COACH: Mike D'Antoni | 2005-06: 54-28
Phoenix Suns

Stoudemire will look to return to his '04-05 form.
Lisa Blumenfeld/NBAE/Getty Images
In 2004-05, the Suns were the surprise of the league, improving from 29 wins to 62 after signing Steve Nash to quarterback a relentess running game. In ’05-06, even though they fell from 62 wins to 54, Phoenix was again a major surprise, mainly because they were able to overcome the knee injuries which limited All-Star big man Amaré Stoudemire to three games, and return to the Western Conference Finals.

Certainly, Phoenix could put together another season of successful, fast-breaking basketball even if Stoudemire – who will return to the Suns’ lineup after averaging 20.7 points in three summer-league games, and also working out with Team USA at its Las Vegas training camp - is not yet ready to play at 100% of his past form.

But make no mistake about it, any championship aspirations in the Valley of the Sun are thoroughly dependent on the return of explosiveness and full health to the young forward-center, who will turn 24 on Nov. 16.

Managing Stoudemire’s comeback might be the trickiest part of Head Coach/General Manager Mike D’Antoni ’s job, as he indicated to the Arizona Republic: “We can win 55-60 games if he can't go at all. The hard thing is, what if he comes back somewhere in between? If he's struggling, we can have some hard patches. That can wreck a team."

Fortunately for D’Antoni, he should be able to avert any wrecks because Nash, the two-time NBA MVP, is the captain of his ship. The Canadian point guard lifted his scoring average from 15.5 to 18.8 in ’05-06 to compensate for Stoudemire’s absence, while again leading the league in assists (10.5) as he directed Phoenix to a league-leading 108.4 points per game.

Amazingly, though Nash was the league MVP, it was a teammate, Shawn Marion, who led the Suns in points, rebounds, steals and blocks! One of only three players to average better than 20 points and 10 rebounds last season (Kevin Garnett and Elton Brand were the others), Marion is the team’s most versatile defender and should continue to produce with quiet consistency.

After roster overhauls each of the past two offseasons, Phoenix largely stood pat this summer. Tim Thomas – who gave the injury-riddled Suns a huge lift down the stretch after joining the team on March 3 – signed with the Clippers, while Eddie House took his instant offense to New Jersey. In their places, the Suns signed two athletic players, Marcus Banks and Jumaine Jones, who could flourish in D’Antoni’s running game.

Phoenix returns the international trio whose emergence last season was vital to the team’s continued success: versatile Frenchman Boris Diaw, who was the NBA’s Most Improved Player after averaging 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists; the “Brazilian Blur”, Leandro Barbosa, who sped his way to a 13-point average in just 28 minutes per game; and Raja Bell (Virgin Islands), who brought a much-needed dose of rugged defense, plus an unexpected boost of 14.7 ppg.

Also back are mad bomber James Jones and Kurt Thomas, whose interior defense was sorely missed after he went down with a broken foot.
-- Mark Haubner

2006-07 Suns Mini-Plans
Choose from three different Ford Fan Packs: the Fusion Pack, Edge Pack or F-Series Pack. The first 100 fans who buy an 11-game mini plan will have the opportunity to purchase 2007 Playoff tickets. And for every plan purchased you'll receive a Suns hat, courtesy of Ford!
What Percentage of Amaré?

Stoudemire
How far back is Amaré, and how far does he have to go? That’s the big question in Phoenix. Observers at the Toshiba Vegas Summer League noted that, while Stoudemire looked vastly improved from his aborted comeback in March – and had added improved shooting, ballhandling and passing to his game – the trademark explosion and spring in his legs had not yet returned.

Stoudemire rated himself at around 70-to-80 percent back at various times during the summer, and Suns CEO and Chairman Jerry Colangelo offered a note of caution to the Arizona Republic, after watching Amaré practice with Team USA: "People have delusions if they think he's going to be 100 percent in October. In all likelihood, it's going to take him longer than that but as long as he's progressing and moving forward, it just takes time. It's not for lack of effort."

