In his recent piece on ESPN, J.A. Adande seems surprised by the Suns "new found" toughness. You can't fault J.A. for being skeptical, and you can't blame national media types for not picking up on the nuances of a change like this. When you are watching 30 teams and you've been covering the league for a long time it is easy to become a Doubting Thomas.
Just because a player or coach says something has or will happen, you don't necessarily believe it until you see it. And while the Suns started the season strong (and tough) and they certainly finished that way as well, we can't forget there was a full two-month period in the middle where this sub-.500 team was blowing big leads on an almost daily basis.
But what we can't do is say that the early signs weren't there. This is no recent change. The Tough Suns are no fluke as evidenced by this observation from October:
Now, just a few weeks into preseason, we are seeing from the entire Suns team more fire and desire and less fun and gun then past behavior gave us any reason to expect. This is not looking like a happy-go-lucky team content to put up a lot of points and satisfied with being labeled as "entertaining".
Instead, we are seeing a Suns team with a bit of an edge and some down right scrappiness. An elbow thrown by Channing Frye, Grant Hill getting tossed from a preseason game, or Steve Nash refusing to let himself get taken to the woodshed by some hotshot rookie point guard - these are signs of a team with spunk that cares far more about winning than just looking good and having fun.
These cultural shifts start at the top with Coach Gentry who last year typically spun things to the positive and was as much head cheerleader for his emotionally battered team as he was head coach.
This season, Gentry has worked the Suns harder in training camp then at any point in the past four years and is more active and vocal on the side lines. He even publicly called out his team's flaws after putting up 143 points in a win. The Coach has brought an edge to the team and Steve Nash is on the same page.
"I always think to myself, earn it. Go out there and earn it. If you have that attitude, you leave it all on the floor and compete you can sleep at night if you don't win," said Nash.
He went on to talk about the team's performance so far in the preseason, "I feel overall we've had a lot of fight to our group and our defense is improving."
Defense is the area where the Suns can improve the most and is generally understood to be part personnel, part system and part attitude.
Nash feels that the Suns as a smaller, faster team are going to be at a natural disadvantage on that end but can be a top 10 or top 15 team in defensive stats if they do two things well, "We've got to have a consistency and accountability and if we know where we're supposed to be and we keep ourselves accountable to that we can be a really solid defensive team."
It is one thing to talk about consistency and accountability but until you see how that manifests itself on the floor, in practice and yes in the press conference too, you just don't know if those words will ring hallow. So far though, the signs are positive with both Kerr and Gentry calling out the Suns for a poor defensive performance in their 143-127 win.
We didn't see that "never satisfied" attitude last season. Instead we got a lot of "work in progress" and "it is what it is". Fans know when they are being spun so not only are these new signs of honesty refreshing and positive for the team's competitive chances, they are also just good business for a non-championship contender.
If fans can't have hope for a ring then you at least have to show them fight and part of that is being publicly dissatisfied with the flaws we all can see.
This change in attitude and recognition that defense, physicality and mental strength are as big a part of the Suns success this year as any other factor. It's been a welcome addition to the league's best offense and full credit is due to Steve Kerr, Alvin Gentry and Steve Nash for leading the way.