Suns Media Day: Marcin Gortat Ready For Action

The NBA lockout is over and the Phoenix Suns are assembling their roster and preparing for the shortened season.

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Marcin Gortat Ready To Unleash His Own 'Dream Shake'

Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat had an interesting offseason. He originally tried to play for his national team in the 2011 Eurobasket Tournament but was unable to compete for Poland due to insurance issues. He later came close to signing with a team in Turkey just weeks before the NBA lockout ended. But before the lockout even began, the Phoenix Suns sent Marcin to spend some quality time with Hakeem Olajuwon to work on his low post game.

Gortat said that Hakeem had 100's of moves and that he managed to pick up a "couple of them". He hopes to use some of that improve skill this season, "We're going to have 66 games in the season so hopefully I'm going to be able to show what I can do."

The focus for Marcin, however, remains his defense and rebounding. Physically, he wants to get stronger in his lower back and continue to rely on what's made him successful so far -- heart and determination.

When Gortat arrived in Phoenix he fell into the rotation behind Robin Lopez but by the end of the year, he had secured both the starting job and the majority of the minutes. Lopez, who's been widely praised for his offseason improvement, sounds like he's going to battle Gortat for floor time.

"He's definitely better right now," Gortat said of his fellow center. "Physically, he get stronger. He got more confidence. He kind of hungry of playing. He wants to have the ball in his hands. It's good. It's going to help us. We're going to compete for the job and I'm looking forward (to it)."

Gortat prides himself on defense and was outspoken at times last season when the Suns weren't getting it done on that end of the floor. We've heard a lot this training camp about the renewed commitment to get stops but we've also heard coach Alvin Gentry temper expectations, especially for early in the season.

One reason to be patient is the changes the team is making with their defensive scheme with the arrival of new "defensive coordinator", Elston Turner

From the defensive stand point, Gortat said this feels like his third NBA team due to the changes, "Obviously, Orlando first. Last year (with the Suns) second. And this year, everything is totally different. We'll see how it works during this season. I believe those changes are good for us. There's a lot of new rotations. I'm kind of familiar with everything we do because we had similar in Orlando, but end of the day, the results will show if we are better or not."

The Arizona Cardinals went through a very similar process this year. They hired hired a new defensive coordinator (Ray Horton) and also lost a lot of offseason prep time due to a lockout. The Cardinals defense struggled early in the season but by Week 9 of the NFL season, Arizona emerged as one of the better defenses in the league. Can the Suns do the same?

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Here's some video from media day, including Wil from Bright Side of the Sun who looks a bit too much like Marcin Gortat:


Phoenix Suns Update: Gentry Wants More Post Play, Sees Improvement From Lopez

The Phoenix Suns are one evening practice away from the end of their training camp and with the Wednesday night scrimmage in the books we are starting to get a better sense of what head coach Alvin Gentry wants to accomplish this season.

Improvement on defense is a well-known and chronicled focus area. Supporting that is the need to rebound on the defensive end and not turn that ball over. On offense, however, we got a glimpse of one possible change -- more post play from the bigs. Then again, we've heard that in training camp before as well.

This time, however, the Suns centers each spent time in Houston with Hakeem Olajuwon, who Gentry said had the best footwork of anyone who's played the game. 

"You can see some of it out here, especially with Robin (Lopez). I think he's done a good job," Gentry said when asked if he's seen any benefits the time with Hakeem. "Those guys seem a lot more comfortable catching in that mid-post area now and being able to make moves."

Gentry went on to explain his thinking about low post offense this season:

"I think we have to do that with all of our bigs. We've got to throw it in to Marcin (Gortat), we've got to throw it in to Channing (Frye), and we've got to throw it in to Robin (Lopez). That is one of the ways you get into a bonus situation and the only way that we can get our free throw percentage back up is that we get in the bonus a little bit earlier in the quarters."

Steve Nash also praised Lopez for how he's looked in camp, "I thought a lot of guys played well (in the scrimmage), the energy overall was good. I'm really happy with Robin (Lopez). I think Robin's taken a big step from last year. He looks physically great and he looks hungry. He's playing hard. I thought everyone had a pretty decent night."

Hakim Warrick at small forward?

Hakim Warrick could be squeezed out of the rotation at forward with Gortat and Lopez splitting time at center and Frye and possibly Markieff Morris playing the four (power forward). Warrick played quite a bit early in the season last year and proved to be a powerful pick and roll partner for Nash, but his rebounding and defensive issues due to his small frame make it difficult to play him extended minutes at the four.

This year, Gentry might try and use Warrick at small forward where he would have a size advantage and not be so easily pushed around by bigger players. A key to that is Warrick's ability to shoot from the perimeter.

So far in camp, Gentry said Hakim has shot the ball well. He went 5-7 from the field in Wednesday's scrimmage which he said is the result of being more comfortable with his role and the work he put in this offseason.

"One of the things we talked about is being able to stick him at three (small forward) a little bit so we're a really big team. We'll experiment with that a little bit," Gentry said.

It remains to be seen if Warrick will have the foot speed to defend the small forward position on a consistent basis. 

Markieff Morris update

Markieff Morris sat out Thursday's morning practice with a sore knee suffered when he banged into Ronnie Price on Tuesday. He was up shooting around after practice, however, and could go during the evening workout. 

Asked if this injury during camp would hurt his development, Gentry said, "We'll have to see the growing pains he goes through and see if he can get back from this quickly or is it just going to be a situation where it's going to be a slow process and we've just got to have the patience to understand that."

