NBA training camps start up in a few weeks. In the meantime, we’re going team-by-team, from 1 to 30, exploring what each team’s ceiling is for the upcoming season and where their basement is. In other words, what are the realistic best-case and worst-case scenarios for each squad?
Additions: PG Goran Dragic, SF Matt Barnes, C/PF Robin Lopez, PG Sean Singletary.
Losses: SG Gordan Giricek, C Brian Skinner.
Ceiling: Western Conference finals
The Phoenix Suns you once knew are gone, and it’s not by accident. The exit strategy began the day Shawn Marion was traded for Shaquille O’Neal, and continued throughout the summer when Terry Porter replaced Mike D’Antoni on the bench and the Suns spent draft picks on defensive-minded big man Robin Lopez and point guard Goran Dragic. So does a renewed commitment defense and producing buckets in the half-court offense — basically trying to play more postseason-style basketball — also mean that Phoenix’s championship window for the Steve Nash era has closed? Not yet. Say what you will about Shaq’s decline, but he’s still a force that opponents have to deal with and his presence allowed Amare Stoudemire to play some of the best basketball of his career in the second half of last season. With a whole season plus training camp ahead of them, Nash is good enough to figure out how to make this new-look offense work. Plus, if Dragic is as good as advertised, he and fellow rookie Sean Singletary should finally give Nash a chance to pace himself during the regular season and keep some gas in the tank for the playoffs. And the underrated factor in the Dragic/Singletary acquisitions is that Leandro Barbosa can play his natural scoring game and not have to worry about running the point. Matt Barnes and an improved Alando Tucker should also gives Porter a chance to limit Grant Hill‘s minutes throughout the season. The championship window is closing, but the Suns have at least one more realistic shot.
Basement: 8th seed in the West
There are some ingredients in place for a down season in Phoenix — adjusting to a new style, a deeper Western Conference, plus injury risks with Nash, Shaq, Hill, even Amare to some extent — but this team is still too good not to make the playoffs.