Learning from Steve Nash and the Suns


Nov 21

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

It was too depressing watching the Bulls collapse against the Lakers and Trailblazers this week, so I went out to see some angry, competitive NBA basketball, the Lakers and Suns, Shaq and Kobe VIII, the new Bad Boy Suns, who had a couple of players suspended and more fined in recent altercations, the one-loss Lakers who remember Raja Bell’s body slam of Kobe in the playoffs a few years back, of Mike D’Antoni trash talking how the Suns always take out the Lakers in the playoffs, of Shaq recently—and supposedly—saying how Jackson engineered his feud with Bryant by effectively pitting them against one another in still another brilliant psychological ploy.

So there was Jackson, in monotone explaining before the game how despite the matchups, “you still have to throw a double or triple, you’re always in the process of trying to figure out how to box that big mother out…”

Just then O’Neal leaped into the media scrum and grabbed Jackson.

Yeah! Shaq and Phil fight!

Nah, Shaq just grabbed Jackson in a sentimental bear hug and whispered in his ear how the media was “starting that crap.”

Shaq called Jackson “a great guy who always took care of me.”


“All that stuff is all over,” Suns coach Terry Porter offered about Shaq-Kobe, Kobe-Phil, whatever. “I think that’s behind them. They burned those bridges and let go. I think they look back to the championship years and are just enjoying them.”

They probably were the last Shaq ever will see with this seeming declining Suns team routed 105-92 by the Lakers.

I’m spending this winter splitting time between Chicago and Phoenix, and it didn’t seem a bad idea Thursday with the temperatures around 80. There’s always some artificial media interest in Shaq and Kobe, though it’s grown tiresome for the basketball world and them as well. Kobe had a pedestrian 24 and Shaq 15 and nine rebounds with limited impact on the game.

The Lakers are terrific, if not unbeatable, and the Suns are one of the few things not shining brightly in Phoenix.

I hate to see it.

I loved what the Suns have been the last few years, and I understand it had to change once Shaq came, and they had been thwarted so many times in the playoffs. Though I still think they won the championship that season they had the ridiculous suspensions against the Spurs and the league took away a likely title. Yes, I believe that system can work, and it should be what the Bulls are doing now.

I can’t help but think Bulls in my new role.

Look, Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas aren’t getting bigger or stronger. Aaron Gray isn’t getting faster or more agile. Vinny Del Negro worked for the Suns during the entire Mike D’Antoni tenure. He knows that game and that style. Rather than try to play against big, physical front lines like the Bulls did and failed in Los Angeles and Portland this week, like I had been advocating earlier in the season, use the strengths you have.

That really is what the game is about. You should put your five best players on the floor as often as you can. Maybe you don’t win a championship like that if you don’t have a great big man, as Don Nelson rarely does. But you can compete and make the other team respond.

The Bulls will get a chance this week with the smaller, faster Warriors Friday and the Nuggets Sunday.

So this is what you do: First you put Derrick Rose on top of the floor where it is more difficult to disrupt him, as the Trailblazers did. They are not a great team yet, and Greg Oden isn’t anywhere near ready despite the public and media there urging him to be great, but the Trailblazers—thanks to coach Nate McMillan—work and defend. You’ve got to like that as well as the talent they have that’s developing.

So anyone who takes the ball up and begins to dribble on top of the floor, say like Ben Gordon, you immediately suspend for insubordination. Rose has to be like Chris Paul and Jason Kidd. He has to have the ball and in transition all the time. And run with him. When Kidd came along he was too fast for his break and outran it at times. Rose also will learn.

Put a scorer in a pick and roll with him. Get Luol Deng some postups. Someone has to be in the post and I think Deng can do it. Start Rose and Gordon in the backcourt, Deng at three, Nocioni at four and Drew Gooden at five and have him popping out and opening the middle for Rose as D’Antoni did for Steve Nash.

Oh, my heart aches and breaks. What have they done to my favorite guard?

It was such a joy to watch Nash these last few years, running, making the right decision on the move, painting the court like a great masterpiece. But it’s like an old love affair now. Maybe you only remember the best of it. And eventually it has to end, and Nash was going to get older and slower at some point. But not so soon!

He was scoreless in the first half against the Lakers with three shots. Sure, the Suns trailed by just 50-44, but they’re posting up Shaq, which also clogs the middle for Amar’e (hey he says that’s the real spelling) Stoudemire. They’re slower, obviously, but in trying to be a defensive team they’ve got Shaq, Stoudemire and Nash, hardly known as defenders.

They’re 8-5 now, which isn’t horrible, and have played reasonably well, beating the Pistons here this week and winning in San Antonio when Tony Parker was still playing.

But it breaks my heart not to see Nash at his best and not to see the Suns playing the way they did.

I probably shouldn’t have, but I asked Nash after the game if he’d been marginalized.

He offered a nervous laugh as it’s a sensitive topic in Phoenix.

“A little bit,” he conceded. “I don’t necessarily have the opportunities I used to have. But we have other weapons we did not have in the past. We can go inside and it’s something we did not do. So you shouldn’t expect the numbers like 20 and 10, the numbers on the stat sheets you saw in the past. But our defense has improved and we’re doing the things people said we needed to do. It’s an adjustment for me. We don’t play the same way.”

Shaq and the Suns insist it will be better come playoff time. So we’ll see.

But I think you try to use the best you can as much as you can. I wish the Suns continued to do that and I hope the Bulls will.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.

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