Gentry said it's hard to know how much Morris will contribute this season, "I don't think anyone knows. Obviously, that would be great if that would happen but if it didn't happen I don't see him as a failure. He's going to be a good player and it's just a matter of how quickly we can get him to that point."

"He's a Philly guy. I'm not sure if anybody is tough enough to ask him that," Gentry said when asked if Morris was having to carry bags and bring doughnuts as part of his rookie hazing.

Other scrimmage notes

Offensively, Gentry thought the Suns did some good things but there's growing pains defensively around being in the right place and "doing what we're supposed to do". The offense flowed well with good shots and unselfish play.

"I thought the effort was there though. Good effort and it's just a matter it becoming instinctive to us defensively. I love the effort, and like I said, as long as we play with that kind of effort we can correct all the other things," Gentry said.

The key takeaways for improvement will sound very familiar to Suns fans: Better defensive rebounding and limiting what Gentry calls "live turnovers" that lead to easy transition points.

"We've got to make sure we're not turning the ball over. That becomes really important because when we do, obviously it makes the field goal percentage go up dramatically when you're (giving up) layups," he said.

Right now, those turnovers can be explained by guys not having played together but some were just careless and unforced. 

Here's a Gentry quote about Wednesday's scrimmage that easily could have been lifted from most any time last season:

"We can't play 24 seconds of really good defense and then all of a sudden not complete the possession by giving the ball back and then have to play another 24 (seconds). That's what will get you in trouble."

Steve Nash skipped Thursday's morning practice with flu symptoms. Knowing Nash, this is not likely to be a case of "training camp flu". Lets just hope he didn't infect anyone else on the team (or media who spoke with him Wednesday night).

For all the latest AZ sports news, follow us on Twitter @SBNArizona and "Like" us on Facebook. For more Suns discussion, visit Bright Side of the Sun.

Here's a bonus video produced by Bright Side featuring new Suns guard, Sebastian Telfair:


Phoenix Suns Training Camp Scrimmage: Brown Delivers, Lopez And Warrick Shine

The Phoenix Suns held their intra-squad scrimmage on Wednesday night at the Grand Canyon University Arena in front of a select group of season ticket holders and students from GCU. The event was fully produced by the Suns Game Ops staff which meant plenty of music, videos, dancers and T-shirt tossing.

The game itself was what you might expect from a scrimmage. There were a few scripted plays and a lot of isolation. Steve Nash's team won 68-61 but mostly that was due to an early lead. The other team in the black jerseys were led by Shannon Brown (16 points, 7-15 FG) who who stood out.

"It felt good and I'm still getting used getting back to the old me where I feel like I can score the ball at any time without thinking about it or, 'I should have made that pass. I should have did this. I'm about to come out of the game.' or something like that. It just feels good. It's slowly but surely coming back," Brown said after the game.

Brown did take some flack for missing a wide-open dunk. He said he got in the air was thinking too much about which hand he was going to windmill the ball with. It's a problem we all struggle with at times.

Other stand outs included Robin Lopez (12 points, 6 rebounds) and Hakim Warrick ( 11 points). Warrick showed more confidence with his outside shot. He's always been a decent mid-range shooter but last season with the Suns was streaky. 

"It's something I've got to be more consistent," Warrick said about his shooting. "It's something I've been working on and (Wednesday) I really, really had it going. I'll continue to work on it, feel more confident with the system, knowing where to be and getting used to my teammates, knowing where I'm going to get my shots. I was able to go and work on that in the offseason and really got my confidence up."

Here's a few more breakdowns of the game:

Phoenix Suns Team Scrimmage Game Recap: Suns Win! - Bright Side Of The Sun
The match-ups tonight included the Black Team (Steve Nash, Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, Josh Childress, Marcus Landry, and Ronnie Price) verses the White Team (Grant Hill, Robin Lopez, Hakim Warrick, Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair, Garrett Siler, Dwight Buycks, and Jeremy Hazell).

The end result was a score of 68-61 (don't worry, it was only a 40 minute game) in which the black team won...but overall, we the fans were the real winners after finally getting to see our team back in live action again after a very long eight month hiatus!

And from a fantasy perspective...

Fantasy Basketball CP3 Analysis and Summary of Suns Scrimmage - FakeTeams
Phoenix Suns Intra-squad Scrimmage Notes Let's just attack this for each player:



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Mickael Pietrus Headed Back To Phoenix This Week But Won't Stay Long

Phoenix Suns fans have been wondering all week, "Where in the world is Mickael Pietrus?" Pietrus, you will recall was traded from the Suns to Toronto only to see the deal fall through after concerns about his knee came up during his physical with the Raptors. Since that happened on Saturday, we've not heard from the french swingman with the big smile -- until now.

According to his agent Bill McCandless, as reported by Wendell Maxey, Pietrus has been in Ottawa, Canada waiting on a visa to return to the United States. He's expected back with the Suns on Thursday where he can continue his rehab with the Suns training staff. 

But don't expect him to stay very long:

Over and Back: Mickael Pietrus Still On The Move After Failed Deal With Toronto Raptors 

"I think he is on the move. The idea is for Phoenix to trade him," continued McCandless, with Suns’ head coach Alvin Gentry having to juggle minutes for Grant Hill, Josh Childress, Jared Dudley and the newly signed Shannon Brown.

"That is Plan A. Lon, MP and I are partners in getting him ready so people are confident he will play 61 of the 66 games, rather than 49 of the 66 games this season. He thinks he can play. Players know their bodies."

