Today was the infamous clean out the locker and player exit interview day for the Phoenix Suns. The official end to the 82 game season.
All of the Suns players except the team captains and the injured Amare Stoudemire were on hand throughout the morning for their one on one interviews with Steve Kerr and David Griffin.
After they finished they came out into the hallway each player stopped and took questions from a media crowd that included me (representing you) and 5 or 6 guys from Suns.com lead by the talented and recently dumpsterized Stephan Swiat (representing the Phx Suns).
Arizona Republic beat writer and all around solid guy Paul Coro was in the building working on his write-up from last night's press conferences. He took some good natured ribbing from the Suns.com crew for being in the building but not bothering to participate. Paul responded by asking which of them had traveled with this team all season long and had already talked to all these players before. Coro 1 - Suns.com 0.
The following is each interview with full, unedited audio. The voices you will hear are almost in every case Stephan going first and then me asking my questions.
[Note by Phoenix Stan, 04/17/09 9:42 AM MST ]
For video versions of these interviews via Suns.com crew click here
In order of appearance...
Goran is another of a long list of Suns players that benefited from the coaching change. Goran talks about the freedom Gentry gave him but that his problem wasn't that he was scared but that he was trying to do too much in limited minutes.
Goran is going to go home to Slovenia then come back for the summer league and then go back to Europe for the Euro national tournament. Slovenia has Serbia, Spain and Great Britain in the first round which is a tough draw so don't expect Dragic to play too much there.
Dragic wants to improve his strength in the off season and work on all aspects of his game.
I asked Dragic about the coaching situation and his opinion of why the team struggled. He did a great job in giving a non-answer demonstrating to some of the others on this team that it is possible to answer a question without throwing someone under the bus.
A veteran reporter described Robin Lopez as the most difficult interview on this team. Listening to this you might understand why. He simply is not comfortable answering questions but at the same time seems to be trying to stay on message.
Robin is going to continue his education at Standford pursuing a degree in Studio Arts and a minor in Film this summer.
He will be playing with the Suns again in the summer league and plans on working on his strength in the off-season. He felt he worked hard all year and had no regrets other then perhaps wanting to have gotten more minutes but he made a point to say that he wasn't complaining about it.
Jared is a great interview. He's a high energy guy standing still. Standing still is relative for Jared as he seems to be in constant motion and as you can hear is a fast talker. He is also a very thoughtful and articulate speaker. This is a guy who's on-court style of play is a perfect fit for his persona. He's exactly who you think he is.
This summer he wants to get a bit slimmer and fitter and work on his long range shooting and a dribble pull up. He wants to get faster and quicker defensively to help get a few more steals. He was given the option to play in the summer league.
Jared credited his increased role to Amare's injury giving him an opportunity for more minutes but he was also one of the first guys that Coach Gentry made a point of giving more minutes to.
To win a championship, Jared echos what Steve Kerr said about needing an active big man.
Jared made an interesting comment about Shaq wanting to lose 15 or 20 pounds to get more mobile and help stay injury free. I can tell you that Shaq has appeared slimmer of late and at least in the last two games was very clearly trying to be more aggressive trapping the ball on screen and rolls and even switch some picks.
I asked Jared to compare playing for Larry Brown, Terry Porter and Alvin Gentry all in the same year. Jared gave a great answer about what it was like to play for each. He really does sound like a TV analyst in his assessment of the different styles and what they mean. This is one sharp kid.
Jared is going to Brazil this summer and will be joining Alando Tucker and Jason Richardson there as well. More on that later.
Leandro will be heading back to Brazil for the summer where he will be hosting some of his team mates and will be bringing some of the team trainers as well to thank them for their help this season. He will play with Nene and Varejao on the national team as well.
Leandro said that he wants to be a better defensive player and is going to work on that this summer.
As for the coaching change, Leandro repeated the team mantra that Porter's system was too different from how the team wanted to play. I asked Leandro if he had any disappointment about having his role or minutes diminished when Richardson came. He said again that he doesn't worry about his minutes. This is one guy I believe when he says that.
