Believe them or not: Suns veterans hope to change the narrative
PHOENIX — Here come the obligatory media day soundbites from a Phoenix Suns team expected to once again finish at the bottom of the Western Conference. The question is whether you want to believe them.
Center Tyson Chandler remains on the roster, gearing up for his 18th NBA campaign as a near-36-year-old. A year ago, he was defacto assistant coach, the one who had the voice to stop a practice from the sidelines and preach accountability, effort or execution.
This year, he’ll have a little more help on the leadership front. The Suns signed veteran wing Trevor Ariza and traded with Houston to acquire forward Ryan Anderson, signs GM Ryan McDonough wanted not only to add shooting and defense, but that Phoenix is quite serious about putting veteran pieces in key positions.
“It makes the world of difference,” Chandler said of those additions. “At some point, when I’m the only voice, it becomes too much.
“They still can play and still play at high levels. It gives coach (Igor Kokoskov) another outlet. In games where we lost in the past down the stretch in close games is because of lack of experience.”
Optimism was easy to come by Monday before the Suns head to training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz. Those three veterans want to change the culture, and all think it’s possible for a team that’ll be led — at least in terms of fame — by 21-year-old guard Devin Booker and 20-year-old center Deandre Ayton.
Maybe the veterans’ belief in a franchise that’s failed to win 25 games the last three years is even genuine.
Do they really, actually, seriously believe they can turn Phoenix into a competitive team? Ariza and Anderson, who are close friends, former teammates and Los Angeles-area neighbors in the offseason, promise they talk about it.
“Lot of times I could just say ‘yes’ — and it’s, like, not true — just to give you the right answer. But it’s absolutely, 100-percent true,” Anderson said. “This summer we talked almost once a day.
“(He’s) a real, genuine person who cares and wants to build this organization and lead these young guys, and we’ve had tons of conversations about that and what we can bring. This is the beautiful thing for me: I’m happy to be here, we’re building a culture, we’re building a future with our group. I’m happy to be a part of that. I’m happy to help in the best way I can.”
A career 38-percent three-point shooter, Anderson is 29 years old and viewed by the Suns as a key piece to put alongside Ayton, who should have room to operate in the paint.
Traded from Houston in a deal that included rookie guard De’Anthony Melton and saw the Suns ship out Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss, Anderson is expected to challenge for a starting role. The cynic might see a player just be happy to be in a new situation after the Rockets went away from using Anderson last season.
So if you don’t believe his optimism, maybe believe Chandler’s.
He looked like a potential trade candidate on an expiring contract — and still could be — but at media day said that there’s a different feeling in the building. Chandler said it’s the most talented team since he arrived three years ago.
The center played in just 46 games last season, sitting out often in what he said was an agreement with the Suns to limit wear-and-tear on his body while younger players got their feet wet. That situation is no more, even with Ayton expected to earn the brunt of the center minutes.
Chandler could fight the athletic Richaun Holmes for backup duties after averaging 6.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in limited action last season.
“Looking forward to playing throughout the season because I’m looking forward to playing meaningful minutes,” Chandler said. “It was no point in me putting the wear-and-tear on myself during that time (last year). You know, just communicating with the organization, the organization communicating with me, I feel like we’re out of that phase. Now it’s about, OK, it’s time to win some basketball games.
“I don’t know if this league has ever seen just a young team win games. You have to have some vets to sprinkle in there.”
With that, Chandler is still teaching, helping Ayton “find his voice” on the defensive side of the ball.
Ariza is in the same boat with youthful wings to teach in Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren and Mikal Bridges. Of course, he can make the strongest case that he’s buying in to helping change Phoenix.
Ariza signed with the Suns after they called him at midnight upon the free agency contact period opening in July. And no, he’s not just satisfied to play alongside a friend in Anderson and another Los Angeles-area product in Chandler.
“We are definitely looking forward to helping this organization win,” Ariza said. “That’s a big thing for myself, (Anderson), Devin, the players here. We want to win.
“We want to change the narrative of the Phoenix Suns that has been of late.”