Channing Frye was a young player on a young team before, first in New York and then in Portland.
"I think the average age of our team is 23," Frye said on a recent podcast with Kris Habbas, of this year's Suns. "I've been on a young team before. The best thing for a young team is a stable line. Not emotionally too high, not emotionally too low."
Frye would know. He's seen both the good and the bad of being on a young team.
The Big, Rotten Apple
In New York, Frye was part of the hellish whirlwind called the Isaiah Thomas tenure. In Frye's rookie season, 2005-06, which turned out to be his best until joining the Suns years later, the Knicks went 23-59 under Larry Brown. That Knicks team was gawdawful, a mishmash that spiraled out of control. Sounds like the Suns of 2012-13 right?
That team's veteran leaders were Stephon Marbury (28), Steve Francis (28) and Jalen Rose (33). Marbury and Francis spent a lot of time on the floor together that season, with shooters Rose and Jamal Crawford joining them on the wing.
Channing's second year was no more fun, and hardly better. The Knicks went 33-49 (a ten game improvement) with Thomas at the controls to coach his own team. Marbury, Francis and Crawford were back, along with Eddy Curry and former Sun Quentin Richardson. The best part of the season was the bench, headlined by David Lee, Nate Robinson, Renaldo Balkman, and Frye.
Frye was traded that summer when Portland swapped Steve Francis' contract for Zach Randolph's. Portland's sun began to shine that day, while New York's got even murkier.
In Portland, Channing had a new lease on life with a truly young team.
"Back in Portland," Frye said. "We had Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. We were really young, and I asked the fans to support us while we're young and bring their kids because we were going to be together for a while. It's good to have that support through our progress as we get better throughout the year."
Frye loved Portland and still keeps a home their today, despite only playing two seasons where he barely started any games.
Only five active players from that 2007-08 Blazers playing rotation had more than three years' experience in the NBA, and only two of those (Joel Przybilla, Raef Lafrentz) had more than four. Buoyed by young players Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster, the Trailblazers fought to 41-41 finish, finishing just short of the playoffs. And that was with rookie #1 overall pick Greg Oden recovering from a knee injury. The future was bright in Portland.
As a backup center, Channing Frye produced 6.8 points, 4.5 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game. The next season, Portland got a LOT better, finishing 54-28 even without the services of Greg Oden. Frye's role diminished after he was moved to backup PF behind Aldridge.
The Desert Calm
This Suns team doesn't offer the high end prospects that Blazers team promised. Young Brandon Roy ain't walking through that door. Neither is LaMarcus Aldridge. Or even the dream of a healthy Greg Oden.
But at least these Suns aren't like the 2012-13 version any more, or the 2005-06 Knicks he first experienced. The Suns aren't trying to straddle the fence between youth and experience. Too many veterans get frustrated when they can't win games at a regular clip. They get angry, quiet and closed off.
On the other hand, a young team can keep up the hope of the future without living too much in the past.
These Suns are a year or two behind the Portland squad, before Channing's time with them. This Suns team is just now trying to draft the next stars, and in the meantime is trying to keep fans interested. Last year, with too many veterans, was a total flop.
"What I can bring to the table is I've been in every situation," Frye told Kris Habbas for Bright Side. "I've started, I've won, I've lost, I haven't started, I haven't played, had DNPs. I've been in every position you can imagine on a team. For me, just to be able to talk to guys on the side, I'm not gonna be the hoo-rah guy, that's just not me, I can't do that every night. I'm more quiet, let me talk to you on the plane ride back."
"The thing that those two did the best by far was not to overtalk," Frye said of their leadership style. "Grant was always the first one in there. If Grant was in there, I should be in there. If Steve's shooting, then I should be shooting."
Last year, Dudley, Scola and even Gortat tried the "not overtalking" part because they aren't rowdy guys either. They tried to practice hard, play hard and give a good example. For whatever reason, that didn't work.
"I don't know how coach Hornacek wants to play," Frye said. "The biggest thing we can do is not [worry about] wins and losses, it's progress. Are we progressively getting better? Are we making the same mistakes that we made in the first game that we made in the thirtieth game?"
That was a lament all last season. Players and coaches openly lamented that they were making the same mistakes in February that they made on day one of training camp. There was no progress. When Alvin Gentry was fired, the main requirement of new coach Lindsey Hunter was to "show progress". Hunter failed to get the team to show any progress, and he was canned too.
Now Jeff Hornacek has to show progress, yet his rotation is younger this season and less educated about what it takes to close out and win basketball games.
As far as Frye is concerned, that's no excuse.
"I know [Marcin] Gortat, Goran [Dragic], Markieff [Morris], Marcus [Morris], P.J. [Tucker], Shannon Brown," he said of the veterans. "I know those guys personally. I know that they want to win and that they hate losing. We're going to hold the younger guys accountable."
Whether the kids listen this time or not, that's the key between a "successful" losing season and a "winning" losing season. That's the difference between a place everyone wants to leave and a place everyone wants to go.
The Suns tried the former, unwittingly, last season. Maybe this year can be the latter.
"We can change all that," Frye said in a fit of optimism that stretches as far as the veteran forward's eyes can see.
"If we continue to grow, I see guys in there working hard, I don't want to put limits on us."