Media Day: Hill's return proves expectations high despite little hype

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns aren’t getting much national hype.

Hype, though, is often a product of significant change. With a roster composed of nine returning players from last year’s 40-42 squad, there’s relatively not a whole lot to talk about compared to teams like the Los Angeles Clippers or Dallas Mavericks, who are wheeling and dealing this offseason.

That means there’s roster continuity. And with a lockout-shortened training camp, continuity means the Suns may have a leg up on other NBA teams that have gone through more roster turnover.

Forward Grant Hill, who re-signed this offseason, is both a testament and a believer to that continuity being reason for optimism.

“We don’t have as many new faces,”  Hill said during Friday’s team media day. “We have guys that have been here a while. I think we have guys that are more comfortable.”

So regardless of how this Suns team is viewed by the pundits in a league-wide perspective, the belief inside the locker room hasn’t wavered.

Point guard Steve Nash said that there’s no doubt Phoenix has the players to make the playoffs, and he thinks that in limited camp time, the Suns have made progress.

“This is a playoff team,” Nash said. “Our mindset has to be making the playoffs. It’s all out there to be proven and to be played for, and we got a lot of work to do, but our goal is to make the playoffs.”

And Hill’s return to the Suns after flirting with teams like the San Antonio Spurs is evidence that there’s belief in the locker room that Phoenix can make a run, head coach Alvin Gentry said. After all, the 39-year-old could have bolted for the Spurs to chase a championship.

Instead, he returned as a sidekick to Nash, a veteran leader and all-around glue guy.

“I said I felt like he did the right think by looking around and seeing what was out there … he felt like this was the best place for him,” Gentry said. “I think that speaks volumes about what we have going here and stuff. A guy that had options — he could have gone to any team, or probably that’s in a much better position to win a championship than where we are.”

Getting defensive

The Suns gave up the 29th most points to opponents in the 2010-11 season. While part of that is thanks to the high number of possessions Phoenix gives its opponents, there’s no denying defensive improvements will be a priority.

Bringing in Elston Turner as a defensive assistant, along with the signings of Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair and Ronnie Price, show that Phoenix isn’t ignoring one of its bigger deficiencies.

In a practice session open to the media on Friday, Turner led a defense-oriented walkthrough that covered trapping philosophies and the rotations to cover the ensuing passes out of those traps. That followed a frenzied three-on-three drill that looked part basketball, part-cardio workout.

Overall, there weren’t any complaints with a shortened training camp. The Suns players said they were ready to roll, and most importantly, making strides in gelling on the court.

“I think it’s been a good camp,” Nash said. “We’ve gotten ourselves to a point where we can play a game of basketball. Everyone’s playing the uphill battle against the clock.”

Nash on his future

Of course, Media Day couldn’t have gone by without reporters asking Nash about his future with the Suns. And obviously, he wasn’t going to say anything but the following:

“This stage in my career I’m not thinking about tomorrow,” Nash said. “I’m thinking about today.”

Nash’s 2011-12 season is the last on his current deal.

And 1

The Suns are hosting an open practice Saturday free of charge.  Doors open at US Airways Center at 4 p.m., and there will be a scrimmage at 5. Then from 6-8 fans are invited to shoot hoops on the main arena floor. The organization is encouraging fans to donate a new toy upon arrival. … Suns assistant Igor Kokoskov will travel to the Republic of Georgia this week to earn one of the nation’s highest civilian awards, the Order of Honour, for his efforts as head coach of Georgia’s national team this summer. He departed Friday and will return for the Suns’ preseason game on Tuesday in Denver. Kokoskov has coached the national team since 2008 and led them to a top-12 finish at EuroBasket this summer.

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