The Suns set in the West on Wednesday evening.
And they dropped below the horizion with a purple and orange glow, beating the Golden State Warriors in the last game of the season for both teams, 117-113. Phoenix wound up two games out of the Western Conference playoffs, behind the Utah Jazz.
It was surely the last time this version of the Suns' starting five will suit up in the same locker room.
We hear owner Robert Sarver would like to unload Shaquille O'Neal's $20 million salary for next year, and other teams have expressed interest in the former Diesel -- notably Mark Cuban and his Dallas Mavericks, who have under-achieved with the endlessly perplexed Erick Dampier at center.
Guess Shaq would become the Big Stetson if he moved to the Big D. Some would argue he's been "all hat" for years.
Then there are the Lakers, who need meat in the middle when the injury-plagued Andrew Bynum goes down. And Shaq's said he'd like to finish his career in the city where he won three rings. And he and Kobe Bryant made nice as co-MVPs at this year's All Star Game here. Just sayin'...
Steve Nash? Well, GM Steve Kerr's been saying every chance he gets lately that Little Stevie's the cornerstone of the franchise so we guess we believe him. Nash, who (like Shaq) has another year left on his contract, wants to stay. He reiterated that sentiment after the team's 82nd and final game of the regular season was completed at US Airways Center.
"Both of our wish is to be back," he said in tortured athlete English, when asked about his and fellow old guy Grant Hill's future in Phoenix.
As for Hill, we hope the Suns do bring him back. He played out of mind and body after Alvin Gentry replaced the inept Terry Porter as coach in February. In the game against the Warriors, Hill had 27 points, 5 assists, and 10 rebounds -- 8 of them offensive.
After he scored the last two of his points on a couple of free throws, he was mobbed by his grinning, back-slapping teammates. It was the first time in the 36-year-old's career that he's been healthy enough to appear in all 82 games. Credit the Suns' crack training staff, headed by Aaron Nelson.
We hope the Suns trade Amar'e Stoudemire. But it'd be smarter to hang on to the power forward until next season's trading deadline (after his damaged eye's recovered and he's back on the court) so Kerr can get a good player in return. Right now, he's damaged goods.
The rest of our keep list: Coach Gentry, of course (the guy was a magician considering all the problems that befell the Suns), Jason Richardson, who hasn't played as well as he has for other teams but still has the potential to be a great two-guard; Leandro Barbosa, the fastest guy in the NBA and a scoring phenom when he's healthy (he had 18 points in 27 minutes against Golden State); Lou Amundson, the scrappiest player on the team who won Dan Majerle's annual Hustle Award this year; super-sub Jared Dudley, who does great stuff, not all of which shows up on the stat sheet; Goran Dragic, who looked like a dud under Porter but came around big-time in his backup point guard role under Gentry, and Robin Lopez, who got hugely more aggressive over the last third of the season and started looking like a legitimate NBA big man.
Matt Barnes? Too inconsistent. Send him packing. Likewise Alando Tucker and Stromile Swift. A star at Wisconsin, Tucker's too small and athletically challenged to play off-guard in the NBA, and he's certainly no point guard. Swift was brought in when Stoudemire went out with his detached retina but was unimpressive in limited minutes.
The Suns are guaranteed the 14th pick in the next NBA draft, and they have a slight chance to go higher in the lottery. Pray for a miracle.
Beyond that, it's up to Kerr to find some complimentary parts for the Suns' machine. The GM say he doesn't think the team "as constituted" can compete at the highest levels. We agree. The Suns were the highest-scoring tream in the league this season; the problem is defense. Sooner or later Kerr's got to deal Stoudemire for a big man who can play on both ends of the court. We're not sure what he can do to make up for Nash's weakness on D, except to continue to develop the promising Dragic.
Though he only had 10 points in the Golden State game, it's worth mentioning that Nash's shooting percentages this season made him the only NBA player in history to shoot more than 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range, and 90 percent from the free-throw line for three straight years.
It's also worth mentioning that this year's Suns had the second-best record (46-36) of any team in league history not making the playoffs. If they played in the Eastern Conference instead of the talented West, the Suns would've finished fifth in an eight-team post-season field.
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