The optimist would say the Suns have eight interchangeable parts, all of whom will play major roles in the postseason, so it doesn’t really matter which five are introduced as starters.
But the pessimist also has a pretty strong argument: After six months, 77 games and 58 wins, the Suns still don’t have a set lineup and rotation as they meet Seattle tonight at US Airways Center.
Reserves Leandro Barbosa and Kurt Thomas have each started games over the last 10 days.
Now James Jones will get his chance, replacing Boris Diaw as the Suns continue to search for the right combination while championship contenders such as Dallas and San Antonio have long since set theirs in stone.
“We want to get more shooters on the floor,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We tried that with L.B., but we like him coming off the bench. Now we have a chance to get James going and we can have L.B. and Boris as the first two guys coming in to give us a boost there.”
There are other reasons for the switch.
The Suns want Shawn Marion to stop yo-yoing between incredible and invisible and are hoping a permanent — or as close as the Suns get to permanent — move to the power forward spot will help.
Jones is also content to stay on the perimeter, giving the Suns another 3-point shooting threat while creating space inside for Amaré Stoudemire, who finds the lane more congested with Diaw also on the floor.
Jones’ insertion into the lineup allows Diaw and Barbosa to be on the floor when Steve Nash takes his normal end-of-quarter rest, giving the team a scorer and playmaker in his absence.
“You have L.B. and Amaré out there, and either one of those guys can get a shot any time he wants,” D’Antoni said. “You lay off Amaré and he has an open jumper. LB can get by anyone. But we only have one ball, and sometimes the options just confuse things.”
How long will this lineup last? Until the Suns lose again, or until D’Antoni gets another brainstorm, or until another Sun begins to slump long enough for the merry-go-round to resume spinning. But Jones, who has made only two starts all year after getting 24 last year, is happy for the chance.
“Getting off to a fast start is something we’ve been lacking lately, and hopefully I can spark that,” said Jones, who started the second half of Sunday’s win over the Lakers. “This keeps the Sixth Man of the Year (Barbosa) coming off the bench, rested against the other team’s starters or going hard at their reserves. He can start a spark and give us a spread quickly.
“I have seven guys on this team in front of me, and all of them can be All-Stars. Sometimes, it’s hard to come in there, pick the right spot and mesh with them. But if I can make a couple of shots, get a couple of rebounds and get moving, I think I can bring something.”
BONUS SHOTS: After a tumultuous week that included Nash calling out his teammates for selfish play and a closed-door meeting between D’Antoni and a frustrated Stoudemire, the Suns seemed to relax and enjoy Sunday’s win over the Lakers. D’Antoni now feels his team has all the ingredients — including chemistry and desire — to make a strong postseason run.
“That’s where you make or break championship teams. It’s not the X’s and O’s and the talent, it’s just that little extra,” he said. “I get a little sentimental with it, but I think it’s the cheering and the hugging and the loving each other.” … Jones, Barbosa, Diaw and Sean Marks will all take part in the NBA’s “Basketball without Borders” program this summer. Diaw will appear in his native France and Marks will be part of a contingent in South Africa, while Jones will join the Brazilian-born Barbosa for a week in Barbosa’s hometown of Sao Paulo.
Sonics at Suns
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: US Airways Center
TV: KUTP (Ch. 45)
Radio: KTAR (92.3 FM)
Sonics at Suns
Records: Sonics 31-47, Suns 58-19
Series history: The Suns have won six of the last 10 meetings, but were pounded 114-90 in Seattle on Valentine’s Day, a game Steve Nash missed prior to the All-Star break. Ray Allen had 31 points and Nick Collison added 22 points and 15 rebounds. The Suns won in Phoenix, 113-102 on Jan. 9 with Shawn Marion collecting 29 points and 15 rebounds and Nash adding 27. Collison had another huge game, setting career highs of 29 points and 21 rebounds.
Sonics — Seattle is limping to the finish line — literally. With Allen and Luke Ridnour already out for the season with injuries, the Sonics lost guard Earl Watson to an ankle injury in Sunday’s 95-90 loss to Houston. That left Mike Wilks as the only healthy point guard on the roster, so the Sonics are expected to call up Mateen Cleaves from the NBA Developmental League to fill the hole. Seattle is a .500 team at home, but is only 11-27 on the road — only Memphis and Milwaukee are worse.
Suns — After struggling against the likes of Memphis and New Orleans/Oklahoma, the Suns could use a strong, wire-to-wire win over an inferior opponent as they seek to lock down the No. 2 spot in the West. Kurt Thomas continues to play better ball of late and has provided some defensive stability while Amaré Stoudemire is again dealing with foul troubles.