After an extremely busy offseason, the Phoenix Suns head intro training camp with a renewed sense of hope for the future.
Despite some great transactions taking place this past summer, the Suns are not an incredibly talented team. Just by simply glancing over the roster, you can tell that they do not have the skill required to make the playoffs.
But right now, perhaps winning and losing really doesn't matter so much to Phoenix. The Suns organization appears to have much more realistic goals for the team than they have had in the past, and they are no longer trying to convince fans that they are capable of a playoff berth.
That isn't to say that Lon Babby and Ryan McDonough have no expectations for the team going into the 2013-14 season. On the contrary, they actually hope to see a great deal of improvement and player development. And yet, at the same time, the team has come to terms with the fact that this will most likely be a losing season.
#Suns GM Ryan McDonough said he expects improvement throughout this season and won't "let the record blur the lines."— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) September 30, 2013
Now, here are some highlights from Phoenix's media day.
Channing Frye is Back
After being diagnosed with an enlarged heart last September and sitting out all of the 2012-13 season, it appears that Channing Frye is finally ready to return to action for the Suns. In fact, Lon Babby announced today that Frye will be able to play for the Suns in the upcoming season.
Channing's back. pic.twitter.com/ZiDGhp4k2y— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) September 30, 2013
Babby: Channing [Frye] will be able to play for us this year #Suns— Matt Petersen (@TheMattPetersen) September 30, 2013
Not only is Frye back, but he also appears to be excited about playing basketball again. He told reporters that he is happy to put on the jersey again, and he consistently shows resilience in his recovery from injury, as well as loyalty to the Suns organization and fanbase.
Frye @ #Suns media day: "I never felt like I was done...I'm happy to put this uniform on. I feel like I'm doing it over for the first time."— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) September 30, 2013
Frye knows that this team is going to struggle, but he is willing to step up into that veteran role and be a mentor for the younger prospects anyway. Instead of focusing his attention on NBA championship rings as soon as he turns 30, Frye has chosen to set an example and be a role model for the incoming rookies.
Perhaps we should also mention Frye's value to the Suns on the court. After his return, Frye's role with the team will be different. He is no longer a starter, as it appears that honor will go to third-year player Markieff Morris.
However, even with a limited amount of minutes coming off the bench, Frye may still be able to revitalize the long-distance shooting of a team that ranked 28th in three-point field-goal percentage last season. His presence on the court will be key in creating proper spacing on offense. In fact, Frye said himself on media day that he is always ready to shoot.
Hornacek adds one last question for Frye at #Suns media day. "Can you still shoot?" Frye: "Always."— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) September 30, 2013
Eric Bledsoe is Focused on Basketball, not Money
Eric Bledsoe is entering the final season of his rookie contract, which means he could enter free agency and attract a lot of attention from other NBA teams.
General Manager Ryan McDonough acquired Bledsoe with the intention of making him a franchise cornerstone, so they will be looking to re-sign him at some point.
But right now, Bledsoe isn't ready to talk about any contract details. He's staying away from that drama completely, and instead is completely focused on playing basketball and helping the Suns win.
Later, when asked if this was going to be an important season for him, Bledsoe dismissed the question by answering that it is not only a crucial season for him, but for the whole team in general.
Bledsoe (@ebled2) on whether this is an important season for him: "No question. Very important for our whole team."— Dave King (@DaveKing_BSotS) October 1, 2013
This is great to hear for Suns fans. We will see how Bledsoe feels after likely enduring 50+ losses this season, but for now, he seems perfectly content in Phoenix and has no intentions of leaving the team for a larger market or a championship contender.
But despite what he says to the media, Bledsoe must be having some thoughts about upcoming contract negotiations in the back of his mind. After all, this truly is a crucial season for him. If he fails to live up to expectations and proves that he is more of a sixth man or spark off the bench than a starter, Bledsoe may struggle to find a long-term, lucrative contract offer.
However, if he establishes himself as a potential future All-Star, he could potentially be making $10 million or more annually going into his next contract.
At least the Suns don't have to deal with this yet. For now, there is no drama, and hopefully it stays that way as the season progresses.
The Rookies are Ready to Shine
After Eric Bledsoe, the other most anticipated acquisitions of the offseason have to be rookies Alex Len and Archie Goodwin.
On media day, we received some news about both first-round draft selections.
Alex Len, the 7'1" center who was drafted fifth overall and is recovering from multiple ankle surgeries, appears to be healthy and should be ready to play when the season starts. According to McDonough, he's been participating in scrimmages for a while now.
McDonough says Alex Len is healthy, been playing 5-on-5 for the last week.— Matt Petersen (@TheMattPetersen) September 30, 2013
This gives Len an advantage over Nerlens Noel, who is currently recovering from a torn ACL. The Suns were criticized by many people for choosing Alex Len over Nerlens Noel in June, but if Len proves to be the more durable center, perhaps Phoenix will have the last laugh.
Meanwhile, Archie Goodwin (the 29th overall pick) continues to receive plenty of attention from the media. After a fantastic summer league performance for the Suns, there are some very high expectations for the late first-round pick, who will start the season backing up Eric Bledsoe (another UK alumnus) at shooting guard.
With Goodwin backing up Bledsoe and Len backing up Gortat, neither of the two rookies are likely to be legitimate ROY candidates. They may not be so successful immediately either, as both prospects are so young and will probably only play about 15-20 minutes per game this season.
Which rookie will have the better season?
But even so, these two rookies could play an integral role with Phoenix in the future, and it will be interesting to see them grow and develop this season.
The Suns will go into the season with a healthy roster, as it appears that the prospects and veterans alike are in good shape for now.
If anything, media day this year only confirmed that the Suns are solely focused on the future. For the past couple of seasons, that clearly wasn't the case. But now that Steve Nash, Grant Hill and even Jared Dudley are all gone, this team is completely focused on the development of their young players. In fact, despite the terrible record last season, this may be the first year in a very long time in which the Suns will enter the year with a "young roster".
There is no pressure on the Suns to win right now, but that doesn't mean there isn't pressure on the younger players to develop. Alex Len, Eric Bledsoe and Archie Goodwin have all been hyped as great assets for the future, and if they disappoint, surely fans will start to feel despondent.
But for now, there is no reason for Suns fans not to be excited. Winning is only one part of the game.
What To Watch For
The one thing to watch for as the Suns enter training camp is how this team is able to work together, and which young players show the most potential and promise.
For example, how will Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic work together in the backcourt? On the one hand, that duo forms a ridiculously athletic backcourt that will force steals and run the fast break consistently. On the other hand, both players are undersized for shooting guard and neither one is a great shooter.
Also, how will rookies Archie Goodwin and Alex Len fit in to the offense? Despite their bench roles, those two will be watched very closely by fans and the media this season.
And can any of the players fighting for a roster spot contribute to the team's success? Head Coach Jeff Hornacek is already impressed with former Indiana Pacers center and 2012 rookie Miles Plumlee.
Jeff Hornacek said if he had to pick one pleasant surprise during pickup games this past month, it's Miles Plumlee— Tom Leander (@TomLeander) September 30, 2013
There will be a lot to watch for. Whether or not this young team develops is key in determining if they are on the road to making the playoffs in the future, or if they have to recover from some failed signings and start the rebuilding process over again.
For now, at least Goran Dragic appears to be a believer in the Suns' potential.
It should be exciting to see what type of team we have to work with.