NBA Losers–The Story So Far

Before we turn our attention to the playoff contenders, let’s give the biggest losers their due. First up, Shaq and Iverson.

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The Phoenix Suns entered the season with a perception problem. The team had three all-stars, point guard Steve Nash, power forward Amare Stoudemire and recently acquired center Shaquille O’Neal, but there was a perception that the three did not fit together well. There was also a sense that the Suns were slowing down their game to accommodate Shaq in the twilight of his career.

For five years, the Suns had been the league’s state-of-the-art, fast-break team. They put up offensive numbers that were frightening; no team could routinely erase a 10-point deficit faster. At the end of his career, Wilt Chamberlain played on several up-tempo teams, but that was 36 years ago, and I guess no one in a decision-making position remembered. So the Suns held their horses and played at a medium tempo; the results were disastrous. By mid-season the Suns, a fixture among the league’s elite, were struggling just to make the playoffs. A coaching change ensued, and the Suns went back to their accustomed fast pace and began making 130 points a game seem like the norm. But it was too little too late; there will be no playoffs for Phoenix this season. O’Neal and Nash are at the end of their careers; this year might have been their best chance to win something together.

Like Iverson and the Pistons, the Suns might begin next season as a vestige of a bygone era.

Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root.

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