By: Kayla Mortellaro
PHOENIX— The Phoenix Suns held their media day Monday to kick start the 2015-2016 season.
Two different moods surrounded the Suns organization this off-season; one of excitement and anticipation with Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight signing long-term deals, the organization drafting Devin Booker, and most of the players spending the summer in the gym together. On the other hand, the mood seemed to be somewhat unsettled with the off-season trade demands made by forward Markieff Morris and judicial hearings that Morris and his twin brother Marcus faced in the Maricopa County Superior Court.
So, how would it be with all the lights and cameras on and media members asking players questions at the Talking Stick Resort Arena practice court for Suns Media Day?
“Just back, looking forward to the season,” Morris said. “Not really trying to look at the past. I don’t really want to talk about what happened this summer. Glad to be back with my teammates and glad to be back with the team.”
Morris did not divulge any conversations that may or may not have happened with Head Coach Jeff Hornacek or General Manager Ryan McDonough in the off-season. Morris tried to put the off-season issues at rest and looked to the upcoming year.
“I want to be here,” Morris said.
But when pressed further about the confidence he has in his head coach and general manager, his answers or lack there of made it pretty clear where Morris stood with his feelings about the Suns front office.
“I’m super confident,” Morris said about Hornacek. “He’s been here a couple years and him and I have a great relationship and I think he is going to be here more years.”
Morris’ tune was slightly different when it came time to say what he thought about McDonough’s ability.
“You gotta ask him that, man,” Morris said about his confidence in McDonough.
Despite not working out with his teammates during the off-season, Morris did work on his game. He said he worked heavily on his three point shooting, because as he called it, “I shot terrible last year.” [Morris made 31.8 percent from behind the arc in the 2014-2015 season.]
In the end, Morris is with the Suns and will be heading up to Flagstaff, Ariz., for training camp.
Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek
McDonough and Hornacek addressed the Morris situation, as well as the excitement surrounding the team.
“I feel like we got a very good player in Tyson Chandler,” McDonough said. “I’m excited about our team. I think we have improved this off-season. I think our roster is better balanced. I think we have better depth. You know, the West is obviously brutal as ever, but I think you’ll see an improved team this year and a team that will hopefully make the playoffs and compete in the playoffs.”
McDonough, however, made no apologies for trying to make the Suns roster better and explained it never has been and never will be the policy to get player’s approval before making a trade.
“Let me answer that question this way,” McDonough said. “When we made the trade with Detroit to send Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock, and Danny Granger to the Pistons, we did the same thing we always do. We placed a call to the players we traded representatives and let them know we were going to make a trade. What happened from there, I think I will keep it private and internal. But the procedure was no different and we aren’t going to change that. So, we don’t pre-flight this with any of our players, we don’t run it by them to get their opinion. That’s not something we have done and not something we will do going forward.”
The reason everyone was at Suns Media Day was in fact because of the game of basketball. Hornacek is excited about this team, but more importantly, he sees the players have a different belief in themselves this season.
“I think it’s a big difference,” Hornacek said. “We are very happy with the roster we have now, we are balanced. Both Ryan [McDonough] and I believe that this can be a very good team. But really it doesn’t matter if we believe it, the players have to believe it. And I think last year, in the back of their mind, they didn’t think the three guards was going to work. And even though we were winning games, I don’t know if they totally bought into it. I see them right now, they believe. They believe they are a good team.”
Something that is certainly different this season is that Hornacek is openly talking about being a more aggressive team defensively. And he wants his team’s defense to help transition in to the offensive flow. Last season, the Suns averaged 102.4 points per game.
“We want to be more aggressive defensively,” Hornacek said. “I’ve already told the guys that the offense has kind of driven the defense the last couple of years and we want to try and reverse that. We feel like we are longer and have more active guys defensively that can maybe, [can lead to] more trapping. We don’t want to gamble for steals but we will give the guys more freedom defensively to do some things. That will hopefully help us get out and run even more.”
