Basketball is a team sport and, at its best, the five pieces on the court work together as one unit. Historically, this was best evidenced by the New York Knicks of the late 60’s and early 70’s, whose sum total and “open man’ philosophy was better than its individual parts. However, even on those teams, there were superstar players such as Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Willis Reed and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. The Lakers of the 80s were filled with Hall of Famers (Magic, Kareem, Worthy) but were known collectively as “Showtime.” They were followed by the “Bad Boys” of Detroit, who were not referred to as Isiah Thomas’ team, or Bill Lambier’s team, or John Salley and Dennis Rodman’s team, despite how much each contributed to their success.
Under the David Stern era as Commissioner, which is soon coming to an end, the NBA has focused more on the name on the back of the jersey than on the name on the front of the jersey. The league has been identified by its parts, such as the “Jordan era” to “Kobe’s Lakers.” Teams are identified by the individuals on the roster. Despite the great history of the franchise, the Celtics of the last decade focused on the “Three Amigos” (Pierce, Garnett and Allen). The Spurs play great team basketball but they are more often referred to through Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. For the past few seasons, the Thunder has been identified by Westbrook and Durant, and LeBron and D-Wade have all but replaced the Heat’s team logo. The Bulls were heading to be known as Derrick Rose’s team until his knee and heart have been tested this past year. Even the Clippers, who were pre-destined to secure the highest lottery draft choices year in and year out, have found an identity through Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Future “team” identities will likely include Harden’s Rockets and Golden State’s Curry. Who knows? Even the lowly Cavaliers could soon be identified through Kyrie Irving.
But what of the Suns? Despite the lack of a championship during its history, the team has always had an identity through its stars yet were known for their collective value. The face of the team has included old-timers such as the Van Arsdale twins. Can Markieff and Marcus Morris of this team fill those shoes over the coming seasons? Likely not. As talented and fan-friendly as Goran Dragic has or may become, does anyone think he will be the next KJ (Kevin Johnson) or Kidd or Nash for this franchise?
The fact is that this roster has no Walter Davis, Tom Chambers, or Charles Barkley. There is no one player who embodies the team’s heart or its philosophy, and signings such as Michael Beasley did not help the cause. In fact, many question whether this team even has a philosophy or approach to success.
The Suns have parted ways with General Manager Lance Blanks and Lindsey Hunter retains the precarious “interim” title as head coach. If he secures a more permanent head coaching position, it is far more likely to be in Detroit than in Phoenix. It must be assumed that a major overhaul is on the horizon for the Suns and toward that end, the names of many present and upcoming free agents will be tossed around as the next potential signings. But the most important signing will not be for the person whose name appears on the back of the jersey. Rather, it shall be through the selection of the GM and head coach.
So let’s hope that the Sun’s reach outside the box and develop a management and coaching team with a vision for the future and the foresight to find players who have the ability and heart to embody that vision.