The Most Essential Sun

By Henry Abbott

Remember when Steve Nash, Mike D'Antoni and the "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns redefined NBA basketball -- and even sniffed a championship in the process?

Back then it was one of those funny academic debates. Who's more important to the team's success? The coach with the clever free-wheeling offense, or the point guard to makes it all work?

D'Antoni used to joke that we'd never find out, because he was going to retire when Nash did.

In fact, of course, D'Antoni took his system to New York, and Nash is running something like it again now in Phoenix under Alvin Gentry.

Last season was inconclusive for both, but at this juncture ... you have to consider that Nash has the upper hand in that debate. Yes, D'Antoni is a hamstrung by a roster built for free agency in 2010. But if you're keeping score at home, at this point D'Antoni's Knicks are 3-10 and among the NBA's worst, while Nash's Suns have started out a mighty 11-3.

An NBA front office official once made an interesting point to me about this. He says that D'Antoni's free-wheeling, up-and-down system is every bit as brilliant and amazing as anyone ever thought it was. But that style has only ever worked in the NBA when run by a transcendant point guard.

The Suns, right now, have the system (as run by D'Antoni's former assistant Alvin Gentry) and the player, in Nash. And it works.

Despite a lot of enthusiastic talk about Chris Duhon at this time a year ago, D'Antoni's team has the pace, but not that player, and it has been a struggle.