In advance of the Pacers game in Phoenix tomorrow night, I exchanged a series of questions with Ben's Suns Blog. Here is a link to my answers about the Pacers. Thanks to Ben for taking the time to answer my questions. Enjoy.
Indy Cornrows: There seems to be much consternation over the transition from Mike D'Antoni's preferred style of play to that of current head coach, Terry Porter. The few times I've seen the Suns this year, whether in victory or defeat, I've come away with a favorable impression. They appear to be in better shape to play "big boy" basketball in the playoffs, especially if a game comes down to making plays in the half court game. Am I nuts? What are your thoughts on Terry Porter coaching the Suns?
Ben's Suns Blog: I'm actually loving the job he is doing. Plus, he is doing the right things to position us for a long playoff run and those will take time to develop. There was a lot of excitement in Arizona when Terry Porter took over the coaching reins. Good or bad – it was apparent that both the organization and Suns fans needed a change. As much as everyone loved D'Antoni, the system just didn't work in the playoffs – that's just a fact. After Game 1 against the Spurs, we all felt a sense of hopelessness (much like the feeling I recently felt on Christmas) and began to question some of D'Antoni's philosophies. Sure, it was fun and exciting to watch the Suns…but with the teams we had from 2004 – 2008, we felt the team could've done more. Fair or unfair, D'Antoni took the majority of the blame. Having said that, the Porter experiment has made some fans excited and driven others crazy (I'm guilty of both). Like I said, I think that he and Steve Kerr have a bold, yet necessary, vision for the Suns and it will certainly take some time to develop. At the beginning of the year, we virtually stopped running which translated into losses. However, I think it was necessary that we went through that phase and experimentation period to discover what our strengths and weaknesses are. Porter has a more disciplined approach to coaching which I think was absolutely needed four our younger guys. All in all, many of us are still in a wait-and-see phase.
Indy Cornrows: How come Amare Stoudemire isn't averaging 35 ppg? Whenever he plays the Pacers he projects STAT to the fullest. In the first meeting this year, STAT scored 49 points with a combination of feroucious finishes at the rim and 18 to 20-footers from all over. He was unstoppable. What happens against other teams?
Ben's Suns Blog: What happens? STAT happens. He gets in his own way. Sometimes it really drives me nuts as I've been fairly critical of him this entire year. First of all, the ejections have to stop. Amare wants to be the man like LeBron or Wade? Well, then he needs to act like one and be a leader instead of getting ejected when we need him. The other reason is due to the amazing emergence of Shaq this year. He is playing out of his mind. I read recently that the Suns are 12-3 when Shaq scores 16 or more points. Thus, Shaq needs the ball to either draw double-teams or work in the post. Either way, it will benefit the Suns come playoff time.
Indy Cornrows: Steve Nash seems to be struggling with the transition to Terry Porter despite having plenty of weapons running along side him. His production seems inconsistent compared to the previous few years. Is this due to the system, a declining game or some other factor?
Ben's Suns Blog: Great question. I think that there have been some natural declines with age, although with Nash, they really have been minimal. I think the biggest factor was that early in the year, the Suns just stopped running which prohibited Nash from creating. When you have a point guard like Nash, the ball needs to be in his hands to facilitate things. That said, we also aren't relying on Nash like we used to which is a good thing. We can't expect to get anywhere in the playoffs while simultaneously running Nash into the ground; we've tried that and it didn't work. We also have capable back-ups now in Barbosa and (surprisingly) Dee Brown that won't allow us fans to panic as much as we used to when Nash came out of the game.
Indy Cornrows: Assuming there isn't some team implosion, what are your concerns for the Suns when you look ahead to the playoffs? Which Western Conference teams are a bad matchup?
Ben's Suns Blog: I am as optimistic as ever with the Suns play of late since acquiring Jason Richardson (though the DUI won't help). They are having fun again and beginning to figure out their identity while blending the running game and the inside/out game via Shaq. I also think that minus the Lakers, there really isn't any team that has emerged as the front runner. As of now, there are the Lakers and about 8 other teams that are all fairly neck and neck. The Suns have a favorable schedule in January-February so I anticipate the Suns being able to make up some ground in the West. In the playoffs, we are much better positioned to make a run than we were last year. With a Joe Johnson-type 2 guard in Richardson (something we haven't had since (2004-2005), Nash has more options to create while also allowing Shaq to do his thing late in games when we need more production in the half-court set.
Indy Cornrows: Do you have any advice for Steve Kerr on how to tweak the Suns roster or would you prefer he stop making drastic moves and see how this team comes together?
Ben's Suns Blog: All in all, I think that after us fans had some time to digest the trades/moves, we realized they probably needed to be made. Having said that, I hope he leaves the current team in tact since we are just now beginning to find our stride and identity. No matter how beloved Marion, Bell, and (kind of) Diaw were to fans, it was obvious they were unhappy (especially Marion and Bell). People forget that Marion wanted more money and didn't want to be the third option on a team (be careful what you wish for). I think the trades were absolutely the right move and each one made us better in different ways. Shaq gave us an inside presence that we've never had as a team or organization. With him in better shape this season, he's playing out of his mind. Richardson and Dudley allowed us to get younger and more potent scoring wise, similar to the 04/05 season.