PHOENIX — Playing the final quarter of the final home game a week ago Sunday, veteran point guard Ronnie Price couldn’t help but take notice of his four Phoenix Suns teammates. He was joined on the court by a teenager, a pair in their early 20s and someone who had just been signed out of the NBA D-League.
Asked about it later, Price, 33, laughed.
“That’s been like all year,” he said. “In the locker room every day, I learn something new about the youth of this team just from daily conversations about music and TV shows and cartoons, things that they grew up watching and doing; then you realize how young this team is.”
The Suns’ youth dominated much of the conversation this season, especially following the All-Star break. And it will continue to be the main subject matter moving forward as the Suns could add as many as three draft picks — one first-round and two second-round selections — in June.
But no matter how young this team is next season, there must be a veteran presence.
Center Tyson Chandler and forward Jared Dudley were those frontcourt voices last season, and each player is under contract for two more seasons.
Price and Leandro Barbosa, meanwhile, did the same for the backcourt. Their futures, though, are unclear.
Barbosa called his third stint with the Suns difficult.
Tired at the start of the year after playing for Brazil, the host nation in the Summer Olympics, Barbosa appeared in 67 games, averaging 14.4 minutes and 6.3 points. His season ended, however, on the inactive list as a right hamstring spasm sidelined him the last nine games.
“I definitely could do better than I did. Unfortunately, I didn’t do the job that I wanted,” he said.
Barbosa goes into the offseason, though, optimistic about next season.
“This is going to be my first offseason resting. No more for me,” he said, referring to the Brazil national team. “I can’t do it. I need to rest. This is going to be really good rest for me. That’s when I’m going to work on my game, work on my body. I’m not young anymore. I’m 34 years old. I still have a little gas to burn, and I’m going to work for that.”
It’s likely Barbosa will be back with the Suns. His 2017-18 contract is only partially guaranteed, however. Of the $4 million Barbosa is due to make, the Suns will pay him $500,000 with the remaining $3.5 million being earned if he’s on the roster July 3.
“My main thing is retire as a Suns player, but you never know. This is a business, you know how it goes,” he said. “I don’t know what’s the plan that they’re going to figure out. I’ll be available, but if not, my mentality is still the same. I want to get better and I have time to do that this summer and I’m happy about that.”
Price, too, sees a future with the Suns.
Added mid-season, first to a pair of 10-day contracts and then for the remainder of the season following the All-Star break, Price totaled 14 points, 18 assists and 11 steals in 134 minutes
Like Barbosa, though, Price’s job description wasn’t so much on-the-court, but off.
“I know my role here, and I accept it and I embrace that role,” he said. “I love being able to see the progress of Tyler Ulis, I love being able to see the progress of (Devin) Booker, Alan Williams, Derrick Jones. We can go through the locker room and to feel like maybe I can give them — or have given them something that can help them, or has helped them, that makes me feel better about my situation for sure. I’m here to help in any way possible.”
Price played a career-low 14 games. And while he recognizes “Father Time is definitely creeping up on you,” Price believes he’s found the Fountain of Youth
“You keep your body fresh, keep your mind fresh and you can play a long time in this league,” he said.
It’s how Price has survived 12 NBA seasons, including three different stints with the Suns.
“I’ll work my butt off this summer and I’ll be physically in the position to prove to whoever or wherever the situation I may be in that I can still help out. Hopefully, it’s here,” he said.
Price will become an unrestricted free agent July 1, meaning he’ll be afforded the opportunity to sign with any team that calls.
Combined, Barbosa and Price have more than 25 years of NBA experience. Neither is expected to be that piece to put a team over the top. They can be, however, that piece that pushes a team towards a championship, or in the case of the Suns, back into the playoffs.
“I’ll always be physically ready to play when my name is called,” Price said, “but if my role is to be a mentor, (I’ll) keep practices intense, push these guys and teach them what it takes to have longevity and to take care of their bodies and be prepared for any situation that they may face in a season. If that’s my role, I’ll embrace it and I’ll do it to the best of my ability.”
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