Yesterday, Bright Side covered the Phoenix Suns Media Day from top to bottom. Check our home page for all the interview transcriptions and get the mood of the day from my overall recap on the muted, deadpan tones, posted last night.
The GM, coach and players all looked like they’d rather be anywhere else than answering questions about Robert Sarver, the Game 7 blowout and the failed attempt to acquire Kevin Durant. It was like a nightmare for them, and they showed that feeling on their faces the whole day.
The hard part is over. Now they get to the easy part: competitive basketball.
The team had their first collective team meeting last night at 5:00pm, and today will be their first organized activities since that fated Game 7. Head coach Monty Williams said they would use that meeting to reset their focus.
“I think that will give us a boost,” he said, of starting team activities.
Williams and small forward Mikal Bridges, specifically, said the offseason was way too long for their liking.
“I had a really good summer,” Williams said. “Just a lot of family time, a lot of reflection. But it was longer than I wanted, and that bothered me from a professional standpoint.”
“I thought we had SO much time, I’m glad we’re back,” Bridges quipped.
And now they’re back.
The first practice begins at 10:00am today, with the first post-practice media availability at 12:45-ish.
And I fully expect we’ll see a whole different vibe from the Suns now that they’ve expended some energy with organized basketball. I expect Monty will be back to being Monty because he gets to talk about what he actually saw on the court. And the players will be back to being themselves as well.
Many of them have been in the gym together for weeks, some for months, so the level of competition should be high.
“I like our team. I’ve been with these guys for weeks,” Williams said. (Note: Coaches can observe the players, but cannot officially run practices or coach them until today). “We’ve had more guys in our gym this summer than any time since I’ve been here.”
Players who specifically talked on Media Day about having been in the gym for pickup games and workouts together for weeks include starters Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton, backups Cameron Johnson, Cam Payne and Dario Saric (before Eurobasket) and all the newly signed third stringers who are trying to get acclimated to the team, including Josh Okogie, Damion Lee, Duane Washington and Jock Landale.
I would guess others were there too. The only player who for sure has not been in the Suns gym since the end of the season is Jae Crowder, according to Mikal Bridges.
“We’ll find it,” Bridges said confidently of getting their good energy back. “Being around this summer, being around the guys, every day is great vibes.”
Overall, there’s not one new player in the rotation at the start of training camp who hasn’t been with the Suns at least a year or several. If the Suns are going to improve this year, it’s got to come from these guys getting better. Monty Williams is counting on it.
“I think the improvement of guys that were already good is going to be something that we can hold on to and get excited about,” Williams said.
Let’s dive in.
“You’re going to see bodies that look a bit different,” Williams said on Monday. “This is the first normal summer that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
The first guy I noticed looking ‘different’ is Cam Johnson. He looks stronger than ever. Still skinny, of course. That will never change, but he’s bulked up and that can only help him and the Suns. If he can keep up his shooting and positional defense while also adding some better rebounding numbers, he could make us forget all about Jae Crowder.
Cam didn’t talk about himself much, but he’s clearly focused on doing whatever he can do to take hold of that power forward spot and not let it go. The Suns reportedly declined to promise Jae Crowder his starting position or even his finishing spot in the Suns lineup, and the only true other option on the roster is Cam Johnson.
Remember all the way back in 2020 when rookie Cam started at power forward for the Suns when erstwhile starter Kelly Oubre decided to sit out the Bubble? Cam made the most of that opportunity as the Suns went 8-0 with him as the starter. Now Cam is coming off career highs across the board, and appears ready to activate the twin powers with Mikal as the starting forwards.
For all the angst around Ayton for the past four years, up to and including his Shaq-like media day on Monday, it appears that Ayton is ready to make a leap. I don’t want to share his own comments, where he talks about ‘no more baby steps’ because he’s never been the best source of when he’s going to dominate or not.
So I’ll leave it to others.
Cam Johnson: “I’ve seen a lot of maturity and growth the last couple of years. His professional level has raised year to year. I know he’s focused. He’s been in the gym with us every day.” Cam described DA being the real life version of every kid’s 2K player. “His potential is unlimited.”
Mikal Bridges: “He looks great and he looks locked in, as you’ll see.”
Devin Booker: “I’m excited for him. I know that’s a weight lifted off his shoulders... now, he can just go out there and play and not have to think about it.”
Monty Williams: “I think there’s some wrinkles that we certainly are going to explore to try to take advantage of DA’s ability to score in the mid-range, taking threes from the top of the key, corner threes. Those are things that I’ve watched him work on this summer.”
James Jones: “Our focus is to help him continue to grow and to help him establish himself as an All-Star. Because if he does that for us, we’re a pretty good team and I think we’ll have a very, very bright future for years to come.”
Dude is already first-team All-NBA, signed a super-max extension to commit to the Suns for the next six years, and became the cover athlete of NBA 2K23, but he’s not satisfied.
“I’m just going to keep working forward,” Booker said. “Like I said, unfinished business (falling short of a championship). I’m going to be on the grind throughout my whole career, throughout my whole life. It feels like just the start for me.”
“This NBA doesn’t remember what you did last year. So it’s the next year mentality. We still have work to do,” he said.
All the new guys
Monty Williams on what’s different in this training camp, on the floor: Here’s his comments, in bullet form for readability
- The possibilities of getting (backup forward) Dario (Saric) in a role, maybe a different role.
- Having (backup center) [Bismack Biyombo] back.
- (Backup forward) Jock (Landale) is somebody that has been a player that’s got our coaches really excited. And when I watch him play, I can see his ability and how he could help us this year.
- And (backup wing) Damion (Lee) is just a player that any team around the league would want to have on their squad.
- And (backup guard) Josh (Okogie)
- and then we have guys like (backup guard) Duane (Washington Jr.) who’s been in our gym for a couple of months. I was surprised that we could even get a guy like him.
So we got a bunch of new guys, but we have guys that I feel like are going to give me some tough decisions to make. We’ll see how it all plays out.”
Later in the day, Okogie mentioned that he’s already developed some defensive havoc-wreaking with fellow long-armed forward Bridges, saying they could have some fun being shut-down defenders on the wing in a lineup together.
I wonder what Monty Williams means when he says ‘maybe a different role’ for Dario Saric. Could he be considering Saric for some of Jae’s forward minutes, playing alongside Ayton or Biyombo? Maybe. That would be interesting. Dario can stretch the floor the way Jae could, but he doesn’t have the defensive switchability to take on a multitude of different player sizes. He’s basically limited to paint defense and slow-footers. Maybe the Suns feel like Ayton and Biz can take on the perimeter switching while Dario mans the paint? We shall see.
You’ll get some fresh quotes from coach and players this afternoon, after their first practice of camp.
Of note: At this moment, we think everyone’s healthy and playing without restriction. But it’s not till this day that we hear otherwise. Keep an eye out for any comments on that front.