The early season cliché about the Suns is that they’re considerably deeper than last season. Depth, like beauty and wisdom, is a much- desired attribute. But what does it really mean?
Often, not much in a stardriven sport.
Ask the Memphis Grizzlies, perhaps the league’s deepest team. They were swept in the playoffs last spring by the Suns, whose star-studded team overmatched a club with a long supply of average NBA players.
Depth is great as an insurance policy, NBA coaches say. So at least the Suns appear to have answers in case of disaster.
But as coach Mike D’Antoni said, "If being deeper means Amaré Stoudemire and Shawn Marion are sitting by me (on the bench), that’s not a good thing.
"They don’t get tired. And we’re talking about two of the best players in the game."
So that’s why D’Antoni said he doesn’t want to get sucked into the idea that, "I guess I’m supposed to use my bench, so you (Stoudemire and Marion) need to sit by me."
Still, the Suns coach said the club will use nine or 10 players.
Their added depth will better allow them to play two ways. At the start, they’ll go with veteran Kurt Thomas at center, which allows Stoudemire and Marion to play their preferred forward spots.
But when D’Antoni wants to step on the gas, they still figure to go with Stoudemire as a nominal center and Marion at the four spot, the approach that led to an NBA-best 62-20 regular season record.
Assuming Raja Bell starts at off guard, a decision that hasn’t yet been made, it’s fair to assume the Suns will run out these players in reserve:
• Jim Jackson, a hero of the Suns’ dramatic drive to the Western Conference finals, who can play the relatively interchangeable two and three spots.
• James Jones, a shooter who will back up at the off guard and small forward spots. He’ll likely even get a few minutes at the power forward spot when the Suns go super-small.
• Brian Grant, a hardworking big man who can back up in the paint if he can stay healthy.
There’s one problem with the notion that the Suns are deeper. They still might be lacking at the spot where they crave depth the most.
The Suns would love to keep Steve Nash at about 35 minutes, at most. But there’s no proven backup.
This is a continuation of a long-running story. Through the years, the Suns have searched for a backup to Kevin Johnson, to Jason Kidd, to Stephon Marbury, and now to Nash.
Holdover Leandro Barbosa seems to have the instincts of an off guard. He’s often said he prefers to play alongside Nash.
D’Antoni said that Barbosa "may play off the ball a little more this year. We need to untap his talents, which are immense."
That would seem to leave the door open for Eddie House, the former ASU star, who has shown to be capable at the NBA level as a backup.
"I hope I can bring some sunshine to that dark cloud," House said, joking when told about the Suns’ struggles at the position over the years.
The Suns also could use the versatile Boris Diaw, acquired in the Joe Johnson trade.
Diaw can play everywhere but center, yet his shooting touch is so far below the other Suns’ regulars that he might have a tough time making the rotation.
While calling the 6-foot-9 Diaw a "great athlete," D’Antoni said, "He’s really
working on his shooting.
"That’s what he needs to get over the hump: become a better shooter.
"Not a great shooter, but a pretty good shooter. That’s the challenge for him."
Diaw said, "My strength is to do a little of everything.
"I don’t think it’s good for me to play only point guard because it takes away from my rebounding, or play only inside because it takes away from my passing."
In the end, though, he may not play much at all.