The Phoenix Suns are just a few days from kicking off the 2010-11 NBA season and would certainly like to be more prepared for the coming campaign. They are not. The phrases being thrown around just two days before Game 1 of the NBA regular season are things like "long ways to go" and "work in progress."
"To be honest, if I was outside this picture and a betting man, I would probably pick us to be outside of the playoffs considering all the changes and the new guys," team leader Steve Nash said after Sunday's team practice.
Emotional compass Jared Dudley says that while guys are excited about getting started, there are question marks about the on-court chemistry.
It's more than just adjusting to Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick playing the power forward position and Josh Childress playing the wing with the second unit. Dudley said that even Channing Frye surprised him by rolling to the basket on a pick and roll, something Jared claimed to have never seen before.
"Hopefully, in the next five to ten games, we can get everyone's role set and head to a positive direction," Jared said.
Off the court, Dudley said the team gets along fine, but, so far, it is a quieter team. Warrick, Turkoglu and Childress are less vocal than Leandro Barbosa and Amare Stoudemire, but that could all change with more time together and winning.
"Once you win, chemistry just explodes and everyone loves each other and you have more fun."
The problem, according to Steve Nash, is that winning might be a long ways off. Nash was particularly frustrated with the process of going from a team he felt was very close to winning an NBA championship to essentially starting over again.
"I spent four months this summer and a month this training camp feeling like I'm trying to get to the top," Nash said.
"It's hard as a competitor to convince yourself every day all summer and then through the preseason that you're going to get back to where you were and hopefully take the next step, and then you realize that camp is starting all over again and it's not quite as linear as you made it out to yourself all summer."
Nash was quite clear that this version of the Suns has not played well and is not sure who it is right now. He feels the team is a long way from reaching their potential. It's that adjustment from feeling like he was close to a ring to realizing just how much work there is to do that is on his mind.
"Maybe we need to take a step back, regroup, be a little bit more patient, build a really good team and see how good we can be later in the year instead of jumping out of the gate and be like, 'Oh, we've got to finish top two or three in the West and give ourselves a chance to win the West and go to the Finals.' That stuff can come if we really improve, but we can't put that type of pressure on ourselves right away because we are a new team."
The reality, as Nash sees it, is that the Suns have a lot of work to do before they can start worrying about end product and results beyond improving every day.
Coach Alvin Gentry agrees that the Suns have been a disappointment this preseason. There have been moments of solid play from his starters, but the second unit has not done a good job holding leads and that's an area of concern.
"We have to try to put back the chemistry that we had and we've got to perform on the court and we haven't performed on the court this preseason. It hasn't been a good preseason," Gentry said, adding that it will take some time before he really knows what this team is about. It's the same thing he said at the beginning of last season when he asked for 40 games to evaluate the Suns and, after the 40th, said he needed 20 more.
The chemistry that the Suns bragged so much about late last season didn't really develop until the team went through two months of sub-.500 basketball and managed to stay together as a group. That hardship might come sooner this season given the tough early schedule and how uncertain things stand.
The rotations and combinations are still not set, according to Gentry, and while the starting unit is going to be the Nash, Hill, Richardson, Lopez and Turkoglu group that we've seen, there's room for changes there, as well. Gentry said that Turkoglu will begin the season as a starter, but left the door wide open for a change if he feels that they would be better off with someone else starting.
Even the new front office team of Lance Blanks and Lon Babby isn't satisfied with where the roster stands. Blanks confirmed reports from Hoops World that Stephane Lasme worked out with Phoenix this weekend. Lasme, a 6-foot-7 forward, was recently waived by the Boston Celtics. He's considered to be an energetic, physical player which would indicate the Suns are missing what Louis Amundson brought to the team last year and aren't ready to turn that role over to rookie Gani Lawal.
Blanks said the team has worked out other players, as well, although declined to name them. The Suns GM also confirmed they are still waiting on a decision from veteran center Erick Dampier and the decision rests with him. Asked if there was a need for Dampier to make a decision soon, Blanks indicated that he wasn't necessarily demanding an immediate answer.
The fact that the Suns are actively pursuing physical big men to add to what's already considered a deep roster only reinforces what the team has been saying all summer about the size and rebounding weaknesses.
"We're small. We don't really have a classic four (power forward)," Steve Nash said. "We've got to overcome that in a lot of different ways and that takes a lot of time, chemistry and understanding. We're not going to have that at this point in the season."
But Nash, of course, was also positive and made it clear that he expects his team to perform despite their current deficiencies.
"We've got a ways to go on everything, but having said that, I expect us to go out and give ourselves a chance to win every night. If we play hard and we play smart and play together, there's no reason why we can't scrap our way to some wins and to giving ourself a chance to win almost every night."