On the threshold of the greatest start in Phoenix Suns history (5-0), the Orlando Magic exposed the all-too-familiar glitch that has hampered the Purple and Orange for the past decade: no defense.
But praise your favorite deity Suns fans that this team has been infused with some life again after general manager Steve Kerr nearly ruined this team for good last season.
Opting to shift gears from the high-octane offensive machine that was the Suns two years ago, Kerr gave the team an overhaul and ousted head coach and fan favorite Mike D’Antoni in favor of much more malaise style of play controlled by new coach Terry Porter.
In theory it made sense, seeing that the Suns could never find a way to conquer the San Antonio Spurs dynasty and their half-court sets in the playoffs.
Naturally, the addition of Shaquille O’Neal would serve as the catalyst that clogged up the middle to slow down Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, while Steve Nash distributed the ball to a slashing Amar’e Stoudemire or any one of the Suns’ talented outside shooters.
Although Shaq did have a productive year, he slowed down a team that thrived on the transition game, and by the end of the 2008-2009 season, Stoudemire had missed 29 games and Porter’s stint in the Valley was over.
Enter Alvin Gentry.
He landed the interim job with 27 games remaining, and with the hiring, Kerr may have salvaged his career.
Gentry was the only coaching staff holdover from the D’Antoni era and has been a member of it since the Suns’ turnaround in 2004, when a guy named Nash came to town and won a couple of Most Valuable Player trophies.
But who’s counting?
Now that is a novel concept: hire a coach who knows how to utilize the talent.
The guy who needed this the most, however, was Stoudemire.
Nearly traded last season to save money, “Stat” seemed like he just did not fit in to Porter’s system with Shaq in the middle.
In the early part of Stoudemire’s career, he teased fans with flashes of superstardom, but he never established himself in that upper echelon of NBA talent.
But Gentry’s two-year deal, with an option for a third, is going to provide Stoudemire with the mentoring and an offensive design to facilitate that leap to the next level.
This year he is healthy, happy and back to throwing it down with devastating authority.
The Suns are 6-1 with Amar’e in the lineup and Gentry at the helm.
Although the sample size is small, the future of the team appears promising when those two are collaborating.
Nash is back to practicing for a marathon during games and the whole team is letting it fly from behind the arc.
Literally, the whole team – even the 6-foot-11 center.
In fact, local high school and former UA star Channing Frye is leading the team in attempts and makes from 3-point land.
Will they give up points?
Undoubtedly, but that is not necessarily as bad as many analysts will have people thinking.
The “7 seconds or less” formula was not the reason the Suns could not advance past the Spurs in the playoffs.
In 2005, Joe Johnson took a nasty spill in the conference semi-finals against Dallas and missed the first two against the Spurs.
He came back but was not the same and neither were the Suns.
In 2006 they made it to the conference finals, due to Boris Diaw’s amazing play in the wake of losing Stoudemire for the season.
But he was undoubtedly the missing piece that would have propelled the Suns past the Mavericks to a championship berth.
2007 was the year of the infamous playoff series against the Spurs, in which Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended for leaving the bench after Nash was plowed into the scorer’s table by Spurs forward Robert Horry.
It was yet another roadblock in the Suns’ pursuit of a championship.
Kerr made his big moves the following year and “the big Shaqtus” was not the answer.
After missing the playoffs entirely last season, Gentry will right the ship.
It is far too early for championship talk this season, but at least Kerr was able to realize, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Reach Erik at firstname.lastname@example.org.