EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Suns face another quick turnaround as NBA resets back to default calendar
PHOENIX — Fried.
That was the word Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder came back to a few times at the team’s media day on Monday when talking about the status of his mentals at a certain point last season.
Two seasons ago, Crowder made a run to the NBA Finals with the Miami Heat, enduring the shortest layoff possible for a quick turnaround into the 2020-21 season. Crowder’s last game in the bubble was on Oct. 11 and his regular season opener would come less than three months later on Dec. 23.
This past year, Crowder made his second appearance in the Finals, this time with the Suns. Once again, he went through the longest season possible, and by default, the shortest offseason. He did that through a grueling condensed schedule, stretches where Crowder described the second game of a back-to-back as “killing” him earlier in the year before he got more acclimated.
After the league ran through that 72-game gauntlet that began around Christmas, it wanted to get back on its regular calendar and 82-game slate of starting in October, so Crowder’s wrap date last season was on July 20, with this year’s opener three months later on Oct. 20.
For reference, that timeline is not normal. The 2019 NBA champion Toronto Raptors went from winning a title on June 13 to starting the next season on Oct. 22, with that four months being the typical amount between seasons. And that’s accounting for a long playoff run to the Finals through taxing, physical basketball, where it’s usually a talking point for that team anyway on a regular league calendar.
So, with all that said, it’s a unique circumstance for not only Crowder, but his team.
The Suns, as you’d expect with general manager James Jones and Monty Williams, are looking at the situation from a positive perspective.
“We put up a sign in the practice site that says ‘short breaks are earned,'” Williams said Monday. “We’ve earned the right to have a short break and we have to embrace that.
“We obviously are going to be smart. Conditioning and getting guys back into game shape but we embrace where we are and yet we also understand that we have to look at our guys in practice, listen to our strength and conditioning team, and make sure everybody is doing well from a conditioning standpoint.”
Speaking strictly from looking at the time off, Jones mentioned how there can be benefits to being back quickly as well.
“I actually think that it’s tougher in the summer to navigate long breaks,” he said. “You play basketball at a high level when you are in this team environment, so the longer you’re away from your team, the more individual you become.
“There’s just something about being around your teammates that can push you competitively to a different level physically, mentally, emotionally. Being in the team environment helps you prepare for the season.”
Jones, of course, has a philosophy as a team-builder that fits with this type of situation, as he prioritizes depth up and down the roster.
“The value of a deep roster is greater than just having guys that are available to play when you’re looking at injuries or fatigue,” he said. “It just raises your competitive spirit.”
Last season, Crowder said he had to tweak some things physically.
“I had my days, I’m not even going to lie, where I felt like, ‘Oh yeah, this is not a normal turnaround,’” Crowder said on March 22. “The turnaround was very sharp. I had bad days, I had good days and I had to change a few things with my routine and with some stuff here and there given the schedule and how crazy it can be with us.”
On Monday, Crowder said his physical preparation has had a lot to do with preventing anything negative happening that would have him going backward. He has already emphasized with the younger players on the roster that they need to use the days off that come back with a normal schedule, when guys will have more opportunities to recuperate in the middle of the season.
“I’m aware of it, our coaching staff is aware of it, we’re just trying to do as much as possible to have no setbacks in that area,” Crowder said.
Because of another condensed offseason, Crowder said his work was more about maintaining and sharpening what he’s got in his game as opposed to the more typical process of trying to add more skills.
And that’s not even covering players like Chris Paul, who had wrist surgery in the offseason and spent a good chunk of his doing rehab for that and being able to get to 100% heading into training camp on Tuesday.
The Suns’ challenge presents physical obstacles for sure, but to go back to what Crowder spoke on at the top, the mental side of it is not as discussed. Crowder was kind enough to be open about his mental health and the blip last season where he said he was “not there” mentally.
Crowder had the support of his teammates through that and got back on track. He said he’s been working with his psychiatrist to build up his mental capacity to withstand the season better this year, noting that he never thought he would be the type of person to be mentally in that kind of shape.
That process speaks on something we can all take a bit from and apply on our own, a reminder of the roller coaster these guys are on.
“I don’t wanna have those situations where I’m just not feeling it for a week because I feel like my brain is fried,” Crowder said. “I just want to continue to just take it day in and day out, take it one day at a time and hopefully not have those moments where I felt fried.”