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Johnson & Johnson look to remedy Suns ills
by Steven Koek / March 2, 2002

In 1988, the Phoenix Suns acquired a young playmaker from Cleveland by the name of Kevin Johnson. KJ quickly emerged as a fan favorite and became an integral part of the most successful era in franchise history, which has taken the team to 14 straight playoff appearances. That streak is now threatened to be broken as the Suns are in a fight for this season’s eighth and final playoff slot.

In fact, Suns fans opened their newspapers on Friday, March 1st to the grim fact that they were one-half game behind the Clippers in the Pacific Division.

The Clippers!

Phoenix is hoping to rise out of the lottery-status ashes with the help of Johnson again, only this time the first name has been changed. Twice. Although the team’s present run for the playoffs rests primarily in the hands of Stephon Marbury and Shawn Marion, the organization and it’s fans are hoping newly acquired rookie Joe Johnson and recently named head coach Frank Johnson will be links to a future that will put the Suns back into title contention.

The tenth overall pick by Boston in last summer’s NBA draft, Joe Johnson is only 20 years old after making himself available for the draft after his sophomore year at Arkansas. A versatile 6’7” guard/forward, JJ could give the Suns a solid scorer and defender for the next years to come. His athleticism and ability to run the court make him a perfect fit for a young athletic team trying to rebuild a winning tradition after Antonio McDyess bolted to Denver three years ago and Jason Kidd was traded to New Jersey last summer.

Suns CEO Jerry Colangelo is excited about the team’s latest addition. “[JJ’s] got excellent size… What we’ve seen defensively is that he gets his hand on a lot of balls because he’s active and he’s long... Offensively, he is very deceptive… He’s not intimidated by people who have been in this game a long time. He has confidence in his game, which can only grow as he matures as a player. He’s still 20. He’s got a great upside to him. We are very excited about adding another young player to the mix.”

“Now we have a core of young people,” Colangelo said recently on KTAR radio. “We are not an old team anymore. That’s the direction we are headed. I think everyone should understand that we are committed to building a new core of young people. The rest of it is obvious.”

Designated with the responsibility to lead this young talented group is a former fan favorite from his playing days with the Suns. Formerly known as “Fourth Quarter Frank” for his late-game heroics during the Suns rise to the 1993 NBA Finals, Frank Johnson has been an assistant coach for the last three seasons and was given the team’s reigns with the departure of Scott Skiles. FJ, the team’s first coach of African American descent, has been given the green light by Colangelo to do whatever he feels necessary to get this team going in the right direction.

“Frank has to make some decisions,” Colangelo admits. “I’m not sure what his plan is, but it’s his call. We are not telling him who to play or how many minutes to play them. That is going to be his call. I would hope at the end of the season we have a good handle on who we are, young and old, as we go forward because there is still work to be done.”

FJ knows the talent is there and needs to be cultivated to gel as a team, but the most important change he feels needs to be made is attitude. “The one thing I’ve talked to the guys about… is that I want them to play hard. I want them to play together... We’ve got to start moving forward and moving forward with our attitude. Whether we’re undermanned or not, there’s a game to be played and we might as well play it the right way. Have fun, be enthusiastic regardless of the situation that just happened.”

The playoff streak is still in doubt and just may go down to the wire with several teams in the hunt for the final Western Conference spot. Whether they make the playoffs this year or not, however, the new addition of Johnson & Johnson, as well as at least two first round draft picks this summer and the continued development of M & M (Marbury and Marion) and center Jake Tsakalidis, the Suns should be one of the young exciting teams to watch in the future.

Steven Koek is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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