PHOENIX — Grant Hill is set to begin his 16th NBA training camp on Tuesday, but never before has he played for a team so eager to get an early start on the season.
While some teams are still licking their playoff wounds and other squads are grudgingly accepting that another season is upon them, the Suns have been racing up and down the court for weeks on their own.
“I’ve never had this many guys back before Labor Day, so it’s very rare, and I don’t know if it translates into more W’s or not, but I think it will,” Hill said. “I think it actually will. I think it just shows how serious, how committed, how hard we’re willing to work.
“We have a tough schedule at the beginning of the season, so if we’re in shape, if we’re on the same page, we’ve been bonding as a team on and off the court for the last month, I think that will help us as we got through a tough part of the season.”
Added Steve Nash, “I think it’s just a sign that we want to do better.”
Although the Suns will officially begin preparation for their 2009-10 season Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. in San Diego, in reality that preparation started weeks ago with spirited games of five-on-five.
The players have gotten acclimated to playing with each other at the tempo they plan on playing, and to Jason Richardson, “especially this last week it was almost like training camp we’ve been going so hard.”
The biggest thing that the Suns have going for them right now is that unlike last year everybody in the world knows what they are: a fast-paced offensive machine designed to score, score and score some more.
Although head coach Alvin Gentry did say the coaches will be more demanding defensively (and that they actually mean it this year from the standpoint of being more consistent), this is not a defensive team.
This team knows its good enough offensively that it doesn’t need to defend like the Bostons, Clevelands and San Antonios of the world, it only needs to tighten up its pick-and-roll defense, which Gentry feels it will do, and be better at rotating and helping on defense.
But the calling card, of course, is offense, offense, and more offense.
“I think we know who we are here, I understand the personnel here, I understand how we have to try to play, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Gentry said. “Right now we’re a running team, we’re going to go back to doing that. We have to reinstate the culture that he had here, and we’re going to attack, we’re going to try to score a lot of points, and we’re going to take good shots. “
Last year the Suns spent training camp trying to figure out what they were, and all that led to was bickering by veterans, the jettisoning of two core players in Bell and Diaw and a midseason firing that signaled that the team was scrapping everything it tried the previous four months.
“We know what we’re going to be doing in training camp, we know what we’re going to be doing from the first exhibition game all the way through,” Gentry said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a learning experience for anyone but Earl and Taylor, and I think the pickup games that they’ve had out here, I think a lot of the stuff will come naturally.”
With the whole team identity thing already solved, Gentry has but three goals for his team coming out of training camp: be the best-conditioned team in basketball, play unselfish ball and get better defensively.
I’m fairly confident in their ability to accomplish the first two goals. The third, well, “better defensively” is a relative term. It doesn’t get much worse than they were at the end of last year.
One thing’s for sure: the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns are champing at the bit to be the Suns again.
“I think guys are definitely amped up and ready to go,” Amare said. “They’ve been waiting for this moment ever since last year ended, so we’re kind of ready to start this thing, crank the engine back up and see what we can do this year.”
Oh captain, my captain
Last year when things went wrong, Amare Stoudemire told the media to seek out the team’s captains. This year the onus will be on him, as STAT was named a Suns captain.
“I think he’s at the stage of his career where if he’s going to be around here he needs to have some responsibility as far as leadership,” Gentry said. “Make no mistake about it, it’s Steve’s team. I tell everybody that, but we have to have other leaders also.
“Steve can’t be the only leader on this team. I expect Grant and Amare to step up, but I think it’s a good thing for Amare. It’s added responsibility, and like I told him, as a captain of this team you’re expected to lead by example, not just verbally, but you’ve got to lead by example. We expect him to step up and do some good things.”
Dragic healing, vets feeling good
Goran Dragic has spent the past two weeks off his left knee after spraining his MCL in a Sept. 12 EuroBasket game. He has been cleared to practice, although Dragic still expects to feel the effects of the injury for a bit.
“I don’t feel pain, but it’s still a weak knee,” he said. “I think it’s going to be OK.”
Nash said he feels “joyous” and physically great, while Hill said his body feels good as well after playing all 82 for the first time last season.
When asked if he feels younger than a soon-to-be 37-year-old, Hill quipped, “I’m 31.”
How to prevent a distraction
Amare Stoudemire on how to prevent his contract situation from becoming a distraction: “Winning. If we win, that will solve all problems.”
Changing the scenery
After training in Tucson three of the past four years and Italy the other, the Suns headed to San Diego on Monday to commence training camp, as you must know by now.
“I think it’s a little bit to get a fresh look at something,” said David Griffin, the Suns’ senior VP of basketball ops. “I think part of it is that we’ve got an ownership tie to San Diego. It’s a little bit of a market that we see some upside to for us, so I think it’s really just a way to change the mix a little bit and maybe put guys in an environment where they’re further from home, more outside of their comfort zone and maybe that helps the chemistry thing grow a little bit faster.
“If we’d have known going in that we’d have six weeks of chemistry going, that might be less significant.”