PHOENIX — Luis Scola was willing to stick around and help try to make things better, just as he tried to do each and every day of his one-year tenure with the Phoenix Suns.
“I was trying. I was trying to make it work. I was really trying to make it work,” he said. “I really liked the city and really believe this is a good place.”
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately as it would ultimately turn out for him, Scola wasn’t sure if the Suns wanted him back.
“We all know what kind of year we had last year,” he said sitting with ice on his knees after his new team, the Indiana Pacers, had just wrapped up practice at US Airways Center. “I kind of smelled something was going to happen. I kind of got the feeling that I wasn’t going to be a part of the future here.”
When the Suns decided to fire GM Lance Blanks and part ways with interim head coach Lindsey Hunter, new general manager Ryan McDonough had a stack of work to do. His first order of business was to hire the club’s third head coach in five months. Once that was completed, it was then time to clean up the roster, one that was responsible for the team’s second-worst record in franchise history.
“It was a lot of time between the time that they finally spoke with me,” said Scola, who will face his former team for the first time Wednesday. “That was kind of a sign that they may look for a different team for me. And then at that point, thinking that that might be the situation, then I was really scared with where I’m going. When I found out it was Indiana, I was very happy that it ended up being a winning team. That’s all I wanted.”
Scola gained his freedom July 27 when he was traded to Indiana in exchange for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a lottery-protected first-round pick.
The move ended Scola’s stay in Phoenix after a single season. He was awarded to the Suns through an amnesty waiver claim with the highest contract bid (three years, $13.5 million dollars).
Scola played all 82 games in 2012-13, but in 15 of those he came off the bench, which he had done since he was a rookie in 2007-08. Despite the new role, Scola still managed to be the team’s second-leading scorer (12.8) and rebounder (6.6) though he shot a career-low 47.2 percent from the field.
“It was a very long year. It was a very, very long year,” he said. “I really, really believed that we got a good team. Before the year started, I thought we were going to be good. We were going to play games, win and maybe even play in the playoffs. Of course, we all know what happened. It wasn’t even close to that. The way things happened and the way everything happened last year, it was just difficult.”
Yet the six-year veteran didn’t complain once, either publicly or privately.
“He was always positive. He believed in us,” said Goran Dragic, who had played on the same club team in Europe with Scola before the two were reunited on the Suns. “He was the oldest guy in the locker room, but he was always the first guy at practice and always the last guy who went back home. He’s just a true professional.”
It was the only way Scola knew, even as he was suffering through the first losing season of his career.
“We were going through a very negative path and I was just trying to change the path to see if we could finish the year a little bit better,” he said. “And I was a big part of the project, so I got a lot of the blame to take, too. I wasn’t thinking that everybody else was doing wrong and I was doing great and they were just making me look bad. I have to be a part of the blame, and I assume that. It just…it was hard to deal with.”
His NBA life is much better now.
Scola has embraced his role coming off the bench (8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 18 minutes a game), which has been made easier -— much easier, in that the trade vaulted him from the outhouse to the penthouse. The Pacers (33-7) own the best record in the entire league.
“The team is really, really, really ready to make a lot of noise in the playoffs, mentally and physically,” he said. “It’s a good situation. It’s still going to be hard, but we strongly believe that we got a big chance. I believe this is it. This is my chance (at a championship).”
Scola was never part of the problem one year ago. He tried to be part of the solution.
“It just didn’t work out. I’m gone now. I really like everything here (in Phoenix). People were really good with me. It just didn’t work out,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair now to start pointing fingers and to start bringing negativity. It was a hard year for all of us. I’m sure the worst part was for the fans that they had to deal with the whole year of losing. I don’t see the point now to start blaming and to start being negative about something that happened a year ago. Phoenix is doing great. I’m doing good in Indiana. We are all happy now.
“It’s just sad,” Scola continued. “It’s really painful to me the fact I spent one year in Phoenix and everybody wants to forget the year, including me. But looking backwards, I’m not going to bring any negativity. And I’m very happy the team is doing well now; very, very happy. They’re doing well, and I’m very happy for them.”