Suns Notebook: Plumlee Ready For Starting Role

by Matt Petersen

A few months ago with the Pacers, Miles Plumlee couldn’t get off the bench. On Wednesday, he’ll be jumping center circle when the season tips off.

Such is the early career turnaround for the second-year center, whose work at the NBA Summer League, training camp and practices propelled him from bit player to starting center.

“It just shows you how crazy this business is,” Plumlee said. “Same thing in college. Your opportunity can come any day. I’ve just been working hard from the moment I got drafted last year to this point. It’s paying off and an opportunity has shown itself and I’m going to be ready.”

The opportunity arrived in the wake of last week’s trade with the Washington Wizards. Marcin Gortat is gone. Newly acquired center Omeka Okafor is out for the foreseeable future with a herniated disk. No. 5 overall pick Alex Len is still learning the NBA game.

Phoenix would not have opened such a window of opportunity without Plumlee’s offseason progress. Head Coach Jeff Hornacek called Plumlee the pleasant surprise of team practices and training camp. Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough now mentions the big man in the same breath as Eric Bledsoe when referring to the best of the team’s young talent, which is ironic, since Bledsoe tabbed Plumlee as one of his favorite targets to look for on the floor.

“Miles Plumlee stood out just from what he’s done and how much he’s improved over the past few months since we’ve got him,” McDonough said. “I feel like he’s improved significantly. We’ll see good things from him this year.”

“He’s worked on his shot, his moves, post-up moves have really improved,” Hornacek said. “I think we always thought of him as a guy who was going to roll hard to the basket. He’s going to rebound. He’s athletic. I think he’s getting a better understanding [of the game].”

To their credit, McDonough and Hornacek saw glimpses of that potential before Plumlee showed more of it after arriving. The Suns made a point of getting him included in the offseason trade with the Pacers, and both coach and general manager have given him their respective backing.

That support produced confidence, which produced results, which on Wednesday will produce a starting job both given and earned much sooner than expected.

“They have that confidence in me and they see what kind of potential I have,” Plumlee said. “I believe the same thing. I just go out there, go for it. As long as you’re making aggressive mistakes, you’re going to play well.”

Offseason Work Done

With last week’s trade consummated and subsequent roster decisions made, the Suns’ front office is ready to hand over the heavy lifting to the players.

McDonough told the 14 remaining players on Saturday that they would constitute the team moving forward.

“We’re excited about what our players and team can do together. We feel good about the group we have,” McDonough said. “After a head coaching search, hiring a coach, filling out his staff, solidifying my staff and making three draft picks and four trades, I’m excited and ready to go."

The Suns’ general manager is also excited about the off-the-court assets accumulated throughout the offseason. With two additional first-round picks and increased cap space, he considers the team’s potential for improvement much better than when he first arrived.

“We had a good draft pick situation before with potentially four first-rounders over the next two years,” McDonough said. “Now I think we have a great pick situation. I think it’s by far the best in the league.”

Len Likely for Opener

The Suns’ top draft pick fully participated in practice on Monday morning and, barring setbacks, will be ready to go for Wednesday’s season opener against Portland. The 7-1 center underwent treatment and rest after experiencing foot pain late last week.

The No. 5 overall pick underwent foot surgery on both ankles during the offseason, but recovered quickly before contributing to the Suns’ 5-2 preseason record. He was third on the team in rebounds per game (4.6) despite playing just 15.4 minutes per contest.

“He’s had flashes,” Hornacek said. “There are days in practice or a game where he’s got good energy, he doesn’t look like he’s running funny at all, and then the next day he gets a little bit sore. I wouldn’t say he was hobbling, but you could tell he wasn’t right. He’s been working through a lot of that, but I think he’s shown the ability to pass the ball, he’s got good touch inside. We just want the foot to get totally healed so he can go hard and maybe play 15 or 20 minutes and not come back the next day and his foot be sore.”