Slowly, the foundation of a strong, competitive Phoenix Suns team is crumbling.
That's nothing new to both the casual fan and pundit alike. What may be difficult to understand is the transition. From a franchise-tying mark of 62-20 in the 2004-05 season, the Suns' attempt to hang on as one of the NBA's elite franchises, but are clearly missing key components.
When Amar'e Stoudemire bolted the desert for Madison Square Garden and the lights of Broadway, that represented a kind of death knell. The center of the Suns' offense and defense was gone, and created a crater which could now be an abyss. Only Steve Nash remains from the glory years in the mid-2000s when the Suns, and their fans thought, they were on the verge of an NBA title.
Now, the remake.
Coach Alvin Gentry is left to play "small ball," and the Suns will likely survive on their ability to score from the perimeter. With no real power inside, teams will go to a trapping defense, and an attempt to slow down Nash and raise a fortress around the arc.
"Right now, we need to figure out our roles," forward Channing Frye told the local Phoenix NBC afflilate. "We need to know our niche."
That may not be as impossible of it sounds. If the plan on paper is executed, the Suns will go with 6'10" Hedo Turkoglo, who came over from Toronto, in an attempt to shore up the middle. Turkoglo is not a traditional center and feels more comfortable at the forward slot. He can play both big and small forward and is coming off an 11.8 ppg season with the Raptors.
While Stoudemire averaged 23.1 ppg last season and grabbed an average of 8.9 rpg, those numbers will not be easily replaced. With Toronto a year ago, Turkoglu averaged only 4.6 rpg, and Robin Lopez, the projected center, averaged 4.9 rpg. Lopez appeared in only 51 games because of injury, and his presence in the playoffs was felt.
Still, the key to the Suns offense lays with Nash, a 14-year veteran, and clearly the catylst. At 36 years old, the Canadian native has never average 20 ppg in any season, but saves his best for last. In postseason play, Nash averaged 23.9 ppg in the 2005 playoffs, and averaged 20.4 ppg in the 2006 postseason.
This time, Nash is ready to assume the leadership role again.
"I love the players on this team, and we're prepared to do it together," he told the local FOX affiliate. "I know this team is ready to grow beyond an average NBA team, and take the franchise to another level."
Nash should get help from a pair of bombers. Jason Richardson, 6'6" out of Michigan State, averaged 15.7 ppg last season, but buried 157 threes. Frye (11.2 ppgs) added 98 treys and should complement Richardson from beyond the arc.
It's likely the Suns will survive on the acumen of Nash and some long-range bombing. For the team to be successful, the defense needs to limit the 100-plus points game from opponents, and run well in transition. Without any power in the middle, the Suns will likely live-and-die on how well they run the court, and take advantage of getting points in transition.