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Steve Nash, Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley will play huge roles this season for the Suns.
Steve Nash, Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley will play huge roles this season for the Suns.
Christian Petersen/NBAE/Getty Images

Suns head into season with big questions looming

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Posted Dec 23 2011 9:25AM

The Suns have not made an earthquake-level trade or free-agent signing in a full year and have not had a starter depart -- other than Vince Carter's buyout (which was a done deal from the instant he came from Orlando). This will have to do for a roster in cement.

One year. That's an eternity on Planet Orange, where dramatic turnover in the locker room or front office is a reflex action by now, a trigger pulled on muscle memory. Now, nothing since Carter as headliner of the Magic package for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and others on Dec. 18, 2010.

Now, nothing.

This is -- for the moment at least -- the season that begins without major adjustment. No transitions accompanying the Orlando deal, Amar'e Stoudemire, Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Steve Kerr (summer 2010), Shaquille O'Neal's departure (summer 2009), O'Neal's arrival (February 2008), Alvin Gentry replacing Terry Porter (February 2009), Porter replacing Mike D'Antoni (summer 2008), or the thousands of other transactions that surely took place and have been lost in the blur.

It's just a rest stop, with massive decisions looming somewhere in the distance, but any rest will do. This was the only move left for the Suns to make, after all. No move. Every season in recent years, whether during the summer or in-schedule, had been jolted by transaction, until, finally, the start to 2011-12 looks strangely familiar to the end of 2010-11.

Not that they want everyone to actually be the same. Different versions of Childress and Hakim Warrick would be nice, along with getting back the Robin Lopez who can move well, and no more pictures with guys on defense holding a red cape. But roster stability is such a unique concept that maybe it helps turn the losing direction.

Relative silence from the Valley of the Sun is all the more a contrast because every other member of the Pacific Division was in constant motion, the way the Lakers and Clippers churned away for Chris Paul and made key transactions, the Warriors worked hard for an A List free agent or marquee trade, and the Kings spent and dealt.

Phoenix?

Used the 13th pick on forward Markieff Morris from Kansas.

Hired Elston Turner as assistant coach to do something about the defense.

Re-signed Grant Hill to a one-year contract to remain the starting small forward, bought out Carter for $4 million in a predictable move rather than keep him on the roster for $18 million, and signed Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair and Ronnie Price for backcourt depth.

Maybe it all means nothing. Or just maybe continuity will have extra value in a locker room headed by Nash and Hill, all-time grounded, focused workers who lived through the constant turnover but couldn't have loved it. The Suns went from eight different starting lineups in 2009-10, the season they reached the Western Conference finals with a resurgent Stoudemire in his final moment with the franchise, to 17 last season.

Either way, the stop in the revolving door is only temporary. Nash and Hill cannot play forever, no matter how much evidence has been presented to the contrary. The end is drawing near. We're talking 10 more seasons, max.

Hill is 39 and just signed a one-year deal. Not merely still the best small forward on the team, he is one of the defenders in the league at the position. He is healthy, but, again, he is 39. One big looming change.

The big looming change is, of course, Nash. Still a dangerous offensive weapon, still the face of the franchise, still saying all the right things about loyalty to the Suns, he is nonetheless the primary trade chip for an organization that needs a lot of pieces.

For now, it is strangely quiet. The first-round pick has arrived, the assistant coach has relocated, and the backcourt depth has signed. These are the stable Suns.

The three-step plan

1. Fix the defense. The Suns took a big step back last season and, worse of all, couldn't figure out why. Time to figure out why.

2. Strange as it to say, the Suns may need to watch the offense. Two of the top seven scorers on a team that relies on depth to put up numbers are gone, including No. 2 Vince Carter.

3. What are the chances finishing 30th in rebounding percentage again gets them to the playoffs? Robin Lopez needs to do better. Hakim Warrick needs to do better.

Three points:

1. There is no way to overstate the importance of Steve Nash and Grant Hill behind the scenes, such valuable role models that their impact may be felt years after they've left the team.

2. Vince Carter may have been the big name who came in trade from Orlando, but Marcin Gortat is the lasting impact. Seventeen double-doubles off the bench last season.

3. Nash is 25 and Hill is 27. It doesn't matter what it says in their birth certificates. Lies, all lies.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. 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.

AT A GLANCE

LAST YEAR: 40-42, 2nd in Pacific

FINISH: Missed playoffs

2010-11 Regular Season Standings

2010-11 TEAM LEADERS

Steve Nash

14.7 PPG

Marcin Gortat

9.3 RPG

Steve Nash

11.4 APG

2010-11 STATISTICS

  OFFENSE DEFENSE
PPG 105.0 105.9
RPG 40.2 44.3
APG 23.7 23.0
FG % 0.470 0.472
3PT % 0.377 0.367
FT % 0.759 0.754
  Complete 2010-11 Stats 
STARTING FIVE

STEVE NASH, POINT GUARD

14.7 PPG | 11.4 APG | .912 FT%

There just doesn't seem to be any slowing the two-time MVP, who again finished with an ultra-productive season. Unfortunately, Nash alone won't get the Suns back into the playoffs.

SHANNON BROWN, SHOOTING GUARD

8.7 PPG | 1.9 RPG | 1.2 APG

With the Suns' fast paced offense and Steve Nash pulling the strings, Brown could see a spike in his offense this season.

GRANT HILL, SMALL FORWARD

13.2 PPG | 2.5 APG | 4.2 RPG

Despite closing in on 40 years old, Hill doesn't seem to be slowing down, posting his highest PPG average since 2007-08.

CHANNING FRYE, POWER FORWARD

12.7 PPG | 6.7 RPG | 1.0 BPG

He may be 6-foot-11, but Frye is anything but the typical big man, as evident by his 343 3-pointers made over the last two seasons.

MARCIN GORTAT, CENTER

13.0 PPG | 9.3 RPG | 1.3 BPG*

Turned a 55-game stint with the Suns last season into those numbers (*) after trade from Orlando, and a new starting gig.

RESERVES
NAMEHTWTPOSCOMMENT
Josh Childress6-8209G-FNeeds a bounce-back season as much as anyone.
Jared Dudley6-7225G-FBest known in the front court, he could challenge at shooting guard.
Robin Lopez7-0255CHis 6.4 pts and 3.2 boards not enough to hold off Polish Hammer for starting spot.
 Complete Roster 
OFFSEASON MOVES

ADDED: F Markieff Morris, G Sebastian Telfair, G Shannon Brown, G Ronnie Price, F Marcus Landry

LOST:  G Vince Carter, G Zabian Dowdell, G-F Mickael Pietrus

MAN ON THE SPOT

JOSH CHILDRESS, G-F

Childress is smart and lives outside the bubble most NBA players inhabit, so he hears the criticisms of the first season of a five-year, $33-million deal. The ability to play guard or forward will provide opportunities to reclaim his former spot as a respected wing threat.

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