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9 PHOENIX SUNS
L. Jon Wertheim
October 29, 2001
A series of bold off-season moves might not produce more wins, but it should win back some fans
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October 29, 2001

9 Phoenix Suns

A series of bold off-season moves might not produce more wins, but it should win back some fans

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projected lineup

2001-01 record: 51-31 (first in Pacific)

Coach: Scott Skiles (third season with Suns)

STARTERS

PVR*

2000-01 KEY STATS

SF

Shawn Marion

41

17.3 ppg

10.7 rpg

1.37 bpg

1.67 spg

48.0 FG%

PF

Tom Gugliotta

104

6.4 ppg

4.5 rpg

1.0 apg

0.82 spg

39.2 FG%

C

Jake Tsakalidis

225

4.5 ppg

4.2 rpg

0.96 bpg

47.0 FG%

59.3 FT%

SG

Penny Hardaway?

64

16.9 ppg

5.3 apg

5.8 rpg

1.57 spg

47.4 FG%

PG

Stephon Marbury#

16

23.9 ppg

7.6 apg

3.1 rpg

1.18 spg

44.1 FG%

BENCH

PVR*

2000-01 KEY STATS

F

Rodney Rogers

145

12.2 ppg

4.4 rpg

2.2 apg

1.18 spg

43.0 FG%

G

Tony Delk

166

12.3 ppg

2.0 apg

3.2 rpg

0.91 spg

41.5 FG%

F

John Wallace#

218

5.9 ppg

2.1 rpg

0.6 apg

42.4 FG%

77.8 FT%

G-F

Dan Majerle#

249

5.0 ppg

3.1 rpg

1.0 spg

33.6 FG%

31.5 3FG%

G-F

Jud Buechler#

266

3.4 ppg

1.6 rpg

0.7 apg

46.3 FG%

41.6 3FG%

#New acquisition

(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)

?l999-2000 statistics

*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)

By the time the suns were eliminated in the first round of last spring's playoffs, their fans had become so apathetic they could barely bring themselves to boo.

Though Phoenix won 51 games last season, coach Scott Skiles often appeared to be the only person on the bench invested in the outcome of the game. Ticket sales dwindled to their lowest level since the team moved into America West Arena in 1992-93. Worse, three of the franchise's star players made the police blotter during the season. Point guard Jason Kidd was charged with domestic abuse (he underwent six months of counseling); forward Clifford Robinson was arrested on charges of driving under the influence and possession of marijuana (he pleaded innocent and is awaiting a court hearing); and guard Penny Hardaway was charged with threatening the mother of his daughter (the charges were dismissed). "There was a general malaise" says president and general manager, Bryan Colangelo. "We lacked personality on the court, and the fans weren't entertained."

The response of management was dramatic. On July 18 Colangelo sent Kidd and center Chris Dudley to the Nets for Stephon Marbury and two salary cap throw-ins, center Soumaila Samake and forward Johnny Newman. That same day, Phoenix shipped Robinson to Detroit for forwards Jud Buechler and John Wallace. One day later the team signed free agent Dan Majerle, a fan favorite when he played for the Suns from 1988 through '95. The new-look Suns will also feature a healthy Tom Gugliotta. Over the past three years, the power forward, a former All-Star, has had an uncanny streak of misfortune, ripping his left knee to shreds, suffering a near-fatal seizure on the team bus and losing his mother to cancer. Now, he claims, he's back at full strength. "I'm feeling like a totally new player," he says, "and this feels like a totally new team."

Not everything is new. Hardaway, who missed all but four games last year with a left-knee injury and has failed to play more than 60 games in a season since 1996, competed in two summer leagues, took part in Michael Jordan's cloak-and-dagger workouts and pronounced himself "100 percent fit." Yet three days into training camp, he abruptly left for Canada to get ultrasound treatment. Team officials said all the right things publicly—it was just a precaution for tendinitis—but there was a palpable sense of here we go again. "We obviously want Penny healthy," says Skiles, "but we did win 50 games without him last season."

With or without Hardaway, the Suns will shine only if Marbury does. While he lacks Kidd's defensive ability and passing skills, Marbury is a superior scorer, capable of breathtaking moves off the dribble. As one might expect from a player who nicknamed himself Starbury, Marbury, 24, also brings a level of bravado and hip-hop energy that was absent in Kidd, 28. "Me," says Marbury, "I'm all about bringing excitement."

Though preposterously talented, Marbury doesn't come baggage-free. In five seasons he has only been to the postseason once and made no secret of his discontent in Minnesota and New Jersey. His shoot-first, pass-maybe mentality has led others to wonder if he can truly be the fulcrum of a team. "There's a bag full of question marks," concedes Colangelo. "Is he a playmaker? Is he selfish? Will he ever be successful? Well, he's going to have a great opportunity to answer these questions this season."

The early returns are favorable. Like a kid at a new school, Marbury has taken pains to fit in, picking up the tab at team meals, hanging out and playing pool at Hardaway's house and giving unsolicited advice to undrafted rookie point guard Charlie Bell, his likely backup. "Stephon's definitely matured," says Gugliotta, whose style clashed with that of Marbury's when the two played for the Timberwolves from 1996 through '98. On the court, teammates such as ascending star forward Shawn Marion (the leading scorer and rebounder on the gold-medal-winning U.S. team at the Goodwill Games in September) will allow Marbury to shoulder a lesser scoring load than he did in New Jersey. "When he dunks, you feel it," Marbury says of Marion. "Basically it's a good fit, and I can't wait for the season to start."

Despite the enthusiasm of the new point guard, Phoenix may not rise from the ashes of last season. But management can at least hope that this year the fans will care.

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

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