PHOENIX — Sebastian Telfair starred in the basketball documentary “Through the Fire,” which chronicled the Brooklyn point guard’s life during his final year of high school. That defining year led him to choose the NBA over a scholarship to Louisville, but it was by no means the last hardship in an NBA success story.
Finding a home in the league hasn’t been easy.
Drafted No. 13 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2004 draft, Telfair has played for Boston, Minnesota, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Cleveland Cavaliers before landing with Phoenix this offseason.
“He’s a young player that’s still searching for that team where it’s a good fit,” head coach Alvin Gentry said of Telfair. “I told him it happens all the time in this league.
“I use (former San Antonio point guard) Avery Johnson as an example,” Gentry added. “I think Avery got released six times before he found his place in San Antonio.”
And the Suns feel Telfair just might find his own place in Phoenix.
Though he’ll likely enter Monday’s opener against the New Orleans Hornets as the third-string point guard behind Steve Nash and Ronnie Price, Telfair’s role is by no means set in stone. Price struggled with five turnovers in handling the backup duties during the Suns’ second and final preseason game on Thursday, and Gentry’s goal is to go deep in his bench to keep the roster fresh.
So Telfair will have his chances.
Finding a home, however, is more complex than matching puzzle pieces, though the fit between the Suns and Telfair appears mutually beneficial on paper.
Telfair got to know the city when visiting his cousin, former Suns point guard Stephon Marbury, who starred for Phoenix. And on the court, a compressed 66-game season will give Telfair a chance to show that his speed and court vision was crafted to operate within the Suns offense.
“Steve Nash is an All-Star point guard so it’s going to be hard to match exactly what he’s bringing to the table,” Telfair said, “but I think I have the abilities to do that — to keep that tempo up when he’s on the bench.
“My experience is going to help in that factor,” added Telfair.
Though game experience is almost paradoxical when discussing the 6-foot, 175-pound guard. He’s only 26 years old but has played in 429 games during his seven-year career. Telfair also has 189 starts as an NBA point guard, a large number that’s not that surprising considering how off the map his career has been on the media-buzz radar.
“I think it’s going to be a really good fit for him,” Gentry said. “I told him we fought to get him here.
“He has a lot of good basketball in front of him.”
Where Telfair will make an impact is another question because Phoenix, like every other NBA squad, will be handing out minutes on the fly.
Telfair hasn’t shown that he’s developed a consistent jump shot — one of the knocks on him when he came out of Lincoln High School — and individually, he’ll need to find out whether he will act more like a playmaker or a scorer on a Suns team that lacks a 15-plus points per game player.
“I’ve always been a scoring point guard also,” Telfair said. “I’m going to get in pick-and-rolls, and get the other guys involved. But I will also be looking at the basket, putting some points on the board for us.”
Questions aside, there’s one thing Phoenix knows it’s getting with Telfair — a confident, hardworking Brooklyn native who knows the position that he’s in was earned, a product of what he’s put in since his days growing up in the projects.
Being in the NBA no longer validates his success, either. He knows individual goals will come in the form of helping a winning team, one he thinks can make the playoffs.
“I have a lot of personal goals this year,” Telfair said. “I’ll try to keep them to myself for the first time, but the main thing is getting to the playoffs and be part of the team to get there.”