HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For a team that didn’t pile up many wins last season, the Golden State Warriors certainly racked up their share of highlight plays.
When you start with the dynamite backcourt tandem of Monta Ellis and Steph Curry, that should be expected.
But much has changed for this team since we saw them last.
New owners, new uniforms, plenty of new faces and maybe some renewed vigor for a team that has never had to worry about the passion of its immense fan base.
With training camp just days away, we’re still trying to figure out how coach Don Nelson is going to integrate eight new faces — All-Star forward David Lee, Dorrell Wright, Louis Amundson, Rodney Carney, Charlie Bell, Dan Gadzuric and rookies Ekpe Udoh and Jeremy Lin — into the Warriors’ mix.
But Nelson is the league’s resident mad scientist, so if anyone is capable of cooking up something, it should be him. And he’ll be coaching (for as long as the new ownership group will have him) the sort of motley crew that should be easy to show some California love for all those Warriors diehards in the Bay Area.
Whether or not this team will inspire any reaction beyond their home base, however, remains to be seen.
The Warriors beefed up their frontcourt by coming to terms with free agent Louis Amundson, his agent told NBA.com on Monday. Amundson, 27, was one of the last quality big men on the market. He joins Golden State to provide depth behind David Lee and Andris Biedrins.
The deal is for two years at slightly less than $5 million. The second year is a player option.
“It was obviously a long process and he had a number of teams pursuing him,” agent Mark Bartelstein said. “We ultimately felt this was a huge decision in his career. He’s made great strides the last few years and to get to where he wants to go, and he needed to pick the right place. Golden State was that place.”
Amundson spent the last two seasons with Phoenix, becoming a valuable cog on one of the deepest benches around. He averaged career highs in points (4.7) points, rebounds (4.4) and minutes (14.8), while shooting 55.1 percent from the floor.
Amundson was also known for his dogged defense and hustle, becoming a favorite with fans and inside the Suns locker room. The undrafted four-year veteran out of UNLV spent the first two years of his career with Utah and Philadelphia.
Warriors general manager Larry Riley targeted signing Amundson as a top priority to round out the team’s frontcourt. New Orleans, Indiana, Toronto and Charlotte also reportedly had interest in Amundson.
“He brings energy and a physical presence that we needed, plus he is an experienced player who has played in a system similar to the Warriors,” Riley said. “He is a tireless worker on both ends of the floor.”
As much as this is the summer of big names like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, things are coming together rather beautifully for big men like Toronto’s Amir Johnson (5 years, $33 million), Milwaukee’s Drew Gooden (5 years, $30 million) and Minnesota’s Darko Milicic (4 years, $20 million).
PHOENIX – When they lost Mike D’Antoni two years ago, Suns fans thought it was the end of an era.
And for a good while, most of Terry Porter‘s tenure as D’Antoni’s replacement, that’s exactly what it looked like. The Suns watched the playoffs from home last year, not knowing if and when they’d get things right and get back to playing at the breakneck pace that made them crowd favorites at the US Airways Center and beyond.
Then along came Alvin Gentry, a man who ranks fourth on the list of high-profile coaches still working this season. The Lakers’ Phil Jackson, the Celtics’ Doc Rivers and even the Magic’s Stan Van Gundy all have bigger names and have all coached teams to the NBA Finals.
But are any of them doing as good a job, to this point, of guiding their team?
Praise the Suns’ bench all you want for their handy work in that Game 4 win over the Lakers. Just remember that it was Gentry that showed the trust in them all season, and especially during that crucial nine-minute stretch in the fourth quarter when they snatched control of the game from Kobe Bryant and carried the Suns to even in these Western Conference finals at 2-2.
It was Gentry that opened the door for the likes of Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic, Louis Amundson and Channing Frye to play with the freedom we all saw Tuesday night.
Leandro Barbosa called this the “best bench” he’s played on since he’s been with the Suns. That’s a telling statement since for a long time Barbosa was the Suns’ bench.
But he’s part of a five-game rotation now that’s capable of driving these Suns for long stretches in crucial situations. That kind of chemistry and confidence for a second unit cannot be without the empowerment of a head coach willing to risk his own hide for the sake of the collective.
Gentry’s not just coaching his starters and stars, a fault of so many of his peers around the league. He’s coaching them all.
You didn’t even know Dudley’s name when he played in Charlotte. Now he’s a specialist any team in the league would love to have wearing their colors.
What coach would keep going to Frye after he missed 19 straight shots before finally making one in the second quarter Tuesday night? (Frye and Barbosa scored 14 points each as the Suns’ bench combined to outscore the Lakers’ reserves 54-20.)
Not many coaches could call his All-Star center “ridiculous” (for calling Lamar Odom‘s work in Game 1 “lucky”) and then coax a 42-point, 11-rebound effort out of him after that.
Give the man the credit he deserves for molding this team into a cohesive unit tight enough to bounce back properly during a postseason when so many other outfits rolled over and played dead when they got down.
The Suns didn’t lose two heartbreakers at the buzzer in Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles. They got handled by a team that looked superior in every way. And yet Gentry didn’t leave Staples Center with a sense of despair. He vowed that his team would come home, regroup and come back with a renewed sense of purpose for Games 3 and 4.
Gentry wasn’t afraid to use that zone, the defense he called “girly,” to try to rattle the Lakers (a tactic that doesn’t look good when you consider the Lakers have shot the ball at 48 percent or better in every game, but one that’s actually worked pretty well in conjunction with the Suns’ improved play).
He didn’t have to remind his players, one through 14, that he believes in them.
They already know. They also believe in themselves. And the Suns believe in each other.
“In a way, ” Suns veteran Grant Hill said, “they’re really the ones who have given us our identity.”
You can tell from all the fun they have on those team flights and the way they carry on in the locker room after big wins.
You can tell by they way the All-Star starters and even the two-time MVP (Steve Nash) root wildly for them when they are in the midst of changing games.
And you can certainly tell by the way Gentry embraces them and the role he makes sure they play on his team.
Make no mistake about it, this all starts with Gentry!