Posted Jul 26 2010 10:20AM
Josh Childress never wanted to be courted like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh in free agency.
He only wanted some consideration for four years of hard work for the Atlanta Hawks, time spent doing whatever was asked of him whenever it was asked of him.
All he wanted was a team to make him feel at home.
Instead, he got a two-year detour to Greece, albeit an extremely well-financed detour, when he couldn't come to an agreement with the Hawks as a restricted free agent this time three years ago. Childress signed a three-year, $20 million deal with Olympiakos that included an opt-out clause allowing him to return to the NBA after each those first two seasons.
Now that he is back in the NBA -- Phoenix acquired his rights and signed him to a five-year, $34 million deal -- Childress is no longer the forgotten man many of his critics claimed he would be upon his return to the league. And on top of that, he'll get to play alongside two-time league MVP Steve Nash and for a team that made the Western Conference finals last season.
"One of the main things that got me excited about the opportunity was speaking with [Suns] Coach [Alvin] Gentry." Childress said. "They truly enjoy playing like a team. He was telling me how there were plenty of games last year where the second unit would finish the game. He made it clear that whoever is playing well will play. It's not about playing favorites. It's an equal opportunity situation. And you see that in the character of guys that they have. That was the first thing they brought up when I met with [Gentry] and [Suns managing partner] Mr. [Robert] Sarver. They didn't want to do anything to mess up their locker room, because they feel like they have a situation where everybody is truly for each other succeeding. And when I heard that, I was excited."
A productive role player off the bench with the Hawks, Childress will be asked to reprise that role with the Suns, who already had the league's best cast of reserves before he and Hakim Warrick were added to the mix this summer.
As for his European foray, it was time well spent. This past season, Childress averaged a team-high 15.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in Greek League action for European powerhouse Olympiakos. He averaged 15.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in Euro League play.
Childress didn't necessarily become a bigger star playing overseas than he would have had he stayed in the states, but he by no means embarrassed himself either, as many league observers had grumbled he might when he made the leap.
"I definitely think it was worth it, and if anything, just for the experience," Childress, 27, said of the then groundbreaking move to escape the restraints of (restricted) free agency in 2008 and sign with Olympiakos. "Not only did I get a chance to see the world, but I got a chance to experience basketball from a global perspective. I got a chance to see how the game is played and the mentality of different coaches and players from a totally different view. I feel like I grew as much as a player as I did as a person. And that's something you really can't put dollar signs on."
Despite rumors to the contrary, dollar signs were not the cause of the disconnect during negotiations between the Childress camp and the Hawks three years ago. A front office shift -- from Billy Knight, the general manager that drafted Childress with the sixth pick overall in the 2004 Draft, to current Hawks general manager Rick Sund -- was the root of the problem.
Knight valued Childress, his contributions on and off the floor to the Hawks' rebuilding process in ways that Sund could not from afar, which was the only perspective he'd had prior to joining the organization.
The Hawks go from a 13-69 doormat during the rookie season for both Childress and Josh Smith to a surprise playoff team that pushed the eventual champion Boston Celtics to seven games in their first-round playoff series in his final season with the Hawks.
Childress averaged a respectable 11.1 points and 5.6 rebounds in his four seasons with the Hawks and fully expected to be a significant piece of the franchise's immediate future.
So when Sund made Josh Smith a priority in free agency that summer, Childress bristled at being put on the back burner.
"I don't think I ever got a formal offer," Childress said, trying to recall all the back and forth that has gone on since the summer of 2008. "All I wanted was a deal. I just wanted to feel like they wanted me to be a part of their team. And I never had that feeling. It was always, 'we'll deal with him when we have time.' Personally and professionally, I felt like I acquitted myself the right way. I came to work and did what was asked of me. and then when it came time to negotiate, it was like 'we'll get to him whenever we can.' At least that was the attitude that was conveyed to me."
The Suns were more than happy to pick up where the Hawks left off, or never really got started. When they lost Amar'e Stoudemire to New York during this summer's free agent frenzy, they quickly rebounded with moves to get Hedo Turkoglu and Childress, acquired with the help of the $6.5 million trade exception they received in the Stoudemire deal.
More than a half dozen teams -- including Dallas, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Golden State, Washington, Houston, Cleveland and the Suns -- inquired about grabbing Childress.
Rather than sweat out the details as the July 15 deadline to either go back to Greece for the third and final year of his deal or stay in the NBA approached, Childress returned home to his Los Angeles area roots in an effort to make sure he soaked up as much time around friends and family as possible in case he had to head back overseas.
He didn't have any expectations. Having gone through the same sort of process twice before, he figured he was prepared for whatever came his way.
When he got the call from his agent, Childress was hosting a free basketball camp for kids in the Compton neighborhood he grew up in, handing out free shoes, socks, shorts, t-shirts and lunches for 100-plus kids with hoop dreams like one he had at their age.
"That's the strange thing," Childress said. "I was just out there trying to give back to my community that day, doing what I've always been taught, and I got the call that Phoenix had agreed to the deal, it really hit me. Here I was trying to help somebody else out and then I get blessed with something that was so exceptional."
Not only is Childress back in the NBA, he's back and playing on a team that plays a style that suits his slashing style perfectly, a team with a point guard that makes everyone else look better, a coach that believes in a 10-man rotation and within 90 minutes (by air) of all the family and friends he was oceans away from the past two years.
"That was the toughest part the last two years," Childress said. "The distance from my family, friends and loved ones was unbelievable. The time difference, having to stay up until 2 and 3 in the morning to talk to everybody, was a struggle."
His initial decision to leave might have been the only thing he struggled with more. All the pressure was on him.
He was moving to another country, another culture, a foreign land where the people spoke a different language, where the food on every table was just as foreign to his system.
Childress didn't know what to expect. And he knew there were plenty of folks waiting back home to pounce if things went awry.
"I wouldn't change a thing," he said. "I'm happy I did it the way I did ... great team, great city, great teammates, great organization. I'm happy the way things ended up."
And happy to finally be back home.
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