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6 PHOENIX SUNS
Mark Bechtel
October 30, 2000
After last season's medical meltdown, the well-healed Suns are eager to operate at full force
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October 30, 2000

6 Phoenix Suns

After last season's medical meltdown, the well-healed Suns are eager to operate at full force

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Projected Lineup

STARTERS

PVR*

1999-2000 KEY STATS

SF

Clifford Robinson

56

18.5 ppg

4.5 rpg

2.8 apg

1.13 spg

46.4 FG%

PF

Tom Gugliotta

72

13.7 ppg

7.9 rpg

2.3 apg

1.48 spg

48.1 FG%

C

Chris Dudley

208

1.2 ppg

2.9 rpg

0.44 bpg

34.3 FG%

33.3 FT%

SG

Anfernee Hardaway

63

16.9 ppg

5.8 rpg

5.3 apg

1.57 spg

47.4 FG%

PG

Jason Kidd

12

14.3 ppg

10.1 apg

7.2 rpg

2.00 spg

40.9 FG%

BENCH

PVR*

1999-2000 KEY STATS

F

Rodney Rogers

95

13.8 ppg

5.5 rpg

2.1 apg

1.15 spg

48.6 FG%

F

Shawn Marion

119

10.2 ppg

6.5 rpg

1.4 apg

1.04 bpg

47.1 FG%

G

Tony Delk

192

6.4 ppg

1.9 rpg

1.2 apg

0.76 spg

43.0 FG%

G-F

Mario Elie

234

7.5 ppg

3.2 rpg

2.4 apg

0.92 spg

42.7 FG%

C

Daniel Santiago (R)

237

13.2 ppg

7.1 rpg

1.30 bpg

56.7 FG%

65.4 FT%

New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final year with Varese of Italy)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)

While his NBA colleagues were off recording really bad rap CDs, Suns forward Rodney Rogers spent the off-season realizing his lifelong ambition of driving a dump truck. "Some days, if we went to get sand, my day might start at 2:30 in the morning," says Rogers, the owner of RRR Trucking, a seven-vehicle outfit based in Durham, N.C. "Or if we went to the rock quarry, that opens at seven, so I was up about six. I don't mind driving all day. It lets my drivers know, Hey, he'll get out and do it when he doesn't have to, so we shouldn't be complaining about anything."

If he'd wanted to, Rogers, along with his teammates, had every reason to complain last season. Forward Tom Gugliotta nearly died after having a reaction to a nutritional supplement; then he blew out his left knee but couldn't have surgery for two days until doctors located a ligament from a cadaver. A knee injury put high-flying Shawn Marion on the shelf for 31 games, and an emergency appendectomy sidelined guard Rex Chapman for 53. But the biggest blows were to guards Anfernee Hardaway (21 games missed with plantar fasciitis in his right foot) and Jason Kidd (15 games, broken left ankle). With both on the floor, the Suns were 33-12; when one wasn't, they were 20-17.

With so much talent unavailable, coach Scott Skiles, who took over 20 games into the season when Danny Ainge resigned, stressed grit and hustle to put together a remarkable 53-win season. Four of the top eight defensive performances in the franchise's 33-year history came in the season's final 39 games.

The most crucial performance Skiles got was the blue-collar effort by his truck-driving sixth man. Rogers was the only player to appear in every game of 1999-2000, and though it seemed there was always a starter out of commission, he was a sub all but seven times. "Everybody wants to start," says Rogers, "but coming off the bench I get to watch the game and see what I need to do when I go in." What he needed to do last year was a little of everything. He shot a career-best 44.0% from three-point range, averaged 13.8 points, grabbed 5.5 boards per game and was the overwhelming choice for the league's Sixth Man Award.

Even without Kidd and Gugliotta, Phoenix knocked the Spurs from the playoffs and gave the Lakers fits before bowing out in five games. There was no reason for the Phoenix brass to think that a healthy version of last year's team wouldn't contend this year, so off-season tinkering was kept to a minimum. The Suns did score a coup when they drafted 7'2" Georgian center Iakovos (Big Jake) Tsakilidis with the 25th choice. Most teams assumed the 21-year-old would be unsignable because of his contract with the Greek league, but Phoenix successfully arbitrated to get him out of the deal.

The team also signed free-agent guards Tony Delk and Mario Elie and, in addition to one first-round pick, obtained center Chris Dudley from the Knicks for last year's starter, Luc Longley, in a four-team trade. The foul-prone Dudley is no superstar, but Longley's 6.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game aren't exactly hard to replace. " Chris Dudley is Chris Dudley," says Skiles. "Per minute played, his rebounding and shot-blocking numbers are very high."

With a little time to mesh, Kidd and Hardaway will at least make Phoenix a force to be reckoned with. "They didn't get the opportunity to really know each other last season," says Skiles. "Even when they were playing together, they had a mishmash of people coming in and out. Under the circumstances they had great years. It just wasn't always together."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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