Tuesday , Aug , 23 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Suns will have new look

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

(Sports Network) – The Phoenix Suns have been surprisingly busy during the
offseason. They made a couple of significant trades and signed multiple free
agents.

In the 2004-05 campaign, the Suns finished a league-best 62-20 during the
regular season. In the playoffs, Phoenix advanced to the Western Conference
finals for the first time since 1993, but was eliminated in five games by the
San Antonio Spurs, who defeated the Detroit Pistons in seven games in the
championship round.

With All-Stars Shawn Marion, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire leading the way,
Phoenix has tried to build its roster around the talented trio. The Suns
traded away their other two starters, as they dealt swingman Quentin
Richardson to the New York Knicks and guard Joe Johnson, who was a restricted
free agent, to the Atlanta Hawks.

In the Richardson deal, the Suns acquired center/forward Kurt Thomas from New
York for the talented swingman and the draft rights to guard Nate Robinson,
who was the 21st pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, and cash considerations. By
acquiring Thomas, Phoenix will be able to move Stoudemire, who averaged a
team-best 26.0 points and 8.9 rebounds in 80 contests during the 2004-05
regular season, to his natural position of power forward.

The trade with Atlanta, which agreed to a lucrative, multi-year deal with
Johnson prior to the sign-and-trade, netted the Suns reserve guard Boris Diaw
and two conditional first round picks. Johnson, who averaged 17.1 points, 5.1
boards and 3.5 assists, was the Suns best perimeter defender and fit in very
well with Phoenix’ style of play.

However, Johnson wanted get out of the shadows of his All-Star teammates and
become the go-to guy on his new club. The Suns accommodated Johnson and
were able to acquire a reserve guard along with some assets for the future.

Through free agency, guard Raja Bell, who averaged 12.3 points in 63 games for
Utah in the 2004-05 campaign, veteran center/forward Brian Grant and center
Pat Burke were added. The 6-5 Bell is a solid defender and should be able to
benefit from Phoenix’ up-tempo style on offense, while Burke and Grant give
the Suns more depth up front.

Bell will not make Phoenix forget about Johnson, but he is a suitable
replacement. With the Jazz, the 28-year-old Bell played in a team that relied
on their half-court offense. The Suns will give Bell, who made more than 40
percent of his attempts from beyond the arc last season, more freedom on
offense which should allow him to fit right in with his new teammates.

Thomas is the big addition of the offseason. He averaged 11.5 points and a
team-best 10.4 rebounds for the Knicks in 80 contests last season. In order to
acquire Thomas, Phoenix had to sacrifice Richardson, who was a perfect fit for
Phoenix’ high-powered offensive attack. The 6-9 Thomas will team with Marion
and Stoudemire to give Phoenix one of the best frontcourts in NBA.

The thirty-two-year-old Thomas will make life a lot easier for Stoudemire. He
will take on the task of guarding the opposing team’s big man and will allow
his new teammate to become even more dangerous down low. By adding Thomas to
their roster, the Suns have become a better all-around team. Phoenix can beat
its opponents from the inside and the outside.

Phoenix did lose two productive players in Johnson and Richardson, but it was
able to get suitable replacements in return and also made the most out of its
available money in free agency.

The Suns have positioned themselves for another serious run in the West during
the 2005-06 campaign. They will be a more physical squad and should be
improved in their half-court game.

Even though the Suns had a very successful 2004-05 season, they made some
significant moves in the offseason that should make them a better team in the
upcoming campaign.

PHO