|Since their NBA Finals appearance in 1993 when Michael
Jordan and the Bulls won #3 in a 4-2 series, the Suns have sputtered in the playoffs-- a
bitter pill for Suns fans to swallow. After their run during the 92-93 season, much was
expected of this team and those expectations grew when the Bulls were gone as a playoff
foe the next year (or 2 years actually). The Suns weren't ever able to win again without a
strong frontline. In fact, the passed three seasons have ended with first round defeats.
The Suns have had success enough to make it to the playoffs, but being the 4th best team
in their division this year is a true marker of how the mighty Suns have fallen in six
The season began with the Suns
trying to keep Antonio McDyess.
They courted him every way they could, but Denver ended up with the prize. With that
having fallen through, the Suns made their first transaction of the season-- signing Joe Kleine-- an omen of less than stellar
results to come. Then, looking across the free-agent horizon, they saw Luc Longley as the superstar center they've
always needed. They were part of a sign and trade deal with the Bulls for Longley and then
added George McCloud and Tom Gugliotta for their forward spots. They
also signed up Cliff Robinson
and Rex Chapman. So, only Googs
and Longley needed name tags-- the rest of the team had played together the previous year
and things were looking up for Suns fans.
The old problems though showed their heads (no inside
game and total reliance upon small-ball), though Rex
Chapman's shooting woes was an unexpected nightmare for Coach
Danny Ainge-- he was 4th on the
team in scoring, but shot a team (excluding Jimmy Oliver) low 35.9%.
The first round of the draft the passed 5 years has been
good for the Suns, though they've never drafted high. In 1994, the 23rd pick got them Wesley Person. In 1995, the first round picks
were Michael Finley (21st
overall) and Mario Bennett
(27th). In 1996, they got Steve Nash (15th), and had no pick in 1997. The 1998 NBA Draft was good for draft
day trades for Pat Garrity from
Dallas and Toby Bailey from the
L.A. Lakers (and of course this year's 9th overall pick).
It's really Jason Kidd for the Suns at this spot-- but when you have Mr. Triple-Double, an
All-NBA First-Teamer, an All-NBA Defensive First-Teamer, and a sweet passer even if he
wasn't so great at other skills (which he is), who else do you need? Well a backup would
be nice. The Suns have signed also-rans all season to try to give Kidd some rest time on
the bench, concluding the season with oft-injured Randy
Livingston-- a heralded player out of high school who was
even drafted by Houston after leaving LSU with a less than productive, injury-riddled
college career. Livingston played only one regular season game but averaged 5 ppg in the 3
games in the post-season. The Suns will try to give Kidd some relief before next season,
but you know it has to pain Ainge to take his star playmaker out of the game for any
amount of time. The team was totally dependent on Kidd and this was made more apparent by
many experts saying Kidd was a legit MVP pick. Not since Magic Johnson in 1990-91 has a
player had better averages in all three "triple-double" categories, scoring
averaging, rebounding averaging and assist average, than Kidd had this season. And since
the league began keeping track of steals in 1973-74, no player has matched or beaten Kidd
in all four of the statistical categories in one season.
Rex Chapman was thought to
have become a prime-time player this season after his great performances in seasons
passed, but injuries hampered his success. As noted before, his shooting percentage was
awful. Toby Bailey has tried to
learn from Rex and may be a useful member next season, but tendinitis kept him from
The Suns had two really good players at this spot. George McCloud and Cliff Robinson have given the Suns all the
Suns could expect. In fact it will be tough for the Suns to hold onto Uncle Cliffy in the
off-season. Chris Morris was
brought in to play and he showed up like he did for Utah. Both McCloud and Robinson came
up big for the Suns in the playoffs, sharing Top-3 team scoring honors with Kidd. Robinson
was also in the Top-3 team leaders in assists and rebounds.
The Suns brought in Gugliotta with the expectation that he would be the All-Star power forward he was
with Minnesota. That wasn't the case. He did give the Suns 17 ppg, but that was 3 ppg less
than what he got the passed two season with the Timberwolves-- and this becomes more
glaring when you realize he had the best point guard in the NBA to feed him the ball. The
rookie Garrity was a very pleasant surprise for the Suns. He started 9 games and averaged
14.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 1.1 apg, and shot .578 from the field in those contests. He also got
a career high 25 against the current Western Conference champion Spurs. Danny Manning, the energizer bunny of the NBA
who keeps playing surgery after surgery was great in the playoffs for the Suns with nearly
13 ppg, and was close to double figures for the regular season.
