Channing Frye's return to the starting line-up was almost as surprising as the Phoenix Suns' return to NBA relevancy. What grade did the Comeback Kid earn for the comeback Suns?
One has to wonder what the future holds for Channing Frye. According to The Arizona Republic, the 30-year-old power forward reportedly would like to work out a contract extension that would likely end his career in Phoenix. This is more amazing news than your average contract extension story considering his career nearly ended in Phoenix at the end of the 2011-12 NBA season.
Frye's recovery from his heart disease is practically a metaphor for the Phoenix Suns organization this season. After a disheartening 2012-13 campaign that saw the second worst results in franchise history, the Phoenix Suns were left for dead going into 2013-14. And like Frye's sudden and unexpected announcement that he would be at training camp, Phoenix suddenly and unexpectedly announced that they would be competing in every game until the end of the season. Coincidentally (or not), Channing became the first player since 2009-2010 to start all 82 games for the Phoenix Suns.
But does the comparison end there? Ultimately this incarnation of the Phoenix Suns wasn't good enough to make the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference. Is Frye good enough to make it as a starter for the next incarnation of the surprising Suns?
For the first half of the season, the answer was a resounding yes! Until the All-Star break, Channing Frye was averaging near career highs across the board and having his best season since 2010-11. In addition to those numbers, his presence outside the arc usually forced other teams to send one of their big men outside as well, clearing the lane for Goran Dragi? and Eric Bledsoe to get to the rim. He was the perfect compliment to a line-up featuring two slashing All-Star quality guards.
But in the second half of the season, Frye's offensive production dropped significantly. His FG% fell from 44.9 to 39.8 and his 3PT% collapsed to 31.5 from 39.9. His "hot" games were becoming fewer and farther between. And it's probably no accident that he saw his minutes per game go down from 28.7 to 27.4, while Markieff Morris saw his go up from 25.0 to 29.1. It became clear which player Jeff Hornacek saw as his finisher at the power forward spot.
To be fair to Frye, he had spent the 12 months prior to the season doing no physical activity other than yoga, walking and golf. He took his body from zero to NBA season in a month. The likelihood of maintaining that early season production was always in doubt. But as a player, you're only as good as what you produce on the court and that production suffered in the second half of the season.
For what it's worth, I wouldn't mind seeing Channing Frye retire as a Phoenix Sun. He's got an almost unparalleled Phoenix/Arizona pedigree and I think he embodies the spirit of the Suns' organization. Being on the other side of 30, he'll have to accept a smaller contract to make it happen and I think it's doable. Or maybe I'm just soft for a Phoenix guy and the inevitably cold business of the NBA will send him off to Milwaukee or Charlotte or some other NBA purgatory. Regardless of his next contract, Channing still has a player option for one more year left on his current one. The choice to remain a Phoenix Sun is his for the moment.
Channing Frye had a surprisingly solid if inconsistent return to the Phoenix Suns this year. He provided stability in a line-up that saw its two best players come and go over the course of the last 82 games. He was a veteran leader on a young team that went from playing over its head to playing under the weight of growing expectations. It was a good year for the Phoenix Suns and their walking metaphor. Here's hoping they can continue to flourish together.