There was a definite bounce in the step of the Suns today at practice. Guys were smiling more and there was more then the normal level of joking around.
Shaq, perhaps motivated by Jozy Altidore's hat trick last night, once again took up position in "goal". I didn't get a good look at who was blasting shots at him but sure enough, there he was blocking basketballs fired off the feet of his team mates....on second thought I would bet a dozen donuts that Shaq doesn't know who Jozy Altidore is.
I didn't get a chance to ask him though because he was doing a special interview with one of the local TV stations that involved the newscasters' grandmother and a box of cookies. Shaq was across the gym from me at the time but I did see him eat some of grandma's treats.
Shaq has yet to respond to my tweeted question on the matter.
As is the norm for these things, Coach Gentry led off talking to the assembled horde about the Suns 1-0 start to the new 8 game season. Coach talked about the defensive stand from the Suns in the fourth quarter of last night's game and when asked about the difference in the Suns defense from Sunday's game against the Kings he said, "Sacramento is a good offensive team. They scored 141 points last night." Hear that Ziller. Stop dogging the Kings!
Nothing was going to kill the good mood, not even talking about the Suns defense.
Sports 620 KTAR's Craig Grialou asked more about Sunday's game against the Kings and Gentry responded with another classic response.
"I don't know. That was last season. We are not worried about last season. We are talking about this season." He went on to say when asked about the difference between last season's Kings and this season's, "They are very similar to last season. They are playing with the same guys and they practically have the same roster. This is our first meeting with them so we will have to see how it goes."
In case you were curious, Gentry reported that he did get a new contract for the new season. Another multi-week deal.
I asked Coach about Robin Lopez' 46 second performance and asked what he was looking for the rookie to work on this summer. Gentry talked about Robin working on his strength this summer and that big men take time to develop. He brought up Shaq's rookie season and how different he was then.
I of course, then had to ask about Shaq looking like a rookie himself flying to the rim a few time in last night's game. "He did. I don't know that anyone realizes the great year he's had at the age that he is. To till have the athleticism that he has and things that he does and the way that he's sometimes offensively just taken our team on his back. It's been a great year for him."
Gentry reported that he still has UNC and UConn going in his bracket. I asked him about Tim Floyd as well but that was before the news broke that Floyd turned down the Wildcat the job. Sorry Tucson. Ever the bridesmaid.
It was great to see Leandro smiling again. I haven't seen that since his injury. He clearly is feeling better today reporting improvement in his left knee even since yesterday.
"The swelling went down. It feels better today. If tomorrow it feels the same way it does today I am ready to go. Today it is not stiff like it was yesterday." Asked about the pain he said it was "way less". LB said they did something with the muscle in treatment yesterday to help the tightness and that helped with the pain in his knee.
He reported being tired after practice today after not doing any cardio for 10 days or so. Leandro said he is "thirsty to play" and will go at his normal (blazing) speed for for the first few minutes anyway but then will see how the game goes. You listen to this kid and and can clearly tell how much he's missed being on the floor.
I asked Leandro if he expects to come back next season and play more of the point. He said he wasn't sure and didn't seem to care either way.
Leandro expects to play for Brazil this summer.
Nash on change
This conversation with Nash was by far the most interesting of the day. We've all heard Nash express his frustration with the changes that have gone on this season and the difficulty that has created. I asked Steve what specific changes he felt were the most impactful.
"Obviously changing styles at the start of the year is something no one really forsaw. It was difficult I think for us to come to terms with and it didn't really suit our personnel."
Nothing new there but I did want to know more about the way the team responded to the change. I brought up the fact that Raja Bell had complained about the new system on November 11th when the team was 6-2 and asked Steve if they gave Porter a fair chance.
"Absolutely." Said Nash and after a pause went on to say, "We uh, we tried our best to do what he asked of us. I think it was really hard for guys because it wasn't comfortable for them and it didn't suit their abilities but everyone tried to do what they could. Everyone was hungry this year to come in this season and really have a great year and try to put ourselves in a position to win a championship. We just couldn't find any confidence playing that way ultimately."
Still curious, as I have been for awhile now, about that lack of confidence showing up so early in the season at a point when the team was 6 and 2, I asked about the good start and what changed.
"I think what you saw in the first week of the season is that we really didn't know who we were yet so we were still doing a lot of things from last year but we were starting to evolve into more of a half court team, just throwing the ball into the post which you know doesn't suit most of our team. So I think that was just tough on our guys. Tough on our pysche."
I don't expect Steve to suddenly change his tune about all this but I still find it hard to see how "the system" is totally at fault here. The Suns are going through Shaq in the post now and that's not a problem. Terry Porter wanted the Suns to run off misses and stops just like they are now. I don't know what it is, but I feel there is more to this then the half court system being tough on the psyche.
Stay tuned. I am determined to get a more satisfactory answer as to what went wrong this year.
Coach Igor Kokoskov
Coach Igor (as I will call him for simplicity's sake) shares duties with Coach Thunder in working with the young back court and wing players. Coach Igor normally spends his time with Goran but today stayed almost 30 minutes after everyone had left working with Alando Tucker. They worked mostly on some ball fakes and other moves designed to create separation so Tucker can get his shot off from around 15 feet on the wing.
I hung around hoping to ask Tucker about the work he's putting in to improve the arc on his shot (which looked good in practice) and about the hilarious birthday tribute to Robin Lopez he did with Shaq. (Suns.com Stefan Swiat promised would be posted soon.)
Instead, as I was waiting I decided to check in with Coach Igor and get his perspective on the development of the youngsters Dragic and Tucker. Igor talked about Dragic having room to improve all aspects of his game this summer like all young players.He felt that Goran more then anything needs to play and that he will get some great experience this summer both in Vegas and with the Slovenian National Team.
As for Alando, he echoed what we've been saying about his not having an opportunity but he was noticeably circumspect in offering any specific praise for Tucker. I may be reading too much into this (I do that) but he seemed to almost be saying that Tucker mentally needs to be more prepared to play when his name is called even though that is difficult given his role.
I asked Coach Kokoskov if he was coming back next season. He didn't say for sure but expressed how much he's enjoyed his time here so far despite the difficult season.
I can tell you this about Igor. He looked very fluid and mobile working with Tucker and he would be my hands down pick of all the Suns coaches to win a Dancing with the Stars competition.