HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — With the Steve Nash era over and no sign of a Valley of the Sun-themed version of the Big 3 on the horizon, fans of the Phoenix Suns are bracing themselves for a rebuilding project that could be as painstaking a process as they have witnessed in years.
It’s a fact of life for fans of basically every franchise in the NBA (save for the Lakers), and a reality that the Suns organization is tackling in a somewhat unconventional and rather refreshing way.
Instead of scrambling for a quick fix or looking for some superstar to rescue them, the Suns are focusing their attentions within their program and going about the business of trying to build a playoff contender from the inside. They are making player development the staples of their operation, with 17-year NBA veteran Lindsey Hunter leading the charge as the coach in charge of helping develop homegrown talent.
Hunter began working out players this month with more individualized plans to come in September, when voluntary sessions begin.
“We’re trying to put together a system where we’re no longer looking for outside influences to create a better product,” Hunter said. “We want to do it right from the interior. A lot of people say, ‘You got to go get better players,’ which is true. But you have to make what you have better and we’re serious about it now.”
The Suns intend to hire a young former NBA big man and make the staff available to players “24-7,” General Manager Lance Blanks said.
“This is really important to me,” Blanks said. “It’s not something that was needed. What the organization was doing worked. It won at a very high level. Different personnel and situation. This will create a lot of continuity between front office, coaches and training staff.”
Mark West, the Suns’ vice president of player programs, will be used more — and that is long overdue for how he serves as a strong role model and an intelligent basketball man. High-character people such as West and Hunter can be an after-hours extension of the coaches.
“You have to approach a guy where you find him,” said West, who fared well with teenage Amar’e Stoudemire. “With some guys, you have to egg them on and build the relationship. With some, once they know what you do, they come to you and get issues off their chest or want me to be an advocate. Sometimes, I need to tell them, ‘You’re not playing because you’re not working hard enough.’ With tough love, you’ve got to bring it.
” … Trust me, the clock is ticking. There’s an end to this. We’ll try to make sure they get the most out of their careers.”
They’ll get a chance to test their program immediately with Michael Beasley providing the ultimate challenge for Hunter and this new initiative.
If the Suns can get the most out of Beasley’s immense raw talents, Hunter’s work will be validated. They have an intriguing mix of young and seasoned talent to work with — guys like Wesley Johnson and Kendall Marshall and Luis Scola and Goran Dragic — that will require someone to help mold the group together off the floor while coach Alvin Gentry does the same on the floor.
That said, we have to admit that we admire Hunter and the Suns taking on the old elbow grease approach to improving their program. Time will tell if it works or was even the right approach. But in a league where trying to copy someone else’s blueprint for success has been the norm for years, a novel approach is welcomed.