Phoenix Suns 2004-05 Season Preview
By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor
2003-04 FINISH: 29-53
OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Steven Hunter (C) - Free Agent; Steve Nash (G) - Free Agent; Quentin Richardson (G) - Free Agent; Jackson Vroman (F) - Trade with Chicago.
OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Jahidi White (C) - Selected by Charlotte in Expansion Draft; Antonio McDyess - Signed with Detroit.
2004 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (7) Luol Deng (F, Duke) - Traded to Chicago.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Steve Nash, SG Quentin Richardson, SF Shawn Marion, PF Amare Stoudemire, C Jake Voskuhl
COACH: Mike D'Antoni
(Sports Network) - Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson were just the offseason additions that the Phoenix Suns needed to give them a fighting chance to return to the postseason in 2004-05.
The Suns won just 29 games in 2003-04 and did not qualify for the postseason for the second time in three years. After an 8-13 start, the Suns replaced head coach Frank Johnson on December 10, 2003 with current general Mike D'Antoni, who was 21-40 as the leader of the Suns.
Phoenix continued to make major changes last season, as the Suns dealt Stephon Marbury and Anfernee Hardaway in January to the New York Knicks in a blockbuster deal that would free up money and give the club plenty of room under the salary cap.
The Suns took full advantage of their new found cap room and were able to sign Nash and Richardson to lucrative, multi-year deals. The 30-year-old Nash had spent the previous six seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, while the 24-year- old Richardson, who was a restricted free agent, was able to sign with the Suns when the Los Angeles Clippers
decided not to match Phoenix' offer.
With forwards Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion already on its roster, Phoenix has a potent, athletic lineup that is capable of doing some serious damage in the Western Conference. Stoudemire and Marion welcome the additions of Nash and Richardson, as the four should excel together with the up-tempo style that the Suns are sure to play.
"I've talked to Amare," said Richardson. "I've known Shawn a long time. We were playing every summer and I've known him for a few years now. I'm just excited to be a part of it."
The Los Angeles Lakers went through some major changes in the offseason, and with the absence of the dominant Shaquille O'Neal, who is now a member of the Miami Heat, the Suns have to be considered a serious threat in West.
"They got the big beast out of LA, so I think it's wide open," said Richardson. "Getting him out of LA makes things a lot easier. I got tired of running into him in the middle.
Nash knows how to distribute the ball and put his teammates in the best possible position to score, while Richardson will enjoy Nash's play-making ability and the results should show up in the box score. The Suns backcourt of the future seems to be the perfect fit for a squad that is trying to compete with the elite in the Western Conference.
Originally selected out of DePaul by the Clippers in the first round (18th pick overall) of the 2000 NBA Draft, Richardson is coming off the best season of his four-year career. He played in 65 games in 2003-04 for the Clippers and averaged career-highs in points (17.2 ppg), rebounds (6.4 rpg), assists (2.1 apg) and steals (1.03 spg).
Nash, who began his career in Phoenix, averaged 14.5 points and a career-high 8.8 assists per contest last season for the Mavericks. The steady point guard was originally selected out of Santa Clara by the Suns with the 15th overall in the 1996 draft and was later traded to Dallas prior to the 1998-99 season for Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells, the draft rights to Pat Garrity and a 1999 first-round pick. The Suns new floor general has averaged 12.5 points and six assists per game during his career, and has played in 51 playoff contests during his eight-year career.
"There are very few players in the league that make other players better and make coaches smarter, and we've got one of them (Nash) right now," said D'Antoni. "We're obviously extremely happy to have him and I'm looking forward to working with him to try to win a lot of basketball games. So, if you see my hair grows longer and I start doing this up there (fists his forehead like Richardson), things are going pretty good."
The Suns have some quality guards coming off the bench, as shooting guard Joe Johnson, Leandro Barbosa, Casey Jacobsen and Howard Eisley are all capable reserves.
The 6-7 Johnson, who can also play small forward, will be the Suns sixth man. He played in all 82 regular-season contests for Phoenix and averaged a career- high 16.7 points to go along with 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists. The 23-year- old Johnson fits in perfectly with what Phoenix' management is trying to do and he should benefit from the Suns' style of play in the coming season.
Barbosa and Eisley will compete for the minutes behind Nash when he needs a breather, while Jacobsen is a streaky outside shooter and could prove to be valuable when Johnson is playing small forward.
Phoenix has a very athletic and skilled front court with the presence of Marion and Stoudemire, who both played for the United States in the Olympics this past summer. They should be one of the most dangerous forward combinations in the league for years to come.
A former All-Star, Marion averaged 19 points, a team-high 9.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals in 79 contests for the Suns last season. He logged over 40 minutes per game for the second straight year which could have effected his shooting from the field, which was a career-low 44 percent. The 26-year-old Marion loves to get out on the break and will love playing with a lead guard like Nash, who thinks pass first and shoot second.
The 21-year-old Stoudemire battled foot problems last season which cause him to miss 27 games. However, the 21-year-old power forward was awesome when he was on the court during his 55 contests. The 2002-03 Rookie of the Year, Stoudemire averaged a team-high 20.6 points, nine rebounds and 1.6 blocks in almost 37 minutes of action per game. Stoudemire needs to stay healthy and put together an 82 game season with the stats he produced in 2003-04.
Jake Voskuhl and Steven Hunter will play in between Marion and Stoudemire. Voskuhl averaged 6.6 points and 5.2 boards in 66 games for the Suns last season, while Hunter, who signed with Phoenix as a free agent, posted 3.2 points and 2.9 boards in 59 contests for the Orlando Magic. Voskuhl and Hunter will simply be asked to do the dirty work in the lane and play tough defense.
The Suns are not deep up front, as Johnson will be the top backup to Marion as well. The fact is that, Marion and Stoudemire may be expected to play between 35-40 minutes per game which does not leave a lot of extra time fill. As long as Phoenix' starting forwards stay healthy, depth may not hurt them.
The Suns are not yet in the same class as the Minnesota Timberwolves
or the San Antonio Spurs, but they should improve a great deal from their 29 wins in 2003-04. Nash and Richardson immediately make Phoenix a playoff contender, and both should help Marion and Stoudemire become better players as well. It would not be a surprise if Phoenix wins at least 45 games and puts a scare into a Western Conference squad in the first round of the postseason.
10/20 11:01:58 ET
sounds good to me!!