PHOENIX — Channing Frye scored 12 points and grabbed three boards in 36 total minutes of Portland’s six-game series loss to the Houston Rockets last year, with 20 of those minutes coming in a Game 1 blowout.
Frye will play a much bigger role in Portland’s first-round series this season, but in a twist of fate Channing will be doing his damage against a Blazers squad that really could have used him this year after centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla went down with gruesome knee injuries.
Of course, the Blazers could not foresee that when they declined Frye’s $4.3 million qualifying offer and freed him to sign as a free agent in Phoenix for $2 million with an option year. Frye’s knee ligaments couldn’t be more thankful for the decision.
But on the eve of the first-round series between the Blazers and Suns, Frye does not hold any grudges against Portland for essentially dumping him.
“To be honest that kind of went away after the first couple games,” Frye said. “To me it’s just another team. They made a business decision, and I came here. To be honest it’s just another team we have to play.”
The decision could not have worked out any better for Frye. Playing with Steve Nash and in Phoenix’s three-point friendly system, a player who had drilled 20 three-pointers in his career knocked down 172 of them (fourth in the NBA) at a 43.9 percent clip (sixth in the league), helping the Suns become the second-best three-point field goal percentage team in history.
Steve Kerr said before the season that he expected Frye to knock down 100 long balls. At the time that seemed laughable for a player whose career high was 11, but instead Channing hit the century mark midway through the year and ranked in the top 10 in three-point makes and percentage. Not that Frye was even satisfied with that.
“I’m mad I didn’t make 200, I’ll be honest,” said Frye, who calmly drilled a shot a few feet out of bounds past the three-point line when a stray ball wandered his way during Saturday’s post-practice interview session. “When you work out, you bust your butt all summer, you want the opportunity to do the right things.
“Who knows? You’ve got to dream big. I think the biggest problem is not dreaming big enough. For me I just knew I wanted to be an elite shooter, and I knew I could do that with just work and the opportunity and the effort and the system, and here I came, and here I am now.”
The question now is, did Portland have any clue that it had an elite big man shooter buried on its bench?
“We talked about that when he was with us, spreading the floor,” said Blazers head coach Nate McMillan. “The difference is we had LaMarcus [Aldridge] playing that position and [Travis] Outlaw playing that position. And it was just a numbers game. When I talked to Alvin about Frye, this system fits him, and with a guy like Nash all you have to do is catch and shoot the ball. That plays right into Frye’s hands.”
The interesting thing about that Blazers is that Aldridge is the only guy left from the big man glut from last year, as Marcus Camby was brought in to save the team from relying on old man Juwan Howard and rookie Jeff Pendergraph at the center spot.
But for Frye this was all about opportunity. On a team as deep as the Blazers, not everybody could play and as Frye said at Media Day this year Portland had a number of generals but not many soldiers. There just wasn’t a role for him on that team, whereas he fills a role the Suns crave, a backup big man who can stretch the defense and add punch off the bench, a role that has fit him perfectly.
With Frye saying he will decline his $2.1 million option next season, it’s too early to say if Channing will continue to combine with Robin Lopez as the perfect two-headed center monster for this Phoenix Suns team or leverage his year with Nash and the Suns for big dollars elsewhere.
What we do know is that Frye wasn’t going to get the chance to prove to the world the kind of basketball player Channing Frye is in Portland, but after dumping Shaq for nothing he had a perfect opportunity to do just that in Phoenix.
“They needed to make choices that they needed to make to make them better, and I had to make a choice to get me an opportunity,” Frye said of Portland. “That’s what I wanted.
“I just came out here and wanted an opportunity to play and just took advantage of that every day.”