It didn’t hold the same redemption appeal of Michael Beasley’s introductory press conference. It wasn’t Goran Dragic‘s return to Phoenix, where he would play for a coach who he considered family. Even in understanding the basketball side of things, the Phoenix Suns’ introduction of Isaiah Thomas and Anthony Tolliver on Monday was relatively ‘blah.’
They’re two high-character guys who have fought battles instead of being groomed and coddled like first-round picks. You would’ve known that by having any bit of background on either of them. Or by taking a minute to check their Twitter accounts. They’re family men hoping to make a living doing what they love.
“These two guys have earned everything they’ve achieved,” Suns general manager McDonough said. “They haven’t been given anything. At think at different times in their careers they’ve been overlooked. They’ve turned themselves into very good, established, effective NBA players.”
Phoenix’s two-man addition may not blow people away, but it’s not supposed to. The fact of the matter is the Suns can be happy they signed two players to reasonable contracts, both of which should help them immediately. Boring, right?
Let’s not pretend that Eric Bledsoe‘s future is not on every fan’s mind.
“All I’ll say about Eric is we’ll continue to work as hard as we can under the restricted free agency system established under the current collective bargaining agreement, and we continue to hope and expect he’ll remain in a Suns uniform,” said Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby.
Wonder about Bledsoe all you want. Worry that Thomas wasn’t an addition but a replacement. We know Tolliver is just that with Channing Frye off to Orlando. There’s a squeezing of the Suns’ depth chart toward the small forward spot, where Gerald Green appears to be the guy who could be most threatened in terms of losing his role this year. The Suns’ stockpiling of point guards may be highly questionable and would seem to hint that general manager Ryan McDonough is not done dealing this summer. Spending isn’t as much of a concern as many have made it out to be — Phoenix still has a lot of flexibility — but that’s another question if Bledsoe returns and the Suns aim to keep Goran Dragic beyond this season.
Now that we’ve gone over all the franchise’s questions moving forward, take a minute to appreciate these two offseason signings for what they are.
Two good dudes were smiling on Monday during their Phoenix introduction. They’d felt wanted, they’ll be paid and now they can focus on helping the Suns follow up a 48-win season.
“They brought me in with open arms,” Thomas said. “They liked me for who I was. They liked me for being 5’9. They liked me for being a score-first point guard. And that’s what I wanted. The situation here is perfect for me, the style of play, the organization, how it is.”
Thomas, the 60th and final pick in the 2011 draft, watched a bit of Suns basketball last season. Twice, he mentioned how they appeared to enjoy playing with one another. Even playing against Phoenix, the former Kings point guard said that he saw the appeal of joining an underdog.
“It was a lot of excitement, the guys seemed like they play for each other and not with each other,” he said. “They have fun out there. Everybody counted the guys out, everybody counted the Phoenix Suns out. I want to be part of that.”
It appears the Suns had an easy time selling Thomas on a future with them despite expecting Dragic and Bledsoe to return. Thomas values himself as a starter, but it doesn’t seem to be an issue. He’s confident he’ll earn starter’s minutes, and coach Jeff Hornacek re-hashed that vision of having two point guards on the floor for much of the time.
“Nobody’s going to take each other’s minutes,” Thomas added. “We’re going to do this thing together and be successful. I think when they brought me in, they said, ‘We value you as a starter. We think you are a starter … we feel that you can help us in a lot of ways.’ Goran and Eric, they’re great players but we do everything differently. We’re three different players.”
Thomas and Tolliver were easily sold on the Suns’ locker room and their system. Phoenix likewise was sold on them.
Now it’s on the Suns to sell the fans on a plan that’s, at present, a little murky. The honeymoon for the front office is ending. But be happy for Thomas and Tolliver.
Hornacek the whisperer
I asked both Thomas and Tolliver what they hoped to individually improve upon this upcoming season, which is admittedly a bad question. It’s expected most basketball players would hope to improve at everything.
“Individually, I’m working on everything,” Thomas said, as expected, before coach Jeff Hornacek added color to the responses by whispering “deeefense” into his podium mic as Thomas continued to talk.
Hornacek wasn’t shy about defense being a relative weak point, and that’s probably why the Kings continually brought in replacement point guards since drafting the Washington Husky. Even though none of those players could take Thomas’ starting job, the defensive questions linger.
“People say they use their height to their advantage, I’ve got to use mine to my advantage,” Thomas said. “The further out a guy is on the court, that’s more to my advantage. The closer they are to the hoop, that’s more to their advantage. That’s something that is big on me this summer, getting my feet quicker, getting me to stand in a stance.”
Following Hornacek’s recommendation about defense, Tolliver knew how to answer what was, again, not the best question.
“I’m really focusing on defense. I don’t know what just made me say that,” he said, hearing Hornacek’s message loud and clear.
Jeff Hornacek: “For me as a coach, I like guys who can go out there and have fun but find that balance of being serious and really trying to win. Just talking to them, I know they’ll add some stuff in the locker room. We have a pretty quiet team. Anthony is probably a little quieter, but he’s got that veteran leadership. Isaiah I think talks a little bit more. So there’s going to be a good mix, a good blend we bring to the team.”