McCandless remains optimistic that Pietrus will recover quickly and be ready to start playing by Christmas or the New Year. What remains to be seen is what uniform he will be wearing. It doesn't seem likely that it will be Purple and Orange.

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Phoenix Suns Welcome Ronnie Price For His Defense, His History Of 'Problems With Lakers' Can't Hurt Either

Late Monday night, Ronnie Price got word that he would be joining the Phoenix Suns. By 6:30 a.m. the next morning he was an airplane to Arizona. After taking his physical during the day, he was on the court with his new team for their evening practice session. Price was happy to be with his new team.

"I'm very thankful and fortunate that I have the opportunity to play for this organization and I'm looking forward to getting on the court and competing with these guys," Price said Tuesday evening.

After just one practice session, coach Alvin Gentry commented on the defensive intensity Price brings. He takes pride in his defense and enjoys checking both guard positions but what brought him to Phoenix over other options was the offensive style of play.

"This is a playing style that I've always wanted to be a part of. They really get up and down the floor and it's something that I wanted to do," Price said. 

According to the newest Suns' point guard, every NBA player that can play the game should have a chance to make things happen in this offense.

Price will join Sebastian Telfair in a rotation behind Steve Nash. GM Lance Blanks explained how the two guards each bring something different to the floor:

"Bassy (Sebastian Telfair) fits into what I would call more of a traditional role and style of point guard where he's going to run the offense. He handles the ball extremely well, he can find people in the open floor. When you look at Price, this is a guy who is extremely athletic, can get to the rim, and he's going to be able to guard people from baseline to baseline."

The combination of Telfair and Price will give Coach Gentry different options for different situations according to Blanks.

One thing Suns fans will appreciate from Price is his animosity towards the Los Angeles Lakers. Price spent four years with the Utah Jazz and in three of those years his team was eliminated from the playoffs by L.A.

"I made that very clear," Price said when asked about his lack of fondness of the Lakers. Then he looked around for his new teammate, Shannon Brown who played for the hated Lakers.

"So yeah, I've had some problems with the Lakers," Price added. "Probably most of my technical fouls have been against the Lakers but you know, it's all part of competition.  You want to beat the best and compete against the best. That's why I made those comments."

Suns camp notes:

Gentry said the team was still getting used to new pick and roll coverage schemes. The shooting is poor right now because the team is not basketball shape. That's typical for training camp.

Hakim Warrick and Robin Lopez were both singled out by Gentry for praise. In the portion of practice we watched, Warrick seemed energetic and was hitting outside shots. Lopez looked far more fluid and explosive than we saw last year. He also seemed more confident and relaxed on the court. It's just one practice but it will be interesting to see how he looks in Wednesday's intra-squad scrimmage as well.

Rookie Markieef Morris bumped knees with Price and sat out a portion of practice. Gentry said he never missed a practice in during his time in Kansas. "I think it scared him more than anything...He seemed to be OK. I'm sure it's going to be a little sore."

Josh Childress jammed a finger nail back in to the nail bed. He came off the floor, had it taped and finished practice. Here's a picture he tweeted out of the finger.

Unlike other wing players who've come to the Suns, Shannon Brown doesn't seem to be shy about shooting the ball according to his coach.

Here's video of Alvin Gentry talking to the media after practice.


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Phoenix Suns Training Camp: Rookie Markieff Morris Has NBA Range; Gentry Walking A Fine Line

The Phoenix Suns are on their fourth day of training camp. They are working hard with two-a-days and doing everything they can to prepare for the season. Like every other team in the league, the NBA lockout cut into the normal preparation time but the Suns are dealing with that.

One challenge the coaching and training staff is facing with the abbreviated preseason is finding the balance between pushing the players to get into basketball shape but not pushing too hard.

"There's a fine line between going a little bit overboard and having a set back and slowly but surely making sure you're in better shape," Coach Alvin Gentry explained.

He stressed that the Suns have a good group of guys that came back in "pretty good shape anyway".

As Gentry said, the Suns have one of the best training staffs in the league (he actually said they are by far the best) and so they will certainly do everything possible to keep the players healthy and get them prepared for play.

Team scrimmage 

The Suns typically hold an intra-squad scrimmage at the end of training camp that is open to the public. It's a training session but also is a bit of fun. This year with less time available the scrimmage will take on a slightly different role.

"We don't have that luxury really to pick a team and have a scrimmage. We've got to try and see if we can get some work out of it and see if we can see some things that might be beneficial to us when we go to Denver and play the first preseason game," Gentry said.

The scrimmage, which is closed to the public this year, will be held Wednesday evening and will have 10 minute quarters with seven or eight players on each team. 

Instead of having a "draft" with an assistant coaching running each side, one team will be made up of guys projected to start and be in the rotation going against the rest of the training camp roster. Assistant coaches Dan Majerle and Igor Kokoskov will each coach one team while Gentry and new assistant, Elston Turner, will observe all the action.

Turner was added to the coaching staff to help bolster the Suns defense. Gentry stressed that while he expects the team to get better on defense this year, it's not something that's going to happen overnight. "I think you're going to see progress as the season goes on."

Rookie Markieff Morris

Suns rookie Markieff Morris is making progress and adjusting to life in the NBA. He said the practices are more intense than college but also there's more teaching here.

Morris said the schemes and rotations are more complicated than he's used to but he's working his way through that. At Kansas, the bigs played more inside on defense but here he'll be asked to play on the perimeter more and defend guards on switches. The Suns drafted Morris in part because of his mobility and effectiveness in that area.

