A Phoenix Suns team that nobody knows what to make of them, thatís what.
A fundamental difference in team philosophy between General Manager Steve Kerr and DíAntoni lead to Terry Porter taking over in Phoenix, bringing with him a brand of defensive-minded basketball and accountability.
"I will be hands-on when it comes to the defense," Porter said at his introductory press conference. "When you talk about defense, there's got to be a desire there, and there's got to be a lot of repetition."
Suns fans should also expect a greater emphasis on getting Amare Stoudemire the ball more often and becoming the focal point of everything Phoenix does on offense. Stoudemire enters his seventh season in the league and his third since rising from the ashes following microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2005 and arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in 2006.
Offensively, Stoudemire is without a doubt the big man in the league. He pours in 25 points a night, hovers around 60 percent from the field, 80 percent from the line and has a midrange jump shot that is as pure as any guardís in the league outside of Rip Hamilton.
What Stoudemire doesnít have is a reputation for being an effective defender, despite his 6-10, 250-pound frame and wealth of athletic prowess. Too many times he makes the wrong gamble on defense and too few times does he come down with the key rebound that his team needs.
Phoenix received the unenviable draw of San Antonio in the first round in last yearís playoffs, the third straight year where they tangled with the black and silver in the postseason. After matching the Spurs blow for blow in a Game 1 for the ages, the Suns had nothing left for the rest of the series and bowed out in five games.
Outside of a new head coach, the cast is virtually the same for 2008-09, save the additions of Matt Barnes who thrived in Golden Stateís run-and-gun system and first round pick Robin Lopez who was known for his defensive ways while at Stanford, but showed some signs of offensive life during the Las Vegas Summer League.
People remember that Phoenix slipped to the No. 6 seed in the West but are quick to forget that the Suns had 55 wins. Meanwhile, the Lakers were the No. 1 seed with 57 wins. If Nash and Co. had notched two more Ws to become the team that got to eject Denver from the playoffs instead of allowing L.A. the opportunity to get the sweep, we'd all be looking at this team much differently.
Sure, it's revisionist history, but that's allowed when you're talking about a team that features a historic pairing of arguably the top center and the top point guard of their era.
You can't discount the experience, professionalism and ability of the supporting cast, either. Raja Bell is a warrior and one of the best knock-down three-point shooters in the league. Leandro Barbosa is quicker than 99 percent of his peers. Boris Diaw can play any position from point guard to center. And Grant Hill seems to fit the bill to become the type of consummate pro like a Ray Borque or a Reggie White or a Michael Finley who is destined to one day be named a champion.
Porter just has to make what's old new again.
-- Dave McMenamin