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The Anthony Bennett Project: Both sides see a perfect opportunity to capitalize on

Entering his fifth season, on his fifth team, Anthony Bennett knows this could be his last shot to prove himself on an NBA roster.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett has seen it all in his previous four seasons as a professional. After entering the league in 2013, Bennett has bounced around Cleveland, Minnesota, Toronto, Brooklyn, and most recently Fenerbache in the Turkish Super League this spring after being waived by the Nets. Now, entering the most important year of his career, Bennett senses an opportunity not yet presented to him, and Phoenix is welcoming it with open arms.

Waiting patiently for another shot over the summer after Fenerbache had won their league championship, Bennett stayed in contact with a coach who has been one of the few to bring out his best thus far: Suns associate coach Jay Triano.

Bennett, who had been working out in Las Vegas, mentioned that Phoenix had been keeping in contact with his agent even before Alan Williams injured his knee.

“I guess they had been talking about it at least a month or so,” Bennett said. “That’s what my agent told me. Pretty much I was out in Vegas just working out at IMPACT being ready for whatever opportunity comes. Coach Triano hit me up multiple times throughout the summer because he wanted to play for Team Canada, but the other thing was being on top of my weight and telling me to always stay ready. Then, this came about. I’m excited to be here.”

Outside of an inconsistent motor and inefficient play on both ends, Bennett struggled with weight problems during his separate stints. When mentioning what he’s improved upon as far as preparing for this type of chance again, nutrition was his initial answer.

Bennett did look significantly better than he did with Fenerbache, as far as physical condition goes, so that’s progress there to build off of whether it’s on the main roster or the G-League.

“I’ve been eating a lot better now,” Bennett said. “I know I’ve just been learning a lot about the good things and the bad things of what to put in your body. Definitely understanding that now, especially being at IMPACT. Especially being with Team Canada. Pretty much most of the teams I’ve been on kind of gave me like a nutrition plan. I just kind of follow that now or stay along the lines.”

From general manager Ryan McDonough’s point of view, taking a flyer on Bennett was an idea of him finally flipping that switch over and producing like he did at UNLV. If he can, McDonough believes they could be in a very similar situation as Derrick Jones Jr. heading into camp last season.

“Yeah, with Anthony, I think he sometimes forgets that he’s still 24 years old. He’s a young guy. He was the number one pick in the draft four years ago,” McDonough said. “With him, we looked at as far as trying to build something we find — I don’t know if you want to call Anthony a diamond in the rough that’s not fair given who he is and what he’s accomplished — but can we give somebody an opportunity that maybe they haven’t gotten elsewhere. I think at this time last year, we went up to Flagstaff with Derrick Jones Jr. really not knowing, honestly not thinking he was going to make the team or not knowing what to expect, but he surprised us and made the team and after the All-Star break played a pretty good role as a wing defender, perimeter defender. (Jones Jr.) was one of our more impactful as far as off-court, on-court, net rating and all of that.”

Bennett, who has had the “bust” label thrown around by many pundits, knows that expectations elsewhere are lowered but he’s ready to accept whatever role is thrown at him. With how young this roster is too, with Bennett only 24 himself after entering following his freshman season, knows he could carve out a role in the Valley eventually.

“I’ve just got to go out there with a clear mind,” Bennett said. “I don’t have to prove anything to anybody but myself just for the simple fact that I can stay in this league, staying here for a long time coming. I feel this would be a perfect opportunity and I’m ready to take on the challenge.”

McDonough mentioned how Bennett slides in well to this roster with his age. The Suns front office is willing to put in the work to help Bennett achieve individual success on the professional level. McDonough told me that if Bennett is unable to make the main roster this week following training camp, they have an agreement to send him down to join the NAZ Suns and further develop his craft in Prescott Valley.

It could be the perfect storm for Bennett to make an undeniable comeback, but there’s still a lot of groundwork to be laid. However, with Triano already aboard and full support from everyone within the organization, Bennett’s confidence could rise again to his college days and prove he belongs among other NBA players if it works out.

“With Anthony, we just say look we have an opportunity. We have a young team. A lot of the roles are fluid,” McDonough said. “He has a great relationship with Jay Triano through Canada basketball and he was very comfortable here in Phoenix. Especially with some of the injuries, I guess I realize Brandon Knight and Davon Reed are backcourt players, but unfortunately Alan Williams got hurt and Jared Dudley is coming off an injury so I think Anthony will get an opportunity. He’s young, he’s talented. He hasn’t put it all together yet, but we’re excited to see what he can do.”

The Anthony Bennett Project is just getting started, and it will be something I will be following closely throughout this season. For Bennett, it’s now all about controlling the controllables and doing his job.

A more focused and determined Bennett seems on the rise. Will 2017-2018 be the season where it finally clicks for him? Bennett, who has seen his fair share of change since entering the league, knows how urgent this upcoming year is to him.

Now, we’ll see if this is a successful turnaround or a failed restoration project on 2013’s top selection.

“Every year has been a learning experience. A lot of ups and downs, but for the most part, the thing I pretty much took away was it’s a crazy business,” Bennett said. “A lot of things change every year. You’ve just got to control what you can control. For the most part, for me, what I can control is eating healthy. Weight wise, just working on other things just getting my body right. Playing hard, rebounding. Just doing all the little things.”