Suns know they're not out of woods yet - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Suns know they're not out of woods yet

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Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 10:16 pm | Updated: 10:23 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

After shaking up their team with a trade and bringing Jason Richardson into the fold, the Suns have won two straight games and four out of five overall heading into tonight's game against Portland - a team they have beaten 11 straight times, including twice already this season.

Suns coach Terry Porter, who had his jersey retired in Portland on Tuesday, said he feels the team has turned a corner. The offensive numbers are going up, the turnovers are coming down and the trade has somewhat settled an uneasy dressing room.

But the players are more cautious before declaring the 15-10 Suns back on solid ground. They look at the Celtics, Lakers and Cavaliers and see legitimate championship contenders. They look at themselves and see a lot of work ahead.

"Turned the corner? Not yet. We still have to develop our style," center Shaquille O'Neal said. "You look at the three elite teams right now, they have mastered their style. We have been going back and forth.

"But the last four, five games, especially the last four home games, I think we have shown what we can be."

But will everyone be happy? Over the last few weeks, each of the Suns' big three - O'Neal, Steve Nash and Amaré Stoudemire - have given insight to their view of how the team would best work going forward.

But in each view, the ball happens to be in their hands.

Can the Suns make it all work? Can Nash find enough time to operate with Stoudemire and O'Neal clamoring for post-ups? Will Richardson get enough shots to make the most of his acquisition? Is anyone interested in playing defense now and again, especially when teams attack the lane?

Both Stoudemire and O'Neal had 20-point, 10-rebound games while Nash added 21 points, six rebounds and six assists in Monday's 111-108 win over the Knicks. But that was against a Mike D'Antoni team that chucked up 97 shots and 37 3-pointers - missing 32 of them. The chance of everyone being satisfied against the elite teams is a trickier proposition.

"We can get out and run ... and when it's a slow-down game, I would like to touch it and do what I do or get everyone else involved," said O'Neal, who is averaging 28 points in his past two games - but missed two contests in-between. "If we master that and take care of the turnovers, we'll be all right. We have enough veterans who know how to play the game."

O'Neal, who ranks second in the NBA in field-goal percentage (.597) behind Denver's Nene, also renewed his request for a bigger slice of the offense.

"I can't be Shaq taking six shots," he said. "If I can get 10-12 shots, I'll be a 20-10 guy every night. If you want me to be Shaq, them I have to get the Shaq touches and the Shaq opportunities.

"I can't be taking six shots, going 5-for-6 and you look at me like I'm old. I can averaged 27 and 10 until I'm 50."

O'Neal said the success of the Suns also lays in how effective players like Richardson, Leandro Barbosa, Matt Barnes and Grant Hill can be when the defense is otherwise occupied.

"I know what it takes to win," said O'Neal, attempting to be the first NBA player to reach the NBA Finals with four different franchises. "On a championship team, it's never the big guys, it's always the little guys. On the Lakers, Kobe (Bryant) is going to be Kobe, but it's (Vladimir) Radmanovic, (Sasha) Vujacic and (Andrew) Bynum those guys playing at a high level. For the Celtics and (Rajon) Rondo and (Leon) Powe. I can help other guys play at a high level."

BONUS SHOTS

The Suns must add a player - a backup point guard by Dec. 24. General manager Steve Kerr said the Suns will wait until the last minute to sign the player, hoping there might be a contract buyout around the league that makes an interesting player available. That might not happen before February, when team payrolls are calculated for the luxury tax.

That player is not deposed Knicks guard Stephon Marbury. Despite Internet rumors, Kerr said the Suns have "zero" interest in bringing Marbury back to Arizona even if he was available at a minimum salary.

Kerr was in Denver last night to watch a NBA Development League game between Colorado and Rio Grande Valley - and the point guard battle between two former NBA players - ex-Sun Smush Parker and Eddie Gill - with Gill believed to be the player of most interest to Phoenix. NBA teams can't extend 10-day contracts until Jan. 9, but the Suns can sign an D-League player to a nonguaranteed contract and release him if a better option arises.

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