SI Vault
Mark Bechtel
October 28, 2002
Just as fate brought them together last season, Johnson and Johnson are linked in the team's drive to regain its playoff form
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October 28, 2002

12 Phoenix Suns

Just as fate brought them together last season, Johnson and Johnson are linked in the team's drive to regain its playoff form

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2001-02 record: 36-46 (sixth in Pacific)
Points scorcd: 95.1 (17th)
Points allowed: 95.8 (15th)
Coach: Frank Johnson (second season with Suns)



2001-02 KEY STATS


Shawn Marion


19.1 ppg

9.9 rpg

1.84 spg

1.06 bpg

46.9 FG%


Bo Outlaw


4.5 ppg

4.4 rpg

1.5 apg

1.11 bpg

42.2 FG%


Jake Tsakalidis


7.3 ppg

5.6 rpg

1.03 bpg

47.5 FG%

69.8 FT%


Joe Johnson


7.5 ppg

3.3 rpg

2.3 apg

0.77 spg

43.0 FG%


Stephon Marbury


20.4 ppg

8.1 apg

0.94 spg

44.2 FG%

28.6 3FG%



2001-02 KEY STATS


Anfernee Hardaway


12.0 ppg

4.4 rpg

4.1 apg

1.53 spg

41.8 FG%


Amare Stoudemire (r)#


29.1 ppg

15 rpg

6.1 bpg

2.1 spg

65.0 FG%


Tom Gugliotta


6.5 ppg

5.0 rpg

1.8 apg

0.89 spg

42.2 FG%


Casey Jacobsen (R)#


21.9 ppg

4.5 rpg

3.5 apg

44.1 FG%

37.2 3FG%


Scott Williams#


4.9 ppg

5.1 rpg

0.3 apg

0.80 bpg

39.6 FG%

#New acquisition
(r) Rookie (statistics for final high school season)
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 92)

Frank Johnson doesn't like the word rebuilding. "We're not rebuilding," the Suns coach says, "but we're certainly retooling." Call it what you like, but with Phoenix having missed the playoffs for the first time since 1988, and big-name, big-dollar veterans Penny Hardaway and Tom Gugliotta in decline, the team is definitely looking to upgrade.

The most intriguing tool is a Swiss Army knife of a player, shooting guard Joe Johnson, who possesses skills—a nice shot, tough defense—that aren't always apparent. He was drafted No. 10 out of Arkansas by Boston in 2001 and got off to a good start, averaging 14 points in his first seven games. But he quickly cooled off and soon was buried on the bench. In mid-February the Celtics shipped him to the Suns for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers.

Starting over just as he was getting used to living in Boston was tough—"It was scary," Johnson the player, 21, says. "I didn't feel like I knew what to do"—but leaving a conference contender for a lottery-bound team turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to him. Frank Johnson, who had replaced Scott Skiles as coach three days before the trade, quickly made it clear he was going to give the newcomer a chance, by handing him Hardaway's starting spot at shooting guard.

As he showed with the Celtics, Johnson didn't always bring his best game and was an inconsistent performer with the Suns as well. "Against some of the guys who have reputations as being good two guards, he really pushed himself," says his coach, "but when he thought it was a lesser opponent, he didn't come with that same intensity. He got embarrassed by the guys he perceived were lesser opponents, because in this league there are no lesser opponents."

Frank Johnson had nothing but praise for his 6'7" guard's work ethic over the summer. Joe Johnson played in two summer leagues and worked with a personal trainer to become quicker. He grew up admiring Magic Johnson, so naturally he wants to run the Phoenix offense. "I played a lot of point over the summer," he says. "I love it. I can guard smaller guards; I just feel like I need a little more speed." He did play some point last year, and his boss has no qualms about using him there at times this season.

That would create an opportunity for Hardaway (who has four years left on a seven-year, $86 million contract) to come off the bench, where he and Gugliotta (two years left on a six-year $58 million deal) give the team one of the league's highest-paid and least-tradable reserve tandems. "Penny's at peace now with whatever decision is made," says Frank Johnson. "I think he struggled with it last year. He wasn't happy; he was being blamed for the way we were playing, and that wasn't the case at all. We were just going in a new direction."

A new direction, yes, but with youth on the floor and experience on the sideline eating up cap space, it may be a while before the Suns are retooled and headed back to the postseason.

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