The tip off of the 2010-2011 season opener is upon us. By many accounts, the outlook for Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns is bleak after their tough defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals preceded a tumultuous offseason. Another group once faced similarly daunting odds—the Rebel Alliance from the Star Wars trilogy. In fact, the parallels between the Suns and the heroic Rebels during the time of Return of the Jedi run deep. How so? Good of you to ask, because...
Not that long ago, in an arena not that far away….
RETURN OF THE ORNG
Steve Nash has returned to his home arena in Phoenix in an attempt to lead his team to the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.
As he knows, the team has let Amar’e Stoudemire walk and brought in a host of players in an attempt to make another run at the NBA Finals.
A difficult and uncertain future faces this small band of skilled players struggling to bring a championship to the desert…
“Never tell me the odds!”
Whether it’s battling the evil Empire or taking on the Los Angeles Lakers (many would argue they are one and the same), neither Solo nor Nash is fazed by seemingly insurmountable challenges. Both are grizzled veterans whose combination of panache, dogged determination and ability to come through in the clutch has made them legends.
This season may prove to be Nash’s toughest challenge yet since his return to Phoenix. He leads another undersized squad that lost its leading scorer and rebounder in Stoudemire and replaced him with a collection of career role players. If his 36-year-old legs can coax this squad into another top four seed, while performing at his usual masterful level, he could very well be taking home MVP award No. 3.
Both men are flashy, confident and can charm you with their skills, but ultimately, can you trust them?
Whether it’s betraying the Rebels to the Empire or taking a shot in the clutch, you just can’t shake that back of the mind uncertainty. But hey, they both look good in doing so.
Richardson was tremendous last season, finishing second on the team with 19.8 points per game. He’s entering the final year of his contract, is in great shape and is primed to become the primary scorer for the team with Amar’e now in New York. When it truly counted, Lando came through and helped blow up the second Death Star.
Now it's J-Rich's chance for glory...can Suns fans trust him? The answer may determine if the Suns are playing in June or hoping their ping pong ball gets pulled in the lottery.
Lopez and Chewbacca stand head and shoulders among their peers as the lone big men who thrive on doing the dirty work. No matter if it’s fixing the Millennium Falcon, commandeering Imperial walkers or pulling down rebounds in the paint, they are the unsung heroes of their teams.
Plus, they are both hairy.
Lopez was excellent down the stretch last season after becoming a starter on January 18th, putting up averages of 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds a game. As the starting center on a team of perimeter players, a lot of the Suns’ success will depend on how he performs as the lone interior presence. If he can stay healthy—which is a risky proposition—he has the ability to average a double-double and be counted among the better centers in the NBA.
OK Suns fans, simmer down. Yes, he’s being compared to Leia, but let me explain.
Both Hill and Leia are inspirational leaders and shown have tremendous heart and bravery in overcoming significant adversity.
For Leia, it was the total destruction of her home planet and for Hill it was a seemingly never-ending series of injuries. Hill has resurrected his career in Phoenix and still packs a terrific all around game. His leadership, ball handling and defensive versatility will be absolute musts for the Suns to contend in 2010-2011.
Whether his 38-year-old body can hold up for another 80-plus games is a legitimate question, and one the team can’t afford to answer negatively.
Both Wedge and Turkoglu are steady team-oriented performers who are best known for their shooting accuracy, especially in clutch situations.
It was Wedge’s shot that destroyed the second Death Star ,while Turkoglu has become known for his long-range ability during crunch time. The Suns are hoping that Nash’s uncanny ability to bring out the best in players extends to Turkoglu who is a classic “point forward” type who struggled mightily last season in Toronto.
He’ll begin the season at power forward but could see time at nearly all positions, given his size 6’10” and ball handling skills. The Suns will need him to approach the numbers he put up at the end of his tenure with Orlando (16-5-5).
[Granted, this would place Nash in the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, but for the purposes of this article/season, just go with it. Besides, Kenobi is dead by the time of Return of the Jedi.]
