Scott Williams likes to joke about being 35 years old, which is LeBron James’ daddy in NBA years.
Doctors told Williams he’ll be ready to play one to three weeks after he has a pin removed from his broken thumb.
"I’m 35," Williams said. "I’ll need four weeks at least."
Here’s something that’s not so funny: When Williams returns he’ll be the Suns’ starting center.
It’s dog-bites-mailman news that Phoenix opens another season without a dominant big man. The Suns have been cursed in the middle since they lost the coin flip for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
But rarely has Phoenix been so bereft of quality big men. The Suns’ lineup at center:
• Williams, who was brought to Phoenix to educate Amare Stoudemire and drag his beat-up body down the floor for a couple of minutes each night.
• Jake Voskuhl. A great guy who will give the Suns everything he’s got. Unfortunately, what he has is backup center stuff.
• Cezary Trybanski, a 7-foot-2 import from Poland who’s so thin Shaquille O’Neal might mistake him for a toothpick.
"Am I concerned about our big men?" coach Frank Johnson asked. "Are you kidding me? Yeah, I’m very concerned. But that’s what we have."
The Suns lost their muscle tone when they traded center Jake Tsakalidis and forward Bo Outlaw to the Memphis Grizzlies on Sept. 30 for backup point guard Brevin Knight.
The deal was more about dollars than sense. It saved the Suns roughly $2 million for this season, including about $1 million in the NBA’s dollar-fordollar luxury tax on highpayroll teams.
But the financial reward won’t come without a steep cost. Losing Tsakalidis and Outlaw — as limited as they we re — leaves Phoenix off-center.
"Did we give up beef? Yeah, we gave up beef," Johnson said. "Did we give up energy? Yeah, we gave up energy."
Voskuhl, who had a solid playoff series against San Antonio after averaging 3.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game during the regular season, is the logical starter, but the Suns are reluctant to turn him loose because he’s not the referee’s best friend.
Voskuhl was whistled for 172 fouls in 947 minutes last season, a foul every 5.5 minutes. Play him early and he might not be around late in the game.
That leaves Williams, who has a better offensive game than Voskuhl but is a weaker rebounder and susceptible to injury.
Stoudemire is the third option, but if he has to play much center, Johnson said, "He’ll be sitting next to me all the time."
The Suns are so unsettled at the position that when Johnson was asked who his best low-post defender is, he said, "We’re still working it out."
Clearly, these Suns aren’t built around the man in the middle. It’s Stephon Marbury, Shawn Marion, Stoudemire and whoever else happens to be on the floor.
But if Phoenix wants to improve its standing in the Western Conference, its centers have to contribute more than a few hacks across an arm.
There’s O’Neal bumping and grinding in Los Angeles. The Sacramento Kings acquired All-Star center Brad Miller. The Minnesota Timberwolves picked up Michael Olowokandi. San Antonio signed 7-footer Rasho Nesterovic to replace David Robinson.
Dallas didn’t get big, but a slimmed-down Antoine Walker might make the Mavericks better.
"It (the Western Conference) got bigger and stronger and nastier," Johnson said. "I’m having sleepless nights."
No need for that. The M &MS — Marbury, Marion and Stoudemire — will keep Phoenix from missing the playoffs.
But without some semblance of aptitude at center, the Suns won’t go far once they get there.