This week, the Phoenix Suns are working out with every player on the roster as well as the training camp invites, with the exception of Tyson Chandler and Markieff Morris. Chandler is due to arrive this weekend. He'd planned to be there this week, but was delayed due to a death in the family.
"We got a lot of new guys, a lot of new faces," Brandon Knight said at the black jersey reveal on Tuesday night. "The earlier you can get back, start getting that groove together is important."
Indeed, of the 16 players currently working out together for the past couple of weeks, only six were with the Suns last season. And one of those six returning players is Knight, who only suited up for 11 games after being acquired at the trade deadline. And even during those games, he was first battling to shock of being traded from the Bucks and then battling ankle issues.
Rookie Devin Booker talked last week about how competitive the workouts have been so far, and now Knight chimes in.
"Whenever you have NBA guys playing," Knight said, "There's going to be some fire. That's just because we want to win. That's how we got here. That's just our nature."
He expounded on the development some of those five other returning guys have had this summer, especially the youngest: Archie Goodwin (21), Alex Len (22) and T.J. Warren (22).
"Definitely seen some of the guys get better," he said. "A lot of that just comes from confidence. More time in the league, more experience. Our young guys are definitely taking those steps. We're going to need those guys to be successful. What they're doing is very important."
All three of those young guys are slated for bench roles. Knight will be in the starting lineup next to Eric Bledsoe. The team is going to rely on these two for a successful season. They're both still young - 23 and 26 years old, respectively - but each has 4+ years of NBA experience.
There is still some question about whether Knight and Bledsoe can be an effective pairing, considering neither is taller than 6'3" and neither is pass-first point guard.
Knight doesn't seem to have any concerns. He's played the past few weeks in pickup games alongside Bledsoe as well as on opposite teams.
"Looking forward to playing with him this year," Knight said of Bledsoe. "Just looking forward to our roster in general. I think we got a really good team. I'm not sure what everyone else thinks, but we're a very confident group. I'm excited to see how it goes."
Eric Bledsoe has been in Phoenix all summer with his young family, working out at the arena with the Suns training staff nearly every day and developing his game. He looks quite a bit bigger - if that's possible on the stocky 6'1" frame - at the jersey reveal, though some of that might just be summer weight. So many players "gain x pounds of muscle" in the offseason only to lose it by New Year's. Bledsoe's not talking about any of that, but he and P.J. definitely look buff.
Coach Jeff Hornacek is excited about how many players have returned so early for workouts. He himself has been around nearly non stop all summer, with just a couple of family trips sprinkled in as time allows, including an engagement party for his son in Chicago and quick trip to Ireland earlier in the summer. Their children are mostly all grown up (21-29 years old, with one a senior at USC) and live outside of Phoenix but the family makes sure they spend time together when possible. Even if it means being (potentially) stalked by a mountain lion on a hike in the Santa Monica mountains.
"It's a great sign," Hornacek said of all the participation in voluntary workouts so far. "We'll have everybody here playing and getting familiar with each other."
"Almost everybody," he admitted.
Earlier during the event he'd said to the crowd, "There's just one little thing to take care of."
Oh yeah, that Markieff Morris guy. The one guy who isn't with the team as they get to know each other and build a playing relationship. But Hornacek is optimistic Markieff will have a change of heart as the season gets closer.
"Hopefully now that everybody is starting to gear up," he said. "You'll see it over the next couple of weeks as everybody's at their team and going to their workouts, he'll come back."
Don't count on it, Jeff. Markieff has made it clear he's done with the Suns, and that he won't show up until he's about to get fined for it. That would be Media Day on September 28, which is also the day they leave for training camp in Flagstaff. Hornacek hopes that when Morris finally shows up, they will have a chance to work out their differences before he takes the court.
But for now, there are 16 guys running together on a daily basis. Backup power forward Mirza Teletovic joined them this week after skipping Eurobasket for his native country of Bosnia. He's been a national hero for the team for years, but took this year to heal from the blood clots in his lungs and make the most of a one-year deal in Phoenix.
Tyson Chandler will join the team next week, and by training camp 17 of the 18 guys will have had anywhere from 2-6 weeks already playing together and working out together on a daily basis.
Brandon Knight is excited about the Suns adding a veteran leader in Tyson Chander (33 years old) to such a young team.
"A guy like Tyson will always bring something extra to every locker room," he said. "Just because of what he's done, what he's accomplished. So he's going to always be respected whatever locker room he's in."
But Knight doesn't think adding Chandler is the only key to making next season a winning one. He said last spring that leadership starts in the summer, during player-focused off season workouts and pickup games. He's excited so many guys have bought in.
"But I also think that us coming here so early," he said. "That's a big part of not only leadership but just growing together. It helps throughout the year."
Many fans are pessimistic about the Suns chances to compete next year, but the Suns players have no such concerns. That's what happens when you all hang out together and learn each other's tendencies during weeks of pickup games.