Suns News

Chemistry Sets Ceiling for Suns Season

Nash is the lone All-Star returning to the Suns this season.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)
Stefan Swiat,
Posted: Sept. 27, 2010

Media Day officially tipped off the beginning to the 2010-11 Suns season Monday, a season that begins with as much anticipation as it does curiosity.

Since Phoenix was narrowly defeated by the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals last May, much of the Suns organization has changed. Seven new players head into training camp with some sort of contract, with three more vying for a possible 15th and final spot.

So the season’s ceiling of success will come down to the one element that propelled the Suns so far last season: chemistry.

“One thing that you learn from being in the NBA is that there’s going to be changes from time to time,” Suns forward Grant Hill said. “But the good thing is that there aren’t too many changes and that there are some familiar faces.

“I think as we go into camp and the preseason it’s going to be exciting and a bit of a challenge, but a good challenge. I think it would’ve been a challenge if we would’ve brought everybody back from last year.”

With former President and General Manager Steve Kerr heading back into the broadcast booth, the Suns hired former super-agent Lon Babby to run its basketball operations department. Babby then appointed former Cavs assistant GM Lance Blanks to be his GM, which triggered an entire re-shuffling of the rest of the front office.

While some of the front office is still getting settled in, the Suns’ bench will look nearly identical. Head Coach Alvin Gentry will still be calling the shots for the Suns, who inked the 30-year coaching veteran to a contract extension last week.

With the exception of advance scout Noel Gillespie taking on more assistant coaching duties and former assistant John Shumate heading back upstairs into the scouting department, the coaching staff was left untouched.

The task for Babby, Blanks and Gentry will be combining the established and the new. For a players-coach that was able to lead un underdog team to within two wins from a Finals appearance last season, his task will once again be to create a chemistry that transcends any weaknesses the team might have.

“We have to work real hard and investing in building that chemistry and that togetherness,” Hill said. “It’s not something that happens in one or in one week. But hopefully when we get to the end of the season, we’ll be a close group, have a lot of trust in each other and enjoy playing with and for each other.”

Gentry believes his leaders will develop that.

“As long as you have good character guys, chemistry seems to come together,” Gentry said. “We’ve got two great leaders in Steve (Nash) and Grant Hill. When your leaders are high-character guys, everybody seems to fall into place.”

The face of the organization, Steve Nash, is the lone returning All-Star to a team that saw the departures of fellow All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire, as well as super-subs Leandro Barbosa and Louis Amundson. Besides those three players, every other player from the Suns’ rotation remains intact, while a few others were added to bolster it.

“I’m really looking forward to the season,” Jason Richardson said. “Even though we lost Amar’e and even LB, who was a big part of this team, we are deeper than we were last year and I thought we had the best bench in the league last year. We have a lot of guys that can put up some numbers.”

Sharpshooter Hedo Turkoglu brings his versatility and playmaking skills from Toronto, creating a possible dynamic that the Suns and the league haven’t seen in a while. With two ballhandlers in Nash and Turkoglu on the floor, the amount of options for Gentry will be limitless.

Turkoglu is coming off a strong summer where he led Turkey to a silver medal in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. The 6-10 forward finished a close second on his team in both scoring and assists.

To help fill the void left by Stoudemire in the front court, the Suns also acquired high-flying Hakim Warrick from the Bulls. The former Big East Player of the Year at Syracuse, who has always been a Suns killer in the past, is a mobile forward who will be a huge asset in an up-tempo offense.

In what could be one of the best signings of the summer, Phoenix was able to lure Josh Childress from Greece and back into the NBA. A career double-digit scorer in the league, the former Hawk will add versatility on both the offensive and defensive ends for the Suns.

Childress’ initial impressions of his teammates are of a group of guys that already click well on and off the court.

“Even in the free time that we spend together, everybody seems really cool,” Childress said. “I think it’s going to be a great year.”

Hill believes that there's a lot of versatility on this team this season.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

The Suns also added rookie Gani Lawal in the second round of the draft. Lawal, a tough-nosed rebounding forward out of Georgia Tech, has already impressed coaches in the summer with his ferocity and back-to-the-basket game.

Some other key contributors to the team, which earned a No. 3 seed in the highly competitive Western Conference last season, also return. Although he endured injury-plagued last season, center Robin Lopez had a breakout season last year, and Phoenix is hoping that the 7-footer takes his game to yet another level this season.

Another player who is looking to ride the momentum he finished last season with is shooting guard Jason Richardson, who has thrived in the past as a first or second scoring option. He will be assisted on the wing by the team’s best perimeter defender, Mr. Do-Everything, Grant Hill.

Perhaps the best second unit in the league last season, could prove to be better than last season’s. It will be bolstered by the best outside-shooting center in the NBA, Channing Frye.

The 6-11 center, who signed a five-year contract with the Suns, will be joined by fellow long-range bomber, Jared Dudley. Last season’s Majerle Hustle Award winner, who dropped 15 pounds over the offseason, hopes to help anchor that second unit defensively.

Goran Dragic, who impressed the world with his play in the world championships this summer, will also attempt to pick up where he left from off last postseason. The 6-3 playmaker, who led Slovenia in both scoring and assists this past summer, figures to play both guard spots in the rotation this season.

One player that was a virtual certainty to crack the rotation this season was Earl Clack, the Suns’ first-round pick in 2009. But with so many players vying for a finite amount of minutes, Gentry will be challenged with finding roles for everyone in the rotation.

Having played in Europe the last two years, Childress is no stranger to large rotations of 10 or 11 players. The former Stanford star believes that Gentry and his staff will be able to make it all work.

“That’s what the coaches do,” Childress said. “He’s made it known that he’s going to play whoever is playing well. So you just have to be ready to play every night and be prepared to step up and play at any given moment.”

The last few players heading to camp are guards Matt Janning, Chucky Atkins, Zabian Dowdell, as well as big men Dwayne Jones and Garret Siler. Janning, who is the only guard with a contract heading into camp out of the bunch, is a rookie combo guard out of Northeastern that has impressed the coaching staff.

Atkins, an 11-year NBA veteran out of South Florida, will compete with the Suns’ Las Vegas Summer League point guard Zabian Dowdell for a possible third point guard spot. Dwayne Jones, who also heads into camp with a contract, will battle with the 7-0, 300-pound Siler in San Diego for a roster spot.

Besides finding minutes for everybody, the next greatest challenge will be rebounding at the power forward spot. Both Turkoglu and Warrick are undersized at that position.

However, with Richardson, Hill, Dudley and Childress all great rebounders for their position, the Suns are hoping that they can pick up the slack for having a smaller 4. But Hill doesn’t believe that should be much of a problem.

“People get it wrong because they want to put labels and titles on players,” he said. “Obviously Steve’s not a small forward.

“But with the exception of him and Robin, I think everyone is interchangeable. We have a lot of options and our versatility.”

For J-Rich, he believes that the ceiling of this team will come down to one question: can they all play together?

“Last year it was a little different because we had just lost Shaq and everybody wanted to get back to running,” he said. “This year, we’ve got three new guys and I think two of those guys, if not all three, are going to be major factors. So can we put it all together and have a successful season?”

Hill believes that it will be a gradual process that will begin it’s embryonic phase in camp.

“I look at it as a chance to start from day 1,” Hill said. “It’s like sawing wood. Every day (we’ll be) working at building chemistry and camaraderie.”

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