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.
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.”