Frye Appreciative of Opportunity With Magic
By John Denton
July 14, 2014
ORLANDO -- Admittedly, Channing Frye took basketball for granted early in his career when he was a sweet-shooting first-round pick playing for mostly bad teams in New York and Portland.
Then, came the kind of health scare – an enlarged heart caused by an unknown virus – that took the game away from him for a year and made him greater appreciate the ability to play in the NBA.
``I’ve got to be honest it was one of the toughest, but greatest years of my life. I have two kids so to be able to spend time with my wife and family – I’ll never be able to do that until I’m retired – but to be able to do that when my little girl was born was huge,’’ Frye said. ``I also appreciate basketball more. When something is taken away from you, you take a step back and really appreciate it. It’s not so much a job, but a blessing and an opportunity. … Win or lose, I’m always going to have a smile on my face because this can be taken away and I’m going to appreciate every day.’’
Frye, 31, is also very appreciative of the interest that the Orlando Magic showed in him during the NBA free-agent courting process. Orlando was the first team to call Frye on July, reaching him even during a vacation in Italy. The Magic, led by GM Rob Hennigan and head coach Jacque Vaughn, ultimately sold Frye on their vision for the future and how they plan to use his solid 3-point stroke and his defensive versatility in the years ahead. Vaughn even gave Frye a glimpse at his competitive nature by beating him rather soundly on the ping pong table.
Ultimately, a four-year deal was reached and Frye will give Orlando the best stretch-4 3-pointer shooter since Rashard Lewis (2008-11) and Ryan Anderson (2011-12).
``The Magic made themselves pretty much at the top of my list early on,’’ said Frye, who said he was contacted by 10-14 teams when the free-agent courting period opened. ``I was in Italy when they called and they were the first team to call and that means a lot. You never heard their names in the news about going after this person or that person. They were like, `You’re one of four or five guys that we’re going after, we want what you have and we want you to be a part of this culture.’ When you have good culture and good guys, good things will happen.’’
Good things happened last season for Frye with the Phoenix Suns. He missed all of the 2012-13 season when a routine physical detected abnormalities in his heart. Eight months of inactivity followed by four months of light rehab led to him being cleared for this past season. Despite bouts of fatigue at times, he still averaged 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds and shot 38.5 percent from the 3-point line. Frye made a game with six threes (Jan. 4 vs. Milwaukee), six games with five 3-pointers and 25 instances when he made at least three 3-pointers in a game. He scored 30 points on Jan. 19 against Denver when he made 12 of 16 shots and five of seven 3-pointers, and overall he topped the 20-point plateau for a Suns team that defied the odds and stayed in the playoff hunt all season.
Frye’s favorite statistic to come from last season? It was the fact that he returned from a lost season and played in all 82 games this past season.
``I didn’t know if I was going to make it because I got kind of tired there after the all-star break, but it just took me a little while to refocus,’’ he said of last season. ``I went to a celebratory dinner with my wife, something I had never done before. (Playing in 82 games) meant a lot because it meant that I had been consistent and had done the right things. I want to push myself a little more this next season.’’
Hennigan said he made the acquisition of Frye a priority because of the many things that the 6-foot-11, 248-pound power forward can do. Hennigan is hoping that some of Frye’s experience culled over eight NBA seasons will be imparted on the Magic’s youthful roster.
``First and foremost, it was his experience and what he’s able to add to a team is very important to us,’’ Hennigan said. ``He’s played in the league for a long time. He’s someone that as we did a lot of research on him, Channing is someone who takes pride in the leading and the mentor role. We feel like that, in addition to what he can do on the floor was very appealing to us.’’
Two players that Frye is eager to mentor are power forward Tobias Harris and small forward Aaron Gordon. Harris and Frye are cousins and their grandfather, Lt. Col. John Mulzac, was one of America’s first black military pilots that were later known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Harris and Frye grew up together in White Plains, New York, and Frye is looking forward to imparting some wisdom on his much-younger cousin.
``He works. I’ll be honest, Tobias works harder than I do and I work hard,’’ Frye said of Harris, who averaged 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds a game last season for the Magic despite playing on a sprained ankle much of the season. ``But I have kids and my time in the gym is smaller. For (Harris), he just has to enjoy it and the work he does needs to be seen on the court. For me, I can tell him how to score, how to have longevity in the league and how to do things. He has the skills, the talent, the body and the mind for basketball, but he just needs to be around one person who can explain it and help him become an elite scorer.’’
Frye also has ties to Gordon because both hail from the University of Arizona. While playing in Phoenix last season, Frye got to watch most of the Wildcats games and he is excited about the potential of the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Gordon, who was selected No. 4 by the Magic in the June NBA Draft.
``His talent level is through the roof. I think he fits the mold here,’’ Frye said. ``I like guys that don’t have a real position. I like that he can go out and play different positions. Everyone focuses on the shooting, but you don’t always need a lot of shooters on the floor; you need basketball players. I don’t know if this is the right person to compare him to, but (San Antonio’s) Kawai Leonard doesn’t really have a position. He guards 1s, 3s, 4s and 5s. Sometimes he would guard me. Aaron’s talent level is extremely high. We need guys who will play the right way and I think he’s going to fit in.’’
One of the veteran players who served as a mentor for Frye while he played in Phoenix was Grant Hill, a player who knows a thing or two about having the game taken away from him. Hill signed a seven-year, $92.88 million free-agent contract with the Magic in August of 2000, but he had much of the next seven seasons in Orlando ruined by ankle, knee and abdominal injuries.
Hill, now retired and working for Turner Sports as an analyst, got healthy when he got to Phoenix and he became fast friends with Frye. The two will now be neighbors as Frye purchased a home in Isleworth. Frye said that after having to miss a season because of his heart issue that Hill taught him the value of cherishing every moment on the basketball court.
``If I had a big brother in this game, other than Richard Jefferson, I would say Grant is it,’’ Frye admitted. ``I try to mold the way that I approach the game (after Hill). I’m not a yeller, but I will talk to you on the side once the game is over. Grant taught me to enjoy every moment and every challenge.
``Grant is one of the most talented guys to ever play basketball. Grant showed me that it doesn’t always come easy,’’ Frye continued. ``I don’t think people saw how hard he worked in the weight room, what he did with his diet and taking care of his body so that he could have that longevity in this game.’’
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