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Phoenix Suns confident hard work will pay off as team seeks to end playoff drought

Despite some narrow misses, the Suns are entrenched in their longest playoff hiatus (five years) in franchise history. The unified tone among players, coaches and staff at media day indicates they expect that woeful streak to end.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There were plenty of promising indicators as the Suns kicked off the 2015/16 season with media day.

Markieff Morris took his lumps and said the right things.

Eric Bledsoe was practically bubbly as he appears to be far more comfortable with his surroundings than a year ago at this time.

New veteran reserves Mirza Teletovic, Sonny Weems and Ronnie Price cycled through the photography stations.

Alex Len and Tyson Chandler were tall.

The overriding leitmotif I noticed, though, was that the Suns were hoping for a return on the investment of hard work they made over the summer. In fact, Jeff Hornacek and several other players I spoke with cited that as the biggest reason they think the Suns will prove skeptics wrong and rise back into the playoffs in 2016.

T.J. Warren, Devin Booker, Mirza Teletovic, Archie Goodwin and P.J. Tucker were among those who specifically spoke about the work the team put in this summer.

"We've been here all summer working," said Warren. "We've added veteran leadership. We've just got to go out every night and play hard."

The hard work will need to be reflected in on court results for Warren, as the team will be counting on more production from the second year player. Warren's ability as a scorer could be a catalyst for the reserves. Ryan McDonough made a point to list him as a player that needed to take a big step forward this year.

Eric Bledsoe didn't specifically refer to his offseason activities, but he has also been in Phoenix nearly all summer honing his skills. This is a stark contrast from last summer when he was home in Alabama while his agent was working on a new contract with the Suns.

Archie Goodwin and Ronnie Price both reflected on an 'us against them' mentality with a team that is still coalescing.

"We're playing together," said Goodwin. "We're a family. We stick together. Nothing they (critics) say matters. The only things that matters is what we do on the court."

Devin Booker isn't listening to criticism, either. "We don't really listen to that (the critics)," said Booker. "As a team we all have a winning mindset. You can already see that in the open gym. When people lose they get angry."

Angry and hungry were other prevalent words. The returning players are tired of being on the outside looking in and weren't happy with the way last season unraveled.

"We know what it feels like to be just on the outside and not make it the last two years and we're ready to take the next step," said Tucker. "We're a year wiser and stronger and we've been working hard all summer."

Coach Hornacek echoed P.J.'s sentiment, "I think our guys are hungry," said Hornacek. "I think they didn't like what happened at the end of last season and they've come back and worked hard this summer and want to show they belong."

Newcomers Tyson Chandler and Mirza Teletovic are both impressed with the talent on the roster and burgeoning team chemistry.

"It's been great working out and talking with the guys here for the last month," said Teletovic, "I think with our chemistry and system there are very few teams that can play basketball like we can."

Ryan McDonough's take on the situation reflected a desire to correct the missteps from last season.

"I think we have more experience. Better depth. Better role acceptance. When you're around a team every day you get a certain feel for them," Ryan paused. "I had that feeling two years ago, but this team is more talented than that team."

Veteran leadership and  roster balance were definitely shortcomings that derailed the 2014/15 season. It's obvious that McDonough has attempted to address these problems. Now it's just a matter of seeing if the changes take.

The players seem to believe they will.

"Everyone in our locker room believes we will," affirmed Jon Leuer. "I think that's the most important thing. It doesn't matter what other people say. I think our new pieces will fit and I know we all believe we will."

The Suns have set the bar for the team as the playoffs, with anything less a disappointment. As a whole they are ready to prove their doubters wrong.

It's almost time to see if their hard work will pay off.

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