Offensively, he's spacing the floor more than playing in the low post when partnered with with centers Robin Lopez or Marcin Gortat but he is down low when on the court with Channing Frye. That versatility and ability to play both inside and outside also makes him a valuable player.

Asked if he had range from the NBA three-point line, Morris said, "Definitely. It's really deep but once I get a lot more reps up, I'll be comfortable with it."

Morris is close to his twin brother Marcus who was drafted by the Houston Rockets and this will be the first time they are not on the same team. That's not a bad thing, though, "I need this time to find myself and find my game so I think it's best for us."

For more on the Phoenix Suns, visit Bright Side of the Sun blog.

For all the latest AZ sports news, follow us on Twitter @SBNArizona and "Like" us on Facebook. 


Ronnie Price Signed By Phoenix Suns, Adds Defense And Hops

The Phoenix Suns will reportedly add veteran backup guard Ronnie Price to the team according to Hoops World. Price is said to be signing a one-year deal with the Suns as soon as Tuesday afternoon. 

UPDATE: The Phoenix Suns officially announced signing Price at about 11:00 a.m. Tuesday.

Ronnie Price is a 6-2 combo guard who played the last four years with the Utah Jazz as the backup to Deron Wiilliams. He's known for being athletic and a strong, aggressive defender but his point guard and shooting skills are limited according to ESPN's player profile:

Ronnie Price Hollinger Stats - ESPN
Price also had the worst shooting percentage among point guards at a ghastly 35.2 percent, and the worst true shooting percentage too. Needless to say, his PER was the worst at the position and very nearly the worst in the league...

Defensively, Price had his moments. He pressures the ball, can guard bigger players and is very athletic...

The signing of Price replaces backup guard Zabian Dowdell who was waived by the Suns Tuesday morning. Dowdell spent most of last season on the roster as the third point guard and is also known for his defense but is perhaps more of a "pure point" than Price when it comes to running the offense. 

Dowdell missed the start of Suns' training camp with a knee injury which seems to have come at a very bad time for him.

Price, 28, was undrafted out of Utah Valley State College and got his first NBA contract from the Sacramento Kings. He played for the Kings for two years before spending the next four with the Jazz. He recently told the media in Salt Lake City that he wanted to stay in Utah but they apparently were ready for a change.

He was described by the the Salt Lake Tribune as being, "Well-liked by his longtime friends and former teammates, a quiet-but-strong leader in the locker room, and a proven commodity on the hardwood..."

Price is a career 30 percent three-point shooter who averaged 3.6 points and 1.3 assists in six years as an NBA pro.

Price would compete for minutes with Sebastian Telfair. Telfair would seem to be more of a pure point who can push the ball and run the offense while Price is bigger, more athletic and a better defender. The combination of the two would give the Suns options behind Steve Nash depending on match-ups. 

Price would bring more athleticism and NBA experience, including 28 playoff games, than Dowdell.

Here's a scouting report on Price from SB Nation's Utah Jazz blog, SLC Dunk:

Let's start with the down side. Ronnie Price is a phenomenal athletic talent that happens to play basketball. You'll probably be frustrated with his decisions and play. He had one of the worst PERs in the league last season with players over 700 minutes. You'll have one to two highlights per game surrounded by some otherwise lackluster play.

However, he will be an instant fan favorite. He's a self-proclaimed Laker-hater. He was one of the only Jazz players that made a difference in the playoffs against the Lakers the past few seasons. In fact, Jerry Sloan admitted later that he should have played Price more. You'll never question his dedication or effort on the floor. He's a fantastic person off the court as well and will be great in the locker room.

I don't think he's as bad as last year's stats would indicate. He was injured for most of the second half of the season but has been reliable in the past. He's been played at the PG spot and at the SG, neither of which is ideal for him. I think he can have a bounce back year and be more in line with his career averages.

Here's a look at Price's athleticism:



Phoenix Suns Training Camp: Jared Dudley Vs. Shannon Brown, Let The Best Dunker Win

The Phoenix Suns will enter the 2011-12 NBA season with a fairly predictable starting lineup and depth chart. Four out of the five positions should be a given with Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat the heavy favorites. The one big question mark comes at shooting guard with Jared Dudley and newly acquired Shannon Brown battling it out for a spot.

As the incumbent with the bigger contract Dudley should have the edge. But as he says, you have to earn your spot on the floor.

"For me, you never want anything given to you. You have to work for it," said Jared after practice.

"How I feel is the best person should always play. Sometimes in the NBA it's not like that. There's a lot of politics, a lot of money. People are overpaid or get favored over you. If he deserves to start, he should start." 

Shannon Brown brings a different type of game to the Suns back court than Dudley who at one point was considered a power forward.

Brown is one of the best athletes in the league with a reported 44-inch vertical and a long resume of YouTube dunks to his name. According to Coach Alvin Gentry, he also brings toughness and has the potential to be a good back court defender who should be able to handle both speedy points and bigger shooting guards.

Brown, 25, is coming off three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers where he won two championship rings. He took a one-year deal to come to the Suns in large part because of the style of play.

"Coach Gentry lets his guys play," Brown said. "He doesn't focus on what you can't do, he tries to let you maximize what you can do out there on the court and that's what I'm here to do, to help the team win."

