First, it was the head coach.
Now, it’s training camp.
The Phoenix Suns are once again looking to their past with an eye towards improving their future.
Players report in less than four weeks for training camp, which this year will be held in Flagstaff. The team is returning to the northern Arizona city for the first time in nine years.
The two-hour trip up the hill on Interstate 17 had been a staple for previous Suns teams. A weeklong camp had been held in Flagstaff 16 times over a 19-year stretch from 1986-2004.
“I’m excited about it. I love it up there,” said head coach Jeff Hornacek, a frequent visitor during his playing days with the Suns. “You got out of the hot weather. You got up in the cool air. You come out of practice at night and you’re in your sweats, and it was refreshing with the fresh chill in the night air.”
Following media day on Monday, Sept. 30, the Suns will bus to Flagstaff for four days of two practices each day. A scrimmage, which will be open to the public, will complete the team’s stay on the afternoon of Oct. 5.
San Diego, for three of the past four years, had been the preferred training camp destination. Tucson, before that, hosted the Suns in 2005, 2007 and 2008. In 2006, the Suns trained in Italy.
Having camp back in Arizona — and especially at an elevation of 7,000 feet — can be nothing but positive, according to Hornacek.
“I always felt that after we came out of there, we were in pretty good shape,” he said. “Now, we were there maybe 10 days or so. Here, we’re only up there five days. But I think it’s a great place to start the training camp for these guys.
“Wanting to be a team with Eric (Bledsoe) and Goran (Dragic) and Archie (Goodwin) and Kendall (Marshall) and guys that are going to push the ball, we got to get them in shape. I think these guys realize that they’re going up to 7,000-foot elevation. They’ll come into camp in shape because they’re not going to want to die up there,” Hornacek added with a chuckle.
The Suns last trained up north on the heels of a 29-win season. That 2004-05 squad (with Steve Nash, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire) opened 31-4, finished 62-20 and reached the Western Conference Finals.
This year’s team is coming off a 25-win campaign, its worst since the inaugural season of 1968-69, and bringing to Flagstaff a first-year head coach and a roster with as many as eight new faces.
“It’s a nice place to get away, get focused,” Hornacek said. “We’ve got a new group of guys for the most part and try to change things around.”