After two days easing back into the world of basketball practices, the Phoenix Suns decided that Saturday, July 11 would be the first day to go hard with five-on-five play.
Upon arrival in the Orlando “bubble” this past Tuesday, all the Suns traveling party went into a 48-hour quarantine in their respective rooms. Players engaged in a lot of video-gaming and TV binging as couch potatoes, just like you and I probably did over those same days. Team practice began on Thursday after the 48-hour period ended, but mostly with walk-throughs of their offensive and defensive schemes including new wrinkles.
In a Zoom call with media, head coach Monty Williams noted they were able to throw a lot more of the offensive and defensive packages at the players on day one of this second-season than they had on day one in Flagstaff last October.
But he also noted that, while the players looked great physically, they were not quite as conditioned on day one of this Orlando training camp as they had been in Flagstaff after a normal offseason.
“When we go five on five or four on four,” Williams said. “That’s when you start to see the conditioning that needs to increase for us to get where we need to be.”
The Suns, like all other teams, are worried about soft-tissue injuries that occur when you go from nothing to full-speed activity. Hence the two-day warm up before going hard on Saturday.
“The health of our team is pretty solid right now, I’m thankful for that,” Williams said.
He was purposefully talking only about the non-COVID players. At least two unidentified Suns are still in two-week quarantine after testing positive recently for COVID, and will join the Suns later this month. HIPAA rules require only self-identification of medical issues, so the Suns are keeping names quiet.
Players definitely in Orlando and practicing with the team, based solely on voluntary social media posts and media interviews, include Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Cameron Payne, Dario Saric, and Cheick Diallo.
Players notably quiet after being excited for the restart, available to media as recently as two weeks ago and normally active on social media: Frank Kaminsky and Mikal Bridges.
I also have not seen anything online recently from Ricky Rubio, Elie Okobo, Cameron Johnson or Aron Baynes. But those guys are not as active on social media anyway. Also, Ty Jerome has posted recently but nothing to do with Orlando per se.
The Suns definitely had enough players for a full, hard practice so I am not suggesting several of those players are out. But at least two of them are. James Jones said that some players would join the Suns later this month after being cleared of COVID.
Let’s get back to focusing on the available players, including Deandre Ayton and Jevon Carter who Zoomed with media on Saturday and were as exhausted as Monty Williams thought they were.
“Today feels like the first day officially to be honest,” center Deandre Ayton told us. “We really competed. Although we’ve been going three days in a row, today it feels like we really went after it. I’m really tired, really sore now.”
Carter echoed Ayton’s statements.
“I was exhausted, running up and down, going hard like we did,” Carter said. “Just energized to be out there, wore myself out.”
After four months of quarantine and distancing, the players are thrilled to be back on the court in a real basketball setting.
None of the players had even shared the same court from March 11 until two days ago, on Thursday July 9. And it wasn’t until Saturday July 11 that they went full speed. In a normal offseason, players constantly play pickup games to stay in shape.
“I love it,” Ayton said. “I couldn’t wait. Finally get to put my energy into real basketball rather than 2K or Warzone.”
The Suns first intra-squad scrimmage with another bubble team occurs in 11 days, and their first official regular season game happens in 19 days against the Washington Wizards. That’s a fast ramp-up to an ultra-important 8-game sprint for playoff teams jockeying for seeding and Yacht Club teams wanting to force their way into the dance.