Shannon started last season shooting extremely well and seemed to show flashes of being a better all-around player. He tailed off after the New Year, however, but he has an explanation for that:

"I just turned into a jump shooter. I guess I was so stuck on proving, trying to prove to everybody that I wasn't just a dunker and just an athlete so when my shot wasn't falling I just stuck with it instead of becoming a basketball player. Nothing happened (injury, etc.), I just turned into a jump shooter instead of a basketball player."

The Suns system and Gentry's coaching style should benefit Brown. He'll be encouraged to be aggressive whether he's playing with Steve Nash and the starting unit or off the bench where he can provide a scoring punch.

Dudley has also played well in both a starting and bench role during his time in Phoenix and whichever direction Gentry goes, he's certainly going do what's asked of him.

But that doesn't mean Jared doesn't want the starting job:

"At the end of the day, I believe I'm the right guy to start but it's not about what I believe, it's about when you go out there and play. Obviously, I played well last year at the starting spot and I played well off the bench. I'm someone who's going to be here for awhile. But for me, just personally as an individual, I feel like unless it's an All-Star type player or someone who deserves a spot like J-Rich (Jason Richardson) who's not an All-Star player but is more deserving then you give it to him."

Should the decision between the former Charlotte Bobcat teammates come down to a dunk contest, Brown would seem to have the edge but Dudley wasn't ready to concede that either.

"I think it's going to be about 25-20, me," Jared said when asked who would have more dunks this year.

Other quotes:

  • "It was good to get out here and smell the court, run, sweat. That's what everybody wanted to do. Everybody wanted to get back. Now the next step is for us to get back in here, chemistry, get off to a good start and get back to the playoffs." -- Jared Dudley
  • "He brings athleticism, he brings a spark. He's obviously someone who can get the fans excited. You've got to have those high-flyers just for fans sake, just to change the momentum sometimes." ---Jared Dudley
  • "Chemistry is big coming off a bad season with a lot of question marks. Grant, Steve -- another year's tacked on to their career so for us, chemistry is crucial." -- Jared Dudley
  • "I'm loving it so far. All my teammates, fans, great owner, everybody's great, so I'm just ready to get out there and play." -- Shannon Brown
  • "I do have two championship rings so I was part of that. Hopefully, I can bring some of that and some of that can rub off on the guys." -- Shanon Brown
  • "I worked on my game so I can become a great basketball player so whatever they ask me to do, whatever they need me to do I'm going to step in and do it." -- Shannon Brown
  • "You definitely need to keep your eyes open and focus on him (Nash) when he has the ball because it can come to you at any time." -- Shannon Brown

In 15 games as a starter last season, Dudley averaged 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Brown, playing behind Kobe Bryant, didn't start any games last year. He averaged 8.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in 19 minutes off the bench.


Phoenix Suns Training Camp Opens With Nine Players, Dowdell Out With Injury

The Phoenix Suns opened their 2011-12 training camp Saturday night at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, AZ. Due technical and timing issues related to the waiver of Vince Carter, the team was only able to field nine players for their first workout but according to Coach Alvin Gentry, it was good just to be back out on the floor.

"We had a good workout, got some things done," Gentry said.

Not available were free agents Grant Hill and Sebastian Telfair along with camp invitees, Marcus Landry, Jeremy Hazell and Dwight Buycks. Those players are expected to be available to begin practice with the team Sunday evening.

Also not practicing was backup point guard Zabian Dowdell who was out with a knee injury. It's not yet known how serious the injury is, but it would be unfortunate if he missed too much time as Dowdell is expected to compete with Telfair for the job backing up Steve Nash.

Gentry said the focus for the first workout was running and "doing it on every play". With the limited time to prepare for the season that's going to include more games per week than a typical year, Gentry stressed the need to be careful with conditioning during camp and yet still do enough to get in basketball shape.

"You have to be a little be careful right now thinking you can get everything done in 16 days," the Suns' coach said.

The plan is to cut back on some of the things that would put in offensively but put more time into defense during this abbreviated preseason. According to Gentry, the Suns don't run a complicated system so the new guys should adjust quickly. 

The team is staying at a hotel and practicing at Grand Canyon University instead of working out at the practice facility at US Airways Center. The thinking is that the time away from families and the change of scenery will give the team time to bond and focus.

While several key players were missing from the first practice, new addition Shannon Brown was available. The 6-4 guard was described by his new coach as an "athletic guy" who can bring toughness and be a good defensive player.

"I'm loving it so far," Brown said. "All my teammates, fans, great owner, everybody's great, so I'm just ready to get out there and play."

Brown is expected to compete for a starting job with Jared Dudley.


NBA Free Agency Wacky Times Recap: Chris Paul, Dwight Howard And Derron Williams Still In Play

We all expected the 2011 NBA Free Agency to be a bit crazy with the lockout forcing a condensed time frame and three big names potentially in play. No one, however, could have predicted what's gone on so far and those three big names (Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams) could all still be available and moving soon.

Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise, but the three wealthiest teams in the NBA have made the biggest moves so far. Here's a quick recap of where things stand. For more details check out the SB Nation NBA Free Agency Hub for all the latest news and rumors.

We'll start with the New York Knicks who used the new amnesty provision to jettison Chauncey Billups (who's very unhappy) and dumped some other salary so they could do a sign-and-trade with the Dallas Mavericks to get Tyson Chandler. Chandler will give Amare Stoudemire a big who can protect the paint and do the dirty work inside and, along with Carmelo Anthony, gives the Knicks one of the strongest front courts in the league.

The Mavericks received a trade exception in the deal that they quickly used to acquire Lamar Odom from the Los Angeles Lakers. They sent a future first round pick to the Lakers but that pick is highly protected and therefore has much less value. 

