PHOENIX — The success of Jeff Hornacek’s first gig as the Suns’ head coach alluded toward the success to come. Phoenix used a championship game run in the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League as a momentum boost into the regular season, and they hope this year’s coach, Mike Longabardi, will be able to create more culture building this offseason.
Reel in the high expectations a tad.
Phoenix had a unique summer league roster last season with three players that would become integral parts of the Suns’ regular season rotation.
“Last year’s roster in summer league had nine guys that played in the NBA this past season,” the Suns’ defensive guru added. “This year, I don’t know how many we’re going to have. I don’t think we’re going to have nine.”
Gone are the Morris twins and P.J. Tucker, the latter of whom said he’d be all for playing with the Summer Suns if free agency wouldn’t get in the way (it has). There’s no Diante Garrett, who played 71 games for the Utah Jazz in 2013-14, or Kendall Marshall, who started 45 of his 54 games with the Lakers last year. Take away Chris Babb (14 appearances with the Celtics) and Arinze Onuaku (five games between the Cavs and Hornets) and this is what Phoenix is left with.
Dionte Christmas and Archie Goodwin are the two returning players from the 2013 version of the squad. Christmas and forward Elias Harris are the only two players born in the 1980s on this 12-man roster. Taking on a bit of the leadership is Suns starting center Miles Plumlee, the most battled-tested player of the group.
Plumlee shined in the Orlando Summer League last season before being traded from Indiana to Phoenix, but he and fellow center Alex Len are in their first summer go-around with Phoenix.
“It’s a little different,” Plumlee said of his role on this year’s team. “You feel more like a veteran out there. Since you understand the game and you know the mistakes you made the first couple years, now it’s my job to kind of help the younger guys, you know, understand the offense, understand how to execute our defensive schemes.”
The Duke product quickly became a surprise starting center who attacked the Portland Trail Blazers from above the rim in the Suns’ first game of 2013-14. From there, Plumlee began overthinking and overreacting as teams adjusted to his rim-rolling and occasional post touches. The straightforward Longabardi, and Plumlee for that matter, know that expanding Plumlee’s game is about contracting this thought process.
“Flow, flow, flow,” Longabardi said. “Not overthinking, getting stuffed. To me, he gets in trouble when he just overthinks and gets stuck. Now it’s got to be like a rhythm and a flow for him. Hopefully with the repetition of playing and playing a lot, it will help.”
At the end of the season, Plumlee knew what he had to work on. A bit of it was confidence, but the other parts were simply slowing the game down and making the simple reads.
“I kind of got the skillset but a lot of it is the confidence and the understanding of the game – when to do stuff, what you’re looking for – so you can be more efficient,” Plumlee said. “I feel like I don’t think about it as much anymore. I’m thinking more about looking where everybody else is on the court. I think it makes me a better playmaker.”
Longabardi is in this same boat, in a way. The man who two years ago served as the defensive specialist for current Clippers coach Doc Rivers in Boston joined Phoenix last year to play the same role under Hornacek. He’s been mentioned as a darkhorse head coaching candidate for the last few years having been groomed up the Celtics’ coaching tree.
“I’m not going to lie, you want to be a head coach,” Longabardi said. “That would be my goal but … you take advantage of the opportunity. I’m taking it very seriously. Hopefully we’ll be competitive, be in every game, try to win, which is what we want to do. Selfishly yeah, I want to be a head coach one day. If the opportunity happens, great. If I can stay here and be Jeff’s assistant forever, it wouldn’t be a bad deal.”
- Archie Goodwin on Longabardi’s coaching style: “Longo is Longo. That’s the only way to describe it. He’s a competitive guy. He’s little so he has little-man syndrome. It’s cool though, because he competes and the competitive fire will rub off on us, too.”
- Longabardi remembers his 2-3 record as summer league coach of the Celtics: “We got decimated by injuries. We beat Horny’s Utah team – I think if you check the record books – in Orlando, I think it’s like the fifth-biggest margin of victory. And then we had like three guys go down with injuries. We lost three in a row and won our last game. Nobody’s counting.”