Experts: What's next for Suns?

Originally Published: April 29, 2008
ESPN.com

Shaquille O'NealRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Big Gamble leaves the Suns ringless for another year ... and in a financial bind for the future.
Midseason trades don't come any bigger than the blockbuster acquisitions the Suns and Mavs made in February -- Shaq to Phoenix and J-Kidd to Dallas.

The Shaquille O'Neal deal likely will go down as one of the most controversial trades in NBA history. And Jason Kidd's return to Big D likewise has been fraught with debate and questions.

Now that the Mavs and Suns have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, it's time for some hard questions to be asked … and answered.

For the latter, we turn to our analysts:

1. How will you evaluate the Shaq trade?

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: It was always a gamble. And if Tim Duncan had missed that 3-pointer in Game 1, it would have been a great one. But Duncan made that shot, and in the tough world of sports, that means the Suns failed.

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: They got what they wanted out of Shaq, a guy to keep Tim Duncan from dominating them inside. They probably got more games and productive minutes from him than they expected. But they gave up too much of their essence. They traded their best perimeter defender and lost another 3-point shooting threat when they gave up Shawn Marion. They weren't as effective offensively, and they couldn't completely transform into a low-post team. Too drastic a change to attempt midseason.

Experts on Mavs

Now that the Mavs have lost the series to the Hornets, what do we make of the J-Kidd trade? And what happens to Avery Johnson? Experts

Chris Broussard, ESPN The Mag: Well, they probably weren't going to win it all with Shawn Marion, so they took a chance. The main problem is the two years and $40 million Shaq has left on his deal. If he can play next season at the level he played with the Suns this year, then after a tweak or two, they may have a puncher's chance at contending. But if Shaq continues to decline as he has the past few seasons, then the trade will go down as a major mistake, if only for the financial bind it put the team in.

Ric Bucher, ESPN The Mag: The Suns mortgaged their future to knock off the Spurs and failed. Shaq improved their camaraderie, hurt their D and reduced Steve Nash's ability to improvise. Take Phoenix off the contenders' list for the foreseeable future.

Chad Ford, ESPN.com: It was a disaster. Not only did the Suns get older in the deal, but they added even more money to an already bloated payroll. Shaq is virtually untradable next season. What are the chances he comes in more motivated approaching his 37th birthday? The Suns mortgaged their future with the Shaq deal and they're not getting it back.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Win or lose, it comes down to the same thing -- the trade didn't make them any better in the short term, and likely makes them much worse off next year and the year after.

Tim Legler, ESPN: The trade ultimately must be viewed as a failed experiment to give the Suns the interior presence they lacked on both ends of the court. Although I agreed with Steve Kerr's rationale, in the end the Suns became a team that was porous defensively, and its inability to keep the ball out of the paint negated the improvement on the boards that Shaq brought to the table.

Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com I didn't like it when they made it, and even though Shaq looked better than I thought he would down the stretch and in the playoffs, he is a massive liability cap-wise and could drag the Suns to the lower half of the West before he leaves.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: It looks especially bad if the Suns can't rise off the mat to beat the team they specifically were trying to match up with when they brought in Shaq. Doubly so when you factor in the financial component. But I understand why Kerr made the gamble, and I felt that the Suns, like the Mavs, had to try something bold to keep up. The West was already slipping away from them. They weren't going to win the way they were.


2. Will Steve Kerr fire Mike D'Antoni? Should he?

Abbott: Their primary asset is the remaining years of Steve Nash's peak. What are we talking about, two years? As much as the current model may be broken, is there really time to build something different? If Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich is available, that's one thing. But it could be that, despite everything -- and I think D'Antoni has made mistakes -- the smartest thing might be to just double down one last time.

[+] EnlargeSteve Nash and Mike D'Antoni
D. Clarke Evans/Getty ImagesWill Mike D'Antoni be the fall guy for the Suns' early exit?

Adande: It's never good for a coach's long-term security when the GM didn't hire him. Steve Kerr has no vested interest in Mike D'Antoni. Owner Robert Sarver has no compelling reason to keep D'Antoni. It's not fair to judge a coach for a team that wasn't built for his style. But someone will have to take the blame for the Suns' regression.

