Prediction: The Phoenix Suns Won’t Reach Their Goal in 2009, and Steve Kerr Will Have To Go
I know it’s only December, but it’s pretty evident to me that the Suns are not good enough to win a championship or even get out of the Western Conference. So that means the Shaquille O’Neal experiment in Phoenix won’t end up working out, and Steve Kerr will have to be let go.
Here’s what the firing letter to the Suns’ general manager would look like if I were the team’s owner.
Postmarked June 2009.
Bye-bye, Steve Kerr.
I’m sorry to see it end this way, but I have to let you go.
You meant well. You looked at the Phoenix Suns and saw a pressing need for size in the frontcourt, so you figured, “Why not add the biggest big man in the game?”
You were brave. You completely changed the dynamic of a team that had been pretty successful over the last few years because, in your heart of hearts, you didn’t think they were good enough to win a championship. And you put your job on the line.
You even made sense. You figured Shaquille O’Neal would give them the size they needed to match up with the Spurs and Lakers of the world; that the Suns would still be able to get out on the break after missed long-range shots or when Shaq was on the bench; and that Shawn Marion was expendable because Boris Diaw seemed to possess the same skill sets.
But, obviously, we learned those things weren’t true.
Boris Diaw is not Shawn Marion.
A basketball team cannot be Jekyll and Hyde – or, in this case, up-tempo and possess a grind-it-out style – at the same time.
And you can’t expect a point guard who’s been doing it one way his entire career – winning back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards because of it – to all of a sudden change his style of play.
I gave the blockbuster trade you pulled off in February 2008 one-and-a-half seasons to work, and it never did. Now, the person who made this franchise legit again – Mike D’Antoni – is gone, and so are the glory days of Nash’s career.
But you know what’s still here? A year on O’Neal’s contract, worth $20 million.
Thanks a lot.
Shaq no longer a focal point
You should’ve heard the inner rumblings within you’re locker room, because the players were right.
There is no way O’Neal, in his late 30s, can still be the focal point of an offense, but that’s what Terry Porter tried to instill as soon as he took the job. He made getting the ball down low to Shaq a top priority on this team when Amare Stoudemire was clearly the best player.
Stoudemire said he was “frustrated” because he wanted a bigger role, Nash always gave his take on wanting the team to “run” more, and D’Antoni felt it was “time to move on.”
I understand it’s hard not to pay attention to a man who’s 7-foot-1, weighs 325 pounds, wears a size 23 shoe and drives an 18-wheeler to the U-S Airways Center every night.
But you needed to understand you were doing teams a favor by constantly getting the ball down low to Shaq because he doesn’t draw as much attention anymore and can’t finish the way he used to. You also took us out of our offensive flow and, a lot of the time, put lost looks on Nash and Stoudemire’s faces.
Point guard a problem
One thing I can’t fathom is why you didn’t think adding depth to the point guard position was a priority going into the 2008-09 season.
With Nash in his mid-30s, why didn’t you think we needed somebody better to back him up than some guy named Goran Dragic?
Let me tell you this one last time: Leandro Barbosa is not a point guard. Sure he’s fast and only 6-foot-3, but he needs to play off the ball. He is incapable of running an offense, and I think we learned that this season, too.
Do you remember what happened when Nash missed the Nov. 28 game against the Heat?
We committed 19 turnovers – including five in our first 10 possessions – en route to a blowout loss against a team we should’ve beaten at home.
Speed game is gone
But, most of all, that trade took away our niche. The thing that made us special, and the one thing that made us so difficult to gameplan against – our speed.
You thought we could be two teams. You thought that, when Shaq rebounded the ball, he’d quickly look ahead so the other four Suns could get out on the break and, if the numbers weren’t there, they’d wait for the big man to get down the court and run a halfcourt set.
It’s not that easy.
Looks like we were never able to do two things great, so we couldn’t even get one phase right.
Time to go
But what can I say? You tried your best, you put it all on the line, made a very bold move that didn’t work out and, in the end, you took the blame.
I admire that.
Maybe the timing just wasn’t right. The Western Conference was just too good, O’Neal, Nash and Hill were just too old, and Porter was just not ready to acquire a team like this and lead it to a championship.
I guess we could try it out one more year and still have lots of cap room for the big 2010 free agency with Nash and O’Neal’s contracts expiring, but why delay the inevitable.
It isn’t going to get any better.
Now, we’ll simply buy out the remaining year of Shaq’s contract – since nobody will take him for that amount of money – decline our team option on Nash and clear up cap room so we can get a head start on building our team around Stoudemire.
In the meantime, why don’t you head back to TNT and get into broadcasting again? You did such a great job there, and I heard Marv Albert really misses you.