Certainly with the addition of Chandler in the front court, a former NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the long-term signing of Knight to team up with Bledsoe in the back court, the Suns have pieces in place to be a better defensive team.
Chandler signed with the Suns as a free-agent acquisition in the off-season from the Dallas Mavericks. At the time, Chandler was excited for the opportunity to play with young, talented players. But after spending several weeks playing pick-up games with the team, Chandler is even more impressed with what he sees.
“Even more excited, a lot of these players are even more talented than I thought they were,” Chandler said. “It’s players that have really bright futures. Everybody has been like sponges. A couple guys are young, but now have experience under their belt. It’s not just me, it’s a ton of players around here that came in with a different mentality.”
Chandler has 14 years of NBA experience, including one NBA title. He understands what it takes to play at a high-level night in and night out, and the mentality it takes to be on a winning team.
“The biggest thing is going in and taking every game serious,” Chandler said. “I think the past, this team has gotten up for the big teams, the big names and taking the other teams lightly. And those are the games that come back to haunt you at the end of the year. So, I think it is very important that we take every game serious and understand, in our position, you got to go in trying to win every single night.”
The addition of Chandler has filled a big void for the Suns- with his veteran play-making experience, his leadership, and vast winning experience. The other players already respect Chandler and listen to him.
Last off-season the Suns were in a stalemate with Bledsoe trying to get a contract deal done. This off-season, Bledsoe stayed in Phoenix to work-out with teammates and at the Suns’ facility. Bledsoe has taken that next step to becoming a leader on this Suns team. And some might say, this is now Bledsoe’s team. But he is not so quick to anoint himself to that position.
“We got great veterans on this team,” Bledsoe said. “You know, Tyson is the main guy. And whatever he has to say, I’m going to listen, 100 percent. And I feel he will do the same with me. Going into another season and try and lead this team and kind of take steps toward that [being a leader].”
For Bledsoe, part of making this team fully functional is having the skill set of Morris, who he believes is truly a team-orientated man.
“It’s his skill set, you know Keef [Markieff Morris] is a terrific guy,” Bledsoe said. “I guess people got misled. As a teammate, I’ve know him for two years going on three and he’s a team guy. I can go to him and say pretty much anything to him and he’s not going to take offense to it and play his game. To me, he’s one of the best power forwards.”
Bledsoe wants the Suns to make a playoff push this season. In part, Bledsoe believes this team is different because it is surrounded by a lot of confident players.
“We have a lot of confident guys,” Bledsoe said. “We got a lot of guys who can score the ball. Like I said, our defense is our offense.”
Most of the players for the Suns spent their summer in Phoenix for voluntary team workouts. But for Knight, he really felt the importance to stay and prove this team is not just going through the motions.
“It was a choice we had to make[to stay in Phoenix this summer],” Knight said. “We can sit here and say we want to make the playoffs but a lot of it comes down to action. And I think we saw that this summer. What people don’t understand, it’s not just being on the court working out, we are going to work out wherever we are at but when you’re here in the Phoenix, it shows you’re committed to the team but it gives you a chance to bond off the court.”
Knight had a small sampling with the Suns after being traded to Phoenix just before the deadline last season. Knight suffered an ankle injury that did require some off-season surgery. But Knight made a commitment to the Suns long-term as a restricted free-agent, and he says his health is coming along.
“My health is coming along, it’s a progression, but I’m feeling a lot better as of late,” Knight said. “I got a chance to play some pick up with the guys the past couple of weeks. So my health has been getting a lot better. As far as our team goes, I have high expectations. I think as long as we stay healthy, we put the time in, put the work in, come to play every single night, we have a good chance to finish with a pretty good seed in the West and that means making the playoffs and doing some special things this year.”
Suns Training Camp Schedule
Practice: Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 at the Rolle Activity Center at NAU
Scrimmage: Oct. 3 at 6 p..m. at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum