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Chasing the Suns

Phoenix remains the cream of the Pacific Division

Posted: Friday August 31, 2007 12:09PM; Updated: Wednesday September 5, 2007 1:08PM
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Despite heavy trade rumors, the Suns held onto both Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire.
Despite heavy trade rumors, the Suns held onto both Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire.
NBA Offseason Report Cards
BURNS: Flurry of moves has Atlantic dreaming big
ASCHBURNER: Young talent piles up in Northwest
BURNS: Lazy summer for strong Central Division
FORRESTER: Southeast is looking wide open
BURNS: Suns still clearly the class of the Pacific
ASCHBURNER: Rockets primed for Southwest run

When it comes to grading the offseason, the Pacific Division is a nightmare. Kobe Bryant's trade demand and Don Nelson's contract squabble have put the status of the Lakers and Warriors in doubt. Meanwhile, the Clippers and Kings mostly stood pat in hopes their veteran-laden rosters could get them back to the playoffs without radical overhauls. Is that a good or a bad thing? Only the Suns are an easy read, as the reigning three-time division champs appear primed for another run at an NBA title.

Phoenix Suns

What Went Right:

They kept the core together.
Despite rumors they might try to trade Shawn Marion or Amare Stoudemire, new GM Steve Kerr opted to stand pat. Smart move. The Suns won 61 games a year ago and point guard Steve Nash probably has at least one more MVP-type campaign left in those 33-year-old legs. With a little luck Phoenix just might be able to get over the hump this season.

They added Grant Hill.
The veteran small forward -- and seven-time All-Star -- chose Phoenix over a host of other suitors in hopes of winning an elusive NBA ring. While Hill turns 35 in October and has been injury-prone throughout his career, he is still a smart, productive player and team leader who comes at a terrific price (one year, $1.8 million). If he can stay healthy like he did a year ago in Orlando, he could prove to be a steal.

Nash didn't play for Canada.
While the Suns would never admit it, they had to be thrilled Nash chose not to play for his native Canada at this summer's FIBA Americas Tourney. At his relatively advanced age, and with a balky back, Nash needed a break. No team depends more on its star than the Suns do their two-time MVP.

What Went Wrong:

They didn't land KG
If there was one player who might have made it worthwhile to break up the Suns' core, it would have been Garnett. Phoenix reportedly tried to get in the bidding for the 10-time All-Star, with Marion as the bait in a three-team deal, but it never panned out. Adding KG to Nash (along with Stoudemire) might have made Phoenix the favorite to win it all.

They gave away Kurt Thomas
In a move made for financial -- rather than pure basketball -- reasons, the Suns traded the veteran power forward to the Sonics, along with two future first-round picks, for a conditional second-round pick. The Suns needed to shed Thomas' salary for luxury-tax reasons, but they might miss his toughness and defense inside.

Grade: B

Nash & Co. didn't need to make changes. One more run at an NBA title, this time with Hill aboard, seems like a sound strategy.

Golden State Warriors

What Went Right:

They re-signed Barnes
GM Chris Mullin said he wanted to bring back both of his key restricted free agents, Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus. He succeeded with Barnes, inking the athletic swingman to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Pietrus, meanwhile, is not yet signed. But the French swingman has seen the free agent market dry up and is expected to follow Barnes' lead and re-up in Golden State for at least one more season.

They added Austin Powers (Yeah Baby!)
With Jason Richardson having been traded to the Bobcats (for rookie forward Brandan Wright), Mullin needed to add another veteran shooter. He thinks he got his man in the 6-foot-10 Austin Croshere, who sports career averages of 7.1 points and 4.2 boards. Croshere's experience as a key member of winning Pacers and Mavs teams should come in handy.

They saved cash and added prospects
By trading Richardson and the remaining $50 million due him over the next four years, Golden State should have more financial flexibility in the future. It also enabled them to snare Wright, a 6-foot-9 forward from North Carolina who was drafted by Charlotte with the No. 8-overall pick. Along with their own top draft pick, Italian sharpshooter Marco Belinelli (selected No. 18 overall), the Warriors now have two more young pieces around which to build for the future.

What Went Wrong:

Don Nelson threatened to quit.
Unhappy with the contract he signed just last year, Nelson wants a new deal that will guarantee him an additional $4 million over the remaining two seasons. He says he will retire before training camp if he doesn't get it. The Warriors need to find a way to resolve the situation, because the team is built totally around Nellie-Ball.

They lost a key weapon.
While getting rid of Richardson's contract might have made financial sense, it cost the Warriors a key player. Richardson averaged 16 points and five boards a year ago while shooting a robust 36.5 percent from three-point range. He also was one of their best clutch players. It remains to be seen if Barnes and Monta Ellis are ready to step up and fill that role next season.

Grade: C

Only time will tell if the Richardson trade was a smart move. But if Nellie flies the coop, their offseason grade drops to F.

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