Going into this season, with the compressed schedule and the increased number of back-to-back games, one of the most important issues that needed to be addressed was finding reliable players who could step in for the two veteran stars of the Phoenix Suns, Steve Nash and Grant Hill, and ensure that neither would be overused or relied upon too heavily.
With Aaron Brooks stuck in China and no viable depth behind the starting point guard position, the Suns acted early on in free agency to bring in not one, but two back-up point guards, Sebastian Telfair and Ronnie Price, to help ensure Nash would not be overused.
As for the small forward position, 39 year-old Grant Hill will remain the starter with Josh Childress behind him as well as Jared Dudley who can also fill in if need be. But since Dudley is going to be competing for the starting job at SG, the expectation is for Childress to step up and become a much more integral part of the team after a disappointing season last year.
Many believed that Childress never had a fair shake at earning a spot in the rotation last season after suffering a setback in the preseason, when he broke one of the fingers in his shooting hand and tried unsuccessfully to play through the injury. On top of that, Childress was also coming back from a two-year stint in which he played professional basketball in Europe and trying to readjust to the faster, bigger, and all around better style of play in the NBA. The one-time sixth man of the year candidate for the Atlanta Hawks had found himself out of the rotation in Phoenix and relegated to mostly garbage time minutes or DNP's.
This season, after having a full year to re-acclimate himself to the NBA, and with a fully healed finger, the Suns are counting on Childress to play significant minutes behind Grant Hill. However, in the first team scrimmage and also in the first preseason game, Childress was once again less than productive, especially when it came to playing with energy and helping out on defense and rebounding which were always big parts of his game.
When head coach Alvin Gentry was asked about Childress today by our own Seth Pollack, rather than the standard pad answers, Gentry was surprisingly candid with his assessment of Josh, and also his expectations of what Childress will need to contribute to the team this season.
When asked specifically how Josh looked with the starting unit, Gentry replied:
"I didn't think a lot happened...He's got to be a little more active I think with what his approach is, and I think he's got to create some situations with offensive rebounds and things like that and then he's got to get out and run...One of the things I told him is that position you know Grant (Hill) gets a couple of layups a game just because of the effort that he runs with and he's just got to crank it up and run with that effort and then hopefully good things will happen for him."
Seth then asked Gentry if he felt like Josh was fitting in a little bit better this year, to which Gentry answered:
"I think I know his game better and he knows the system better. Like I said, he's still going to have to be a runner and he's going to have to be a defender at that spot. I don't want Grant (Hill) to have to guard Carmelo Anthony, the next night I don't want him to have to guard LeBron James or one of those guys. I want him to be able to play 20 minutes and guard those guys some, but I want somebody to be able to pick up the slack for him and Josh has to be that guy."
It seems that Gentry is not pulling punches when it comes to what he expects from his players going forward, and I think this is a good sign. The Suns don't need more excuses, they need execution and effort. Childress has shown that he is capable of playing at a high level in the past, and the team is depending on him to pick up the slack and earn the $6 million that he is being paid this year.
Hopefully Josh is ready to accept the challenge and will show that he is capable of being a valuable asset to the Suns team this season...the coaching staff, his teammates, and the fans are depending on him to do just that.
In other news, Alvin Gentry also had some comments that are worth hearing about the lack of defense in the first preseason game and also about how they plan to handle Gortat's broken thumb. Here is the full audio of the interview below: