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End Game: Phoenix Suns Face an Offseason of Discontent

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A mere week into the new season, the Arizona Diamondbacks' top pitcher is on the disabled list with a sore wing and the D-Backs couldn't hit a slow-pitch grapefruit with a two-by-four. You think they've got problems?

This year's star-crossed campaign for Your Phoenix Suns mercifully comes to an end sometime after 9:30 tonight when the clock runs out on their 82nd game, versus the Golden State Warriors, and a season that began with loftier aspirations than ninth place in the Western Conference and a lottery pick in the NBA draft.

So what's next? Well, there are really only four dates that matter to Planet Orange hardcores: 

1) Tomorrow, when those Suns players who aren't summering in Aruba hit the links.

2) May 19, when the team learns its draft position in the lottery.

3) June 25, when the draft itself is held.

4) That still-amorphous date in late October '09 when the new-look Suns take the court for their next regular-season game.

Will they be new-look? Let's put it this way: You've got as much chance of seeing a starting lineup of Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Jason Richardson, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Shaquille O'Neal again as the Suns have of landing the top pick in the draft (i.e. Oklahoma's Blake Griffin).

(Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Bulls pulled it off last year, snagging Derrick Rose, despite having only a 1.7 percent shot at him, but the Bulls' luck only narrows the odds more for Phoenix. And those odds couldn't get much narrower, at 0.5 percent for the first pick, 0.59 for second, and .72 for third. Expect the Suns to pick in their default slot: 14th.)

Nash might be back, if... a) Suns owner Robert Sarver and general manager Steve Kerr decide to exercise his $13 million-plus team option for '09-10 instead of trading him and b) Nash "approves" of whatever plan Sarver/Kerr put on the table for "revamping" the team. Our guess: gone. His offensive skills will be attractive to other point-deficient teams, and cash-poor Sarver will have $$$ signs flashing in his eyes at the thought of taking some of those Nash megabucks off the table.

Hill: back. At least we hope so after the magical, age-defying season this 36-year-old, 13-year pro just had. 

J-Rich: back. After his inconsistent play and brushes with the law, who'd eat his $12 mil-plus salary?

Stoudemire: back, with a caveat. The savviest scenario for the Suns is to hold on to Amar'e for now, start him throughout the fall and winter to make sure his eye is healthy, then -- given that the Suns haven't miraculously reversed their fortunes and/or Stoudemire hasn't magically learned how to guard a pick-and-roll -- ship him off before the February trading deadline for young players/draft choices. The least-savvy choice would be go give the injury-prone, D-deficient dude a max contract, so there's at least a 50/50 chance that that's exactly what the Suns brain trust will do. 

Shaq: buh-bye. We'll be seeing you somewhere -- maybe Cleveland, maybe Dallas, maybe L.A., maybe some other burg where there's a need for a big-baby blowhard who can't shoot free throws -- but we couldn't be happier that it won't be here.

The Suns and Warriors tip at 7:30 p.m. at US Airways Center. TV: FSN AZ. Radio: KTAR-AM 620. Info: www.nba.com/suns.

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