Broussard: The million-dollar question. Some sources close to the situation will tell you that D'Antoni wanted to trade for Shaq, while Kerr did not. Others will dispute that. Whatever the case, even before the trade, Kerr definitely wanted D'Antoni to focus a little more on defense and post play for Amare, so there have been philosophical differences. But this group of players is built to play D'Antoni's style, so bringing in a defensive head coach probably won't work because Nash and Shaq can't defend, and right now, Amare won't defend. Getting a defensive assistant and going with a mix of the old and the new might be the best option.

Bucher: Some in D'Antoni's camp believe Kerr could. Should he? Only if he (Kerr) plans to take over. D'Antoni has done too much to restore the Suns to prominence to be shunted aside for one disappointing season. Give him at least a full training camp to incorporate Shaq and show he can coach a slow-tempo team as well as he does a fast one.

Ford: He might, but he shouldn't. Look around the league. Look at the coaches who are out there. And then ask how many GMs would love to replace their coach to have D'Antoni running their team. I think Kerr has to swallow his pride, take a step back and let D'Antoni do it his way.

Hollinger: I can't get into his head, but obviously there are rumors of discord. I can't imagine a coach as successful as D'Antoni getting the ax, but the history books tell us a coach rarely survives a change of general managers for long.

Legler: Mike D'Antoni's job should be safe for a couple of reasons. First, the personnel on the Suns' roster make it imperative that this team plays the style that D'Antoni excels in teaching. They have skill players, not defensive players. Second, D'Antoni has been incredibly successful in the regular season, yet has dealt with significant issues each postseason. Because of injuries, suspensions and trades, he has never coached the same group in the playoffs that he worked with all season.

Sheridan: Don't think he will, and don't think he should. D'Antoni deserves at least a full season to try to make the Nash-Amare-Shaq trio functional.

Stein: There wouldn't be so much smoke emanating from the desert if the Suns weren't considering it. But D'Antoni definitely shouldn't go … no matter how much some segments of the Suns' fan base want to portray their most successful coach ever as the scapegoat. D'Antoni is the best coach for Nash (who isn't going anywhere, last I checked) and adapted to the most challenging midseason modification possible (integrating Shaq) better than anyone could have expected.


3. What roster moves should Phoenix make to stay among the West's elite?

Abbott: How about bringing in a consistent rebounder, perimeter defender, and scorer like … Shawn Marion? Low blow, I know, but a healthy, strong, and talented guy like him would do wonders.

[+] EnlargeSteve Nash and Shaquille O'Neal
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty ImagesWho can the Suns surround Steve Nash and Shaquille O'Neal with?

Adande: The Suns should try to move Boris Diaw for a shooting guard or swingman who can help them spread the floor and knock down open jumpers. Gordan Giricek wasn't the answer this year.

Broussard: The Suns need to add a high-quality 2- or 3-man. They can use Leandro Barbosa as trade bait.

Bucher: See the last sentence of Answer No. 1. I'll leave the made-up deals to Bill Simmons and other Fantasy Leaguers.

Ford: I'm not sure they shouldn't be going in the other direction -- dismantling this team and rebuilding around Amare. But if they want to take another desperation shot, a combination of Leandro Barbosa and the No. 15 pick in the draft might be able to land them another veteran who could help push them over the top.

Hollinger: It's tough because they don't want to pay luxury tax but have committed big money to four players. That means improvement has to come either from within -- unlikely given their age -- or by trading Boris Diaw or Leandro Barbosa. Barbosa is the more marketable of the two; a durable 3 who can shoot would be the likely target.

Legler: The Suns need to address two areas. They absolutely must obtain a blue-collar interior player willing to get dirty and provide energy. They also need a big guard with a "defense first" mentality. This team has no depth that D'Antoni trusts, and it has cost the Suns each year. He must be willing to go nine deep in the regular season.

Sheridan: If they're going to trade Amare, which they've already come close to doing, they should send him to Detroit for Rasheed Wallace and change.

Stein: The other case for keeping D'Antoni is that the Suns will find tweaking their roster even tougher than Dallas does. Shaq has two years left on his contract, so he won't be a trade asset next season like Kidd. And trading Amare can't even be considered -- in spite of all the obvious defensive issues when you play Shaq, Nash and Amare together -- because Stoudemire is the Suns' security blanket for the future. Phoenix clearly (still) needs a dependable backup for Nash and a power forward who can spread the floor with his shooting. How they get those pieces, given the Suns' luxury-tax issues … I haven't quite figured that out yet.

Click here for our experts' takes on the Mavs' situation