PHOENIX – Days after signing a two-year deal worth $4.07 million dollars with his hometown franchise, 6-foot-11 native Phoenician Channing Frye’s joy was quite apparent.
Frye, a very charismatic and well-spoken athlete, was grinning from ear to ear for the majority of his introductory Phoenix Suns press conference, cracking jokes and showing how comfortable he is in the Valley after officially signing the deal that gives him the opportunity to come home and play for the team that he grew up idolizing.
Frye, who played high school ball a few miles away from US Airways Center at St. Mary’s and college ball a few hours down the road at Arizona, could only think of Chauncey Billups when naming other current players who stayed at home through all three levels of basketball.
“It feels good to be home,” Frye said.
After the Suns dealt Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland early this offseason, it was clear they would need some help down low.
“We felt it was really important to add some depth in the frontcourt, and Channing was No. 1 on our list,” said GM Steve Kerr. “I think his shooting ability and his size and his ability to run the floor really fit perfectly, and that’s what really attracted us.”
Kerr and Gentry both raved about Frye’s versatility and shooting ability.
“I think he was made to play in this system,” Gentry said. “He truly is one of the best big guys as far as shooting the ball in the NBA right now. ”
Gentry also compared Frye’s game to that of former Sun Tim Thomas, who was recently waived by the Chicago Bulls.
Once the Portland Trail Blazers chose not to retain his rights, Frye received serious interest from Cleveland, Denver, and Washington. However, Frye ultimately chose to return to the Valley and have the opportunity to possibly start for the Phoenix Suns.
“As soon as I heard I was a free agent I was like, ‘Well, look I hope Phoenix calls,'” Frye said.
Channing attributed his choice to the Suns’ style of play, the Suns’ personnel, and the opportunity to come back home.
Throughout the press conference there was no hiding Frye’s elation to be back in Phoenix playing for the Suns.
When asked to describe how it felt to be a Sun, Frye said, “I really don’t have any words for it.”
Frye grew up watching the Suns and claimed his favorite player to be Elliot Perry, better known as “Socks.” As a young kid, Frye used to emulate the left-handed dunk thrown down over Hakeem Olajuwon by Kevin Johnson (whom he attended church with) with his friends on the playground. Needless to say, Frye is certainly happy to be home.
It is easy to see that Frye won’t have a problem re-acclimating himself in Phoenix, but how will the skilled big man fare on the court? Frye has been training extremely hard this offseason and claims to have taken only one week off all summer.
“I’m hungry, I’m determined,” he said. “I have not felt better.”
Regardless of his work ethic, Frye has been tagged with the “soft” label throughout his basketball career.
Gentry elaborated on the soft stereotype, saying, “Any time you’re a skilled big man that can shoot the ball like he can, for some reason the soft label kind of follows you around. If the way he plays is soft than we need to get a lot of soft guys.”
Channing may not be a banger down low, but he knows his strengths and sticks to them.
“I’m going to do what’s going to keep me out on the court,” he said, “and that’s draw (my man) away from the basket and use my athleticism and speed.”
Frye considers himself a “student of the game” and is well aware of how he will fit in with the Suns.
“Teams have to double team Amare, trap Steve on the screen and roll, now you’re just picking your poison,” he said.
Frye was set back by injuries and inconsistent playing time in New York and Portland, but is expected to get consistent minutes under Gentry. In fact, Frye may get more than just consistent minutes.
“I think you’ll see him be a big part of what we’re trying to do here,” Gentry said.
Added Kerr, “This is all part of a transition, and we are envisioning Channing being here for a long time, hopefully a lot longer than the two-year contract he just signed. That feeling is mutual. Hopefully that will be the case when it is all said and done.”
Frye may not be the defensive-minded, rebounding big that Suns fans want to see, but the Suns believe they already have a guy that fits that bill in Robin Lopez. Kerr and Gentry expect Frye to be a great complement to both Lopez and Stoudemire.
When asked about playing Amare and Channing together, Gentry said, “I feel real good about it. He’s a tremendous complement to Amare. You definitely have to pick your poison.”
Along with coming home and a getting a phone call from Steve Nash, Frye is also excited about the possibility that the Suns can regain their old form this upcoming season.
“This year he’s (Gentry) going to have a whole year to work with us,” Frye said. “He’s going to have a training camp and he’s going to have a team that you know he’s going to be comfortable with. So we’ll be all right.”
While many fans desperately wanted to see a drastically different Suns team on the floor in 2009, they will most likely be getting a very similar core with a few new pieces. Frye’s charismatic personality, good nature, and basketball skills should fit in great with the Phoenix Suns next season and for several seasons to come.
Frye may not be the big name free agent that everyone wanted to see, but for about $2 million dollars a year, the “skilled not soft” big man is quite a bargain.