Suns ‘10-11 Preview
30 teams in 30 days.
by Dennis Tarwood / @tuffyr
Indulge for a moment, if you will, in a slight detour.
Jefferson Airplane rolled into Haight-Ashbury in 1965 amidst the folk rock flourishing in San Francisco, sporting a collection of young talent from all over the country more potential than skill. The band garnered attention from high-profile local scribes but didn’t truly locate its center until it found Grace Slick in late 1966. Her vibrant huskiness lent gravitas to the group as they evolved from folk music to psychedelia.
With their second album, Surrealistic Pillow, and the eventual release of “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” as singles, Jefferson Airplane sold a million albums, entrancing a nation of disaffected war babies. These radical kids from San Francisco Chroma keyed their way through their living rooms on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and captured their imaginations.
Years passed, though, with little improvement in popularity. Eventually, their long-time manager was ditched. Altamont happened. Much of the band spun off into their own groups. Those who stayed saw the end of the hippie era and nudged the band forward, even changing the name of the band to Jefferson Starship to show their evolution into a space-age polyester blend of music.
In the 1980s, those who remained with and/or returned to the band (including Slick) completed the commercial evolution of Jefferson Airplane into Starship. That blight on popular music squatted out “Sara”, “We Built This City”, and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” on an adoring public in something of a down period for Top 40 radio. It requires an utter lack of discrimination to still call Starship the same band as Jefferson Airplane, even if many of the members remained.
But enough digression. Let’s talk about the Phoenix Suns, as if we weren’t already.
As much as we might want to see Seven Seconds Or Less or even last year’s Suns in this refreshed roster, a stark appraisal suggests hair pop/rock and wretched Diane Warren songs in their near future.
The Suns proved they believed in “Miracles” last season, at least in the sense of a middle renaissance a la Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus, after the 2007 violence that left Steve Nash sprawled across a scorer’s table and the San Antonio Spurs on their way to a title. Their journey to the Western Conference Finals offered Suns fans the most thrills they’d had since the Round Mound of Rebound rolled the team to the Finals in 1993.
However, Amar’e Stoudemire’s escape to New York left a void in the middle that Robin Lopez couldn’t fill by himself even if his back proves up to the challenge of 85-95 games; the Suns’ defense and rebounding shone best with both on the floor last season. (In this tortured analogy, the 2010-2011 New York Knicks are Hot Tuna. Sorry.)
Instead, replacing Stoudemire and the outsized popularity of Lou Amundson will be a collection of forwards, each acquired at full price. Hakim Warrick will play something resembling the four in the up-tempo game that still remains in Phoenix. He will also play with Suns fans’ hearts every time he settles for that jumper he adores so.
Josh Childress will also fly high above the rim on the break but struggle in the half-court, providing all drive and no one to kick it to. You may substitute Jason Richardson’s name into the previous sentence as well. Childress, though, probably will miss time at the top of the season due to a broken finger.
The squad will struggle to get into transition with few rebounders left. Gani Lawal, the surviving second-round pick from this year’s draft, will concentrate on glasswork but also has to wade through the crowd of threes and fours to earn time. Lopez proved competent but won’t have much help.
Rounding out the Lon Babby surprise party on his first day on the job as Suns president of basketball operations was Hedo Turkoglu, formerly of several Toronto nightclubs. He will also play the four at least as much as he takes on his old three spot, leaving him muscled out on the boards and utterly overwhelmed on defense. He’ll also want to work as a point forward in an offense that has two point guards of some quality.
The two men who have a realistic chance to space the floor from the arc this season are Jared Dudley and Channing Frye. The latter will also give up significant size and scoring to his counterparts while struggling to get open. And there are at least four forwards who will play in front of Dudley, including 38-year-old Grant Hill.
(If you see Earl Clark at some point this season, please give him a hug. Dude’s gonna need it.)
Or, of course, Steve Nash could slide out onto the wing to become Steve Kerr. That’s a young Steve Kerr, of course; a post-retirement Steve Kerr career of upper management and broadcasting seems almost as much of a waste for Nash’s waning years as having him stand quietly in a corner while Hedo Turkoglu balls while Nash still sports sneakers.
Thankfully, Alvin Gentry has not been afraid to run ten deep with his team as he’ll need to do so to stay competitive. However, it’s not clear there are ten people on that roster satisfied with playing 22-28 minutes.
All of this sums up to the same gut punch fans who swayed to “Volunteers” took when they realized all of that hairspray and leather in this MTV music video was the band they used to love, recognizable only after a painful amount of squinting.
However, if you listen to “Nothing’s Going to Stop Us Now“, Grace Slick’s voice is unleashed 45 seconds into the song and that’s her shapely tones washing over you again, reminding you that’s really her under the lapels and shoulder pads.
And Steve Nash is still Steven F. Nash, even if Turkoglu will occasionally bury him 45 seconds into the song, much to everyone else’s consternation. Nash will still provide entertainment and wit and soul to a franchise looking for whatever follows Starship. (The NBA thankfully provides better avenues than county fairs.)
Indeed, a viable future does exist for this franchise. Goran Dragic will run an NBA team someday; the Suns hope it will be them. Lopez has proven to be a professional NBA center and those aren’t littering the streets, either. Dudley could act as a seventh man on a championship squad, but there’s a strong chance he turns into a protected first-round pick in January. (Jason Richardson and Grant Hill are also in contract years, speaking of possible in-season moves.)
Also, this team will fly in that glorious manner that made us want some team to love so many years ago. There will be relatively few Barbosa-esque circles around the perimeter, probing for an opening. Nearly every name on this season’s roster knows how to throw and how to accept a pass on the move.
At times, watching this team on offense will feel like a Shark Week special: stop swimming and die. Perimeter defenders that like to gamble for the steal should stretch their necks out pre-game so they don’t strain themselves looking behind them for their man.
There will be plenty to entertain Suns fans this season in that jangly pop confection fashion, but quality basketball will not always accompany them. They will hover around .500; the playoffs will fall to them only if the competition sinks backwards. In the Western Conference, that’s not likely.
(Footnote: Artistic license has been taken with the history of Jefferson Airplane. However, to be fair, most of the band members find much of their own past hazy at best.)
Previous Season Previews can be found in the archive.