Most feel the move clears room for the Lakers to now make a run at Dwight Howard who has told the Orlando that he wants to be the New Jersey Nets. If the Lakers do land Howard, he would join a seemingly endless line of superstar centers who've played for the Lakers. 

Deron Williams is sitting in New Jersey essentially as bait for Howard to pick the Nets as his destination. If Howard, however, ends up in Los Angeles then some believe he will be open to moving to his hometown Mavericks who would have the cap space and trade pieces to get him from New Jersey. 

Oh, and Chris Paul....twice the NBA nixed deals sending him to the Lakers which has prompted a law suit threat from Paul's camp. The Clippers are now thought to be the leading suitor for his talents but the Golden State Warriors probably haven't given up on him yet. 

The Houston Rockets were a big player in the Chris Paul deal (they would have gotten Pau Gasol and sent Luis Scola and Kevin Martin and other parts to the Hornets). Now they will probably go after a free agent big man, either Nene or Samuel Dalembert

Meanwhile, at home, the Phoenix Suns waived Vince Carter and Gani Lawal. Carter is supposedly going to sign with the Mavericks while Lawal is waiting to find a new home. Shannon Brown has been officially signed and Sebastian Telfair's deal should be done very soon.

Crazy times in the NBA and it's far from over.


NBA Free Agency News: Suns Waive Vet Vince Carter, 'Rookie' Gani Lawal

The Phoenix Suns made two roster moves on Friday, the first official day of the NBA free agency period according to this report in the Arizona Republic.. One move was expected and the other isn't all that surprising in retrospect. The first move, was waiving veteran guard Vince Carter. The second was waiving "rookie" Gani Lawal.

Lawal isn't technically a rookie since he was drafted in the 2010 class (46th overall) but he played just two minutes with the Suns last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury in January. Lawal, a 6-9 power forward / center out of Georgia Tech, worked hard and got himself back on the court with a team in Poland during the lockout.

Gani averaged 30 minutes in 10 games and put up big numbers in the Polish League. He averaged 11.7 rebounds and 16.5 points per game, shooting 63% from the field. If nothing else, the overseas stint proved he is fully recovered from the torn ACL and was an opportunity for him to showcase and develop his game.

The Suns were loaded in the front court with Marcin Gortat, Robin Lopez, Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick and this year's lottery pick, Markieff Morris. The writing was on the wall for Lawal when the Suns drafted Morris at the same position. The two players have a lot of overlap in what they provide but Morris is considered a more polished offensive player with more range.

By cutting Lawal on Friday, the Suns avoid having his contract become guaranteed by making the training camp roster. Lawal should have time and plenty of opportunities to get on with another team looking for a high-character, athletic, tough-minded forward off the bench.

Carter, of course, has had a long and interesting NBA career. He came to the Suns in the trade with Orlando last year and was almost certainly destined to be waived. If the Suns didn't cut him, Vince would have been due $18 million for this season. The waiver comes with a $4 million prices tag. It's not yet clear if Carter, 34, will hang it up or if he will sign with a team looking for some bench scoring from the wing position.

Carter averaged 13.5 points per game with the Suns last season. He played in 51 games, starting 41 of them.

For more on the Suns, visit Bright Side of the Sun. For more on all the NBA free agency news, visit SB Nation's hub page.


NBA Free Agency: Grant Hill To Keep His Talents In Phoenix

After several tense days of "will he or won't he", free agent Grant Hill has reportedly decided to keep his talents in Phoenix where he will be a Sun for another season. Arizona Republic's Paul Coro reports that Hill will accept a one-year deal worth $6.5 million from the Suns. blogs - Coro's Orange Slices - PaulCoro - Grant Hill will re-sign with Phoenix
The Spurs offered him two years and the Clippers offered him more money but the Knicks' and Bulls' one-year offers were tempting because of the quality of teams and Hill's relationship with Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni.

Grant Hill was reported to have considered a variety of other teams that were all interested in his considerable remaining talents. The Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Clippers were all at point or another said to be trying to land the 39-year-old Duke basketball legend.

This deal was a priority for the Suns who appear to want to try and compete for a playoff spot this season with a veteran core of Nash and Hill and then have significant cap space in 2012 to go after a new batch of players. Both Nash and Hill come off the books after this season which could give the Suns as much as $30m in cap space to use next summer, although it's not clear what big name players will be available.

For more on the Suns, visit Bright Side of the Sun. For more on all the NBA free agency news, visit SB Nation's hub page.


NBA Rumors: Suns Sending Mickael Pietrus To Toronto Raptors

Welcome to the first official day of the NBA season. The new CBA has been signed and the league has wasted no time asserting it's authority with Thursday night's nixing of the Chris Paul deal. Superstars make the big noise, but there's plenty more "regular" business to be done and one example is a report from France that the Phoenix Suns are sending swingman Mickael Pietrus to the Toronto RaptorsAccording to the Toronto Star, the deal returns a conditional second round pick to Phoenix.

This comes as no surprise from the Suns' side. Pietrus had limited success in Phoenix and with a reported price tag of $5.3 million this season wasn't likely to provide value to the Suns. The Raptors appear to have room under the salary cap to absorb Pietrus' contract without having to send back matching salaries. 

Pietrus came to the Suns in December 2010 in the trade that sent Jason Richardson, Earl Clark and Hedo Turkoglu to the Orlando Magic in return for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Pietrus. Mickael in 38 games for the Suns where he averaged 7.4 points per game.

