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No. 4 PHOENIX SUNS
Tim Kurkjian
November 10, 1997
The Suns, 14th in the NBA in steals last season, begin this season as the league leader in that category. On Oct. 1 Phoenix gave up two guards—a jump shooter (Wesley Person) and a bad shooter (Tony Dumas)—to get Antonio McDyess, a 23-year-old, 6'9" forward who can run the floor like a deer, jump through the roof and score. "When we think of the greatest heists in history, we usually think of the Brink's robbery or Robin Hood," says a rival assistant general manager. "No longer."
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November 10, 1997

No. 4 Phoenix Suns

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BY THE NUMBERS

1996-97 TEAM STATISTICS
Record: 40-42 (fourth in Pacific)

SEASON AVERAGES

Points per game (rank)

FG pct. (rank)

Rebounds per game (rank)

Turnovers per game (rank)

Suns

102.8 (3)

.469 (6)

40.1 (19)

14.4 (3)

Opponents

102.2 (25)

.467 (23)

42.8 (23)

15.8 (12)

The Suns, 14th in the NBA in steals last season, begin this season as the league leader in that category. On Oct. 1 Phoenix gave up two guards—a jump shooter (Wesley Person) and a bad shooter (Tony Dumas)—to get Antonio McDyess, a 23-year-old, 6'9" forward who can run the floor like a deer, jump through the roof and score. "When we think of the greatest heists in history, we usually think of the Brink's robbery or Robin Hood," says a rival assistant general manager. "No longer."

McDyess, the No. 2 pick in the 1995 draft (by the Clippers, who traded his rights to Denver) and the Nuggets' best player last season, gives the Suns a shot blocker, an interior scorer and frontline flexibility, which will allow second-year coach Danny Ainge to play a tall lineup when he's not playing the little five that extended the heavily favored Sonics to the full five games in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs last season. McDyess averaged 18.3 points per game for the Nuggets, blocked 126 shots (38 more than Phoenix's best shot blocker, center Hot Rod Williams) and got to the free throw line, whence he made 274 of 387 shots. Guard Kevin Johnson (439 of 515) was the only Sun last season to score more than 200 points from the line.

"It really helps to add big guys who can play," says Ainge, whose team also snatched 6'10" free-agent forward Cliff Robinson (who left the Trail Blazers) and re-signed the 6'11" Williams and 6'9" Mark Bryant. 'Antonio brings energy, but he's not the savior for the franchise. He adds depth to the front line. Right now he's not any better than Danny Manning, Mark, Hot Rod and Cliff, but with his potential he could be significantly better."

If he proves that, a huge payday is due for McDyess, who has more of a reason to play well than perhaps any other player in the league. He can be a free agent on July 1, at which time he could get a $100 million contract from some team. The Nuggets didn't think he was worth that kind of money, so they traded him. The Suns have a year to decide if McDyess is a franchise player, and by dealing for him they have an advantage in the free-agent sweepstakes. Since McDyess will be Phoenix's free agent, the Suns are permitted to exceed the salary cap to sign him.

"This is a spectacular move for me, best thing that's happened to me since college [Alabama]," McDyess says of the trade. "I've gone from a team that's not winning to a team that's going to contend for the West title." As for the possibility of a big contract, McDyess says, "I don't think about it. If I did, then I might have a bad season."

With the addition of McDyess, the Suns can play a front line that's tall, athletic and versatile. Or they can turn to their small lineup, which at small forward has an incandescent shooting guard, Rex Chapman (a surprise star of the playoff series against Seattle), and Johnson and Jason Kidd in the backcourt. Whatever lineup Ainge uses, the team will run a lot and score points in bunches. Either lineup will be difficult to play defense against because of the matchup problems the Suns' quickness presents.

However, no matter which lineup is on the floor, the Suns will be lacking muscle in the middle. Moreover, Phoenix isn't going to be a good defensive team, especially when Chapman, who can't guard your house, plays up front. McDyess can block shots, but he's not strong enough to be able to deny position or the ball to a low-post player. Same with Manning, Robinson and Williams. "But I don't think that's going to be a problem," says McDyess. "We're a transition team. We have quickness. There shouldn't be many teams who are able to keep up with us."

The Suns are going to win at least 45 games, and they'll be fun to watch. But at playoff time, when the NBA turns into a giant half-court game, usually the more physical, better-rebounding teams win. So the Suns are left to roll the McDyess and hope that their speed will propel them deep into the playoffs.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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