PHOENIX – Nearly a year and a half ago, the Suns signed Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress, and Hakim Warrick to help Phoenix transition away from the Amare Stoudemire era.
The trio was summoned by Lon Babby to try their hand at replacing one of the NBA’s most dominant offensive big men.
Phoenix’s plan flopped.
Turkoglu was booed out of US Airways Center as he failed to average double figures for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
Childress never broke into the rotation, at one point racked up five straight DNPs, and scored only 5.0 points per game in 54 games.
Warrick showed glimpses of becoming a poor man’s Amare early in the season with his pick-and-roll play, but the undersized power forward never stuck due to his defense and rebounding deficiencies.
As the Suns inch closer to Monday night’s season opener, only Childress and Warrick remain, and after a season full of ups and downs, both are searching to give their sizeable remaining contracts – Warrick ($12 million/3 years, including a team option) and Childress ($27 million/4 years) – some validity.
From the moment he broke his right index finger in a preseason game, to the end of the season, Childress said he never felt comfortable on the floor. He called last season was “tough mentally, physically and emotionally.” But after an offseason filled with workouts, relaxation, and online classes, Childress has a renewed outlook.
“I’m a lot more comfortable and just a lot more relaxed,” he said. “With comfort, for me, just comes more relaxed, more natural, more instinctive Josh.”
The Suns are hoping Childress can become the slasher and defender that he was during his stint in Atlanta. Unlike last season, he’ll have his opportunities as he backs up Grant Hill at the small forward spot.
Albeit during a preseason game, Childress showed flashes against the Nuggets on Tuesday by scoring seven points and collecting two steals, a block and a three-pointer in 23 minutes.
Phoenix is still the home of the wings, but the Suns could use Childress’s athleticism and defense, especially for the price they’re paying him. If he continues to stay comfortable and relaxed, Childress may prove to the Suns organization why they committed $34 million for five years to him in the first place.
“I’m looking forward to the year,” he said. “I’m an easygoing guy. I find myself sometimes just getting too tense and stressed and that’s not me. I’m just trying to get back to being relaxed and just having fun all the time.”
While Childress should see the floor more than last season, Warrick is stuck behind the eight ball. Channing Frye and most likely Markieff Morris stand in his way for minutes at the power forward spot, leaving Warrick as the odd man out.
But there is a place for Warrick’s offense in the Suns’ system. With Hill out against the Nuggets, Warrick backed up Childress at small forward and scored a team-high 14 points while grabbing six rebounds and dishing out three dimes in 25 minutes.
The Suns are expected to give Warrick some time at the three, as he’s improved his shot and perimeter game during the offseason. He’ll still struggle to find minutes, but he put in a solid training camp and the Suns are expecting a better, more consistent Hakim Warrick this season.
“Hak is very talented and I’m expecting a lot of things from him,” Childress said. “He’s more confident, he’s been playing well so I look forward to a good year.”
Warrick and Childress clearly aren’t the centerpieces of the 2011-12 Suns. But as Schwartz pointed out, because of the short season Phoenix needs depth.
It needs the Warricks and the Childresses of the team to be better than they were last season and give the Suns a shot in the arm off the bench.
It remains to be seen if they can bounce back and do exactly that, but players and coaches alike are confident that the duo Babby brought on to help replace Amare last offseason won’t get lost in the shuffle in year two with the Suns.
“I think Hakim’s going to be a lot better, he’s had a great camp,” said Grant Hill. “I think he’s more comfortable here. I think the coaches are more comfortable with him. Josh I think will be a lot better, also.”