When All Glare Fizzled
If you watched last night's Suns/Spurs welt-farm, you felt the omen. The Suns have not only died as an idea; they've even ceased to matter, vestigially, as the nut-case whose sober child grew into a prince. That team was just plain trounced and flummoxed, by a Spurs powerhouse that, were Phoenix the powerhouse they'd supposedly become, wouldn't have had it so glibly.
And now, D'Antoni's leaving town. We can argue for days about who defined the Suns, but it comes down to D'Antoni, Nash, and either Marion or Amare. There's probably some sort of father/son/ghost thing going on here, but if you had to pick the one essential element, it would no doubt be Coach. Before Phoenix, Nash was breezy and occasionally possessed; here, he flourished as the practical hand of D'Antoni's vision. Amare and Marion were symbolically important, and made the contours all the more fantastic. In the end, though, it was Mike's team.
So while we always heard that D'Antoni pushed for Shaq—a betrayal of self? bottom line over idealism? function over form?—he both pushed himself out of the picture and gave himself the high road for exit with that deal. The night they drove old Phoenix down might have shown that Nash was finally fading—where was his venom down the stretch? But that was no longer a team that needed an idiosyncratic vision or direction. Go ahead and buy Larry Brown from Charlotte. Big man, slowed PG, scoring machine, shooters.
It was only fitting that D'Antoni would exit now, since Kerr and Sarver have all but robbed that team of its original god-head. Now they can be the brains, having underestimated how far-reaching D'Antoni's influence was across that operation. It was coaching, and personnel, and making certain players, like Diaw, what they might otherwise never have been. You see dictator-ship, I see the old-style guru, or the kind of visionary to whom smart people defer and let run a little amuck.
What now for D'Antoni? Please don't let it be the Bulls. The Knicks would be no less painful. Remember, he inherited a young, inexpensive mess of a team, then got a chance to bring in Nash and let the gossamer empire rise. Both of these teams have clumps of intractable personnel who, frankly, will only ever give us a rough approximation of D'Antoni's idealism. And maybe, because he's only had this one big moment under the coaching sun, I like to think he's got that much integrity, or that irrepressible an ego.
I nominate Miami. Riles can't be bothered to buy the team toothbrushes anymore. Arm D'Antoni with old pal Marion, and what's left of Wade, and either Beasley or Rose. And oh yeah, that Wright guy could fit in well. Watch them instantly create a tiny temple in the East and then set their sights Westward?
But for now, let's admit it: An era has passed, and the team that created this site has ceased to matter. It's only fitting, then, that amidst all the "West is a letdown" chatter we're hearing a new generation definitively assert itself. Nash and Kidd are dead, long live Paul and Williams. Dwight Howard might be better than Shaq in his prime by the end of this summer. And while the odds are still against Atlanta marching on, they've got the kind of subversive, utterly flabbergasting vehemence that makes you think change might be in the air. Or at least rearing its bejeweled, strange, and confounded head when, with us all now adrift, it's so badly needed.
So stay still. Breathe deep. And remember, tonight is for everything. Everything we've lost, and everything that's still yet to hit us down the road.