Suppose for a sec that Robert Horry, on the morning of May 14, 2007, had looked in the mirror and said, "Today, I'm not going to be a total dick."
True to his nature, though, Horry decked Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash during the waning seconds of that night's Western Conference semifinal game four, almost certainly costing the Suns the key game five. The Suns lost that heartbreaker in Phoenix, 88-85, to the Spurs thanks in large part to the absence of Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, who were suspended for "leaving the bench area" following the Horry/Nash incident.
If the Suns had won game five, they'd have been up 3-2 on the Spurs with the potential seventh game at home. They might have slain some long-festering ghosts that year, both of the San Antonio variety and of the "Suns can't win the championship" ilk.
Instead, Horry's foul play left the Suns and their fans with the ghost of a dream, one that turned outright nightmarish last season. Like a b-ball butterfly effect, Horry's simple, thoughtless action caused a hurricane of change for this franchise, not much of it good.
The coming of Steve Kerr.
The going of Kurt Thomas.
The fall of Shawn Marion.
The rise of Shaq.
A first-round playoff exit (victims once more of the Spurs, of course) in '08.
The departure of head coach Mike D'Antoni and the Fun 'n' Gun.
The arrival of Terry Porter.
The trade of Boris Diaw and Raja Bell for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley.
The fall of Terry Porter.
The rise of D'Antoni acolyte Alvin Gentry and the rebirth of the Fun 'n' Gun.
The loss of Amar'e to an eye injury.
No playoffs last year despite a winning record of 46-36.
The end of Shaq.The re-signings of Grant Hill and Steve Nash.
Which leaves us with . . . what, exactly? Are the Suns rebuilding, or can a stable mix of players led by graybeards Nash (35) and Hill (37) and a coach in tune with his players' wishes propel the Suns back to the nosebleed section of the Western Conference?
As the Suns prepare to open the regular season tonight in L.A. against the Clippers, no one, not even Kerr or Gentry or Nash, seems to have much of a clue, and the 4-4 preseason raised as many questions as it answered.
Here's what little we do know:
1) Expect scoring -- lots of scoring -- and a large dose of small-ball with speed; Coach Gentry says he's tried to model this year's team after D'Antoni's undersize but 62-game-winning 2004-05 squad.
2) Starting lineup: Nash at point, Hill at forward, A'mare at power forward, Shaq replacement Channing Frye at center (himself subbing for injured C Robin Lopez), J-Rich eventually at shooting guard (Richardson is suspended for tonight and tomorrow's games in connection with his DUI; word is either Leandro Barbosa or Jared Dudley will start the first two games)
3) Despite the departure of Matt Barnes to Orlando, the bench should be a team strength, what with the general hustle of players such as Barbosa, Dudley, Louis Amundson, a much-improved Goran Dragic, and, hopefully, a decent contribution (especially on D) from rookie forward Earl Clark.
4) Shaq's mouth is half a continent away, but so is his rebounding, and that promises to be Phoenix's Achilles' heel -- or their second, after defending the pick 'n' roll.
5) Speaking of which, we're betting Amar'e betters his pick 'n' roll D, since it's his contract year and all; if not, and his eye is healthy, he should be offloaded before the trading deadline.
6) Making the playoffs in any capacity would be a plus, of course, but if last season was any guide, the Suns need to win at least 50 games to avoid a possible opening-round playoff execution versus the L.A. Lakers.
7) Phoenix also wants to circumvent another early-rounder against -- who else? -- the Spurs, who've spiced up their aging lineup with the additions of Antonio McDyess, Richard Jefferson, and draft pick DeJuan Blair.
8) As for the wretched retiree Robert Horry, may he find grubworms in his Malt-O-Meal.
Tip for the Clippers game is at 7:30 p.m. TV: My45. Radio: KTAR-AM 620. More info: www.nba.com/suns.