With the reported addition of guard Shannon Brown, along with swingmen Jared Dudley and Josh Childress under contract and the possible return of small forward Grant Hill, there was little room for Pietrus on the roster. The eight-year vet is known for being an athletic defender but also has shown the propensity for erratic shot selection. 

Pietrus finished last season on the bench with a leg injury and then had knee surgery in the offseason that kept him off the French National Team. He's been listed as one guy the Suns could waive using the new amnesty clause so a trade, even one that doesn't bring anything back, would benefit Phoenix. 

In deals like this, a "conditional second round pick" is only included to make the deal work under the rules. Often, the conditions are set such that the receiving team never receives the pick. It's not clear at this point if the Suns will get a usual draft pick in this deal.

The Suns may also get a "Traded Player Exception" they can use in future trades to help acquire other players. It is not clear, however, that Phoenix will get a TPE in this case and if so, how big it would be.

The trade is reported to be contingent on Pietrus passing a physical with the Raptors. The Phoenix Suns have not yet responded to a request for confirmation of the deal.

[UPDATE by Seth Pollack, 12/09/11 11:15 AM MST ]

More details emerge via Paul Coro at the Arizona Republic: blogs - Coro's Orange Slices - PaulCoro - Pietrus trade, Carter waiver expected today
The Suns also would have to send about $1 million to Toronto for the Raptors to take on Pietrus' $5.3 million salary in the last year of his contract. It is possible the Suns would never receive the Toronto pick because of the conditions placed on it.


NBA Rumors: Grant Hill Down To Spurs Or Suns

Grant Hill is one of the more talented veterans currently available through free agency and the 39-year old is reportedly getting closer to signing with a team. While Hill has been linked to various clubs around the league, this report from J.A. Adande indicates it is a two-team race right now:

Free agent Grant Hill is expected to choose a team this afternoon, according to a league source. The source said Hill will decide between the team where he has played the past four years, the Phoenix Suns, and a newly emerged contender: the San Antonio Spurs.

One thing the source ruled out: "It won't be New York."

The deciding factor in the negotiations could be the length of a contract the Suns and Spurs are willing to offer. According to the report, Phoenix is unwilling to give Hill a two-year deal, while the Spurs have recently indicated they will indeed give the veteran forward the second year he desires. Should San Antonio sign Hill, many believe the team will waive Richard Jefferson, who is owed $30 million dollars in the next three years.

Hill spoke with Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic about the situation:

"It has not been an easy thing," Hill said of negotiations, which have included meetings with Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby, his former agent, in each of the past two days. "I've got to make sure I'm comfortable with whatever decision it may be. I'm not comfortable right now."

The Suns have reportedly offered Hill a one-year deal worth $5.5 million while the Spurs were offering a two-year deal of an unknown amount and the Clippers offered $8 million before they went a different direction and agreed to a deal with Caron Butler. It's not clear what the Bulls or Knicks are able to offer.

Regardless of which team Hill signs with, fans can expect the deal to be completed in the very near future with training camp beginning this weekend.

For more on Phoenix, head on over to Bright Side Of The Sun.


Shannon Brown To Bring Big Dunks To Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns have (reportedly) come to terms with former Laker guard, Shannon Brown. The deal is reported to be for one year and $3.5 million. Brown is an extremely athletic 6-4 combo guard who has five years experience in the NBA.

Here's the quickly evolving sequence of reports on Brown:

Twitter / @Chris_Broussard: 
Shannon Brown in serious talks with Phoenix, says Brown's agent Mark Bartelstein. Not done yet but close. Likely tomorrow.

Twitter / @WojYahooNBA: 
Shannon Brown will sign a one year, $3.5 million deal with the Suns, league sources tell Y! Sports.

Twitter / @paulcoro: 
The Suns will sign guard Shannon Brown to a one-year, $3.5M contract, as @WojYahooNBA has reported. He will join the Suns tomorrow

Brown was the 25th overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2006 out of Michigan State. He bounced around in trades from the Cavs to the Bulls to the Bobcats before eventually landing with the Lakers in 2009. Current Suns GM Lance Blanks was part of the Cavs front office that evaluated and drafted Brown.

Brown is a career 34 percent shooter from behind the arc and 42.3 percent from two. As was discussed on the first episode of Sunscast podcast, Shannon started to show flashes of turning into a more well-rounded basketball player early last year with the Lakers but then regressed back to being a player who made poor decisions on the court.

At 25, he has the opportunity to come to Phoenix and continue working on his game. The deal is good for the Suns since it both fills the need for wing scoring and athleticism without tying up a lot of salary or impacting the teams plans for 2012. It's a good opportunity for Brown to play in a different system with a distributor like Nash who tends to make his teammates a lot better.

We'll see if Brown can continue the process of becoming a better basketball player and earn himself a better contract next year. In the mean time, he will be good for several big dunks like these:

For more on the Suns, visit Bright Side of the Sun.


NBA Rumors: Grant Hill To Knicks (Or Not); Telfair To Phoenix Suns (Maybe)

It took a few days longer than anticipated, but we are finally seeing the massive NBA rumor machine starting to crank up. The early focus has been on the stars, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, and the star teams, the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. But now, finally, the real business of free agency is getting going with teams able to actually make deals starting Friday and training camps starting this weekend. 

Phoenix Suns' hero Grant Hill is getting plenty of attention and perhaps more than any other 39-year-old free agent in recent history. He's certainly proved his value to the NBA over the last few years with the Suns where's not only remained healthy (missing just three games in the last three years) but he also proved he can be a lockdown defender at an age where most players have moved on to other endeavors. 

