As the one-eyed Jack, Steve Nash, and his Phoenix Suns knocked off the San Antonio Spurs last night, Franchise contemplated the job the Suns have done re-stocking their club, and that their blueprint might serve Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors well this off-season...
Even before Steve Nash made like Willis Reed and put on one of the most memorable playoff performances of all time last night, with one eye swollen shut no less, I was determined to write about this year's Phoenix Suns.
Not simply because they were on the verge off knocking off their dreaded foes, the San Antonio Spurs, in unceremonious fashion, but more because this was a team I felt Toronto Raptors' fans should look to for inspiration.
This was a Phoenix team left for dead by many-an-expert, not predicted to make the playoffs never mind the Conference Finals. Too old, too shallow, too moody, too whatever.
However after going for the home-run ball and striking out badly via the Shaq-for-Marion trade in his first "GM at bat," Steve Kerr altered his approach.
-He re-signed Steve Nash and Grant Hill, two great leaders who were proving that like Aaliyah once said, "age ain't nothing but a number."
-He brought in Channing Frye, giving him a new life and a perfect role for his style of game.
-And maybe most importantly, he gave Alvin Gentry the keys to the whole thing.
Suddenly this is the most well-rounded Phoenix squad since perhaps the Barkley-led 1993 Suns, and while they'll undoubtedly be in tough against the Lakers, this is a blueprint for many-an-NBA-team to follow.
Which brings us back to the Raptors.
Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a fellow Raptor-blogger about the best way to build an NBA team. We both agreed that the OKC way is best; build around young talent and fill in gaps with veteran experience, even if that means overpaying at times.
The San Antonio Spurs did this by default when they won the Tim Duncan sweepstakes the year David Robinson missed most of the season, and there are countless other examples from the current Magic (Dwight and Jameer then Rashard Lewis) to the early 2000's Pistons (RIP and Tayshaun and the Sheed.)
Every team attempting a "rebuild" is ostensibly trying to achieve this feat, however many a club goes awry in the selection of its "young talent" and therefore a solid base is never constructed. Instead, a medicore foundation results and many teams are then forced to overpay to try and fill the "much-larger-than-expected" gaps, giving rise to a "so-so team" that tops out at only one, maybe two, playoff round wins.
Sound familiar Raptors fans?
This is essentially the situation right now with the Dinos.
Andrea Bargnani did not take the NBA world by storm as Bryan Colangelo expected, nor did he pair as well with Chris Bosh as BC originally believed. And thanks to Colangelo's wheeling and dealing, there was precious little in the cupboard in terms of draft pick options with which to supplement the lack of young talent.
And really, the problems began before Colangelo even came on the scene.
And we won't even go into the Hoffa affair.
So now should Chris Bosh take off, the Raptors are stuck in a position where they either need to hit a home-run with this upcoming draft pick (highly unlikely considering their expected draft position), or Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan need to take giant steps forward to prove worthy of being franchise material.
That is if Colangelo still feels that he can turn this team into a contender using "Plan A."
However what about going the Plan B route, aka, the Steve Kerr Suns Methodology?
Under this plan, Kerr has shown it's possible to build a very competitive and cohesive, veteran-laden unit with only two stars present; the rest of the team simply being the right "fit" around them. It's an approach that like OKC's recent build is hardly novel, but one that I'm advocating for the Toronto Raptors going forward unless BC is ready to tear things down completely and start over.
There are some nice pieces in place, it's simply a matter of doing a much better job using them correctly.
Take Andrea Bargnani.
Is there any need for him to be a starter, let alone a starting center? Look at the way Phoenix uses Channing Frye, essentially a clone of Andrea - could Bargs be used in a much more efficient manner next season?
In fact, is there really much difference between Frye and Bargs?
Per 36 minutes, here were their stats last season side-by-side, as well as their PER's and Wins Scores:
Frye is actually a slightly better player from these numbers considering he shoots a higher percentage, does an overall better job on the glass, turns the ball over less and yet has a lower usge rate, meaning he's much-less involved in his team's offence. He was a forgotten man in Portland but in the Phoenix system, he takes turns sliding in and out of the starting rotation and has become a deadly weapon in the Suns' arsenal.
So why not use Andrea in a similar fashion?
And in the same vein, not let Hedo roam free as he did in Orlando, but look to bring in some more complementary pieces around him, pieces who don't require the ball in their hands at all times to be effective?
That doesn't even mean breaking the bank in free-agency (although it admittedly would be nice to keep the team's Amar'e, Chris Bosh.) Players like Tony Allen, Kelenna Azubuike (player option), Travis Outlaw and James Singleton all could be nice fits in a reconstructed starting five.
And these types of move speak to the second major point in what Phoenix has done to reshape their ball club; no home run attempts. Instead, the majority of the moves have been bunts, singles and doubles; small maneuvers that alone haven't looked like much, but collectively have paid big dividends. We've discussed the flaws in BC's home-run approach before, maybe now it's time to get some hits inside the park.
In fact this off-season I truly believe that if BC wants to get the most out of the roster he currently he has, he needs to re-examine his original views of this team, and get creative in the ways in which he uses the pieces.
Maybe it's not Raptors fans that therefore need to pay close attention to the re-jigging the Phoenix Suns have done.
Ironically, perhaps it's Colangelo that needs to be watching his former club for inspiration.