Suns Come Together Over Flagstaff Training Camp

You might think it is more difficult to find something to do on a weeknight in Flagstaff than avoiding spoilers about the Breaking Bad finale online. I had a similar misconception about the city, that was until I arrived in the higher elevation last Monday for Suns training camp.

Much like an episode of Twin Peaks, the people of Flag and the city itself marches to its own beat. Case in point, the karaoke bar myself and a few other co-workers found one evening. The place smelled exactly how you’d imagine a bar in a building that was constructed in the 1920s would. The right mixture of must, broken dreams and exposed brick. The stage looked more like something you’d see at a The Improv and the patrons were an eclectic group with beards even Zach Galifianakis would envy. (In other words, my kind of group.)

I’m not a singer. As a matter of fact, I’m to singing what Selena Gomez is to acting. Yet, somehow the stage’s quaint charm seduced me the way the city’s cool temperatures had upon my arrival. Before I knew it I was on stage singing a duet to the Beatles “Come Together.” (All video evidence has been destroyed. You’re welcome internet.)

As the words to the chorus of the song scrolled across the bright screen in the otherwise dark venue, I realized it was the perfect theme for this year’s camp.

“Come together, right now, over me.”

Coach Jeff Hornacek’s biggest challenge heading into the 2013-14 campaign is to build chemistry between a roster that includes 10 new faces and get them all to come together around his system. What could be a potentially daunting task for a first year head coach seems to be going more smoothly than Marcin Gortat’s head when freshly shaved.

While Hornacek has ran a tough camp, the comradery between new teammates and the enthusiasm for their new run and gun style was more than noticeable. In fact, it was one of the themes of camp. Which became even more surprising when you realized there are 18 guys who legitimately have a shot at one of the 15 roster spots. Guys who are playing for their livelihood, and in some cases their NBA careers.

That competitive nature didn't prevent the team from coming together though. In fact, it may have helped.

“We’re all teammates at the end of the day,” Forward P.J. Tucker said after practice. “We’re all competitive. I think the openness of it, how the team’s set up, makes it competitive and brings out the best in everybody. As teammates, regardless of who starts or comes off the bench, it’s just like handing off the baton if everybody’s working for each other, trying to win and do it collectively.”

That openness and competitiveness seemed to be by design. That, or Coach Hornacek is extremely convincing when talking to the media. Either way, it’s a good thing for the team.

“It doesn’t matter who plays, who’s scoring the points, as long as we try to win the games,” the first-year head coach said. “One night might just be an off-night for you and maybe you only play eight minutes and somebody else gets an opportunity. That’s where we have to stress with our players that you can’t get mad or down. You’ve got to cheer for your teammate. Whoever goes out there and takes your spot, there’s going to be another night that’s your night.”

The team’s return to Flagstaff was the perfect setting to build a bond. Close enough to let the fans get a glimpse of the team and to make appearances in their home state but far enough away from Phoenix to bond. Although it may only have been a week spent in the cool pines, the reprieve from the regular routine and the heat seems to have helped bring the team closer on and off the court.

Whether it’s the laughs shared between Goran Dragic and his new backcourt-mate Eric Bledsoe as they walked the NAU campus to lunch, the entire team rushing over to help pick up Marcus Morris after he took an impressive charge during a scrimmage or the guys encouraging each other by clapping towards the end of a shooting drill that seems a player fire up 100 shots in mere minutes, you can see a chemistry starting to form.

If they can come together as a group like they did in Flagstaff over Jeff Hornacek and the staff’s system, the foundation of something good could be set for years. And they’ll keep my night’s busy so no one will have to hear me sing again.