Before the Phoenix Suns nearly pried free agent LaMarcus Aldridge away from signing with the San Antonio Spurs, they’d already attacked the summer with a more general improvement plan. With or without Aldridge, they needed to restructure their roster around a backbone of leadership.
Signing 32-year-old center Tyson Chandler of course played to courting Aldridge, who has thrived alongside shot-blocking centers, but it was key no matter Aldridge’s decision.
Chandler, by age and experience, has been labeled the leader of the 2015-16 Suns, though at Suns media day Monday he made it clear that his role isn’t about stifling growing players on a young team. He’s handing the keys over to 25-year-old Eric Bledsoe and 23-year-old Brandon Knight.
“This is their team. They have to control the team, control the tempo. They have to be able to communicate with their teammates,” Chandler said Monday.
Nonetheless, the Suns can look at Bledsoe and Knight’s leadership as if they’re still driving the team on a learner’s permit.
Phoenix made sure Chandler wasn’t the only player to help with a young team’s development. General manager Ryan McDonough signed Mirza Teletovic (30 years old), Sonny Weems (29) and Ronnie Price (33) to join a bench unit that likely includes Devin Booker (19), Archie Goodwin (21), Alex Len (22) and T.J. Warren (22). The Suns also added 26-year-old Jon Leuer in a draft-day trade with Memphis.
“You always need some veteran leadership,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said Monday. “When you don’t have that guy to police, it’s tough.
“We think that base is covered.”
High roster turnover last season left the Suns finishing the disappointing campaign with a puzzle of random pieces.
After a busy trade deadline that most notably shipped guards Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas away, there wasn’t much time for the group to figure one another out, especially with Knight, the key newcomer, suffering an ankle injury that cost him 16 games with his new team.
Maybe more notably than the on-court fit was the absence of a leadership structure.
The oldest player on the roster was 33-year-old Earl Barron, the late-season signee who spent most of his time on the bench. After P.J. Tucker, who turned 30 in May, the oldest players returning to the Suns this season are Markieff Morris, 26, and Bledsoe, 25.
At the end of last year, McDonough alluded to leadership being a focus during the offseason. During exit interviews, he even pointed out the Suns’ best leaders, Alex Len and Knight, were among their youngest players.
Len very well could learn the most from Chandler — a fellow center who will split time and potentially play with Len — but it’s Chandler’s guidance that should help Phoenix’s dual point guard system develop.
Bledsoe spent most of the summer training in Phoenix. Knight said his experience last season with a Milwaukee Bucks team on the verge of the playoffs showed him how improving during the offseason pays off. Both the starting guards led summer pickups games with most of the Suns roster.
“I think our team took the steps this summer,” Knight said. “(Chandler) is going to do all the things that lead your team to a championship. I think it was a great pickup. He’s leading us already and being a leader on our team, for the month of September. That’s what vets do, they don’t wait.”