Like Luke, Dragic is in the role of talented young apprentice, learning the ways of “The Force,” also known as running the Suns’ high-octane offense. His play late last season, as well as a strong offseason playing for Slovenia, has positioned Dragic onto the edge of stardom. He possesses tremendous talent off the drive, is a solid rebounder and has greatly improved his long-range shooting.
But as Yoda told Luke, “Control! You must learn control!”
Dragic can play recklessly at times leading to fouls and turnovers. In fact, he ranked 62nd among point guards in turnover ratio last season. Nonetheless, the Suns have a gem in Dragic and a padawan-in-training can have no one better to learn from than Master Nash. Expect a career season for the third-year player, who may also see time at shooting guard.
Both Frye and C-3PO are intelligent contributors that prefer hanging out on the perimeter than being in the middle of the action.
Frye enters his second season in the desert as a power forward who’d much rather hoist a three than bang inside for a rebound. In his four prior NBA seasons, Frye had made a total of 20 shots from beyond the arc. Last season, he made 172.
With the team's lack of size inside, he’s going to need to utilize his 6’11” frame to help Lopez with rebounding. And let’s face it. After his five-year, $30 million extension over the offseason, Frye can afford to encase himself in gold like his droid counterpart.
One of these two doesn’t possess great speed or agility, is tough on the interior and launches shots from long range. The other is Jared Dudley.
Both Dudley and the Rebel’s bomber are rugged, dependable weapons that get the job done in a no-nonsense, workmanlike fashion. As had so many players before him, Dudley found his groove when he arrived in Phoenix. He set a career high with 8.2 points per game last season, worked hard to become a ferocious defender and shot an excellent 45.8 percent from three-point range.
The Suns will need his vast improvements to continue in order to remain in playoff contention, and given his work ethic, that seems like a safe bet. Like the Y-wing, he's going to take time getting to the target, but if you give him an open shot, chances are he's going to hurt the opposition.
Every team or band of galactic revolutionaries needs them—the jack of all trades. Childress and R2 can do a little bit of everything.
While R2 can hack into Imperial bases and co-pilot Luke’s X-wing, Childress rebounds very well from the wing, has a consistent shot and plays solid defense. Both the droid and Childress lack toughness and size but counter that deficiency with smarts. He has spent the last two seasons in Greece, so there will be a transition period as he gets back into the flow of the NBA game.
If he is able to regain his form, the Suns will have an extremely valuable and versatile player off the bench.
Fast. Agile. Explosive. Defenseless. These are the adjectives for both the Rebel’s speedy wedge-shaped fighter and for the hyper-athletic Warrick.
No one has ever questioned Warrick’s athleticism or offensive prowess, yet it is his massive defensive shortcomings that are the primary factor in the Suns becoming his third team in two seasons. He should thrive in Phoenix with his ability to play off of the pick-and-roll, either hitting the mid-range jumper or exploding into the lane.
Just don't expect him to stop anybody on the defensive end.
Like the numerous pilots manning an X-wing fighter during the climactic Battle of Endor, these four players at the end of the bench will be competing, but owners of low expectations.
Yeah, if they take out some TIE fighters/contribute a spark off of the bench, that’s great. But in all likelihood, they are not going to be an integral part of the plan.
Among the group, Clark should see the most time as the team attempts to develop him into a Lamar Odom-type. Janning is an undrafted rookie who impressed the team during the summer league with his versatility and basketball IQ. Lawal is a physically-gifted power forward who ultimately could find himself in the lineup as he develops.
If any of the group sees significant minutes this season, the Suns are likely lottery bound.
So, what does this all mean? Will the Suns triumph in the end or suffer a bitter defeat like the Rebels did on Hoth?
This team is led by a first ballot Hall of Famer in Nash who has proven time and time again that he can elevate his teammates to levels never before thought possible. With the departures over the offseason, he'll need every bit of that ability to get this team of role players to success.
That being said, Nash has proven to be strong with The Force and should guide this team to the playoffs yet again.
Prediction: 49-33 and a seventh seed in the playoffs
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