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By acquiring Vince Carter and others in a trade with Orlando, Phoenix is heading in the right direction.
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In one bold move, Suns embark on post-Stoudemire remake

Posted Dec 22 2010 10:14AM

The Magic did it because they're panicky and desperate and the members of the front office probably wake up every morning in a cold sweat shivering from nightmares of Dwight Howard sitting across from Jim Gray before national TV cameras.

The Wizards did it because once the basketball gods have smiled upon you with a lottery win that delivers you John Wall, you no longer need the burden of $80 million owed to a guy with an attitude that is bad and judgment that is worse.

The Suns did it because ... well, wouldn't you?

It's easy to sit around and moan about what might have happened if the American Psychiatric Association player of the year Ron Artest hadn't been serendipitously positioned to catch Kobe Bryant's airball Video and put it into the basket at the end of Game 5 of last season's Western Conference finals.

Do the Suns go back to the desert and finish off the mighty Lakers in six and advance to the NBA Finals? Do they then take down the Celtics to claim a most improbable title and thereby convince Amar'e Stoudemire to re-pledge his troth, tra-la?

Instead, the Suns are barely seven months removed from that enchanted spring and starting over again. Again.

Sometimes waving the white flag is simply the right thing to do.

This, of course, is what the Suns should have done over the summer when Stoudemire bolted for New York -- instead of force-feeding their fans Hedo Turkoglu in the most contrived marriage since Elton John traded vows with that East German woman. Turkoglu's arrival was a huge dent in the credibility of the new team president, Lon Babby (Turkoglu's former agent), and Turkoglu's play in Phoenix was even more uncomfortable.

How often does a team get to hit the reset button on a big mistake so quickly and get a do-over? Now they're off the hook for the $34 million owed to Turkoglu over the next three seasons, the first step in carving out salary cap space for the future that begins after next summer's labor showdown.

(By the way, after watching Hedo, Gilbert Arenas and Rashard Lewis step off the What-Were-They-Thinking merry-go-round in new locales, we should remember to never again label any contract as untradeable. All it takes is another suc ... er, partner.)

The second step, of course, was swapping Jason Richardson for Vince Carter. The Suns had no intention of forking over the big dollars to Richardson on a new contract. So they bring in the slip-sliding Carter, who these days is often Half-Man, Half-Interested. But like others before him, Carter could benefit greatly from playing with Steve Nash, boost his offensive production and maybe even stir interest in what's left of this season by helping the Suns claim one of the lower rungs in the Western Conference playoff race. Then again, with just $4 million of his next season's $18 million contract guaranteed, Carter gives the Suns a greater flexibility to remake the franchise.

Mickael Pietrus, if he can stay healthy, could be an effective defender on the wing and ease some of the burden on Grant Hill, who's been wearing himself to the nub against the likes of Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant.

Marcin Gortat will now have to step out from Howard's shadow in Orlando and prove that he's the prime-time center that a number of teams have been chasing after. If he can bloom in the desert, the Suns could have their big-man playmate to keep making Nash effective into his dotage. But even if Gortat is not a future All-Star, pairing him with Robin Lopez makes the Suns no longer defenseless in the middle.

"We had to get better defensively," said coach Alvin Gentry. "We were last in the NBA in points allowed, last in field-goal percentage and that's not a real good formula for making the playoffs and being successful in the playoffs. I just felt like we needed a change."

It's the change that the Suns have been facing -- yet refused to admit it -- since Stoudemire turned his back on them and walked out the door. The new players coming in could give them a boost in the near term. But more important, it is the fundamental shift in direction that the franchise needs, a giant leap toward the future.

Of course, the real shifting of the tectonic plates will occur when the Suns move past Nash and into a brand new era. Not that he can't still perform at a high level. Not that he couldn't go to one of the would-be contenders right now and make them for real. But Nash says he does not want to leave and, for now, Babby and team owner Robert Sarver insist they do not want him to go.

Nevertheless, this is progress. The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one. Give the Suns credit for getting there fast.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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