprecedented” isn’t a stretch. From ’04 to ’08 the Suns as a team shot 48% FG, 40% 3s, and 77% FT’s. Think about that. They took about 1800 3s per year and shot them at 40%. The most a Moe team took was 680 3s in a season — and didn’t have the all-around percentages. I think D’Antoni’s system was often more focused on “how quick” they shot it, while failing to recognize “how well” they shot it.

  • Todd Spehr

    I mean everyone else focused on how quick, instead of how well – just to clarify.

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    Is that a function of the system, or the players? Same system in New York and I’m pretty sure they won’t be approaching those guady percentages. But, you make some interesting points.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    How much will the impact be though in a coupla years? How long will it last, I mean? Like those very good Kings teams in the early 2000s before them, sadly, these Suns’ll never be held in a really high regard… just another high octane, short-lived era that was fun while it lasted.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    Small ball is fun and all, but pretty much every NBA champion since MJ retired has played big, and was anchored by an elite pf or pivot – the sole exception being the Pistons. Like the Baron Davis Warriors era, Run TMC before it, and the Eboy-CWebb Kings, I think history will remember these Suns as just another fashionably fast-paced run and gun team that could never win a ring. Which truly is tragic.

  • Todd Spehr

    You can throw Drexler’s Blazers in there too Joel. It’s entirely possible that their impact may lose itself a little over time, but they were the subject of a great book, existed in a more media-saturated time, and unlike the teams you mentioned, were defined by a specific style of play. Will it be enough to hold up? We’ll have to wait and see…

  • Keith

    I don’t care if these Suns never won a championship. It annoys me that people talk about this being the most important thing they could have achieved but that’s wrong. They made the style of the NBA change. They made coaches who’d got all the experience in the world take a second look at what this team was doing and then struggle to contain them. Mike D’antoni IS a genius. He is the man thinking outside the box and seeing that there are more ways to win a ball game then by slowing the game down. Even if Mike wins a championship playing his brand of ball, people still won’t be happy. People don’t like change. People are stupid.

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    ALL TIME FAVOURITE ROSTER….
    SAD TO SEE IT BROKEN UP…if only they won once – that would have sufficed for so many critics and fans alike…

  • http://nba.com tealish

    Wow this bright!

  • Matt

    There’s no such thing as a Suns fan who’s spoiled rotten. We’ve suffered for decades as nothing more than a bridesmaid. No rings. 2 Finals appearances. 1 fateful coin toss. So, yeah, after 04-05 we got a little overzealous. You can’t blame us. Not if you really take the whole picture into account.

  • Anton

    They would have won if David Stern hadn’t suspended Amare in the playoffs.
    Douchebag.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    True, Todd. The Suns’ regular season success was so influential though that it spawned so many pretenders in the last few years alone… just that true, enduring success still eludes these hotrod teams.

  • Jesse G

    As a Suns fan…..please just let this go and shut up about it! lol seriously I loved D’antoni, but he has been gone for awhile and this is ALL we ever hear about in AZ. Let’s move on please

  • Todd Spehr

    Shut up? Ouch…

  • Vannshy

    somewhere Robert Horry is smiling

  • http://hoops4life.com overtime

    Thanks again Mr. Kerr

  • http://www.manutd.com Z

    COULD EVERYBODY STOP ACTING LIKE A DYNASTY HAS BEEN DISMANTLED. Thank you.

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  • jaywhy

    i miss the old Suns… but i’ll stay a loyal supporter for them… hope they win the chip this year (which IMO is long due)

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