Following a scrimmage game on the Suns practice court at the US Airways Center this week, several players stopped for a quick Gatorade break on the sideline. After a few moments they returned, with the exception of one player – two-time MVP Steve Nash. It wasn’t because Steve was tired and thankfully it wasn’t because he had pulled anything. It was simply because he had never left.
In fact, at no point in between the four or five scrimmage games the team ran did Nash stop and take a break. He stayed on the court and just kept on shooting. I’m not telling this story because I necessarily recommend it from a health standpoint, but simply to set up the point I’m hopefully going to make.
Also standing out to me since players have returned has been the play of Alando Tucker who looked incredible. At one point, the second-year player missed a three-pointer but immediately bolted towards the hoop to follow his shot. After a missed tip-in attempt by a teammate, Tucker followed with a one-handed tip-in slam that even impressed Amaré Stoudemire. Tucker is going to be a handful for opponents, not just this season but for seasons to come thanks for his knack of always knowing where to be around the basket. I’ve watched him on a number of occasions grab rebounds he probably had no business grabbing based on the fact he’s always focused and always determined.
The same applies for rookie Robin Lopez. Nobody appears harder on themselves after a play doesn’t go their way than Robin and you can see he’s trying to make an impression on the veterans. Grant Hill appears to have taken young Robin under his “wing” more than anybody else up until this point, and I can’t think of a better guy to play mentor.
It wasn’t just the younger guys playing with passion today. Leandro Barbosa (who I guess is technically still young himself, but you get the point) also appeared to have a fire lit beneath him. At one point Barbosa was asked if he wanted to take breather during the next scrimmage game to which Barbosa responded, “Why, did I do something wrong?” Almost everybody had subbed out a game by that point, but the former Sixth Man of the Year didn’t appear willing to ride any pine today.
The last person who has stood out to me during these past few scrimmages has been Hill. Not only has the veteran had the outside shot going, but his passes just keep getting crisper and crisper. He was teammates with both Nash and Lopez today and the three of them were able to connect on some very impressive plays. It already looks as if they’ve been playing together for a while now and I can’t imagine what it will be like come the start of the regular season.
Noticing these pieces to the puzzle, I was finally able to put together what ended up being a great picture. The picture was one of a team willing to lay it all on the line regardless of age, role or history with the team. Each scrimmage only appeared to get more intense than the previous one and as time went on, less and less people were making their way to the Gatorade coolers.
Some people lead with a loud voice, others by example. Nash didn’t call out anybody for wanting to grab a drink, and why should he? But maybe other players noticed the same thing I noticed from the stands. When Steve Nash is on the court all he focuses on is basketball, and nothing else is going to get in between him and the game. This attitude is why he has been the player he’s been over the course of his career and why he will have another great season during the 2008-09 campaign.
Being a sports fan over the years has taught me that sports predictions are about as useful as Christmas ornaments in July. But while I’m done with these precognitions of where the Suns will finish in the West, I will say this – the Phoenix team that steps onto the court next season will be among the most fun ballclubs to watch in our history.
I’ve been a Suns fan for a long time now so stay with me on this one. The Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle unit was good times, but in my eyes, the similar looking ballclub which also included Elliot Perry, Wesley Person and Michael Finley was even more enjoyable. They were extremely athletic and fun to watch and I enjoyed the blend of veterans with youngsters. They all pushed one another and on each night set a new standard by leaving it all on the court. Maybe it was because each had something to prove. Or maybe it was set by an example on that same practice court during a summer several years ago.