LAS VEGAS, Nev. — As important as summer league is for the development of draft picks, first and second round alike, it’s equally as important — and perhaps more — for guys who are trying to earn invites to training camps and back-end roster spots.
P.J. Tucker turned his 2012 Suns Summer League stint into a two-year minimum-salary contract and has since added a brand new three-year deal worth a reported $16.5 million.
Who’s to say Dionte Christmas can’t be the next P.J. Tucker?
“Every team in this league right now has a scorer. I just want to be a glue guy,” Christmas said. “I just want to get in, hit open shots and just play ‘D’ and just be someone like a P.J. Tucker.”
Christmas, like Tucker, toiled in the international scene after going undrafted out of Temple in 2009, making stops in Israel, Turkey, Czech Republic, Greece, Russia and Italy before finally making his first NBA roster last season.
In 31 games with the Suns, all off the bench, Christmas averaged 2.3 points and 1.2 rebounds.
But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Christmas worked hard in practice, pushing the starters. During games, he was often the first player off the bench to either congratulate or offer encouragement as his teammates made their way back to the sideline. In other words, he was the consummate professional, one of the good guys every team needs, the guys who will put in the time and effort and not pout about a lack of minutes, but will be ready when their number is finally called.
The Suns hold a team option on Christmas and must decide whether or not to exercise it and bring back the 27-year-old shooting guard for a second season by the end of the month.
“Hopefully, I’ll hear something soon,” he said. “I’m out here just giving the Suns everything I’ve got. They gave me a chance, a chance that I’d never think in a million years I would have. I’m just blessed to be here. Having the relationship I have with Ryan (McDonough) and coach (Jeff Hornacek) and the front office is just a blessing for me. I’m just going to try to give these guys everything I’ve got.”
In this his fifth Summer League appearance, Christmas, through two games, is the Suns’ fourth-leading scorer (9.5), second-leading rebounder (7.5) and is tied for the most assists with five, all of which came in the victory over Milwaukee on Sunday.
Admittedly he has not shot the ball well, only 29.2 percent on 7-of-24 attempts including 2-of-14 from three, “so I just try to do everything else,” Christmas said. “I want to be the defender. I want to defend the best player. I want to rebound, pass the ball.”
Doing all the little things is what earned Christmas a contract in the first place. Is it enough still to keep him on the roster in 2013-14?
“Right now I’m just focused on myself and the Phoenix Suns,” he said. “That’s the only thing I’m focused on right now. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of overseas jobs and hopefully another NBA team, but right now, my main focus right now is what’s going on right with the Phoenix Suns.
“Right now, as of today, I’m a Phoenix Sun.”