Joe John, The Matrix and D’Antoni

15 05 2008

A friend and I talked about the Phoenix Suns emergence as a basketball power. He made a very interesting and possibly revealing comment. He said, “if Steve Nash is so loveable, why is he the only one left in Phoenix?”

Joe Johnson left the Valley of the Sun as he developed his dynamic perimeter game. Shawn Marion left in his prime to join Dwyane Wade and a dysfunctional supporting cast. And now, Mike D’Antoni has escaped to New York.

For all of the love Steve Nash gets, some of Phoenix’s best pieces have broken away. Nash is a great player, a couple MVPs have solidified that statement. But for all of the professed love, why has Phoenix ostracized several important pieces?

Of all the people in Phoenix, save Nash’s hair stylist, I would never have guessed Mike D’Antoni would hurl himself away from the tree.

When asked, “the Knicks are a mess. When do you expect a full-scale intervention?” Steve Nash said it himself, in a 2006 SI interview, “At some point, they’ve got to hit the jackpot. We’ll see…”

D’Antoni and Nash. Steve and Mike. These two names were whispered in unison. Nothing ever felt so right since Nash’s amicable divorce from Dirk Nowitzki.

Maybe Joe Johnson really did want the money and a chance to lead a team. Maybe Shawn Marion and Mike D’Antoni were really pushed out the door. I certainly don’t know the truth to this.

However, when a big cog or valuable player is forced out, the blame usually falls on the people left behind. See Kobe, when Shaq left. See Cuban, when Nash left. See Riley, when Shaq left. See Thorn, when Kidd left. See hill-billies, when Gasol left. (Kidding, Tennessee. I’ll see you in a few months.)

I’m not calling for blame to fall on Nash at all. Everyone says that they love playing with him. But everyone’s leaving. I really do enjoy watching Nash play. However, I also think it is notable that he was always left unscatched by the media.

Nash has a very agreeable public persona. Besides Nash’s statement opposing the invasion of Iraq and his apparent revulsion to endorsements, the media lets his antics fly under the radar.

Will the Suns implode without D’Antoni? There’s still a lot of faith in Steve Nash’s playmaking skills. If the Suns do miss a step and eventually break up, I’m certain the blame will fall squarely on Shaquille O’Neal and Steve Kerr.

And for whatever reason, a chance for D’Antoni to plug his offensive scheme into the Knicks hasn’t intrigued anyone outside of New York City limits.

The good vibes have always floated about Nash, a whirling dervish of positivity not unlike his floor game. I think that by November next season, we’ll find out if it was Nash and D’Antoni or D’Antoni and Nash.

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Fun and Gone?

5 05 2008

Mike D’Antoni and the Phoenix Suns have revolutionized the game.

The concoction of D’Antoni, Steve Nash, the Colangelos and a frenetic brand of basketball literally energized the NBA.

The Phoenix Suns challenged the long-held “defense above all” basketball axiom. Their play challenged the institutions and huffed at the purists.

They won in a way that they weren’t supposed to. Steve Nash was at the center of a free-flowing offense that would make his old Maverick team blush.

Within 7 seconds of possession, a field goal was to be thrown up. They took the first quasi-good shot the defense afforded them.

And the Suns organization had a collective grin from ear to ear. It’s as if they got caught doing something bad and they were defiantly enjoying the consequences.

After 253 D’Antoni-led wins in five years, trouble seems to be catching up to them.

There have been rumors that Mike D’Antoni may out of Phoenix next season. Rumors are rumors, of course. And I know it’s faulty logic but the very fact a D’Antoni firing is mentioned means something to me. It means that the fun may be coming to an end.

The Suns were everything that David Stern wanted. They were an entertaining, high-scoring squad that made a bunch of egotistical individuals (see: Amare, Nash and Marion) look like they were playing team ball.

In many ways, the Suns allowed the NBA to create a separate product within itself. Their success was aided by the perimeter, hand-checking enforcements. The installment of zone defenses allowed the Suns to gain some semblance of a team defense. And the often-mentioned European influence on the NBA was personified in the desert.

The Suns were created to break the mold. A perfect storm was brewing for them; everyone was cheering for an offense-first team to win it all. So what went wrong?

As Steve Kerr took the general manager position in Phoenix he said, “I’ll only be making minor tweaks here and there,” and “you don’t fix something that isn’t broken.”

If only that Past Steve could see Present Steve…

Whether it’s fair or not, a lot of the blame will fall on Kerr. Even though Nash, D’Antoni and the ownership signed off on the Shaq-for-Marion trade, Kerr will bear the brunt of that decision.

It’s safe to say that the Shaquille O’Neal experiment has gone terribly wrong. To think that the Suns actually thought they were better than the San Antonio Spurs. I guess they were a lot closer to the edge than anyone would have thought.

Trading away a long, versatile and athletic wing for an aging, over-paid out of shape big man shouldn’t even be done in video games. Everyone knew it was a terrible decision and now the writing’s on the wall.

If D’Antoni is let go, Kerr won’t have anyone to share the blame with. Steve Nash is a media darling. No one expects much out of Shaq anymore, so he will be free from harm.

For all of the hype around the Phoenix Suns, they really weren’t all too successful in the postseason. The future doesn’t look too bright but one thing is certain: Steve Kerr will no longer get the benefit of the doubt.