Phoenix Suns Media Day: Optimism and realistic expectations aplenty


PHOENIX — Monday’s NBA Media Day is the one day in the year where optimism tends to overshadow reality. For the Phoenix Suns entering a new era, the curiosity before Alvin Gentry’s team headed to training camp near San Diego was just how much that’d be the case.

If it’s any indication, the feeling among the players and coaches was as optimistic as you could imagine. At the same time, there was no ducking the fact that many questions have yet to be answered.

And there was very little clinging to the end of the you-know-who era.

“They’re not here and they’re not going to come back,” Gentry said. “We’re just moving forward. We’ve got some versatile players, we’ve got some well-established players in this league when you’re talking about guys like Luis Scola. I think the players are excited, I think the coaches are excited, and I think the management is excited. We’re moving into a new chapter of Suns basketball.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Gentry added. “You know, the guys that we have are very smart players. To me, I don’t think there’s any reason to panic. We’ll have the full month to get ready for the game against Golden State. We have to take it step by step. There’s no reason for us to think it’s going to happen overnight. I think when those 30 days are over we’re going to be in a pretty good place.”

It was a drastic difference from last year’s Media Day talk, when the coaching staff and the players spoke pointedly about making a playoff run. There was none of that Monday.

Last year, those comments almost came across as blind optimism, and to Gentry’s credit, by the year’s end it didn’t look so crazy as the Suns barely missed out on the postseason.

This year, Gentry only promised how his team would play, not the results.

“We’re going to play hard every single night, compete like crazy,” he said. “We’re not trying to chase the Lakers right now, we’re trying to reestablish what we’re going to be in the culture of our team for years to come. And it starts on Tuesday.

“I believe we’re going to compete every night and play hard, and I think we’ll play unselfishly. Whatever that brings, we’ll accept.”

Jared Dudley knows that there is no shortage of questions surrounding the Suns. As the longest-tenured Phoenix player, his role is one that can be answered today. From a leadership standpoint, Dudley is the carryover from the loss of Steve Nash and Grant Hill — and to a degree, he’ll now have to cover for the loss of Channing Frye as well.

“G-Hill did everything the right way 100 percent of the time,” Dudley said. “I’m more 80-20, my personality, the way I am humor-wise. For me, it’s a different role (this year). I’m 27, two kids, it’s time for me to grow up a little bit. On the court, in the weight room, off the court, that’s where I got to be more a leader with these guys.”

The lack of answers elsewhere on the roster hasn’t yet translated to concern.

The energy on Monday was simply positive. Sebastian Telfair, the one player perhaps lost in the offseason shuffle, was one of the brightest personalities on the practice court, doing his media rounds twice over it seemed.

The belief appears to be there early. So does the off-court chemistry.

But expectations are hard to grasp at this point, even for those in the locker room.

Roles and position battles obviously haven’t been looked at. Gentry said that playing trial and error throughout camp will be the fun part in deciding how to best utilize his transformed roster.

“Hey, we like being the underdog,” Gentry said. “It should give you incentive to play harder, work harder, do everything that’s necessary. Basically, what (the detractors are) saying is they don’t believe in us. We believe in us. ”

Suns finalize training camp roster

Phoenix invited a handful of non-roster players to training camp, with the most notable one being former ASU Sun Devil forward Ike Diogu, who shined this summer while playing with the Nigerian national team. He averaged 14.8 points and nine rebounds per game in Olympic play. With the loss of Channing Frye for the time being, Diogu very well has an increased chance of making the roster.

He will be joined by Diante Garrett, Luke Zeller and Othyus Jeffers.

Garrett, at 6-foot-4, 190 pound rookie, is an oversized point guard from Iowa State who played with the Suns Summer League team in Las Vegas. In 16 minutes per game in five summer games, Garrett averaged 4.6 points, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals a game, though the outlook for him making the final roster seems difficult considering Phoenix’s depth at the point guard slot.

Jeffers, a 6-foot-5, 210 pound guard from Robert Morris, has two years of NBA experience with the Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs and Washington Wizards. In 16 games with Washington last season, he played 19.6 minutes a game and averaged 5.7 points, 1.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Zeller is a 6-foot-11, 245 pound big man out of Notre Dame.

And 1

Gentry on having a full training camp this season: “I think just for us, just to have a full training camp, it hurt Markieff (Morris) last year. When you see where Kendall (Marshall) started off in the summer and where he is right now, it’s just really, really important for young guys to have a full training camp.”

  • Robert

    “you-know-who era” was my favorite part of this article. It is now Time To Rise for the new era and just like the mythical bird (Phoenix) will rise from the n-ashes .

  • Scott

    Replacing a Wildcat with a Sun Devil … ?

    Diogu is an interesting possibility, though I’m not sure he’s the best fit for the team. I’ll be curious to see how he does and what happens with him.

  • Scott

    I’ve been watching the media day videos on Suns.com, and I’m starting to believe this team might have a scrappier spirit overall than last year.

