Suns Go Hard During Practice Sessions
By Jerry Brown
East Valley Tribune
Nov. 16, 2005
For most of training camp and the first week-plus of the regular season, James Jones wore an orange Suns practice jersey — emblematic of being one of Phoenix’s top six players — starters, or those knocking on the door.
During that time, Jones felt Phoenix assistant coaches Marc Iavaroni and Alvin Gentry — who act as referees during the team’s incessant scrimmaging — were doing a fair, balanced and unbiased job with their whistles.
But last week, when first Boris Diaw and then Leandro Barbosa were elevated to starters, Jones turned his jersey inside out — to the white side — and his view of things turned inside out as well.
"(The coaches) cheat the white team,’’ he said. "They’re giving the orange all the calls, trying to make it hard on us. When I was with the orange (team), it wasn’t as bad. Since they shifted me over, it got a lot worse.
"We have to fight the coaches, the crowd . . . but we like the underdog role. We’re OK with it. We give (the starters) all they want."
That hasn’t always been the case for the Suns squad that wanted for depth. Last year, Phoenix started the same five players — Steve Nash, Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, Shawn Marion and Amaré Stoudemire — when health allowed. They played the lion’s share of the minutes, and treated their teammates in practice much like the opposition — rudely.
But with Johnson and Richardson gone and Stoudemire out at least four months, the Suns now rely on balance and strength in numbers to get the job done. Outside of All-Stars Nash and Marion, starting jobs aren’t set in stone — setting the stage for daily battles between those wearing orange jerseys and those seeking to steal one.
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"Some days it’s a little more spirited than others," said reserve guard Eddie House, often one of the white jersey’s most boisterous spokesmen. "It makes for a fun day."
Tuesday was one of those days. The white jerseys, featuring names like Jones, House, Jimmy Jackson and Brian Grant weren’t interested in giving an inch to the starters — or willing to admit to an invisible foul.
"We compete hard here and some days it’s like that," said Raja Bell, now a starter but long familiar with the role of hard-working reserve. "When you come up and you always have to fight for your spot, you play like that. We have a lot of guys that take nothing for granted, and it rubs off on the others."
As coach Mike D’Antoni continues to revamp his rotation — he said using only eight players Saturday against Golden State was an isolated case dictated by matchups — the competition intensifies.
"Any time your position is not secure, it adds an element to practice, more to the fire," Bell said. "That’s cool, because when it comes down to it in close ballgames, you already know you have guys out there that are willing to fight for that win."
It also keeps a team with a lot of time on its hands stay sharp. The Suns, who have played just six times in the first 15 days of the season, play tonight against Memphis for the first time since Saturday. Another four-day lull in the schedule pops up after Thanksgiving.
"We have a (starting lineup) that might be in flux all year — until Amaré comes back, then the flux stops," D’Antoni said. "We have a group of guys who are very competitive. They don’t back down. They practice like it’s a game, and they are good enough guys that when practice is over — that’s it — it’s over.
"That’s the way it should be. When you walk on the court it’s the most important thing in the world, and when you walk off it’s just basketball."
With a smile, Jones says he isn’t so sure.
"The oranges don’t like the whites," he said. "And the only way to get a call is to get an orange jersey."