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ArmchairGM Burns: 4/2/08 – The Suns WON’T Win It All
By: Nate Gordon
(all statistical information gathered via ESPN.com)
So much is going on in L.A. sports, yet so little is going on in the general world of sports. ESPN.com ran stories today about an Arizona Cardinals quarterback partying with community college students and another about an athlete’s relationship situation. What in the great name of the sports saint, St. Jesse Owens is going on in the world of sports? The Lakers, who ESPN.com’s “experts” predicted to finish with no more then 45 wins have already reached 51. Both Ric Bucher and Marc Stein proclaimed that we would never see Kobe Bryant suit up for the Lakers again. However, The Black Mamba has been the catalyst to the Lakers success this season. Many will point to the acquisition of Pau Gasol or the development of Andrew Bynum as the real reasons for the Lakers success. However, it was Bryant’s actions that both directly and indirectly led to both of those things happening. His trade demands and later demands that Lakers Management make roster moves led to the Pau Gasol trade (although it can’t be ignored that it took a lot of help from Memphis as well). While Bryant’s criticisms of Bynum motivated the young man to work harder then ever in the off-season, resulting in his breakthrough season (prior to his knee injury.) All in all, it doesn’t matter who deserves credit for the Lakers resurgence, the important thing is that they are back in the drivers seat in the Pacific division where they belong. With 6-7 games to play the Western Conference standings are as follows:
- 1. New Orleans: 52-22
- 2. San Antonio: 52-23 .5GB
- 3. LA Lakers: 51-24 1.5GB
- 4. Utah: 50-26 3GB
- 5. Phoenix: 50-25 2.5GB
- 6. Houston: 49-25 3GB
- 7. Dallas: 47-28 5GB
- 8. Denver: 46-29 6GB
- 9. Golden State: 45-30 7.5GB
Manwags thinks the Suns are going to the NBA finals. He even wasted a good portion of his day writing about this fantasy. There is no reason to waste more words on such a mediocre franchise. A franchise that prides itself on getting the upper hand in the first and second round of the playoffs. A franchise that can’t keep it’s budget in order so it sells away draft picks to avoid paying the luxury tax. A franchise that prides itself on a two time MVP and it’s run and gun style that has resulted in ZERO NBA TITLES. That’s right, Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Shawn Marion,Amare Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas couldn’t win a title, and replacing Marion and Thomas with a 35 year old Grant Hill and 36 year old Shaq O’Neal won’t change that.
While Hill has been much better then expected he is still a tragic 3 point shooter who can’t defend more athletic 3-Forwards like Lamar Odom, Josh Howard and Carmelo Anthony. Odom averages 18 pts and 14 rebounds (he only scores more on Philly and rebounds more on Golden State). Anthony averages 23 points and 11.5 rebounds (his highest rebounding total against any team). Howard also averages 23 points a game against the Suns and only scores more against Utah (29) and Golden State (26) in the West. It appears to me that Hill is quite the defensive liability against playoff quality small forwards. Shaq, however is the more deceiving of the two acquisitions.
Although Shaq has averaged 1 more minute a night then he had in his previous season and a half with The Heat, his production has continued to dwindle. Per 48 minutes Shaq is down in blocks, offensive rebounds, rebounds, assist and points (1.2 from 2.4, 2.3 from 3.7, 10.5 from 11.5 and 13 from 25.4 respectively). While other teams centers have reached offensive numbers previously unheard of when playing against O’Neal. Tyson Chandler is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds when starting across from Shaq this season, while Tim Duncan has put up 22 points and 12 rebounds. Oh and Pau Gasol? In his one game with the Lakers against the Suns he put up 29 points. Shaq is not stopping the top centers in his Conference and he isn’t putting up near the offensive numbers he used to. Match that with playing 11 fewer minutes a night and his inability to stay out of foul trouble and you don’t have a championship caliber center. So tell me, what are you paying 21 million dollars for?
Oh, and I haven’t mentioned the decline of Steve Nash. Nash wasn’t the best defensive point guard when he was at his peak and now that his back spasms effect his lateral quickness more every night, his defense is becoming very exposed. Baron Davis has averaged 31 points and 10 rebounds against Nash this season, more then he does against any other playoff caliber team. Chris Paul averages 29 points, more then against any other team but Chicago and Tony Parker’s 21 points a game is more then he averages against any other playoff team. Nash can’t stop the top point guards in the conference much like Shaq can’t stop the top centers. How is this team suppose to make a deep playoff run when they can’t stop anyone? A 7 game series against Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Antonio or Utah poses real trouble for Phoenix.
So with the case I’ve laid out before you it would seem hard to believe that Suns fans could be excited for this years playoffs. However nothing could be further from the truth. Suns fans think they have the easiest path to the NBA finals since the 1992-1993 team featuring Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley.
The exception is that those Suns could play defense against the top tier teams in the league, while this team cannot. The Suns are 13-9 since the Shaq trade. In that same time frame the other Western Conference Playoff Teams have done as follows: Denver 13-9, Dallas 11-8, Houston 16-5, Utah 16-7, Lakers 16-7, San Antonio 18-6, New Orleans 16-7. The Suns are tied for the worse record of any team currently in the playoff picture since the Shaq trade.
There is nothing but evidence proving why the Suns will not win it all in front of us. They are weaker on both sides of the ball without Shawn Marion and the numbers are there to prove it. Sure, the Suns have all the big names and individual awards that make them look like a force to be reckon with on paper or in NBA 2K8, but in reality they are a lower tier playoff team. Have fun watching the final two rounds of the playoffs Suns fans, because your team isn’t making it past the second round of the playoffs – and I’ve proven it.