Of all the Suns players, only Amare Stoudemire is generating more fan consternation than Jason Richardson.
When the deal with Charlotte happened, fans here were thrilled to be replacing a disgruntled, non-athletic Raja Bell with the high-flying two-time dunk champion. Now, it seems many of those same people can't wait to ship him out in return for a bag of bagels.
There's no question that J-Rich struggled to fit into the Suns offense last season. This is something that Coach Gentry addressed before the season started when he talked about needing to find more ways to let Jason be Jason. By that, he means touch the ball in isolation situations where he can create his own shot. He's a player who needs the ball in his hands to be at his full potential.
The season started out that way for Jason. He put up solid numbers and took over for key stretches of games but at some point that all changed.
"It started off great. The first month or so of the season was great then we got a little stagnant on the offensive end because Amare and Steve was getting it going on the pick and roll. Then everybody kind of figured out that's our go to butter so we have to get back and get myself involved, Grant involved, guys like that as far as the wing players," Richardson explained.
"It's the NBA. Guys will figure stuff out and they figured our pick and roll out, so we don't want to show it that much until the game is on the line and those are our go-to plays."
During that stretch where the Suns were using their "bread and butter" play, Jason was relegated to spotting up in the corner, which is a waste of his talents. As a result, his numbers suffered and because he's making close to $14m the fans have started to turn on him as well.
Jason doesn't care about all that. He says he doesn't pay attention to what's being said in the media about him and hasn't gotten frustrated with his diminished role. "It's not frustrating. It's frustrating when we lost those 21 games. I'm a guy that if we're winning games and it's all for the team, I'm with it..I'm not really worried about stats. The biggest goal here was making the playoffs and contend for a championship and that's still everybody's goal."
Richardson's name has come up recently in several trade rumors. He's taking that all in stride as part of the business of the NBA. He understands his contract situation and what that means to teams and yet he still thinks Phoenix is a good situation for him. "If it happens it happens," said Jason with the wisdom of a guy who's already been traded a few times.
As for the fans that want him to be more aggressive or put up bigger numbers, Jason had this to say, "I don't pay attention to them. They don't understand what's going on in the locker room. I know they come out and support us but they don't understand that it's a team concept and I don't have to go out there and score 20 points every night for us to be successful. So, hearing what the media are saying, hearing what the fans are saying about me not being aggressive - I'm not worried about that because I think my team sacrifices is more than me just going out there and scoring points."
With the changes to the Suns offense the coaching staff recently implemented, Jason is starting to play a bigger role again. I believe him when he says he's a team guy willing to sacrifice his own numbers, but he's also clearly happy to be more involved.
"(The changes to the offense) is making me move more freely and being more aggressive that way instead of just kind of sitting in the corner. It's giving me an opportunity to free up and show the athletic side of my game again."
The NBA is filled with players who gripe in the media when things aren't going their way. Even during a difficult stretch, you never heard Jason complaining and even now he's most interested in how his play can help the Suns win.
I still question if he's the right fit for this team given his high salary, but there's no doubt in my mind that Jason has been a stand-up guy through it all and deserves our respect for the way he's handled himself.