Luc Longley was brought in
via a sign and trade deal (the Suns also gave up their second draft pick of the first
round as part of the deal). He gave the Suns nearly 9ppg, but his only really good game
was a 25 and 10 performance against the Knicks. The Suns know they paid way too much for
Longley, but they are desperate for size (ask the Sonics how signing a really
average-at-best center for big money seems like a smart move). Joe Kleine was there for the Suns to take up
space, which he did. He also got beaten up by Karl Malone and averaged 2 ppg.
|Jonathan Bender, C/F,
Picayune (MS) HS, and Mississippi State University signee
The Suns have many needs, so you take the highest quality player
that fits one of your needs. They need to add quality to their frontline (size and or
athleticism-- or in other words filling the McDyess gap). Our dream draft would have a
half-way decent center that would be worthy of the 9th pick, but this draft doesn't have
that, so we pick a tall athlete in Bender. He would have been a future All-SEC and
probable POY had he gone to MSU. The SEC is all about athleticism moreso than actual
skills, and he would have been a great fit with MSU. It is an appetizing thought to have
Bender be the Suns future starting small forward. He has an outside shot and could get
tip-ins, rebounds, and blocked shots for the Suns when he can't get his shot off. He will
also pose matchup problems for opposing small forwards. His long arms will challenge all
Western Conference small forwards' shots except for KG's. I have a lot of faith in Ainge's
ability to sculpt a high school player into an NBA starter. Ainge played with and learned
from Bill Walton, Robert Parrish, Kevin McHale, and a tall small forward named Bird.
Bender doesn't have to be a big body to play Western Conference ball, and if he grows a
bit taller, he could turn into a very nice Western Conference center.
Other players considered:
|Maggette didn't shine in Chicago and I think Coach K knew something by not starting him at Duke. I liked Jumaine Jones a lot after having watched him play in the SEC, and would have taken him
had Bender been picked earlier. William Avery was another
possibility so that Kidd could get some rest, but when it came down to it, the Suns need
size-- even if it's immature, pencil-thin size.
Who the team will probably take:
|I think the Suns will draft Bender. Ainge and company
will try to get some scoring help in the offseason and Bender will have a great coach to
mold him into a small-ball frontline player.
Other off-season moves
|If the Suns draft a guard, Rex
Chapman likely will remain in the starting lineup. If the
team makes a trade for Penny Hardaway or signs a guard such as Mitch Richmond as a free agent, Chapman is likely to go into a reserve role immediately.
Reportedly, the club has great interest
in making a deal for Orlando's Penny Hardaway. So do about 10 other NBA teams, some of which probably can offer the
Magic better deals. It may come down to whether Hardaway, who optioned out of his contract
with the Magic, can broker a sign-and-trade deal.
The Suns would likely have to part with the No. 9 pick or
a player they select there, second-year forward Pat Garrity and at least one other player, maybe more to make the contract numbers
work under salary cap rules.
The Key for the Suns may be keeping Clifford Robinson in a Phoenix uniform.
Robinson retained his "early Bird" salary cap rights and can get either get
8-percent above the league average or 175-percent of what he earned last season with the
Suns, which was over $3 million. Robinson said after the club was eliminated that he would
prefer to come back unless a team that has a better chance to win a championship steps
forward with comparable money.
Others signed to one-year deals include forward George McCloud, center Joe Kleine, forward Chris Morris, center Horacio Llamas, swingman Toby Bailey and forward-guard Marko Milic. Point guard Gerald Brown has an option his own
for a second year, which he will likelly exercise. The rest won't all be back. Kleine, Morris and Milic are
the most likely to depart.
Cap moves: The Suns are over the cap to stay for a long
time after signing Gugliotta, Chapman and Luc
Longley to long-term deals. However, the club will have two
salary cap exceptions to work with, one, the mid-range exception of about $2 million and
the other the $1 million exception available every other year.
And all teams can sign players to minimum deals that are
rated based on their experience up to a $1-million contract for one season, such as the
one Kleine signed this season.
The Suns have been adept at attracting some quality players with cap exceptions and
minimum deals, including Chapman
The Suns won't have the money to go after any of the
high-profile free agents, but they have a knack for grabbing a player or two who fall
through the cracks. It's difficult to pinpoint potential targets because the Suns will
have to be patient and wait to determine which players are available after the big
contracts have been handed out.
The Suns have too many forwards, and only Robinson is very athletic. They could look
for a trade, possibly packaging a pick. There also are sign-and-trade possibilities with
some of the free agents.
Danny Ainge is in the third
year of a six-year contract, and even when the club was struggling midway through the
season club President Jerry Colangelo made it clear that Ainge was not the reason. He kept a team that could
have slipped out of the playoffs for the first time in a decade focused for a late season