The Rise... Err... Fall of The Phoenix (Suns)

Torey ZiskaCorrespondent IIMarch 29, 2009

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 22:  Center Shaquille O'Neal #32 of the Phoenix Suns sits on the bench against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs at the AT&T Center on April 22, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns, the most exciting and one of the most elite teams in the NBA not long ago, currently sit in ninth place in the Western Conference. So what went wrong for the Suns?

Was it their multiple playoff failures, despite having one of the best records in the NBA?

Was it trading away fan favorite Shawn Marion for the Big Aristotle?

Was it firing the offensive-minded head coach Mike D’Antoni?

Was it hiring the defensive-minded Terry Porter?

Was it trading away their best defensive player and solid utility player Raja Bell and Boris Diaw for more offense?

Was it firing the defensive-minded Porter just over halfway through his first season?

Sure, many people argue that bringing in a veteran with the talent level of O’Neal is what the Suns needed to get over the hump.

But was trading away your best rebounder and second-best defensive player for an aging, 300 pound, injury-prone superstar, really the best thing for a run-and-gun team?

Another controversial move, and perhaps the most scrutinized one, was the firing of coach Mike D’Antoni and hiring of coach Terry Porter. Most Suns fans did not want to see D’Antoni go and were extremely upset that the Suns offense was not nearly as explosive with Porter.

What most Suns fans just don’t understand is that despite the high-flying offense, it is defense that wins championships and Porter was brought in to try and instill defense in the Suns.

The fact is, firing D’Antoni had to be done. He had more than enough time to bring the Suns their first ever ring, but wasn’t even able to bring home a Western Conference title.

So, was Terry Porter the appropriate replacement? Suns fans say no. I say yes. Everyone knows that Phoenix’s playoff struggles were due to their defensive play, or lack thereof, so team president and general manager Steve Kerr and owner Robert Sarver had no choice but to hire someone they thought could get the Suns to play defense.

However, I will not stick up for the Suns front office when it comes to their decision to fire Porter halfway through his first season. Sure, the season is not going as anyone had hoped, and no, Shaq isn’t getting any younger, but if you’re going to make a head coaching change, you have to stick with it and give a man a chance to turn things around. Half of an NBA season isn’t long enough for anyone’s style to turn a team around.

With all of that said, I believe the single biggest reason for the Phoenix Suns’ struggles goes back to the trade that brought in Shaquille O’Neal while shipping out Marion and Marcus Banks. Banks was one of the only decent players Phoenix had on its bench, while Marion was a nightly double-double who played excellent defense.

Perhaps Marion wasn’t happy in Phoenix and wanted to play somewhere in which he could be “the man.” But that doesn’t mean you trade one of the NBA’s best all around players away just because you can bring in possibly the best big man in the history of the NBA.

Marion is a professional and no matter what the situation is, he gives you 110 percent every night.

The Suns lack defense, and though Shaq can improve Phoenix’s interior defense, he gets injured every year and can’t have much left in the tank, whereas Marion is in his prime and has a good five or six solid years ahead of him.

In the end, there are several reasons as to why the Phoenix Suns went from an elite, high-powered, entertaining, run-and-gun team finishing near the top every season, to a team scratching and clawing for the eighth and final playoff spot.

But one thing everyone can agree on is that the window for the Phoenix Suns championship hopes is closing extremely quickly, and if Steve Nash and company don’t learn to play defense night in and night out, that window will be slammed shut.