Breaking Down the Phoenix Suns' 2008-09 Season

Avi ScherContributor IIApril 14, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18:  Shaquille O'Neal #32 of the Phoenix Suns is congratualted by his teammate Steve Nash #13 and Grant Hill #33 during the basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second quarter at the Staples Center on February 18, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns failed to make the playoffs even though they had an All-Star lineup.


How did it go so bad?


What went wrong?


Who’s to blame?


Here is a ranking of staff and players on the Phoenix Suns 2008-09 roster.  The ranking is from 1 to 10, one is the worst and ten is perfect.




Robert Sarver (owner) – 3


Sarver’s big mistake was letting Joe Johnson go Johnson could have been the missing peace the Suns needed to get over the “hump” called San Antonio—and maybe even take a championship on the way.


The second mistake was letting Bryan Colangelo go. Colangelo built a great team after the Suns failed to make the playoffs.  The team was one of the best teams in the league, the team that all basketball fans loved to watch.


But for some reason Sarver decided to bring in Steve Kerr, an inexperienced GM.  Sarver gave Kerr a free hand to trade and hire a coach, and the result of this is not making the playoffs and taking many large steps back.




Steve Kerr (General Manager) – 2


Kerr made all the mistakes possible a “rookie” GM can make. He talked all the time about how the team has to play better defense and at the same time he traded all his defensive players.


Kerr had a great team and coach that just needed a couple of changes to make it work.  Instead, he changed the whole team from left to right.


The Suns were a contender for a championship the past three years, and did not even make the playoffs this year.  Steve has been with the Suns for almost two years, and nothing good has happened yet.




Aaron Nelson (trainer) – 10


No doubt about it, Aaron did the best work on the team. He was able to keep Grant Hill healthy all season, Shaq looking good and playing like he was in his 20s again, abd Nash staying healthy most of the season.


Great work. Let’s hope that Sarver doesn’t let him go too.




Terry Porter (Coach) - 2


Porter wanted to bring defense to the Phoenix Suns.  In doing that, he lost Raja Bell and Boris Diaw—the Suns' two best defenders.


Porter also tried to change the practice method the Suns were use to. Now, if the team was built with young players I could understand that, but when you have a four-time champion and MVP (Shaq), a two-time MVP (Nash), and All-Star veteran (Hill) and a young All-Star (Stoudemire), you can’t just come in and change things that easy.


The players on the team need and deserve respect, even from the coach.  This is the only way the coach can gain the respect from the players.


Porter wanted the team to be more like the Spurs, but when you have the players like I listed above that means that you also have a lot of ego on your team—which the Spurs do not have.


Porter did not come ready for the Suns. That is why he didn’t finish the season.




Alvin Gentry (coach) – 8


I have a feeling that if Gentry had Bell and Diaw and a healthy Stoudemire, the Suns would have made the playoffs. When Gentry took over the Suns, the Suns were the top-scoring team in the league. Yes, they still lacked defense, but that is why Bell and Diaw would have helped.


Gentry continued to play the style the Suns have played the last few year under Mike D’Antoni, “less then seven seconds”, but he did something better then what D’Antoni did. He played the bench, he gave them a lot of minutes when it counted, he should them trust, he was able to give his starters time to rest.


Hopefully the Suns will make some smart moves this summer and bring some defensive players to the team, then we can really see what Gentry can do. With what Gentry had to work with this season, he did a good job.




Robin Lopez (center) – 5


Lopez didn’t really get a chance to show what he can do, because Porter didn’t let him play much at the beginning of the season. But when he did play you saw that he is a good and sold defensive player, he blocked shoots and grabbed rebounds.


I hope Lopez will stay in Phoenix—and if Gentry stays, and plays the bench like he did this year, then we will see much more out of Lopez.




Shaquille O’Neal (center) – 8


Shaq had an amazing season this year.  He looked young. He dominated the paint like only Shaq knows how.


The reason Shaq was brought to Phoenix at the beginning was for what he called the “Amar’e project”—trying to turn Amar’e Stoudemire in to a better player. But instead, Amar’e disappeared and Shaq was reborn.


You can’t blame Shaq for the Suns' failures this year. He gave it all he could, the team couldn’t adjust to Shaq.  None of the player were used to such a large and dominant present in side.


So Shaq, I think, did much better then anyone thought he would do.




Stromile Swift (Power Forward) – 2


Swift came in the second half of the season to try and help the Suns ease the pain of missing Stoudemire. He was not able to affect the team in any way.


Of course it is not easy to join the Suns' running and gunning—and also trying to replace Stoudemire is not an easy task either.




Louis Amundson (Power Forward) – 9


Amundson had a great season, a season no one thought he would have. When he played he gave it all.  You saw that he was a fighter, he blocked shoots, took rebounds, got in players' faces, just played tough and with his heart.


He also showed that he can finish at the hoop hard. Great season, great man, great player to come off the bench.




Amar’e Stoudemire (Power Forward) - 4


Stoudemire (also known as STAT) finished the last season amazingly.  No one could stop him, and he looked great.


