PHOENIX — The secret ingredient for the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns was chemistry.
The question now remains whether the 2010-11 squad can match that togetherness on the court and off it to become the definition of a team like last year’s Suns were.
That all starts this week in San Diego for training camp, as the Suns return to every Arizonan’s favorite vacation spot seeking to lay the same foundation for their brotherhood that they did last season.
“Training camp’s important for building that standard and that culture and trying to live up to our own expectations,” Steve Nash said.
Chemistry was one of the most discussed topics during Monday’s media day session in Phoenix after reporters like myself saw how important that togetherness was to last year’s Western Conference finalist.
It could be seen as a negative that last season the players were already speaking about how amazing the chemistry was from weeks of offseason work together while this year they were talking about developing chemistry in San Diego, but many expect this team to be tight as well thanks to the example set by its leaders and the quality of the people on the team.
“I think we’ve got good guys, and I think as long as you have good character guys chemistry seems to come together,” head coach Alvin Gentry said. “We’ve got two great leaders in Steve and Grant Hill. When your leaders seem to be your high-character guys, everyone seems to fall into place. The guys that we added to the mix are real high-character guys. I think all of those guys are all about the team, and I think as long as you have guys like that chemistry seems to come together and always seems to work out.”
Added Nash: “I think we should have great chemistry. We have great guys, we have unselfish guys, we have guys that I think get it, understand what it takes to be a good player and a good teammate and how important that is, so I expect our chemistry to be one of our strengths.”
Aside from having genuinely good guys who really like playing with each other, one of the biggest reasons the Suns enjoyed such fantastic chemistry last season is because everybody embraced their role.
They had 10 guys getting consistent time, and nobody could complain about their minutes because of the way Gentry rewarded the hot hand. Each player knew that if he was going good he would stay in the game, and the bench became such a critical part of this team’s success it was even interviewed as a group after a Western Conference Finals victory.
Gentry’s biggest challenge — and he’s the perfect coach for this challenge — will be finding a rotation this preseason that keeps everybody happy. Amazingly there are even more mouths to feed this season with 10 legitimate rotation players plus a pair of young forward in Earl Clark and Gani Lawal who could be deserving of time as well. With such a tenuous situation, the chemistry could blow up in the Suns’ faces if a couple guys become disgruntled with their roles.
But having a team full of too many solid players who are also quality people is a challenge that most coaches would take. It’s a mix Hill is optimistic can develop that same special feeling with just a little bit of time.
“We just have to work real hard on the court, put that investment in in terms of building that chemistry, that togetherness,” Hill said, “and it’s not something that happens in one day or happens in one week, but hopefully when we get to the end of the season we can be a close group, have a lot of trust in each other and enjoy playing with and for one another.
“I look at it as a chance to start from Day 1, it’s like sawing wood every day, and hopefully we’ll do some good things.”
The Suns feel they have the right pieces to recreate last year’s chemistry, and the Suns’ newcomers see it as well. Josh Childress spoke about how “everybody’s on the same page” when asked for his early impressions of his new team, and that’s before even taking part in any formal workouts. Hedo Turkoglu mentioned how the Suns are always so good as a team because of the way they share the ball and play together.
If the Suns want to exceed their dismal external preseason expectations once again they must become a “whole is better than the sum of their parts” kind of team. They possess the pieces to make that happen in terms of talent, character and unselfishness on the court, and many players already are close like brothers from their experience last season.
But chemistry is an amorphous enough concept that the players still must mesh. Everybody has to accept their roles and their minutes (which for some guys will be less than what they deserve), bond off the court and follow the lead of Nash and Hill.
So as important as this week is for the Suns to get into fast-breaking shape and develop their defensive schemes, it’s just as important for the lighter moments off the floor in which they can develop the kind of chemistry that can propel a small but talented team to the Western Conference Finals.
“For us this training camp is even bigger than last year because of the chemistry factor,” Jared Dudley said.