Phoenix Suns must use training camp to build chemistry on the fly


PHOENIX -– During a typical offseason Phoenix Suns players trickle back to town by Labor Day and scrimmage for as many as six weeks before training camp begins, bonding time that has catapulted the Suns to surprisingly successful seasons in years past.

By the time October rolls around they have their legs back as well as a good feel for their teammates and can start working on the finer points of getting ready for a season at camp.

But six weeks before training camp began Saturday night on the campus of Grand Canyon University it looked like there would not even be a season to prepare for.

That makes this training camp critical not only to install new defensive principles and for conditioning sake but also for the Suns to gel on the fly to make up for all the time they lost to the lockout.

“For us chemistry’s crucial,” Jared Dudley said.

That’s the biggest reason the Suns elected to practice at a college campus despite it being so close to home. The team is going for a training camp feel, staying in a hotel and bussing back and forth just like they would at a training camp in San Diego or Tucson.

“I just think the whole atmosphere of kind of being away from there,” Gentry said, “I just think it’s a situation where staying in the hotel and going through this week can give us a little bit of a situation where we can bond a little bit and it gives you more of a camp type atmosphere I think.”

The Suns only had nine players available at Saturday’s opening practice since Grant Hill, Sebastian Telfair and Markieff Morris could not officially sign contracts before Vince Carter clears waivers, and Zabian Dowdell missed it due to pain under his right kneecap. Still, Gentry make sure his team concentrated on running, “making it a priority” on every play.

The coach felt the Suns’ players were very responsible about staying in great shape during the lockout but he acknowledged there’s a big difference between being in shape and being in basketball shape, Suns shape in particular. Frye estimated the Suns were at a seven or an eight pace-wise but said the more they run it will get to a nine or 10 and become second nature.

With time of the essence during training camp, Gentry said the Suns will have to cut down on their offensive work because he feels the need to establish the team’s new defensive philosophies through repetition.

Toward that goal the Suns will stage two-a-day practices Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at GCU with a scrimmage on Wednesday mixed in at Grand Canyon’s brand new arena. A full squad is expected by tomorrow evening’s session.

Everything will feel rushed about this upcoming NBA season — which amazingly starts in a mere two weeks — so along with running into game shape and improving the defense the Suns don’t have much time to develop the kind of chemistry that has led them to defy expectations a time or two during the Nash era.

“I think it’s really good this year,” Frye said. “We have a great core group of guys. I think we still need to grow that and establish what we have to accomplish this year.”

Pietrus trade called off

The Toronto Raptors backed out of the Mickael Pietrus trade, according to Paul Coro, after their medical staff determined Pietrus needed 2-4 more weeks before his right knee is healthy enough to play on.

Pietrus underwent minor surgery on the knee during the offseason. He was originally traded with cash for a conditional second-rounder from Toronto that had so many restrictions the Suns were unlikely to ever receive it.

The Suns wanted to dump Pietrus because their wing rotation is full and they would prefer not to pay Pietrus’ $5.3 million salary to ride the pine.

Coro believes the Raptors will fill that roster spot in another way, but Pietrus’ agent made the comment to Coro that the trade was “postponed” so perhaps it will be revisited in the future.

My fear is that the Suns will waste their amnesty clause on Pietrus just to get him off their books. Assuming they don’t pay Aaron Brooks more than his qualifying offer and don’t make any trade in which they absorb salary, the Suns should stay just under the luxury tax regardless.

Although the possibility of Pietrus having a bad attitude is disconcerting, I don’t mind having his expiring contract around in case the Suns have a big move to make midseason. With Nash, Hill, Brown and Telfair also on expiring deals, the Suns would have the flexibility to make moves if they decide to blow this up.

And 1

  • The Suns officially signed Brown and waived Carter and Gani Lawal on Saturday.
  • Gentry joking about the lack of available players at practice: “I thought maybe we had to go out and sign a few JUCO guys.”
  • Frye on the condensed schedule: “If you’re a basketball player you probably like playing basketball, and everybody always complains about practice, so now you don’t have to practice, you just have to play. I think this year you will see a lot of teams either really grow together or just dispersing. It’s going to be interesting this year. Fantasy basketball teams are going to be switching around a lot.”
  • Frye also said he plans to get to the free throw line more often rather than settling for jumpers. He shot a career high 83.2 percent from the line last season but only got there 107 times, the lowest total in his career aside from the 2008-09 season in Portland when he rarely played.