Valley of the Suns

The Barkley-dominated Suns had a stranglehold on us. Team Nash is better. Let's go crazy!

Jerry Colangelo dreams of winning a trifecta.

And he would be well on his way if this town finally gets an NBA championship.

He's already won a World Series championship with the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.

Hall of Famer Jerry Colangelo compares Barkley's Suns with the Nash Era.
Hall of Famer Jerry Colangelo compares Barkley's Suns with the Nash Era.

And last week he was bestowed the honor and obligation of bringing back the gold in men's basketball at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Remember, Argentina was the 2004 Olympic champion, embarrassing Team USA's plethora of mega-rich NBA pros.

But second things first.

The most elusive and tantalizing feat in his four-decade Hall of Fame career (he was enshrined in the Naismith hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, last year) would be an NBA title.

"It's my biggest dream of all time," Colangelo told me, moments after the Phoenix Suns defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in game two of its first-round Western Conference series, before going on to sweep the team that former Los Angeles Lakers GM and NBA legend Jerry West now runs.

Colangelo last year sold his controlling interest in the Suns, but the deal isn't officially completed until 2007, and he remains chairman of the team. No top sports executive has ever won both a World Series and an NBA title, not to mention Olympic gold.

There is every reason to believe that Colangelo's NBA dream could come true in June.

That's because something really sweet is happening inside America West Arena.

Rising from the ashes of a disastrous season last year, the Suns won four straight games against the Grizzlies and now await either Dallas or Houston in the Western Conference semifinals.

The Suns have the talent and confidence to take out either of these teams, setting up a probable Western Conference championship series against their most serious rival, the San Antonio Spurs.

Though it's dangerous to look too far down the road, let's not forget that the Suns have beaten every team in the NBA at least once. If the hometown team can get by the Spurs, it would have a good chance against any team the Eastern Conference has to offer (Phoenix split its series with both Miami and Detroit, for instance).

What's so remarkable about this group of very talented young players is they are a team in the truest sense. There's much to dislike about the NBA with its thuggery, sex-capades and supersized egos and salaries.

So it's refreshing -- if not inspiring -- to watch the Suns simply play basketball the way fans love it to be played.

Run, pass, shoot, run, rebound, run, steal, run, block, run and shoot. But always run, and always put on a show!

The Suns wear down opponents with the relentless pace. It's almost unheard-of for this team to walk the ball across the midcourt stripe.

The Suns can kill you from the outside with three-point bombs lofted by Quentin Richardson (226 of 631 in the regular season), Joe Johnson (177 of 370) and Shawn Marion (114 of 341). Come out to the perimeter to stop the blitzkrieg, and Steve Nash will slash into the heart of the defense, feeding the powerful Amaré Stoudemire underneath for a stupendous slam.

Stoudemire continues to rapidly improve since he was drafted out of high school three years ago. Only 22 years old, he's already among the most dominant players in the NBA, averaging 26 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.

The team won an equal number of games (31) on the road as it did at home -- which flies in the face of blather by the likes of former Suns great Charles Barkley that this team doesn't play defense.

You don't lead the NBA in road wins with bad defense. The Suns finished the regular season 16th (out of 30 teams) in league defensive efficiency. The Suns played average defense and great offense during the regular season. But anybody, save Barkley, who saw games two, three and four with the Grizzlies knows they are capable of good defense.

The one element missing from the chemistry of this loose and jocular team is the passionate frenzy that fans in more astute sports cities would already be unleashing.

While it may be thundering inside America West Arena, it's way too quiet out in the 'hood.

It's like nobody really believes these guys are as good as they are.

Well, it's time to get religion -- because this Suns team is a bandwagon worth jumping onto.

Still thinking these guys ain't really that good?

Perhaps not worthy of the 1992-93 Suns team that painted this city orange and purple and drew 300,000 fans to a parade in 115 degrees to celebrate losing the NBA Finals in six games to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls?

Think again.

The 2004-05 and 1992-93 Phoenix Suns teams each rang up the NBA's best regular-season record at 62-20.

Both teams featured high-powered offenses that led the NBA in scoring -- the '92-'93 team actually scored slightly more points at 113.4 per game than this year's juggernaut that's averaging 110.4.

Ironically, while the current team's defense has been much-maligned as soft, it gave up 282 fewer points over the regular season than the '92-'93 team.

So shut up, Sir Charles!

This year's team also has a slightly higher RPI (relative percent index) rating at .565 compared to the '92-'93 team at .562. Both teams led the league in this important overall gauge of team performance.

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