The task simply isn't possible. The Suns are good. On some nights, very good. But they are not quite good enough. When you reach the playoffs, only nine men can play effectively. And the Suns don't have the best nine men in the league. That's nobody's fault. They are better and deeper this year than they have ever been before. But we're talking here about going up against the very best, and the Suns fall short.
Long before he came to Phoenix, Charles Barkley described in his book what it takes to win an NBA title:
"The only way is to have the best team in the league. The most talent. The best players. Nine guys who can flat-out play their asses off. No one can do it alone. Not Michael. Not Magic. Not Hakeem. Not David. Not me. Not anybody."
As of this moment, Jordan and the Bulls, Olajuwan and the Rockets, and Robinson and the Spurs are all still in contention.
Barkley's theory stands up. As the playoffs unfold, we can see how the talent is distributed around the league. Other teams appear to have more size, more pure talent. Barkley has carried the Suns farther than we should have expected. He can't do it alone. And even he doesn't help the cause when he occasionally tosses up low-percentage shots from the wing or halts the offensive flow by holding the ball too long.
But Charles especially can't do it on those frequent days when Kevin Johnson won't make a real effort to give him the ball. Perhaps it's not prudent to criticize KJ. After all, he's already pronounced himself to be the best point guard in the league. I'm astonished KJ would actually say that in a setting where he knew that he was going to be quoted. Every other point guard left in the playoffs will be playing against him that much harder from here on in. And it's such an arrogant statement for a player who is always just a half-step away from marching into the trainer's room and another dance on the disabled list.
Dan Majerle is so popular that no one appreciates it when you criticize him.
Nevertheless, the unexplored mystery of this season to me is, what has happened to Majerle's game? Who encouraged Majerle to transform himself from the scrappiest player in the league into a player shamelessly addicted to the three-point fix?
Majerle was a hero for a game or two with last-minute shots during the regular season. But the Suns lost the dynamic presence of one of the sturdiest mix-it-up players in the league. That Dan Majerle, the one who gave us all those tough and tenacious minutes, is not a dominant presence with the Suns these days.
This new Majerle plays like he wants to be Eddie Johnson when he grows up. This Majerle spends most of his time on offense gliding around, looking to spot up outside the three-point line. He is not waiting eagerly for a chance to drive to the basket. Rather, he's waiting to take the long, glamorous shot and perhaps hear the cry, "Shazam," from Al McCoy.
For my part, I'd like to see the old Majerle back again. It would brighten the Suns' chances considerably.
Richard Dumas can dunk. He can dunk like crazy. But he's not Dr. J. Far from it. And he can't play defense. He is into the theatre of the dunk, which looks good to the fans, but doesn't necessarily win games.
Unless he's scoring big numbers, Dumas is actually a liability on the floor. He doesn't see the whole court, and all he looks for is his own path to the basket. I don't think he's really a selfish player; he's just immature.
Mark West may be the most admirable of human beings, and his value as a buffer under the boards is considerable.
But West can't catch the ball. He has hands of stone. Someone once said West couldn't score ten points if he played all alone in an empty gym. That's too harsh. He might even get 12. But he'd have to play an awfully long time.
Danny Ainge is worn out. At his age, the season is too long for him. His legs are shot. Still, he's giving it all he's got. But he's not shooting well. More important, he can't guard anyone without fouling him. Still, he's like having a coach on the floor.
Tom Chambers has gone into his usual playoff swoon. All we can expect Chambers to excel at from now on is glaring at the refs.
Oliver Miller is maybe a year or two away from being a solid NBA big man. His problem now in guarding big-name players like David Robinson is that the big-name players get all the favorable calls.
Cedric Ceballos has apparently been forgotten. His minutes are drastically down. This is too bad. I think he should be playing before Dumas.
During the time Dumas was injured, Ceballos started and scored big points and contributed ten rebounds a game. Ceballos gets rebounds against everyone. Now there are no minutes left for him to play. But that's Coach Whataburger's problem. That leaves Frank Johnson, Negele Knight and Jerrod Mustaf.
Barkley talked about the plight of the final three men on the 12-man roster in his book, too.
"They should just sit there and never complain. It's impossible to find enough playing time for everyone. Besides, these guys make a lot of money to keep their mouths shut. They should just be happy to be in the league." Nike is currently running yet another new commercial featuring Barkley. It is in black and white.
This is a glowering Charles who slams the ball into the basket.
He stares straight into the camera and says:
"Just because I can dunk a basketball, it doesn't mean I'm a role model."
Yes, you are, Charles. No way you can get around it.