Nash, Suns hunt success

The Phoenix Suns are giving Canada’s Steve Nash the ball again, tweaking their lineup, adding a defensive-minded assistant coach and hoping that avoiding the turmoil that disrupted last season will get them back in the playoffs.

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns are giving Canada’s Steve Nash the ball again, tweaking their lineup, adding a defensive-minded assistant coach and hoping that avoiding the turmoil that disrupted last season will get them back in the playoffs.

“I think we’re going to be better than what people think,” Grant Hill said. “Obviously the West is extremely difficult, but we almost got in last year and I think we’ll be better. We have better chemistry and continuity than we had last year. … Then I think collectively there’s a little bit of a mindset that we’ve got something to prove, that we’re better than what we showed.”

With Alvin Gentry entering his third full season as Suns coach, the team will keep pushing a fierce tempo. Scoring points has never been a problem for Phoenix. Stopping the opponent from scoring has.

Gentry has long preached the need for better defence.

Now he’s added assistant coach Elston Turner to specifically address that aspect of the game.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever be the Chicago Bulls or the Boston Celtics or the San Antonio Spurs,” Gentry said, “but I don’t think those teams will ever beat us offensively.

“What we have to do is continue what we do offensively but we have to know what we’re going to get night in and night out defensively.”

With a lineup that features the 37-year-old Nash, from Victoria, B.C., and 39-year-old Grant Hill, the Suns hope to rely on improved depth to cut down the minutes for everyone in a compacted 66-game season.

“The one thing that we’ve done around here is we’ve always tried to play nine or 10 guys,” Gentry said.

“I think it’s going to be important this year that you have a deep bench because you have certain situations where you’re playing five games in seven nights or six games in nine nights, where it’s going to be really important to have depth where you’re not burning guys out.”

The Suns signed three free agents — shooting guard Shannon Brown and point guards Sebastian Telfair and Ronnie Price. They also are expecting help from first-round draft pick Markieff Morris, a six-foot-10 power forward from Kansas.

They join a reserve corps that already includes Josh Childress, Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick.

A major area of potential improvement is at centre, where Marcin Gortat will have more time to work on what already is an effective pick and roll with Nash, who despite the team’s issues a year ago still led the league in assists at 11.4 per game.

Gortat was the centrepiece for Phoenix in the blockbuster trade with Orlando less than halfway into last season.

Escaping from the considerable shadow of Dwight Howard, the six-foot-11, 240-pound Polish centre averaged 13 points and 9.3 rebounds in 55 games with the Suns.

Phoenix also is hoping to benefit from what appears to be a rejuvenated Lopez. The seven-footer is coming off a subpar season that followed a strong showing in the Suns’ surprise run to the Western Conference finals two years ago.

Jared Dudley, for now, is the starting two-guard with the athletic Brown coming off the bench. Channing Frye, Dudley and Nash will provide the outside shooting power, while the ageless Hill, who spurned offers from more obvious contenders to return to Phoenix, again will draw the toughest defensive assignments.

But this, as always, is Nash’s team. He enters his 16th NBA season, the last eight with the Suns.

This is the final year of his contract. Suns president Lon Babby said he wants Nash to retire as a Sun, but the team isn’t in position to give him a new contract until after the coming season.

“We’re trying to be disciplined and stick with our overall plan, which is to remain as competitive as we can be and at the same time put ourselves in a position of flexibility beginning next summer,” Babby said.

“That doesn’t mean everything is going to get accomplished next summer or the summer after that or that we don’t have high expectations for this year, but I think you have to have an overall plan and an overall strategy, and then the details unfold.”

Babby knows that speculation about Nash being traded is inevitable.

“We want him to stay here as long as he wants to be here,” Babby said, “and we want to have him go into the Hall of Fame as a Phoenix Sun and the (Suns) Ring of Honor as a Phoenix Sun.

“On some level, I’ve communicated that to him. It’s really going to be his decision, together with us I suppose, but that opportunity is there for him. That’s the right thing for our franchise.”

Babby said he thinks Nash “understands where we are.”

“We’re kind of at the end of one cycle and starting another cycle and we want him to help us return to elite status with the contributions he can make over the next period of time,” Babby said. “What I want to try to avoid, and I think I’ve communicated to him, is to not let it be a distraction.”

Nash said he isn’t looking beyond this season.

“I’m not really thinking about it,” he said. “I just want to try to make this team into a playoff team. At this stage of my career, I’m not thinking about tomorrow. I’m just thinking about today.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Loblaws store is seen Monday, March 9, 2015 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
In absence of mandated paid sick days, some companies are stepping up

Only 42 per cent of working Canadians say they have access to paid sick leave

President Joe Biden waves after holding a virtual meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Washington. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Evan Vucci
New emission-cutting goals called ‘aggressive,’ ‘ambitious’ and ‘illogical’

Canadian industry is being compelled to cut methane emissions by 45 per cent by 2025

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference Friday April 16, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
$18B Indigenous spending in Budget 2021 meant for short-term gaps: Miller

Includes a three-year investment to improve access to justice

Curtis Labelle (second from left) and his band are planning a cross-Canada tour in 2022. Meanwhile, Labelle is continuing to host his weekly livestreamed talk show, Chattin 88. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer rock pianist takes on a talk show role

Curtis Labelle’s Chattin 88 gets views from around the globe

Brooke Henderson, of Canada, watches her tee shot on the 17th hole during the final round of the Tournament of Champions LPGA golf tournament, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Canadian Brooke Henderson vaults into tie for fourth at LPGA Tour event

Henderson is sixth in the world women’s golf rankings

Switzerland’s skip Silvana Tirinzoni makes a call during a women’s curling match against Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Natacha Pisarenko
Previously unbeaten women’s teams suffer setbacks at Grand Slam curling event

Top six women’s and men’s teams qualify for the playoffs.

FILE - Gal Gadot arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Gadot is using her Hollywood star power to spotlight remarkable women from around the world. The “Wonder Woman” actor is host and executive producer of a new documentary series “National Geographic Presents IMPACT with Gal Gadot,” premiering Monday, April 26. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
Gal Gadot spotlights women’s stories in new docuseries

First episode follows a young Black figure skating coach in Detroit

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino listens to speakers during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday October 2, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Retaking language test unfair during COVID-19: applicants to new residency pathway

New program aims to grant 90,000 essential workers and international graduates permanent status

LtE bug
Letter: Questions around city funding for Westerner

The Advocate article on April 21 on page 3 “Council to discuss… Continue reading

Toronto Maple Leafs' Nick Foligno (71) and Mitchell Marner (16) celebrate Marner's goal on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during second-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Thursday, April 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Leafs end five-game winless skid with 5-3 win over Jets in North Division battle

Leafs end five-game winless skid with 5-3 win over Jets in North Division battle

Taylor Pendrith from Richmond Hill, Ont. salutes the crowd after sinking a birdie on the 18th hole to come in at five under par during first round of play at the Canadian Open golf championship Thursday, July 24, 2014 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PGA Tour Canada splits into Canadian, American circuits for 20201

PGA Tour Canada splits into Canadian, American circuits for 20201

Like father, like son: Floreal emerges as one of Canada’s top sprinters

Like father, like son: Floreal emerges as one of Canada’s top sprinters

Most Read