One Direction: Suns Have No Excuses
It’s no secret -- or the worst kept secret in the NBA -- that the Phoenix Suns aren’t having the season they expected when they embarked on the 2012-13 campaign with the start of free agency last July. Orange carpets were rolled out, offers were made, trades were consummated, contracts were signed and press conferences were held. All of it happening with the expectation that a winning season was within grasp.
It happens to even the greatest sports franchises. Sometimes the best laid plans don’t exactly work out the way they were envisioned (see: 2012-13 Lakers, 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, etc.). Like anything in life, though, it’s all about how you react to a situation and bounce back from it that defines you.
As Suns fans we’ve been lucky to avoid many seasons like this in the past. We’ve also unfortunately avoided a championship, as well. Although a shot a title may seem far away, as Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
Head Coach Lindsey Hunter hopes that single step is an attitude adjustment. One that starts with the mantra “no excuses” and leads to a blue collar and desperate mentality.
“If you play that way, it shows up on the floor,” Hunter said. “It shows up in hustle plays. It shows up in 50/50 balls and diving on the floor. Those things show up. That’s the approach we’re trying to instill in our guys.”
It’s a philosophy that Hunter bought into as a kid and has embraced ever since.
“It’s been instilled in me since I started playing as a little kid back in Mississippi with my dad,” he said. “Being around other situations have just enhanced that and brought it out in me more. It helped me realize it’s an important approach in a lot of things.”
One of those situations was the first of his professional career. While playing for the Pistons his rookie season in 1993 he got to play with the remnants of the “Bad Boy” Detroit teams that won back-to-back NBA titles. Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars were all known for their hard-nosed and relentless play. They weren’t flashy like the Showtime Lakers and lacked a high flyer like Jordan’s Bulls that came after them. They were focused, played tenacious defense and just took care of business. It seems like that mentality rubbed off on Hunter.
“As soon as Lindsey took over, he changed a lot of things,” said starting point guard Goran Dragic. “Especially the defensive mentality and playing as hard as possible. He’s still doing all the same. If somebody isn’t working hard or is making some mistakes, he’s going to call him out and tell him. I like that.”
The coach also likes that players like Dragic are responding to his new direction.
“It’s a refreshing thing to see,” Hunter said. “They’re buying into it. They believe that it’s helping. I know that it helps. I just have to relay that to them and challenge them on all aspects of it.”
Dragic thinks he and his teammates will respond to the challenge and use the new attitude to compete in games where they may seem overmatched at times.
“It’s really important,” the playmaker said. “Especially in those games when the other teams have a lot more talent than we do. If you’re not playing hard as possible and being focused, it’s really hard to win those games. We have struggled this season. We haven’t found the right chemistry, but if everyone is diving for the balls and supporting each other, you’re building it. We have a lot of guys who play like that. Especially P.J. Tucker. Every night you have to play like that if you want to win games.”
Getting a team that has traditionally been focused on offensive firepower and speed to play a gritty and unapologetic style won’t be an easy task. It will take a unique cross section of skills. Hunter feels he has the tools it’ll take.
“It’s been psychologist,” he said of what his job has been for the team. “It’s been teacher. It’s been father. It’s been mentor. It’s been a lot of different things at a lot of different times. I think that’s what coaching has turned into.”
Just like he expects from his team, Hunter has offered no excuses when his team struggles or for his own shortcomings. He realizes that, for the Suns, it’s a marathon right now and not a sprint. It’s about playing for the now with an eye to the future. It’s about building the foundation for a brighter tomorrow.
It’s a journey that starts with one step. A step that’s been taken in the direction of a new attitude.