PHOENIX (AP) -This season, with its bitter end, will be hard for the Phoenix Suns to let go.
``It will always be one to think of 'What if?''' Steve Nash said.
The Suns gathered for a team meeting and to clear out their lockers on Saturday, only a few hours after they were eliminated by the Spurs 114-106 in San Antonio. The Western Conference semifinal series went six games, but the Phoenix fans probably always will remember Game 5.
With Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw suspended in what was widely viewed as an unjust punishment, the Suns lost 88-85 at home to go down 3-2 and allow San Antonio to close it out at home.
``Today is the first day to try to get better and do it next year,'' coach Mike D'Antoni said. ``I know that's not a lot of consolation for the fans, but that's about all we have right now. We will be better, and we will be exciting.''
Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended for straying too far from the bench when Robert Horry sent Nash flying into the scorer's table with 18 seconds left in the Suns' dramatic Game 4 victory in San Antonio. Horry, a reserve role player, got a two-game suspension. Stoudemire, a first-team all-NBA pick, had to sit the crucial Game 5, as did Diaw, who would have replaced him.
Suspensions aside, the Phoenix-San Antonio series was a clash of styles - the Suns' ultra-fast game against the rugged defense and methodically effective offense of the Spurs.
The Suns couldn't overcome the smothering play of Bruce Bowen on Nash, the unstoppable inside game of Tim Duncan and the emergence of Manu Ginobili from an early playoff funk.
Nash said the Spurs are better than the Suns in intangible areas.
``Experience, chemistry,'' he said. ``They all understand their roles to perfection. There's a lot there that they have that we don't have, and a lot of that just takes time.''
Nash believes the core group of Suns should stay together.
``We don't need to do anything monumental,'' Nash said. ``We have a good thing as it is. We're right there with San Antonio. If we can all improve individually and add a few pieces, we've got a lot to be optimistic about.''
D'Antoni agreed.
``We've got to be careful about tinkering with this too much,'' he said. ``We've got a great product and a great team. We want to take a baby step forward, and hopefully all we need is a baby step.''
The coach acknowledged that he ``messed up'' with his first offseason moves as general manager. That presumably would include the signing of Marcus Banks and Jermaine Jones. Neither was anywhere close to making the regular rotation.
D'Antoni acknowledged that a little self-examination of his coaching is in order, too. He hopes whatever offseason acquisitions there are will allow him to consider going deeper than the seven- to eight-man rotation he used.
``Maybe I need to loosen up a little bit,'' he said. ``I'll re-evaluate that and try to be better as a coach. I do know that more depth will help us.''
As it stands today, Phoenix figures to be about $12 million over the luxury tax limit next season. That leads to the annual speculation that Shawn Marion will be traded. The versatile forward, who has guarded everyone from Yao Ming to Tony Parker, will make $36 million over the next two seasons.
Marion left without talking to reporters on Saturday, but D'Antoni downplayed any chance of such a deal.
``Everybody wants Shawn and as an organization we'll listen to everything. We have to listen to everything,'' D'Antoni said. ``But we love Shawn. Shawn is one of our core players. I don't know how we get better by losing him, and we want to get better.''
D'Antoni said some ``cosmetic changes'' are needed to reduce the overall payroll, but said that owner Robert Sarver is willing to spend over the tax limit to win a title.
``He's not going to commit financial suicide or anything,'' D'Antoni said, ``but he's very willing to do anything in reason that will get us a championship.''
Stoudemire skipped Saturday's meeting, an absence D'Antoni just shrugged off. The Phoenix big man scored 38 points Friday night to cap a remarkable comeback after missing all but three games of last season. He emerged from microfracture surgery on one knee and an arthroscopic cleanup of the other to become the only Phoenix player to appear in all 82 regular-season games. In the playoffs, he averaged team highs of 25.3 points and 12.1 rebounds.
``His whole year, where he came from, was unbelievable,'' D'Antoni said. ``He's 24 years old and he's only going to get better.''
Nash, though, will be 34 next year. Someday, he has to begin showing signs of age.
``Hopefully as Amare gets better, as LB (Leandro Barbosa) gets better, that will take some of the pressure off of him,'' D'Antoni said, ``and we've got to get deeper as a team. That's the first thing we'll address in the offseason.''
Phoenix will be watching Tuesday's draft lottery closely.
If Atlanta doesn't get one of the top three selections, the Suns will get the pick as part of the Joe Johnson-Diaw trade. The Suns also have Cleveland's No. 21 pick and their own No. 29 choice.
``You can get an All-Star out of this draft,'' D'Antoni said. ``You add an All-Star to this mix, that's pretty good.''

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