Suns Stress Need to See Progress, Have Patience Heading into Training Camp

by Matt Petersen

Expectations can, and often do, imply pressure. They insinuate an unspoken deadline by which certain criteria must be met.

Rest assured that Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough and Head Coach Jeff Hornacek have player-specific expectations in mind. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for them to lose their patience before the results come in.

Excitement, not impatience, was the vibe surrounding a team overflowing with 20-something-year-old prospects.

“It’s exciting to watch young guys grow and develop,” Hornacek said. “We have several on our team that are hoping to do the same thing.”

The Suns boast plenty of opportunities to see that process in action, a situation McDonough made sure to create during the offseason. Gone is the middle-of-the-pack era. Begun is “Ignite the Future”, a campaign that depicts immediate action followed by sustained results. That, McDonough said, is his expectation for the 2013-14 campaign.

“My expectations of success are just to get better, to improve from now through the end of the year,” he said. “We have, obviously, a very young team. We have a lot of new guys. The most important thing for me is establishing a culture that’s conducive to winning. I think the good teams have that. We can’t try to rush the process.”

With the team in its entirety only recently convened, no one was claiming the Suns will be clicking on all cylinders when training camp starts on Tuesday. The fuel, however, is more than promising, with Eric Bledsoe pegged as the most explosive offseason injection.

The Suns’ marquee summer addition is the perfect poster child for the upcoming season. At just 23 years old, Bledsoe has already shown glimpses of incredible talent. Like the vast majority of his teammates, he’s eager for a chance to unleash it in Phoenix, but has no intention of cutting corners in the process.

“I’m taking it one game at a time,” he said. “First preseason game, we’re going to start from there. I’m just right now focused on learning my teammates, because they’re the biggest part of everything.”

No teammate may matter more to Bledsoe than Goran Dragic. The Slovenian point guard only recently returned from EuroBasket 2013, where he played 11 games in 13 days. Hornacek and his staff hope to see the two mesh in the backcourt, forming a dual threat of playmakers and ball-handlers.

Bledsoe is well aware of the potential they have to set a team-wide tone.

“It starts with me and Dragic,” he said. “How we prepare in shoot-arounds, how we come into the arena. I think it starts with us. As far as getting on the court, it starts with us because we’re going to have the ball most of the game. We’re going to be making a lot of plays. I think the biggest thing right now is the focus. We’re so young, we can get sidetracked right now, so we just need to stay focused.”

Hornacek, along with assistant coaches and fellow NBA veterans Mark West and Kenny Gattison, will help in that department. A two-year stint as an assistant coach in Utah gave the Suns’ new head coach a deepened appreciation for bringing out the best from young talent.

“As a veteran player, you always kind of tell the young guys little things that will happen out there,” Hornacek said. “You try to teach them angles and different situations and life. For me, I’ve told my assistants to always explain why do something. If you just tell them ‘hey, you’ve gotta do this’, then they do it a couple times but then they’ll probably fall away from doing it. If we tell them why we’re trying to do that, I think that always resonates with the guys.”

Learning moments such as those will occur over the next five days in Flagstaff, where high altitude will be the first test for this year’s team. Those who pass it – and the subsequent tests of the upcoming season – will likely be part of the Suns’ long-term plans.

“We’ve just got to keep getting better, keep pushing, keep developing our players and find guys who are keepers for the next great Suns team,” McDonough said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”


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