Suns Look Back on How Team Came Together
Goran Dragic still remembers the first time he met his teammates for the 2013-14 season. His impression?
“It was a lot of new faces.”
All but three (P.J. Tucker, Marcus and Markieff Morris) were new, to be exact.
Yet even after just a handful of informal workouts and a week of training camp, it was apparent to several of the players that the special, almost accidental unity every team strives for was already taking place.
“I knew it was a special team to begin with,” Miles Plumlee said. “I didn’t watch the Suns much last year. I didn’t’ know who all was that new. Everybody just took it one day at a time and it just kind of clicked.”
If it clicked in October, it locked into place after the Suns – predicted to win less than 20 games – opened the season 5-2.
Ironically, Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek said it was the two losses that told him this year’s team would be better than anticipated.
“I think it’s those early losses that we had to Oklahoma City and San Antonio,” Hornacek said. “Teams that aren’t expected to win, they can take those as moral vcictories. They may say ‘hey, we played pretty well. At San Antonio, at Oklahoma City. We should be happy about that.’ Our guys weren’t. they were ticked off that they didn’t win those games. To me that was an early sign that these guys were going to do better than expected. They were determined to win and they weren’t going to take losing lightly. That’s a great, great thing to have out of your players.”
As the team sustained its early success, going 19-11 through the end of December, the getting-to-know-you phase vanished. Personalities showed up more and more frequently, shedding light on the differeing dynamics that added up to an admirable whole.
“You’ve got Gerald Green who’s hyped, a little bit crazy,” Dragic said. “You’ve got P.J. who’s always on a mission. Me and Eric, we’re kind of quiet. It’s so many different characters, but that’s the beauty of this sport. Everbody is fitting with somebody else. In the end you get that whole family together.”
“I don’t know how, but it’s perfect because everybody balances each other out,” Plumlee added.
Accountability accompanied the camaraderie. It’s easy for teammates to get along when wins are piling up. It’s a lot harder to maintain the smiles and keep agendas at bay when losses enter the equation.
Again, Hornacek said it was the down moments that encouraged him and the coaching staff the most.
“When we had a couple of our losing streaks, that was another good sign of our team,” Hornacek said. “Our guys didn’t splinter off and start talking. They still stayed together even during the little losing streaks that we had.”
Hornacek had demanded a team-first mentality since training camp opened at the beginning of October. Most players think of sharing the ball, giving up crunch time and other such sacrifices.
Criticism, however, is rarely talked about. How do you let a teammate know he messed up in a season where every game matters?
Turns out honesty was the best policy, whether it was handing out corrections or receiving them.
“Even if somebody’s saying ‘hey, you have to play defense,’ nobody’s going to take it the wrong way,” Dragic said. “Everybody’s going to say, ‘okay, it’s my fault.’ Nobody’s mad at each other if you say something to him.”
“We get to the next play, we yell at each other but we're friends,” Tucker laughed. “We're teammates but we're friends. It's a weird group."
The Suns are just as quick – quicker, even – to hop on one another’s bandwagon. When Dragic nails a step-back jumper, his teammates swagger like they hit it themselves. If Miles Plumlee posterizes someone with a dunk, the bench goes nuts. When Gerald Green gets hot from the field, the team’s reaction acts as a visual barometer.
And when P.J. Tucker does stuff like this, it proves contagious.
“We feed off everybody,” Dragic said. “Jeff, coaches, players, P.J., fans. Every player from this team is important. If you see one of your teammates, he’s like destroying the other team and he’s all over the court, it’s really nice to see that.”
Hornacek had hoped this would happen. He saw the signs and hoped they would stick. He won’t take credit for the team’s chemistry, not when, more often than not, it ends up being a matter of beautiful hindsight.
“You just never know how teams are going to come together,” he said. “We stressed the team concept and tried to do that.”