In the offseason he talked about how he plans to dominate the league and how he wants the team to play better defense Hoping that Porter will help the team work better on defense and keep the offense going. Instead, Terry Porter decided to go with Shaq has his first option on offense, leaving STAT as second and sometimes third option.


Because of this, everybody focused more on the lack of defense Stoudemire brought, not grabbing rebounds, not blocking shoots and not able to guard a player one on one, not able to stop the penetrators from going to the hoop.


STAT wasn’t happy with Porter's system and never found his place.  When Gentry took over, Stoudemire’s offense starter to come back.  He was scoring more and being part of the game like he needed to be.


Stoudemire’s eye injury came shortly after Gentry took over, so we will never know if the Suns would have made the playoffs had he been healthy.




Alando Tucker (Small Forward) – ?


Tucker was injured for most of the season, so we really don’t know yet what he is worth. He only played 30 games for nine minutes a game, so hopefully he will be healthy next season so we can see what he can do.




Matt Barnes (Small Forward) – 6


Barnes had an okay season, he did complain when he came of the bench when Grant Hill was starting, which is something I don’t like from players.


Barnes shot the ball well from downtown and had some great games. But in some games he disappeared, got technical fouls and was no where to be found, his defense was not so great.


Barnes, who has been an up-and-down career up to now, was happy to join the Suns so he can get his career back on track. I don’t think he took the opportunity with both hands.


Matt needed to come out and make the difference by playing defense. But again, his season was not as bad as others. But he can be better.




Jared Dudley (Small Forward) – 8


Dudley came to Phoenix in the big trade that sent Diaw and Bell to Charlotte for Jason Richardson. No one really talked much about Dudley, except that they said he was a hard worker.


They were right. Dudley brought a lot of energy to the court when he came off the bench, playing good and tough defense. We also found out that he can shoot from downtown (shooting over 40 percent). Once he joined the Suns, he had a great season.




Grant Hill (Small Forward) – 9


Grant Hill was probably the Suns' best player this season.  He was healthy and looking good, just like in his good old years in Detroit. He was running and finishing hard at the hoop.


But the most important part is that he was the best defender on the team, playing against some of the best offensive players in the game, and did a good job. 




Jason Richardson (Second Guard) – 6


Jason came to Phoenix in the middle of the season. Porter and Kerr were very happy saying that Jason can create his own shot and is an amazing shooter from downtown (this said by a coach and GM that wanted better D), but Jason's three-point percentage was below 40 percent since he joined the Suns.


As you can see, his defense was not talked about when brought to Phoenix, and we saw why—some of Jason’s defensive mistakes cost the Suns there game. Also, in some games he was nowhere to be found.


A player like Richardson needs to always be effective, needs to always be on the score board, needs to be on the other team's mind at all times.




Leandro Barbosa (Second Guard) – 6


Barbosa (as usual) had an okay season coming of the bench for the Suns. Some games he was on fire and won the game for the Suns, and some games just couldn’t hit a shot.


Barbosa’s percentage from downtown was the worst of his carrier, shooting less then 40 percent.


Barbosa is 6'3". He needs to try and focus more on playing point.  The problem is, when he has the ball he usually finishes with the ball, and he doesn’t pass that often.


Because of his height it’s a problem for him to guard most of the SG in the league, and for a player with his speed, he should be a much better thief and get much more steals a game.


Barbosa is a great player, the fastest in the game, but it’s time he improves.




Goran Dragic (Point Guard) – 4


Goran did not show the reason why the Suns fought and paid a lot of money to bring him to Phoenix this year. Porter did not give him many minutes and, when he did we saw a confused player that lost the ball a lot and couldn’t control the game like a point guard should. 


The Suns have been talking for a couple of years of how they need a backup for Nash, and still nothing. Maybe if Dragic gets more minutes, he will be able to show more of what he's got.




Steve Nash (Point Guard) –  4


Just three seasons ago, Nasg received his second MVP award in a row. But when Shaq was traded to Phoenix, Nash started to disappear.


Nash never played with a dominant center before.  He was always used to running with an athletic PF and SF, confusing the defense, then finding the open man. Suddenly, he had to slow down, pass inside, and go to the corner.


There is no doubt in my mind the Nash’s bad season also has to do with the first half of the season's game plan, Porter did not want to use Nash’s skills—he wanted him to just shoot from downtown after the ball went inside first.


Nash needs to run, and in some games we saw he still can. I do believe that he can play at least four more seasons on a top level. Nash just needs the right team around him.


The reason Nash is getting the low score from me is because even though your best friend was traded, and the team isn’t playing their best, you have to remember that you are the leader.  You have to get the team out of this situation, don’t get depressed.


I was disappointed when the Suns played San Antonio in the playoffs and Nash disappeared instead of taking control like a leader should, like Nash should.


Now Nash is my favorite player in the league since Kevin Johnson retired, but I expected much more from him as a Phoenix’s Suns fan and a Nash fan.



Bottom line: Average of 5.9 can not make the playoffs (the average is only of the players' ranking).


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