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Jared Dudley coming home to the Suns... but it’s not the same Suns

Former and current Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley wants to restore the Suns spirit, but he’s going to have to do it amid a lot of losses at first.

Dudley hold down

Jared Dudley writes that he is “Coming Home” to the Phoenix Suns, that he wants to help the Suns recreate that wonderful chemistry from the 2008-2010 teams.

He talks about how all the team’s best players created that chemistry, from a crazy fun Shaquille O’Neal to sage advice from stars like the venerable Steve Nash and Grant Hill.

You really should check out the whole article here.

Shaq was just a dude you always wanted to be around. In fact, that whole team was full of guys like that. Our lineup was just a bunch of guys who wanted to play for each other — and that, more than anything else, makes a team better.

Of course, Suns fans would love that. We would love to see Eric Bledsoe and Marquese Chriss joking around with each other, and Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker dapping each other after big plays.

We’d love to hear about Dudley and Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker taking the teenagers under their wings to make them great pros.

We’d love to see Chriss, Dragan Bender, T.J. Warren and Alex Len playing for the veterans, wanting to earn their respect.

And we’d love to see the bench showing Suns fans at the arena how to have a good time. Even late last year, a guy like Alan Williams made a name for himself by being the most excited guy in the house on a regular basis.

But too often chemistry comes and goes with win-loss records. It’s a lot easier to joke around and clown each other a big win than after your ninth loss in ten games.

It’s a lot easier to sacrifice and play for each other when you’re winning games. Dudley came to the Suns when they were on the tail end of the SSOL run.

Being a younger guy you were happy to be going deep in the playoffs, but you were also really playing for the veterans. We’d always say, “This is for Steve,” or, “This is for Amare.” Steve’s a two-time MVP who sacrificed so much for his teammates and made everybody better. It was our chance to pay him and the other veterans back.

But now things are different.

They most certainly are.

Gone are the NBA All-Stars. In their place among the team’s veterans are a cadre of very good players, but none of them are NBA trendsetters. It’s easier to hitch your wagon to a veteran that changed the game of basketball (Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill, Amare Stoudemire) than it is to sacrifice for the joy of watching Bledsoe or Knight do their thing.

This is meant as no disrespect to Bledsoe and Knight. They are very good players who can wow the crowd and stuff the stat sheet on any given night. But Bledsoe and Knight are no Nash, Amare or Shaq. Bledsoe and Knight themselves would tell you that if Nash, Amare or Shaq of 2009-2010 showed up, they’d be among the first in line to hitch to those wagons.

There was a clear pecking order on that 2010 Suns team that simply doesn’t - and shouldn’t - exist on this 2016-17 Suns team.

And make no mistake. When your most talented players are barely out of high school and your mid-career players aren’t magnetic floor leaders, lots and lots of losses are on the Suns horizon.

The 2016-17 season won’t be a race for home court advantage in the playoffs, and it shouldn’t be.

If the Suns are riding a lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Devin Booker, P.J. Tucker, Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley for 30+ minutes a night on a regular basis just to claw toward that 8th seed, they are doing it wrong.

If Alex Len, Tyler Ulis, T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss are averaging 15 minutes or less per night among them, the Suns are doing it wrong.

This isn’t the 2009-10 team that needs its young players to support the stars.

This is a team whose veterans need to turn around and support the young players. If the Suns are going to sniff the playoffs on a sustainable basis over the next half-decade, they need two or three of Booker, Chriss, Bender, Warren, Len and next year’s top-10 pick to become All-Star caliber before they are old enough to rent a car.

That’s why the most important part of JD’s story is the part about Milwaukee. JD was traded to a Bucks team coming off an abysmal 15-win campaign and were predicted to win no more than that in 2014-15 under a first-year head coach (second overall season since retiring) in Jason Kidd.

You don’t really realize when you become a “veteran” — it just sort of happens. In Milwaukee, I was the second-oldest guy on a team with the worst record in the league. When Jabari Parker went down with an injury, it gave me a chance to start again and I was able to really help the young guys develop, the same way the veterans on the Suns had done with me. Giannis Antetokounmpo was my dude. I would be in his ear on the floor, or on the bench. When he continued to improve, I went to Coach Kidd.

“You gotta start Giannis over me. If we’re going to move forward he needs to play.”

Dudley comes to this Suns team with basically the same roster makeup of the 2014-15 Bucks.

And he’s likely to get the starting nod over a pair of teenagers.

We can only hope that halfway through the 2016-17 season, Dudley is itching to tell coach Earl Watson that he should be benched in favor of Chriss or Bender because they deserve it.

I knew what my role was, and seeing those guys get better and take my spot, I actually took some pride from that. We went from the basement of the league to making the playoffs and taking the Bulls to six games.

Ahh, here’s another sticking point.

No matter what, Dudley and every other veteran in the league yearn for at least one of two things, if not both: (1) winning games and (2) getting minutes.

You can sacrifice one for the other and still sleep at night. But sacrificing both is too much to ask of any self-respecting player.

I cannot expect Dudley to happily relinquish rotation minutes to undeserving teenagers on a 60-loss team without losing his competitive spirit. You saw it in Chandler last year when he was losing minutes to Len amid a mind-numbing losing streak.

Sure, Chandler is a completely different player than Dudley. But you saw Chandler lose his edge. He only came out of his shell when his minutes were restored after the All-Star break.

Jared Dudley has the best of intentions. But you have to believe that Dudley sees sacrifice as a means to an end. When he sacrificed by happily performing his bench role in 2008-2010, it worked because they went deep into the playoffs. And when he sacrificed in 2014-15 to give playing time to the Greek Freak, he was rewarded as the Bucks made the playoffs.

I don’t foresee that same outcome this season in Phoenix. Sure, it could happen, but the Suns making the playoffs this season with Chriss or Bender earning more minutes than Dudley is not a bet you take to Vegas.

And when the losses pile up, we will see the real impact of Jared Dudley on this Suns team.

We watched Earl Watson pull the guys up by their boot straps last spring after he replaced Jeff Hornacek, but that was because Earl was the change. This year, Earl will be the guy who put them there in the first place.

We already saw veterans like Chandler, Ronnie Price and Tucker fail to keep up the team’s spirits during heavy losses last year.

Now we see if Jared Dudley can be a difference maker in that locker room.

At least he’s coming in with eyes wide open.

The Suns were looking for a guy to work with their exciting, young talent they have coming through, and both the team and I felt like I was a perfect fit. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still going to contribute, but I’m also going to leave a mark off the court as well. I’m here do things the right way because there was just no other way to do it. This is a really exciting time to be a Phoenix Suns fan. I know I can have a major role in this team’s success not just this year, but also five years from now. That’s my goal.

Phoenix is where I want to be.

It’s the place where I became the man I am today, and I owe this city a lot. I can’t wait to give back to the community and to be out in the city to greet the fans. I want to build memories that go beyond basketball for the city of Phoenix.

I couldn’t be happier to be home.

*All quotes in this article are directly from Dudley’s fingertips in a story he wrote for The Players Tribune.

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