Last season the Phoenix Suns were arguably the most dysfunctional franchise in the National Basketball Association. It's a culture that developed over several years where wins turned into losses, players left in ugly fashion, and those players did their best to go scorched earth on the front office on their way out. Phoenix bottomed out with 23 wins and a head coaching change. New head coach Earl Watson appears to be well liked by the players but certainly inherited a project.
This Summer kicks off the new era of Suns basketball. You can feel the excitement from this year's collection of past and present draft picks when the Summer Suns are in the gym at the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League. These guys genuinely like one another. It's a welcome change for a franchise that has faced struggles with team unity on many occasions the last several years. After Wednesday's 77-74 win over the Miami Heat that earned the Suns a Saturday afternoon date with the Denver Nuggets, Coach Nate Bjorkgren talked about the positive culture that has cultivated in the Suns locker room in Las Vegas.
"It's just something that our coaching staff and Coach Watson that we instilled the first day of our training camp practice. That's the way I love to coach, that's the way Coach has always done it his entire life. We told the guys the first time that we huddled in our practice gym in Phoenix, the only way for all of us to look good is to play hard for each other."
Troy Williams, a third-team All-Big Ten forward out of Indiana last season, played increased minutes on Wednesday with Marquese Chriss out. He was critical to the win, scoring 15 and pulling down 8 rebounds. After the victory, he echoed Coach Bjorkgren's sentiments about the cohesiveness among the team.
"The togetherness on this team is just crazy. You would have thought we've been together for a long time. We hang out with each other, we joke with each other, we all talk to each other, we all can take criticism. It makes us better, the team is great."
Tyler Ulis impressed once again. Watch it here.
The Summer League's biggest surprise contributed another impressive stat line in the win, leading all Suns scorers with 20 points and dishing out 8 assists. He had positive things to say about his teammates after the win.
"It’s just all of us, Coach Earl, Coach Nate. We’ve been bonding over the past couple weeks, and you know we really like each other on and off the court so that helps."
Coach Bjorkgren knows that many of these guys are in fact auditioning for other teams in the NBA and around the world that are not the Phoenix Suns. Wednesday he stressed the importance that encouraging one another and being a good teammate can have on their respective careers moving forward.
"All of these guys have basketball eyes all around the world watching them. The agents, everybody in the NBA world is here so everyone wants to perform well as an individual. The only way to do it is if you're cheering each other on. Teams want good character guys and guys that play hard."
The Summer Suns continue their run through the LVSL on Saturday against the Denver Nuggets. Tipoff from the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada is scheduled for 3pm.