By Jack Maidment
In Jack McCallum’s excellent 2005/06 season-on-the-bench book Seven Seconds Or Less, Mike D’Antoni, head coach of the Phoenix Suns, sits down with Boris Diaw for the Frenchman’s end of season exit interview.
“Boris, real quick, I’ll tell you what I told you last night. In the biggest game of the season you gave us thirty and eleven. You were the league’s Most Improved Player. I just appreciate everything you’ve done. You’re fun. You helped make the locker room great. Other than kissing your ass, I don’t have much to say.
“The main thing is that there is no reason your goal should not be to be one of the best players in the league. That’s how good you can be.”
So what happened?
At 6’8, 230lbs and with all of the skills of a guard, Boris Diaw was an absolute revelation in his debut season in Phoenix.
Having played two non-distinct years in Atlanta for the Hawks he arrived in the desert in 2005 as a result of the Joe Johnson trade with no hype and proceeded to tear our of the blocks doing everything the injury ravaged Suns needed.
He had played back up point guard in Atlanta but in the absence of Amar’e Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas, he dutifully played center. Like that’s a normal progression.
Regardless, Diaw poured in his best ever season, 13-7-6, the versatile fuel which ignited the Suns to their imperious high-tempo best.
He was too big for guards, too skilled and quick for hulking big men who grimaced at the thought of running with the Frenchman in the 7 Seconds offense.
He was the MIP in the league during the regular season and got even better in the playoffs (19-7-5), culminating in his 34-11 game one performance against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals, including the game winner, which caused D’Antoni to gush with praise.
So what happened?
Stoudemire came back and he never averaged double digits as a Sun again. He got traded to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2008. He put on weight. He became a pale imitation of the match up nightmare born in the desert.
Four years later and Diaw is playing off the bench for the woeful Bobcats, posting 8-6-4. Solid numbers for a bench player, but for D’Antoni’s Diaw?
It’s tempting to write the Frenchman off as his production drops and say that he is done.
But he is only 29-years-old. Why can’t he come back?
He is enduring the toughest stretch of his career right now, a bench cog on a perennially bad team, potentially a fire slowly petering out.
It would surely be fitting, almost poetic, for him to rise again. Just like a Phoenix.