Normally after a tough back-to-back, the Suns would have a day off the day after, especially when the next game is two days away.
However, on their flight back from San Antonio last night, the Suns were welcoming practice Tuesday, as well as their three new teammates awaiting them in Phoenix.
Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus all were donning their new practice jerseys – and new numbers – at practice today, as they ran through the Suns’ offensive sets and out-of-bounds plays. Practice was only about an hour, with the players coming in just to help their newest brethren adjust quicker to their surroundings.
Here’s what we saw from the newest Suns today:
Vince Carter, who is meeting with team physician Thomas Carter today about his knee, was completely engaged and enthusiastic as he ran through the sets and plays today. Carter was asking Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry questions about various nuances that exist within the plays.
As for Carter’s knee, the 6-6 shooting guard said that he injured it on November 22, when he landed awkwardly. After playing though the pain the last couple of weeks, he said asked the Magic to perform an MRI the same day that he was traded.
The Suns should have a prognosis on the former dunk champ today.
“I’m going to talk to the doc and see what’s going on,” he said. “There’s been some swelling lately and I’ve been trying to play through the injury the past two weeks.”
While Carter feels confident about the knee, he does feel like a fish out of water in one respect: his new uniform number. Due to the fact that Robin Lopez already wears No. 15, Carter was forced to look in another direction.
Although he’s playing for his fourth NBA team now, he’s always worn No. 15 up until this point. His other choices of No. 8 (Channing Frye), No. 9 (Dan Majerle), No. 5 (Dick Van Arsdale) and No. 6 (Walter Davis) were already either taken or retired.
His fellow swingman, Pietrus, also had a similar issue with his uniform choice.
“I tried to take No. 34 but I forgot about Charles Barkley,” he said. “They told me he retired and I said, ‘How come?’”
As for Pietrus’ banged-up-knee, he said he’s fine to make his Suns debut Thursday. Accustomed to the Western Conference from his days in run-and-gun Golden State, he believes his transition to the Suns and their up-tempo offense will be easier than Carter’s and Gortat’s.
But he does temper that optimism with some realism.
“I think I’ll make some mistakes because I’m new to the system,” Pietrus said. “You’re used to driving a Chevy and now they give you a Ferrari. You have to get used to the speed.”
Taking no time to warm up to the press with jokes and banter, the Frenchman already has thrown down the gauntlet to Steve Nash, declaring that he’s a better soccer player than the two-time MVP. While that alone is an incredibly bold (although facetious) statement, the fact that a Frenchman would say that to a guy that’s been following rival England since he was in diapers, makes it all the more astounding.
Instead of causing a full international incident, Pietrus pulled a savvy reversal.
“My favorite team used to be the French before last summer,” Pietrus joked about France’s disappointing World Cup performance. “Let’s talk about something else.”
While uncertainty may surround Pietrus’ soccer skills, the new Suns swingman is certain of one thing, Gortat’s ability to play ball.
The eight-year veteran believes that now that he’s out of Dwight Howard’s shadow, he’ll be able to show his potential.
“For years he backed up Dwight, and now he’ll get to show what he can do,” Pietrus said. “The Suns are a perfect fit for him playing with Steve Nash, Grant Hill and other vets. Hopefully he’ll be a Hall of Fame Suns (player).”
Gortat said that if he forgets a play Thursday, Gentry told him just to head up to the top of the key and run a pick-and-roll with Nash. When he heard he was traded to Phoenix, Gortat was enthused about playing with Nash, Phoenix’s style of play, coming to a city with four major professional sports teams and an opportunity to receive more playing time.
The one downside to the deal was having to give up his No. 13. It’ll be the first time in his life that he’s never worn it.
“There was even a situation with the national team where I said if I didn’t have my number, I wouldn’t play,” Gortat said smiling.
Knowing that a protest or a sit-in would get him nowhere, he elected to take No. 4 after his former teammate, coach and mentor Saša Obradović. Obradović won silver at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and gold in the 1998 FIBA World Championships for then-Yugoslavia.
“My point guard Saša Obradović was one of the best point guards in Europe and I wanted to honor him and appreciate him,” Gortat said.
Although the 6-11 center is a long way from Poland, he’s hoping to finally meet and spend time with fellow countryman and Phoenix Coyotes left wing, Wojtek Wolski, the lone Polish player in the NHL.
Coach Gentry is excited about having all three players in Phoenix.
“Marcin will obviously be a great help defensively, as well as on the boards,” he said. “Vince is one of the best players to ever play in the league and Pietrus can guard people so Grant (Hill) doesn’t have to guard all the tough assignments all of the time.”
Notes: Josh Childress, who according to Alvin Gentry, didn’t surprise anyone with his 15 points and five boards against the Spurs on Monday, is scheduled to have the splint on his finger removed either tomorrow or the day after…. Center Earl Barron, who was signed on November 16 after Robin Lopez sprained his knee, was released from the team today.