Stoudemire noted that, while he’s attempted acrobatic dunks on his own to gauge the status of his leaping ability, “in traffic, I’m not comfortable yet.” Until he is, Suns fans can’t be comfortable, either.
-- Mark Haubner

60
THE STAT
Shawn Marion posted 60 double-doubles last season making him just the third Suns player ever to reach the 60 double-double mark in a season (Neal Walker, 67 in 1972-73 and Kevin Johnson, 62 1988-89) .
X&O STRENGTH

D'Antoni
He maximizes his best player by giving him free range to score. He has created an atmosphere where players are free to perform and in turn, are granted an open floor game. The key with Phoenix is that they do it all the time, they’re always running. That’s why they struggle with teams that run solid half-court sets. They are going to let the offense take care of the defense. They are quick and their defense relies on creating havoc.

X&O WEAKNESS
They could struggle against a team that controls the tempo and creates a grind-it-out type of game.

HEAD COACH PHILOSOPHY
I think that he is doing the right thing with the players that he has. He has put them all into the open floor and he runs with it. That’s not easy to do, but he does. D’Antoni has mastered slotting personnel for the demands of the team.
-- Don Casey (courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association)

Phoenix reloaded this year. If not the team to beat, then certainly one of the top three in the league.
Raja Bell's health is a big factor. He adds toughness and defense to their offensive show.
The acquisitions; Marcus Banks is starting to figure out the NBA game, and Eric Piatkowski could revamp his career as a spot-up shooter in this system.
It's all based around Nash. If you can get physical with Nash and make him play D for most of the shot clock, you can slow down their offense.
-- Western Conference Scout
Boris Diaw: If you don't know, now you know. Diaw regularly fills up the box score with a little of everything, from points, rebounds and assists to steals and a limited number of turnovers.
Amare Stoudamire: His buzzworthy name will probably make him a high selection, but will his "recovering from injury" concerns have certainly lowered his value.
The Suns are a fantasy owner’s dream: high scoring offense, with most of the production spread out evenly among the stars. With Steve Nash running the point, everyone in a Suns uniform is worth a look. No other team is as deep or as productive from a fantasy standpoint. The return of Amare Stoudemire will rule the headlines, and he’ll be this season’s ultimate high-risk, high-reward player.
-- Adam Madison
Suns Fantasy Preview
PLAYER/2005-06 STATS
PPG
RPG
APG
PG
18.8
4.2
10.5
SG
14.7
3.2
2.6
SF
21.8
11.8
1.8
PF
8.7
5.3
0.7
C
13.3
6.9
6.2
G
10.0
2.3
3.8
G
13.1
2.6
2.8
F
9.3
3.4
0.8
F
10.5
4.5
0.8
F
8.6
7.8
1.1
G
Free agent
F
Free agent
F-C
Free agent
G-F
Undrafted rookie
F
Free agent
G
Free agent
F
Trade
F
Waived
PPG
21.8
RPG
11.8
APG
10.5
SPG
1.98
BPG
1.69
Points Scored
108.4
(1st)
Points Allowed
102.8
(28th)
Field-Goal Percentage
.479
(1st)
Opponents' FG%
.454
(16th)
Rebounding Diff.
-4.08
(28th)
2001-02: 36-46, Sixth, Pacific Division
1996-97: 40-42, Fourth, Pacific Division
1986-87: 36-46, Fifth, Pacific Division
1981-82: 46-36, Third, Pacific Division
Best NBA Season: 1992-93, 2004-05: 62-20
Season Opener:
Oct. 31 @ LAL (10:30 p.m. ET)
Home Opener:
Nov. 1 vs. LAC (10:30 p.m. ET)
Longest Road Trip(s):
5 games in 7 days: Dec. 7-13
@NJN, @BOS, @CHA, @ORL, @MIA
5 games in 7 days: Jan. 23-29
@WAS, @NYK, @MIL, @CLE, @MIN
Longest home stand(s):
5 games in 9 days: Jan. 5-13
MIA, GSW, SEA, CLE, ORL
5 games in 11 days: Mar. 2-12
IND, LAL, CHA, NOK, HOU
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TV: UPN 45, FSAZ
Radio: KTAR 620 AM
Web: Official site
Local Coverage: East Valley Tribune | Arizona Republic | Arizona Daily Star