Suns Retorter: Suns Took "Me" Turned it Into "We"
In an area of US Airways Center that fans rarely, if ever, see, a transformation began to take place over the summer. It wasn’t something head trainer Aaron Nelson and his staff came up with in the weight room or on the training tables. It wasn’t even anything that took place on the practice court. No, the first sign of the Suns metamorphosis as a team, came in the room that they spend much of their time before and after games in.
When you walk into the Phoenix Suns locker room after a game you notice that things are different from last season.
Sure, there are 10 new faces on the roster, a new coaching staff, a new general manager, an upbeat attitude and probably even a few new security guards guarding the door, but there is something more. If you examine the room itself and the walls surrounding it you notice a change in culture and philosophy.
It’s not like something out of a bad HGTV show entitled “Locker Room Crashers” where they’ve changed the colors and the “feng shui” of the furniture. It’s something deeper.
Gone are the six foot tall pictures of the players on the 2012-13 roster that hung for the entire season. They’ve been replaced by a mural of Suns greats including Nash, Hawkins, Barkley and Davis and a message about success. A picture of Kevin Johnson’s iconic dunk over Hakeem Olajuwon has returned to the wall just outside of the video room and other classic moments have replaced team shots. In the locker room itself, the name plate on every locker faces the center of the room where, emblazoned on the carpet, sits a new full color version of the Suns logo as if to say, ‘when all these names come together as one, they form the Suns’ like some sports version of Captain Planet and the Planeteers.
The shift is something first-year Head Coach Jeff Hornacek and the basketball operations staff including President Lon Babby and general manager Ryan McDonough did on purpose.
“No matter where you go there’s tradition,” Hornacek said. “Luckily for us, Phoenix has had a great tradition. We don’t have the championship, but there have been a lot of great years and winning seasons. You want to emphasize it.”
Possibly the biggest sign of a shift in direction is the simplest though. As you walk out the door of Coach Hornacek’s office, you’ll notice a unobtrusive white quote on a grey wall that you might miss if you weren’t looking for it. The quote by legendary coach John Wooden, written over an opaque version of the Suns logo, simply reads “Much can be accomplished by TEAMWORK when no one is concerned about who gets credit.”
It’s the mentality the organization has embodied since Hornacek has taken the helm. A shift to being more concerned about the collective “we” has taken place by design.
“It’s not always about these guys,” Hornacek shared. “It’s about the Phoenix Suns. We put a lot of that stuff on the wall to keep it from being a ‘me’ mentality.
“Guys know that everybody will get credit when they play well together and win. That’s the fine line. The second guys are worrying about what they can do and what their stats are going to be is usually when things don’t go well.”
Environment and a shift in perception can only take a group of individuals so far. While it may galvanize them off the court the way detention brought together a rag tag group of self-centered kids in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, in basketball, it has to happen on the court as well.
Their new locker room group think has carried over to the hardwood, but not without some hard work by the players and the coaching staff.
“Right from the start of training camp when we saw selfish plays we pointed them out and talked about them,” Hornacek said. “ I think these guys really have bought into it. They enjoy playing together as a team. There is good chemistry. That’s a hard thing to develop.”
One of the guys who knows all about chemistry is Gerald Green who saw the importance of it first hand last season in Indiana.
“Me being on a team with a bunch of ‘we’ guys last year,” Green said. “I saw that’s how you get to where you’re trying to be. We were one game away from the Finals last year with the Pacers. There were no guys on there who had egos. It was about making the right pass and the right play. That’s championship basketball.”
While Green cautions that it is only seven games into the season, and he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself, he is seeing a similar attitude beginning to take shape in Phoenix.
“I think a lot of people are getting it,” he said with a sense of satisfaction. “Some nights are going to be other people’s nights. We understand that. As long as we help other people out, have each other’s back and play as a team the sky is going to be the limit.”
After their quick start, it is becoming clearer that with the franchise’s new attitude, front office and coaching staff that the sky is truly going to be the limit. The only question is how long it will take to get there.
Just don’t expect any of the new guard -- both Green and the front office -- to take credit for it. Coach Wooden’s words aren’t simply on the wall in the locker room, they’ve been taken to heart as well.
The Yankees’ Mariano Rivera won’t be needing his entrance music any more after his retirement last month but there is a member of the Suns that should be hearing “Enter Sandman” every time he walks on the court.
That’s because guard Eric Bledsoe is not only lulling opponents to sleep before quickly striking for the layup or getting to the free throw line, he’s also becoming “The Closer” for your Phoenix Suns. (Sorry, Kyra Sedgwick and TNT, we figured you didn’t need the nickname either since you retired the show before Rivera hung his cleats up for good.)
He is second, behind only Kevin Durant, in fourth quarter points. He is scoring 8.7 points on average in the final stanza and is making his late game 3-pointer more of a ritual in Phoenix than flop sweating like Albert Brooks’ character in Broadcast News during the month of July.
It’s something his coach is beginning to grow accustom to.
“He feels at the end of the game that nobody can stop him and he can at least get a shot off,” Hornacek said of Bledsoe. “When you have a guy like that it makes it easier to coach.”
We know it’s early, but even the greatest closer of all-time, Rivera, had to start somewhere. We’ll have to see just how many times Bledsoe can come up big in the clutch.