In September of 2012, just as the Suns were preparing for training camp and the upcoming season, forward/center Channing Frye was diagnosed with an enlarged heart, an injury that can often be life-altering and one that comes with the threat of potentially ending a professional athlete's career.
But now, after sitting out for a full year, Frye has been cleared by "numerous doctors" to play basketball once again.
After recovering from such a serious ailment and staying away from strenuous physical activity for such a long time, there is a strong possibility that Channing Frye will not be the same player he once was. In his first three seasons with Phoenix, he established himself as an adept starter as well as one of the best three-point shooting big men in the NBA.
Now, Frye may be playing a more limited role coming off the bench while Markieff Morris starts at power forward.
Considering the uncertainty of Frye's future health, plus the fact that he is a 30-year-old making $6.4 million this year on a rebuilding team with no hopes for a playoff spot, it might be easy to state that he should be traded as soon as possible. After all, both Scola and Butler have already been moved for the sake of clearing cap space and acquiring assets for the future. Why not Frye as well?
I would argue that it's because Frye still plays a critical role for this team. Whether it be from the sidelines, in the locker room or actually on the court, Frye is valuable to Phoenix in more ways than one. His veteran leadership, as well as his offensive skill set, make Frye worth every penny of his contract.
First of all, let's start with Frye's ability to be a role model. This season, the Suns will be a team focused on player development rather than wins and losses, as 11 of the players have two years of NBA experience or less. They need some older players to do their best in helping teach the younger prospects.
After Jermaine O'Neal left in free agency, and Jared Dudley and Caron Butler were both traded, the Suns do not have many players one might consider "a veteran presence."
However, Channing Frye and Goran Dragic are the last two remaining pieces from the 2010 playoff run in which the Suns made it to the Western Conference Finals. Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Alvin Gentry and Jared Dudley all slowly faded away, but these two are still there. And Frye is also the only player on the roster who is at least 30 years old.
Throughout his career, Frye has been through a lot. He knows what it's like to play for a struggling team. He knows how it feels to ride the bench. He knows what it's like to be traded. He knows how it feels to log 57 minutes, score 32 points and grab 14 rebounds, hit the game-tying shot in the clutch twice and still lose the game. He's had a season-ending injury, and he has experienced his fair share of misfortune and difficulties.
But at the same time, Frye knows what it feels like to succeed. He's been to the NBA playoffs multiple times. He knows what it's like to be resilient and hit the game-winning shot in the face of adversity (twice, in fact, on consecutive nights). He's also played with legends such as Steve Nash and Grant Hill. And in three seasons with Phoenix, he's had plenty of highlights (as shown in the video below).
Hopefully, Frye has not only learned from his experiences but is also willing to pass this knowledge down to all of the young prospects on the current Phoenix Suns. At one point in time, he himself was the prospect that veterans hoped to groom into a better player; now, Frye holds that responsibility to this team.
But Frye's worth goes far past his veteran leadership. Even in a more limited bench role, he provides a lot of value to the Suns on the court as well. This is primarily because of his three-point shooting.
The Suns are no longer the fantastic three-point shooting team they once were in the run-and-gun days of the mid-2000s. In fact, the graph below indicates that their three-point shooting percentage has steadily decreased in the past few years.
The graph also indicates what the team's three-point percentage would be this year using the 2012-13 stats of the current roster (meaning Frye is not included in determining the percentage). It shows that after losing players such as Jared Dudley and trading Caron Butler, the Suns would be in an even worse position and would likely have a real issue with spacing.
Fortunately, Channing Frye's three-point shooting may be enough to prevent this Suns team from being one of the worst long-distance shooting teams of the past decade. Frye has shot 39 percent from three-point range for his career, and he is one of the best stretch power forwards in the league.
Since neither Eric Bledsoe at shooting guard nor P.J Tucker at small forward have great range (the two made a combined 0.7 threes per game last year), it is imperative that the Suns have a good shooter like Frye. He is able to create proper spacing by making opposing defenses guard him on the perimeter. Without that spacing, the lane would get extremely crowded, making it much harder for Dragic and Bledsoe to attack the basket.
That will be Frye's most important contribution to the Suns on the court this season. But that doesn't mean he is just a one-dimensional player. In fact, when it comes to rebounding, the 6'11" power forward is often underrated.
Many people seem to be under the impression that Frye just stands on the wing or in the corner waiting to shoot the three. But these critics have obviously never seen the man play.
In three seasons with Phoenix, Frye has improved his rebounding numbers one year after another. In 2011-12, he actually grabbed 8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. While that is only about average by NBA standards, it is still better than Markieff Morris (7.8 per 36), Marcus Morris (6.5 per 36) and P.J Tucker (6.6 per 36). Those three are really the only other players on the roster that might see time at power forward. Miles Plumlee is a young forward-center prospect whose strength is found in his rebounding, but he only logged 55 minutes in his rookie season.
While not exactly fantastic on the offensive glass, Frye is a fundamentally sound defensive rebounder who is capable of boxing out opponents and preventing the opposing team from getting easy second-chance opportunities. His defensive rebounding percentage of 20.6 percent in 2011-12 ranked 22nd among 97 eligible power forwards. With Scola gone, he is now easily the best rebounder of all the power forwards.
Of course, there are still other areas of his game to work on. For example, Frye is nothing more than an average defender. But given his work ethic and determination, there is no doubt that he is starting to once again train hard in hopes of getting better.
What should the Suns do with Channing Frye?
He may not be a star player, but he means a lot to the Phoenix Suns. At this point, he is ingrained in Phoenix's history. Regardless of whether or not this is now a rebuilding team, young teams don't just automatically trade players once they reach a certain age. For someone who has embraced Phoenix as his home, that could be seen as disrespectful.
This isn't to say we're stuck with Channing Frye forever. But right now, it would just be silly to trade a player recovering from such a serious injury when the financial situation is already in good shape. Instead, let's put him back out on the floor and see how he does.
Here's to hoping that he looks better than ever. Channing, we're rooting for you.