With summer league behind us and our roster close to being finalized, I thought this would be a good time to fill you in on what has been a very productive, busy off season for our team.
Our goals heading into next year were to add young talent, create financial flexibility and become more mobile along the front line. With our roster beginning to age and a clear need to make improvements defensively, we felt it was important to begin to make a transition of sorts. At the same time, we didn’t want to blow up the team and start from scratch. After all, we’re still very talented and we won 46 games during an adversity filled season last year. We know there’s still plenty of potential with our team.
With that in mind, our plan really came together – beginning with the signing of Alvin Gentry. Alvin was so good with our team when he took over in February that he was clearly the right choice to lead us into the future. He has a better feel for our players than anyone, and they in turn love playing for him. Signing him to a 3 year contract gave us the stability we needed going into the off season.
The next step was trading Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland. As well as Shaq played for us, it was critical for our franchise to gain financial flexibility and move forward. Shedding Shaq’s contract and then eventually buying out Ben Wallace saved us enough money to resign Grant Hill and also add Channing Frye. Grant is a huge part of our team, both as a player and a leader. Channing is going to be key for us next season, and he’s exactly what we’re looking for in a big man – he’s mobile, he can really shoot from the perimeter, and he’s a great person and team player.
In the draft, we continued our theme of front line mobility by selecting Earl Clark and Taylor Griffin. Earl is 6-10 and an excellent defender who also has impressive perimeter skills. He can shoot and handle the ball, and coming from Louisville, he is accustomed to playing an up tempo style. Earl is young and has a lot to learn, but he has a ton of talent and likes to work. He was very good in the summer league, particularly at the defensive end. He has a chance to be a terrific player. Taylor is very athletic and also a hard worker with good skills. His challenge will be to learn to play the 3 position after spending most of college career as a 4.
The final piece of the puzzle was taken care of today, when we signed Steve Nash to a contract extension . The deal will keep him a Sun for three more seasons, which is really exciting. Steve is still one of the top point guards in the NBA, and he obviously represents the identity of our team. His style and his play have helped make us one of the best, most entertaining teams in the league for the last 5 seasons, and we need him to run our offense. Given his commitment to conditioning, it’s easy to see Steve playing at a very high level for several more years.
Of course, health always plays a major role in determining a team’s success, as we found out last year when Amare Stoudemire missed 29 games with his eye injury. The healing process took longer than we expected for Amare, but after a difficult process, he is doing very well and is getting back in the gym to prepare for next season. He should be in good shape for training camp. Remember, he’s a guy who has always responded well to adversity, and I think Amare will come back and have a monster year for us.
In the end, we feel really good about the team we’ll have on the floor this season. We’ve gotten younger and added more talent, but we will maintain the veteran leadership necessary to be successful in the NBA. Steve and Grant will be mentors for what is now a very young group of players. In fact, our roster consists of 10 players who are 26 or younger. Only Steve, Grant and Jason Richardson are older than that. (Jason is 29). Having a good blend of youth and experience, along with the stability of Alvin’s coaching, will serve us well both this season and beyond. One of the toughest things to do in the NBA is to develop and sustain a winning culture, and you do that with veteran players who teach the younger ones how to win and how to be professional. I can think of no better people to fill that role than Steve and Grant.
The key will be staying healthy, of course, and the development of our young players. Goran Dragic and Robin Lopez both played well in Las Vegas at summer league, and they’ll have important roles for us. So will Jared Dudley and Lou Amundson, each of whom made dramatic improvement last season. If they continue to grow and develop, they’ll support our core guys – Steve, Grant, Amare, Jason and Leandro Barbosa – and we’ll be very deep. That will allow us to play a lot of people and increase our intensity defensively.
It’s going to be a fun season, and it will be exciting to watch the process unfold. Even though it’s still July, I know I’m really excited about the start of training camp in a couple of months. Thanks, as always, for all your support. Best wishes and Go Suns!