PHOENIX — Building chemistry is clearly the monumental team goal for 2010 Phoenix Suns training camp, but for some players, these next few days are part of a personal journey. Roster spots are up for grabs and a chance to reach stability or embark on the NBA journey is at stake.
Seventeen players are in San Diego with the Suns for training camp, but 14 will most likely be the magic number when the regular season kicks off. The Suns have some obvious holes, but with the departure of Amare Stoudemire and Lou Amundson, none more apparent than in the front court.
Jones is the the epitome of an NBA journeyman. Six different training camps with six different teams in the last six season says it all for the 6-foot-11, 250-pound big man.
But after finishing the 2009-10 season in Phoenix and ultimately being sent to Toronto in thetrade before being waived by the Raptors, Jones now has a second shot with the Suns.
It didn’t look like he would be returning to Phoenix after appearing in only four games last season (two regular season, two postseason). But with the void in the middle, the scrappy power forward/center got his wish and signed a one-year, minimum salary deal with a small guarantee on Aug. 30.
“I’m definitely glad to be back here because this is where I wanted to be,” Jones said on media day.
Despite the contract, Jones knows nothing beyond preseason is really guaranteed for him with the Suns. But he fuels off that lack of security, as it’s nothing new for the high-energy big man.
“I don’t have that level of comfort to fall back on which is fine with me because whether I had a one-year fully guaranteed contract or a five-year guaranteed contract, I’m trying to get out on the floor and prove myself and help this team win,” Jones said.
Outside of two seasons in Cleveland, Jones has yet to find an NBA franchise he could call home. He’s appeared in an NBA game for four different franchises, seen action for five different D-League teams and played in Serbia and Turkey as well.
As far as the NBA goes, he started in Minnesota after going undrafted out of St. Joe’s, but was immediately sent to the D-League’s Florida Flame. From there he was dealt to the Celtics in 2006, then the Cavs until 2008.
He played six games in Charlotte, spent some more time in the D-League with San Antonio’s Austin affiliate and made an offseason pitstop in Toronto. Needless to say, finding a long-term job in the NBA hasn’t exactly happened for Jones.
“Like you said, I’ve bounced around, this is my sixth year out of school and this is my sixth training camp for a sixth different team so I’m hoping to be able to stick at some point,” Jones said. ”Having a family now is definitely important to me, to be able to stick in one certain place and to have my family with me.”
Despite his partially guaranteed contract, Jones hasn’t earned anything yet and is fighting for a roster spot and a chance at NBA stability. But it’s the memories of the forgettable times that drives the big man toward his goals.
“When I have a conversation with my father he always tells me, ‘You’ve been in a lot of situations and you’ve seen where you haven’t wanted to be so whenever there’s a moment where you have a little doubt or things like that, just go back to your lowest point and build from there and realize you don’t want to go back there and you have to fight for every opportunity that’s out there,’” Jones said.
What he offers: Jones is a natural-born rebounder, as he led the D-League in boards (16.0) with the Austin Toros. Although he admitted added confidence in his offensive game, it’s the rebounding and defense the Suns need, and he will have no problem bringing that.
Jones on his chances: “[My contract t is] through the preseason with a little bit of guarantee, but I still have to earn it.”
What he thinks he needs to do to make it: “I got to hustle, rebound, defend, help guys out defensively, help try to grab every single rebound I can that’s possible, fight on offense, fight on defense and bring that level of intensity whenever I’m out on the floor.”
Prediction: Jones makes the regular season roster.
C — Garret Siler
Garret Siler was one of the last players invited to training camp, but Phoenix saved the biggest for last. If nothing else, the 6-foot-11, 300-pounder can offer some serious size that could fill two spaces on the depth chart.
“I know behind Robin there is not another true five center,” Siler said. “I just want to be that guy that helps out and does whatever he can to help the team win.”
The Augusta State University (Division II) product is flat out huge, and was even bigger (360 pounds) when he got to college. After setting a collegiate record for field goal percentage (79 percent) as a senior, Siler went undrafted.
The 23-year-old played with the Pacers’ summer league team last year, was invited to Minnesota’s training camp in 2009, and later made it to the final three cuts with the Atlanta Hawks.
He was drafted by the Utah Flash in the 2009 D-League Draft in August, but the NBA window was closing for Siler, so he went to China to play for the Yao Ming-owned Shanghai Sharks.
“On the court it basically played you a lot against other NBA players, who played in the league or played overseas but also it just brought a maturity to myself,” Siler said of his experience in China. ”Just more learning about how I am as a player and what I need to do for myself.”
The 24-7 Sharks were led by John Lucas III, while Siler averaged 14.1 points and 9.3 rebounds on 73 percent shooting.
But the biggest benefit isn’t only what happened during game time, but rather what he learned from Yao in down time, while shedding 30 pounds.
“(Yao) came to a lot of the games during the year when he was injured, especially last year,” Siler said. ”He came and told me some things I needed to work on, things I did good, things that just made me a better player.”
The biggest concern is that Siler is still very raw, and that he won’t be able to keep up with the breakneck pace. But Siler is almost positive he can run with the Suns.
“I think I can get up and down because how we played in China was kind of a similar pace,” Siler said. “This is a little bit quicker, but it was still a good pace and the coaches here have been running me to death already so I’m already ready for it.”
While Jones is a 27-year-old trying to establish a career and raise a family, Siler is just trying to find a job back in the United States.
“I want to stay in the States,” Siler said. “I want to play here in America, especially on a team like this who has a good group of guys. It’s the end all be all.”
What he offers: Size. There isn’t much more that is certain. Jones is a better rebounder because of the added athleticism, but Siler certainly has a higher celling.
Siler on his chances: “Pretty good.”
What he has to do to make it: “They just want to see how well I can defend, and as far as like pick and roll because we do a lot of that. Just seeing how dedicated I am as far as this process. I’m willing to work and do whatever it takes to make this team.”
Prediction: Jones will prove to be more tested and a better fit in the system. Siler may impress, but not enough to keep him around over Jones.