    As I’d noted months or years ago, the team seemed to lack a certain aggressiveness or “alpha” spirit after Amare left. If I understand it correctly, JO seems to be trying to bring a positive aggressiveness back to the club; not so much in his own play, but as a team goal. This could be good, because I think maybe some of these guys have been restraining themselves, and they need to push harder, compete harder … not playing dirty, but individually playing closer to their potentials.

    This team might end up being a starless, scrappy team like last year’s Denver Nuggets, but with what might be a higher talent level.

  • Tony

    @Scott,

    are you seriously suggesting that this Suns team has more talent than last year’s Nuggets team???? Wow, you’re delusional if you think that’s the case. Let’s compare starting 5s:
    Dragic < Lawson
    Dudley Beasley
    Faried < Scola
    McGee = Gortat
    And don't even get started on comparing benches because the Nuggets had a very good bench last season. The Suns have nobody coming off the bench who's a proven contributor.

    It's not surprising that there was a noticable absence of playoff talk, because this team is just not good. Sorry folks, I know some people here equate being realistic with being a pessemist, but this team will be lucky to be any better than 14th in the west.

  • Bill_Thomas

    I bet Tony toilet trains his kids, grand-kids or great grand-kids in record time. Or his dogs for that matter.

  • Oscar

    I think the best thing to happen to the Suns is Frye going on the disabled list. Yeah, I said it. And I don’t say it to be mean spirited but how good can he actually be this season after coming off an injury? His numbers were low last year and he is sub-par at best when it comes to rebounding. The entire league salivates when going up against him 1 on 1.

    Bring on Diogu!

    And Tony, comparing Gortat to McGee is like comparing an apple to a kitchen table. Yeah, your insight is that bad and makes it hard for anyone to take you seriously. The Thuggets are a good benchmark for this new squad coming in.

    Who do you think this team is, The Rockets?

  • suns68

    It seems like what they’re saying is that this team is on track to in fact complete the 2012-2013 NBA season.

    Participation ribbons for everyone! Yay.

  • Abe

    @Tony
    You know nothing about basketball or the Phoenix Suns!

  • Kevin Zimmerman

    People drastically underestimated Frye’s defensive contributions last year. One small sample: In all the games Kevin Love played against Phoenix, he didn’t shoot 50 percent or above (often times, much worse). Against Luis Scola, Love absolutely had his way.

    A guy like Blake Griffin had better numbers against Frye, but he was still frustrated by Frye’s defense. Scola is physical, for sure but whether he rebounds well or not we’ll see.

    @Robert – dig the “n-ashes”

  • Wilson

    @Abe: Likewise, you know nothing about contributing positive value to a discussion.

    Overall, there are a ton of questions with this team; it’s so hard to project where they’ll finish up. Really, everything from 20 wins to 45 wins is plausible at this point. Every single position is a question mark heading into the season – and that’s not even counting the fact that this team has been so Nash-centric for so long.

  • steve

    @Wilson

    20 is a bit low. It takes a particular kind of bad to get 20 wins. For instance, in 2010-11, only two teams had 20 wins or fewer: Minnesota and Cleveland, both of which are, in my opinion, considerably worse than this Phoenix Suns team. 2009-10, two again: Minny and New Jersey. 2008-09, three: Washington, Sacramento, LAC.

    If you’re going to count 20 (an extremely low number) as “plausible” (which I suppose it is plausible), I’m surprised you only went with 45 as a max for plausibility.

    I’d say anywhere from 20-55 is plausible, and I’m guessing somewhere right in the middle (between 35-40, my official guess is 35). But if his team really came together, Goran played all season like he finished last year, Gortat played all season like he started last year, and Michael Beasley finally decided to be good at basketbally and life, this team has three mid-level star players and a supporting cast of shooters (Dudley, Johson) and hustlers (Dudley, Tefair, Scola). A team like that is definitely capable of pulling off a Denver/Indiana type of run and pile up 50 or more wins.

  • Scott

    In terms of wins, I think these Suns will have more wins than last year; first, because there are more games, and second, because even though they had Nash and Hill, they had new players at key positions with no pre-season tune-up, and Nash wasn’t able to play to his full potential due to lack of top tier talent alongside him.

    Some players will probably play as well as they did last year, like Dragic, Scola, and Telfair. I think some players will play a bit better than they did last year, like Gortat, Dudley, Brown, and Beasley. The rest I’m not sure about, but one thing I am sure of is we won’t see the rudderless 2nd unit PG situation we saw at the beginning of the last season, which cost several games.

    So I’d put in a floor of 35 wins. Assuming there’s no further injuries or a sweeping midseason trade, I doubt it will go lower than that.

  • Wilson

    @Steve: Yeah, fair enough. The upside is higher than 45 wins (put another way, eight games over .500), but I guess I’m not as sold on Beasley’s ceiling as most (some?). In my opinion, with the team as constructed, at best, he’s better than Brandon Bass on offence, slightly worse on defence.

    I also probably had last season on my mind when I put the low at 20. In a full season, I’d probably say 25-50 wins – not too much different from your 20-55, aha.

  • Wilson

    For what it’s worth, as of now, I’m probably predicting 30-35 wins, not accounting for injuries and trades.