PHOENIX – It’s what every player hopes happens. That they perform well the season before free agency, perhaps better than they ever had.
This season, Phoenix Suns power forwards Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic enjoyed career years and will become unrestricted free agents on July 1.
Both are expected to receive interest—maybe even significant interest—on the open market as solid role players but both, too, have an interest in continuing their stays in Phoenix, especially Teletovic.
“I would love to be here,” he said. “I told them already, this is the team that give me what I got and they give me just a chance to come back and trusted in me. I would love to be back here.”
Teletovic finished as the Suns’ fourth-leading scorer at 12.2 points per game, almost four points better than a season ago when he suffered from pulmonary embolus and was shut down for three months, thus limiting his on-court action to 40 games for Brooklyn.
After signing a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Suns, Teletovic, in 79 games this season, made 181 3-pointers, the most-ever by a bench player in NBA history.
“Coach Earl (Watson) put a lot of trust in me. He kind of gave me the energy, gave me the boost. He talked to me through the whole period that he’s been here: how we’re supposed to play, how we’re supposed to get better,” he said.
“I understood the role that I have on this team.”
Teletovic closed the season with a game-high 22 points against the L.A. Clippers, extending his career-long streak of scoring 20 or more points to four games. That matched Isaiah Thomas, Joe Johnson, Dan Majerle and Danny Manning for the longest such streak by a Suns reserve since Eddie Johnson did so in five straight games in 1989.
“I feel comfortable. For me, I click right away,” Teletovic said of coming off the bench. “There’s no, I have to warm-up or something like that. I prepare myself like that through the whole day so once I come in the game, I’m ready.”
Had the Suns had a better season, Teletovic would be receiving more consideration for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award. At the very least, he’s part of the discussion, mainly because of how well he performed down the stretch by averaging 19.3 points on 44.7 percent shooting and hitting double figures in a career-long 12 straight games.
Teletovic, who is likely to play for his Bosnian National Team this summer, will be 31 at the start of next season.
Leuer, meanwhile, turns 27 next month and like Teletovic played more games and minutes to accumulate more points, rebounds, assists and steals than any of his previous four NBA seasons.
“I put in a lot of work this offseason and tried to prepare myself as well as I could. I’ve contributed as much as I could to this team, just tried to be ready for whenever my opportunity came,” Leuer said.
“I just did whatever I could to help this team.”
Twice, the 6-foot-10 Leuer tied his career-high in rebounds with 14 and trailed only Tyson Chandler, Alex Len and P.J. Tucker among the team’s best rebounders at 5.6 per game.
Leuer was also able to help spread the floor, keeping defenses honest with 42 3-pointers, which surpassed his career total by nine.
“I like to think so,” he said, when asked if he proved anything to himself and others who may have started to doubt the 2011 second-round pick. “I’ve always had a lot of confidence in myself. I’ve had stretches in the past where I played a lot and been productive, so I felt like I’ve always known I can play in this league and play at a high level, but having, I guess, my best year so far just kind of furthers that confidence.”
This season Leuer bounced back-and-forth from key reserve to starter with a brief stretch in which he found himself completely out of the rotation in late January and early February.
Through it all, Leuer maintained his professionalism and finished averaging 8.5 points, nearly doubling his mark from a season ago.
“As a competitor, obviously you want to play as much as you can,” he said. “I definitely feel like I can have a huge impact off the bench and kind of change the game with my energy and my skill-set. Whatever role I’m put in, I know I can help the team.”
Acquired in a draft-day trade with Memphis, Leuer admitted he hasn’t thought much about free agency, but he presented the Suns with a good last impression recording consecutive double-doubles in the final two games, giving him 10 for the season.
Leuer had two in his career entering the year.
“Loved the guys on the team. I enjoy my time here,” he said. “I love this city, and I feel like this organization is building in the right direction. We just had some setbacks this year. In this league, things can turn around quick. I definitely feel like we can build something special here.”
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