PHOENIX – Promises are thrown around in the NBA quite often but many times aren’t kept. Maybe that’s why Dionte Christmas held out in his commitment to join a team this summer until the Phoenix Suns called.
Many teams wanted the 27-year-old shooting guard from Temple for nothing more than a body in training camp, but even though the Suns have 16 players with guaranteed deals, Christmas could very well make the final cut.
New general manager Ryan McDonough’s relationship with Christmas is a big part of the guard’s presence in training camp. McDonough gave Christmas a partially-guaranteed contract offer to join the Suns just as he did last year, when the guard joined the Boston Celtics in camp before being cut.
“Ryan told me he wanted me here and wanted me for training camp,” Christmas said. “I’ve had teams that told me they wanted me and never called back and things like that. The last two years with Ryan, man, everything he’s said, he’s done. Everything he’s said, he’s meant it. My trust with Ryan is 100 percent. If he says he’s going to do it, he’ll do it.
“As a man, I respect that to the utmost,” Christmas added. “I’m a loyal guy. In the last two years, I’ve come to realize he’s a loyal guy as well.”
With McDonough, Phoenix hopes to quickly clean its dirty slate of untrustworthiness that popped up publicly – true or not – a few times last season.
It all started at the top. Alvin Gentry was pushed out after Suns owner Robert Sarver said his job was safe. Assistants Dan Majerle and Elston Turner refused to return to the bench once they were passed over for Lindsey Hunter as interim coach. Jermaine O’Neal reportedly got in a shouting match with general manager Lance Blanks – O’Neal later refuted the report – and voiced his concerns about the team’s loyalty in a reduced role under Hunter.
Under McDonough, it seems the Suns have gained trust. For Christmas, it means he has a real shot at making the roster. In all likelihood, Phoenix will be chopping its numbers from the glut of guards but Christmas’ abilities could give him a better chance than, say, Malcolm Lee and Ish Smith. Lee, a point guard out of UCLA, has been injury-prone over the past year and he along with Smith won’t help much considering the point guard depth. Christmas is a scorer, through and through. The Philadelphia-born shooting guard averaged 10.1 points on 46 percent shooting off the bench for the Suns in the Las Vegas Summer League.
And while having a niche could give him a leg up on the other guards fighting for roster spots, Christmas is hoping he’s able to shed the perception that he’s only a scorer.
“Coming out of college I was strictly a shooter,” he said. “Now I can create my own shot. I’m a much better defender. I’m smarter, I’ve matured in a lot of ways, especially on the defensive end. I’ve gotten better physically as well.”
Since going undrafted in 2009, Christmas has played in Israel, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Greece, Russia and Italy. He’s been cut by his hometown 76ers and the Celtics, but it’s not a bother any more. Christmas is still waiting for a shot to make an NBA roster, and the Suns’ partially-guaranteed offer is not a sign he’s made it but a gesture that means he’s truly wanted.
“Last year (with the Celtics) was partially-guaranteed,” Christmas said. “You know how that ended up. It doesn’t really matter if it’s partially guaranteed or not but … knowing how many people are on this roster and me getting a partially guaranteed contract shows me those guys are really interested. That shows me those guys are really interested in me and they’re going to give me a chance.”
A chance is all Christmas wanted, and it’s all the Suns have promised – it’s good news for Christmas nonetheless.
And looking at the franchise as a whole, the gesture is possibly a sign that honesty is a new policy.