On Sunday night, erstwhile Suns forward Channing Frye returns to the valley with the Orlando Magic as they come into town to face the Suns.
When Channing Frye jumped
the shark from the Phoenix Suns to the Orlando Magic in July, he said he wanted to go to a team focused on the future and the development of young players into a playoff caliber team. It was a sub-dig at the Suns for putting him on the back burner after he opted out while they courted LeBron James and considered trading for Kevin Love in a get-rich-quick scheme before turning back to their own veterans' free agency.
As free agency approached, there was no obvious market for a raise over Frye's $7.5 million contract last season, but that proved folly as the Magic topped it before the gates even opened. The Magic gave the 31-year old Frye $32 million guaranteed over four years, a raise from his last contract signed in 2010 (5 years for $34 million, which had an opt-out in the summer of 2014).
The Suns lost out on LeBron, but not before Frye had already left for Orlando. They turned quickly to a great bargain in Isaiah Thomas and then signed Anthony Tolliver to replicate a bit of Frye's skills. But it was Thomas who took over the majority of Frye's minutes while the rest of the roster shifted to make room.
Little did Suns fans realize at the time how neatly Thomas would replace Frye as the most polarizing player on the roster. Thomas had a free ride all summer as Suns fans hated on Eric Bledsoe's holdout, but once the games began and the Suns didn't shoot out of the gate quickly, the fire turned to Thomas who continues to express desire to start and finish games.
Frye, meanwhile, moved into the very situation he desired this summer - as the veteran locker room presence among a team of kids who just don't know how to win games yet.
Within two weeks of the season starting, though, Frye was already tired of losing.
Magic lose to Raptors
Frye finished with 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-5 from 3-point land, to go with six rebounds in 43 minutes. While some might take a down-to-the-final-minute road loss against the best team in the conference as a sign of growth for the young and still-rebuilding Magic, the ninth-year vet didn't seem especially interested in praising baby steps after the game.
"Tip your hat to them, but you know, again, everyone's like, 'Oh, we're close to winning,'" Frye said after the game, as captured in an NSFW Vine by Deadspin's Tim Burke. "But that's still f****** losing."
But Frye hasn't been an on-court savior quite yet for the Magic. He's been less effective offensively than a year ago with the Suns (career-low 9.7 points per 36 minutes vs. 14.2 last year), though his three-point shooting has been stellar (42%).
Frye still shoots threes whenever he can, taking a career-high 64% of all his shots from behind the arc. With the Suns, Frye averaged 52% of his shots from behind the arc. He's a full-time stretch four with Nikola Vucevic manning the paint and cousin Tobias Harris pulling down more rebounds from the SF spot than Frye at the PF spot, mostly because Frye is not getting any offensive boards thanks to his position behind the arc.
In Friday night's loss to the Pacers, Frye expressed more concern over the Magic's fortitude in the face of adversity.
Magic lose to Pacers
Frye had three 3-pointers in the first half, but did not score in the second half. He said the young Magic squad has hit a dangerous point in the season where they must respond so that the momentum doesn't continue work against them.
"It was a dangerous time, I don't know, how many losses ago,'' Frye said. "We want to get better. That sense of urgency should start to get in people's guts now and we've just got to pick it up. We did some good things, but we can't have lulls and we're not good enough to completely (mess) up the third quarter like that, especially against a good team with veterans.''
It's going to be a long season for Frye in Orlando. The Magic are 6-12 and already lost rookie Aaron Gordon for the season. Even without Gordon, the other top 6 guys in the rotation around Frye are 24 or younger.
The Magic have a bright future, but might just see their team play out their rookie contracts before becoming playoff contenders. Both of their best players - Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris - are already in their fourth seasons (same as the Morris twins) and will be restricted free agents next summer. Neither was signed to a long-term deal last fall.
Hopefully, Channing Frye can enjoy the progress year over year without the pressure of making the playoffs.