Channelling Spirit of ‘88
With A Lane Driving Specialist In Eric Bledsoe, The Currently Surprising Suns Hold A Lot In Common With The 1988-1989 Team, Most Importantly That They Have Quickly Become Relevant
By Bob Goodwood
Special for Modern Times Magazine
Nov. 8, 2013 — If there is one thing that has been proven time and time again about sports journalists, experts and most bloggers, it is that they are tremendously bad at predicting success in the preseason. Sure, they get the 'big dogs' right: everyone can accurately predict that as long as Tim Duncan and Tony Parker or LeBron James and Dwyane Wade don't get hurt, the Heat and Spurs will compete for the league's best record.
But in the case of a rebuilding team with solid young talent, most experts are woefully inept and not really experts. What's worse is that their opinions are usually part of a pack mentality formulated by likewise dimwitted hacks.
Harken back to the spring of 2011 and that nearly everyone thought the Arizona Diamondbacks were going to be god-awful. Slightly more than 182 games later, the team was a few outs from the NLCS.
Fast forward to, oh, about a week or so ago. Most pundits and pontificators that think wax philosophic about the NBA and the Phoenix Suns were complimentary about new General Manager Ryan McDonough's stacking of draft picks but were absolutely rude in their assessment of the 2013-2014 season. Labels like "tanking" were as plentiful as sand in a haboob. Predictions that the team would be lucky to not earn the worst record in the league were the overwhelming rule.
The Phoenix Suns were decent in the preseason, but the experts said it was "just preseason." New Head Coach Jeff Hornacek was clearly in charge and motivating this team, but no one thought it would be enough.
But that was only because that chain of thought is what they wanted to see and what the rest of the experts and that crazy intangible known as "conventional wisdom" said.
What they didn't want to see was that Miles Plumlee is actually better than Marcin Gortat. And, that Gerald Green is much better than Shannon Brown. Goran Dragic is much like Jeff Hornacek in the 1980s, except with a fitting accent. Oh, and that Markieff Morris has the potential to be a lot like Buck Williams.
Five games in, and many people are starting to believe.
Unlike in 2011 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Modern Times Magazine did not do a Phoenix Suns preseason article this year. We have long ago found them to be nothing more than a waste of time and as much of a case of 'alchemy' as is possible today.
In basketball, five games — or about 4 percent of the season — is a decent span of time to assess the nature, ability and possibility of a team's season. No one really knows what will eventually happen, but those first five games can expose a team for what they really are.
And the 2013-2014 Phoenix Suns are hustling, talented, competitive and entertaining. They definitely have a shot at the playoffs and possibly more — no, not a championship but maybe a first-round win. Of course, most of this will have to do with health, because one thing they are not, is terribly deep. Losing Goran Dragic or Eric Bledsoe would be especially damaging but so would be losing Plumlee. Alex Len has proved to neither be ready for prime time nor able to put a constant pounding on his surgically repaired ankles. Viacheslav Kravtsov is not nearly as good as Plumlee since he isn't really playing (gotta trust Hornacek and his assistants on this one). Regardless, this team can't afford to miss any one of the players currently contributing major minutes. Injuries to any of the rotation layers could make for a daunting remainder of the season.
But, if everyone can stay healthy, the Phoenix Suns just might be 'back' to the fast-running, nail-biting competitive team the franchise and its fans expect. You know, the kind of team that can take the Spurs down to the final seconds in San Antonio.
This team is a lot like the 1988 Phoenix Suns. That team saw a young Jeff Hornacek move to "two" guard when Kevin Johnson arrived for his first full season, just like Dragic has, for the most part. He and Tom Chambers combined with other Suns legends — Mark West, Eddie Johnson and Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons — to stun the league and set the path that led to a series of championship runs.
Heck, PJ Corbin and Ty Corbin are nearly identical.
Yes, there was no big free-agent signing this offseason, but the arrival of Bledsoe and his immediate emergence rings like a KJ redux.
If the experts would have known their history, maybe they would have seen it coming.
Bob Goodwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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