The only thing about the NBA that Leandro doesn't like is the trade situation. He was saddened by the loss of his friends Raja and Boris wants to see the entire team come back.
Stromile was only with the Suns for a few months and he wants to come back next year but isn't sure if that's in the plans. Swift said that to improve defensively, the Suns need to go out and get guys that are known for their defensive abilities, both back court and wings.
Jason said that the Suns have unfinished business and wants to bring the entire team back. To improve defensively, he sees the need for everyone to work on getting better, himself included. In the past his role was to score the ball and the focus wasn't on defense but he plans on working on his lateral movement....and ball handling(?)
JRich said he struggled with the transition from being a 1 or 2 option to being 3rd, 4th or 5th option. He said that as the season progressed he adjusted to it and found ways to score in other ways without having plays run for him.
I asked Jason what went wrong between the stretch when he first came to the Suns and the team was playing well and then in January when the season really turned for the worse. He acknowledged the point but didn't have an answer for why it happened.
I asked Matt the difference between the "We Believe" Warriors team that was able to come from behind and make the playoffs while this team wasn't able to do that. Matt couldn't say what was different between those two teams.
As for his chances of coming back, Matt says that he wants to come back but the front office has to decide. He also said that the coaching change was not a good fit for this team and that he would like to see the same group come back.
Matt conceded that he needs to improve his outside shooting and get more consistent. He explored going through a shot rebuild process this summer to help solve his up's and down's. I asked Matt about shooting his way out of slumps and he said that he had a couple of mental breakdowns in regards to shooting. He also talked about the impact of banging with bigger power forwards and how that might have effected his shooting.
I asked Barnes which city had better fans - Phoenix or Oakland. No comment.
Lou talked about working on his shooting and putting on some weight and strength this summer. On the Shaq revenge front he displayed his half shaved brow.
Lou also talked about the need to improve defensively and play more consistently and the impact of the coaching changes. I asked Lou why the team struggled to adjust to a defensive oriented system. He said it was difficult for core guys that were used to playing one way to change.
"Any team can be good defensively," according to Lou. It just take the desire and mindset which starts with each person. He said it is contagious and if guys come in with that mindset it will rub off. There's no doubt that Lou has done his part to bring that mindset.
This summer Lou has some travel planned with family and friends including a trip to Alaska. I have no trouble picturing Lou in the back woods fishing somewhere with a couple of guys and some beer. Not a bad plan.
Alando Tucker surprised me talking about his health. He reported that he's not 100% and is still recovering from his knee surgery early in the year. This was news to me. He talked a lot about this in the interview. His main goal this summer is to get healthy.
Tucker talked about the lack of confidence this team had this season. Last year the team expected to win by 20 while this year the change in style made the team lose confidence.
I ask Alando to compare his ability to be flexible and adjust to different styles while the other players had trouble adjusting. He admitted to having some frustration with that but he realizes that he's a young guy in the league and that with the vets it's hard for them to change.
Tucker gave one of the better answers I've heard so far to the inability for the team to adjust to Porter:
"That's the situation you have with Steve and Grant. These guys are all in their thirties on the back end of their years in the league so when you have that you kind of have to cater to what they're used to and you kind of have to know that as a coach, I believe."
This really gets to the heart of the matter. The coach and GM failed to understand how change resistant his older guys would be and failed to bring them along and get their buy in to the process and the vets were old dogs that resisted new tricks. Shared blame.
Finally, Tucker talked about his comedy styling with Shaq and their natural pairing.
Tucker might have let a cat out of the bag regarding the big trip to Brazil. Listen for yourself and see what you think
Ed note: We've heard a lot from everyone on this team over the past three days and have been given a great insight into what they think happened and what they want to do to improve.This is a lot of information to chew on. I am working on a season recap postmortem but am likely going to wait until this weekend and let things digest for I publish it.