Hill also has an extremely valuable skill that doesn't show up on fantasy sports balance sheets: Veteran leadership. Teams like the New York Knicks or Chicago Bulls could certainly stand an upgrade in that area.

Hill, according to the NY Post, is reportedly on the "verge" of signing with the Knicks but as is often the case with reports from the New York Post, there's also contradictory information from other reliable reporters.

SI's Sam Amick reports that Hill has not made a decision and is not close to an agreement with any team but his short list includes Phoenix, Chicago, New York and San Antonio. Grant's a smart guy and will likely sit back and watch how things unfold before making the best decision for his situation.

The Arizona Republic's Paul Coro also reports that there's "continued optimism" that Hill will stay in Phoenix. Coro also reports the Suns are close to landing backup point guard Sebastian Telfair.

Phoenix Suns close to contract with guard Sebastian Telfair
"We are moving closer," Telfair's agent, Andy Miller, said Wednesday night. "I anticipate us being able to put something together on Friday. We're having advanced dialogue."

Telfair, cousin of former Suns' guard Stephon Marbury, would add needed depth behind an aging Steve Nash who missed seven games last season. Telfair has bounced around the league since being drafted out of high school by Portland in 2004. He's not a flashy addition but fills a need on the roster at a position that doesn't have a lot of free agent options which year.

For more Suns discussion, visit Bright Side of the Sun.


NBA Rumors: Suns And Jamal Crawford Talking; Phoenix Schedule Leaked

The Phoenix Suns, like the rest of the NBA, are still a few days away from the official start of the free agency period. According to multiple reports, the players will begin voting on the new CBA on Wednesday and barring any complications the lockout will finally and fully end on December 9. In the mean time, teams have been permitted to talk to players and agents about potential free agent deals and with that comes the inevitable rumors.

The Suns, as expected, made Grant Hill their top free agent priority. Hill has expressed a desire to remain in Phoenix but according to a report in Sports Illustrated, he still has other teams on his mind including the Knicks, Bulls, Spurs, Warriors, Celtics and Clippers.

Phoenix has also been linked in the same report to 31-year-old combo guard, Jamal Crawford. With restricted free agent Aaron Brooks stuck in China until February or March, the Suns have an obvious need at the point guard position backing up Steve Nash and providing points off the bench.

Crawford is said to have narrowed his list of desired teams, in order, to New Orleans, Phoenix, Chicago, Atlanta, New Jersey, and Indianapolis.

It's not clear how much Crawford would demand in his next contract or what teams will be willing to pay. Crawford last signed a seven-year, $56m deal in 2004 with the Bulls. He's since played in Chicago, New York, Golden State, and Atlanta. He's known as a dynamic scoring guard with a limited defensive reputation.

The Arizona Republic has obtained an early copy of the NBA schedule for the Phoenix Suns. The schedule is set to be officially announced by the league on Tuesday evening.

The leaked version has the Suns opening their season at home on December 26 against the New Orleans Hornets followed by a visit from the Philadelphia 76ers on the 28th. 

With the compressed 66-game schedule this season, not every team will get a chance to host every other team. For the Suns, that reportedly means the league's biggest stars from the Eastern Conference won't be coming to town. Miami, Chicago, Boston, Orlando, New York and Indiana will all avoid a trip to Phoenix.

Stars like LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Amare Stoudemire will not visit US Airways Center this season which deprives Phoenix basketball fans and certainly doesn't help ticket sales for the team.

We have to wonder if 10 of 12 Eastern Conference All-Stars and all the biggest names being left of the Suns home schedule is mere coincidence or if the notoriously imperial commissioner, David Stern, is exacting some measure of revenge on the team or its owner for some slight.

For more on the Phoenix Suns, visit Bright Side of the Sun.


Robin Lopez, Happy And Healthy, Back In Phoenix With Suns

The assembled media unquestionably agreed the interview Robin Lopez gave on Thursday was the longest, happiest and most memorable in his time with the Phoenix Suns. Lopez, along with teammates Steve Nash and Zabian Dowdell, were back at the Suns facilities for the first time since the end of the NBA Lockout.

Needless to say, the fourth-year center isn't known for being "media friendly" and in the past has been downright gruff. A very different Robin Lopez talked about how he used the extended time off to refresh both mentally and physically.

Robin reports an increase in his lift and being quicker and "bouncier" than he was at the end of last season when he was hampered by lingering effects of his March 2010 back injury.

At the same time, Robin acknowledged his poor play last season and didn't put it all on his health.

"For the first time in a while, I'm hoping that I can contribute to a pretty good front line out here," Lopez said. "Obviously, we've got Marcin (Gortat) and I'm hoping I can contribute what I failed to contribute last year."

Robin, along with his brother Brook Lopez of the New Jersey Nets, went to Houston to work on post moves with Hakeem Olajuwon. The Suns paid to send centers Marcin Gortat and Garret Siler to work with Hakeem in June but Robin and Brook paid their own fare to learn from the master.

Lopez said he focused on a few moves but mostly wants to try and get back in the mentality of being more aggressive defensively and on the glass.

We saw over a few months in 2010 how good Robin Lopez can be when healthy and properly engaged and motivated. He possesses a rare combination of size and athleticism and has decent offensive skills facing the basket.

It will be very interesting to see if a new mentality and more time to recover his agility and lift will translate to improved rebounding and better all around play.

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