In any professional sport, your teammates are your competition as much as any opponent. You have to be competitive to win a starting position or even big minutes. On the Phoenix Suns, who project to have three staring-caliber point guards on the roster next season, competition will be at hand all season long.
Competition over camaraderie
I recently became more aware of this bit of natural selection when my daughter's boyfriend was drafted into the Braves organization this summer. After a month in rookie ball, he told her what adjustments he's had to make in the pros. There's the six meals a day to gain weight and the constant workouts in between games, as well as the nomadic lifestyle of living in a hotel.
But what struck him the most was the new level of competition among his teammates. In high school and club ball, it's all about building up your teammates and supporting them at every turn. Even the ones who play your position. "TEAM" is central in amateur sport. The pros are different. When you pitch well, your pitching mates don't talk to you as much. When you pitch poorly, they're suddenly around again. That's because your performance has so much to do with whether they are moving up the organization or bagging groceries next year.
Such is the case at every level of pro sport. So it's unusual when you hear of genuine love and support for each other, even at the highest levels.
Yet in true valley fashion, at least two of the point guards welcome the company of a third. Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas both want Eric Bledsoe back, even though it will cost them minutes and maybe even a starting position.
Last year in Phoenix was quite cleansing to the soul. No one was fighting each other, or fighting for more minutes over a teammate. It helps when you're already at the top, and your contract is secure.
Here's a taste of the competition, and how one player handles it.
A lot has been said about you and Eric Bledsoe. How did you perceive the whole story of his arrival and thus also of his status in the team? Did you feel threatened?
GD: I did not feel threatened. Of course, you are looking a bit differently about the whole thing if you get into the competition. But I was even more self-confident, and I even more "chew" on training. Many people say that competition is healthy, and I agree with that. I'm not afraid of anybody, I'll always give my best, and if I don't succeed, I can't do anything more.
In contrast, here's what Kendall Marshall had to say about having competition at the point guard position last year.
"First of all winning, but my second goal is to kind of prove that I can be a contributor on this team," Marshall said. "I've been in prove-it mode since I got here, I think. With them bringing in [Goran Dragic] last year, bringing [Eric Bledsoe] in this year - they're two great guys, I'm very excited to play with them. But at the same time, I want to prove that I can play with them and be on the court with them."
--Marshall, before Summer League last year
And then there's Sebastian Telfair from 2012, when Marshall was drafted and they had to fight for the back up role."It's going to be war.
"It's going to be war," Telfair repeated about their training camp battle during Monday's Media Day festivities. "I don't know if you guys are going to be down there [at training camp], but you might want to get down there. It's going to be a sight to see.
"You've got to be competitive. When we step into that building to play against another team that competitive nature will go down versus each other, but training camp is the best part to go out there and show what you've been working on this summer and show how dedicated you are to the game. I'm a lot better as a player when I'm competing."
2014 no different, but two are holding out the olive branch
Next year won't be as easy, with the Suns facing so many expiring contracts at key positions. Dragic himself could be a free agent next summer, and most likely will be. He's even hinted at it already.
But does that mean he doesn't want Bledsoe mucking up the works by coming back?
Just in the last few days, incumbent star Goran Dragic - he of the expiring $7.5 million contract - and new free agent Isaiah Thomas - he of the long-term $7-million-per-year contract - both told reporters that they still want Eric Bledsoe back in Phoenix this season.
RealGM: Do you stay in touch with Eric Bledsoe? Do you receive information about his situation and do you pay attention to it?
Dragic: I follow him on Twitter. I talked with Jeff couple of weeks ago and they still didn't know if they are going to offer him a contract. We are waiting for his decision. But I think he is a big part of this team. He was great last year and we played together well. I hope he will sign for the next year.
And then Isaiah Thomas weighed in as well.
"People always ask me, ‘What's going to happen with you, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic?' At the end of the day I'm going to play, we're going to play together, we're going to have fun with it and we're going to figure it out," Thomas said.
"I mean whatever happens, it's for the best, and that's how I'm going about it. We're going to compete each and every day, we're going to make each other better and we're going to do what's best for the team. ... The coaching staff and the organization said, ‘You're going to be a big part of what we do. We want Eric Bledsoe back - we hope he comes back because we feel like with the three of you guys it would be a combination that no other NBA team has.' One thing that's good about it is that we're three different basketball players, three different guards; we're not all the same, we go about our ways differently, we play the game of basketball differently and we can complement each other in different ways. I'm just excited about it."
In a game that's all about competition and beating out that competition, the two signed point guards want the third, unsigned one back. Even knowing the unsigned one will potentially make almost double what each of them make in a season. They don't care about that.
They want to be that three-headed monster. They want run it down opponents' throats. And they don't worry about anything else. Thomas is okay coming off the bench. He signed with that understanding.
Dragic and Thomas realize the Suns are better with the Slash Triplets intact. We can even still call them the Slash Brothers. I am sure that, if and when Bledsoe signs up, the Suns and national media will tout the Suns with those three players on the billboards.
Come on, Eric. Get this over with and join up for good.
Re-form the Slash Brothers!
Odds and Ends
USA vs. Slovenia, on ESPN2 today at 11:00am AZ Time.
It's an early start, so make sure you set your DVR if you have to work. Hopefully, we'll get lucky and have Jogi, Kat, or someone overseas to recap the game for us.
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
I did it, and I challenged the rest of the BSotS staff.
So did Jacob.
But so far, everyone else on the Bright Side staff has been missing in action.