How big would it be for the Suns to see a return of this explosive, confident Robin Lopez? Seen here dunking in March, 2010.

NBA players were allowed to report to team facilities today for the first time since the lockout started on July 1, as long as there was no contact between players and team management. This is another baby step in returning the NBA to normal after the five month lockout, which is still technically in effect as the final details of the new CBA are hammered out. Phoenix Suns Steve Nash, Robin Lopez and Zabian Dowdell were present and accounted for at US Airways Center, and chomping at the bit to finally get this season started.

That Nash would show up on the first day possible is no surprise. In addition to being the Suns most valuable player, he is the unquestioned leader of the team along with Grant Hill and Hill, of course, is an unsigned free agent. Showing leadership, dedication, and enthusiasm, setting an example? That's just Nash being Nash.

"Of course (we can be a playoff team)," Nash said. "I definitely would love to see us improve our roster but I think it's up to us to find that little bit of magic collectively and individually to give ourselves a chance to win enough games to get in the playoffs. I would never say we're not a playoff team. I think that should be the minimum of our goal, and let's see how good we can get."

Robin Lopez' appearance and statements are more noteworthy. Last season, Lopez' third in the league, was a disappointment by any measure as his production plummeted from his pre-injury breakout in 2009-2010. Some of it was due to health, some due to other reasons, but by the end of the season Lopez seemed to have lost the trust of the coaching staff and the support of many fans.

Today, Lopez sounded like a player ready for redemption, as he spoke of his regained explosiveness and renewed passion for the game after the long lockout layoff. Our own Seth Pollack covered today's appearance at US Airways Center and brought us back some tasty quote nuggets.

Jump it for more!

Let's flash back to last summer. So excited were we by Lopez' prospects as he returned from a bulging disc in his back that he was expected to make up much of the departed Amare Stoudemire's lost production. This excitement stemmed from an impressive 2009-2010 season from Lopez, which included 14 double-digit scoring performances in the first two months of 2010, and peaked with a 30 point, 12 rebound performance on February 26th against the Clippers.

The following month, Lopez suffered his bulging disc, returned late in the 2010 playoffs, but never quite looked the same after that. Last season, we saw a hesitant and sluggish Lopez, but for the occasional burst of his previous form. By the end it almost looked as if team and player were ready to part ways.

Today, Lopez expressed optimism that his health problems are largely behind him. "I haven't had any pain while playing. I feel a lot quicker. I feel a lot bouncier," he said. "We'll see how it goes."

He went on to acknowledge his poor performance last year. "I think I just needed to use the break to get in the right mindset for this upcoming season and try to get right physically because at the end of the season -- don't get me wrong, I'm not pinning everything on what I wasn't physically, obviously that wasn't it," he said. "I just wasn't playing well, period."

And, from Seth's piece over at the mother ship:

"For the first time in a while, I'm hoping that I can contribute to a pretty good front line out here," Lopez said. "Obviously, we've got Marcin (Gortat) and I'm hoping I can contribute what I failed to contribute last year."

This is literally exactly what I want to hear from Lopez. He's healthy and he's ready to play improved ball. I wrote last spring that the best hope for the Suns is to keep Lopez and build him back up.

If I was another NBA front office, I'd be looking at Lopez as a potential low-risk reclamation project if the Suns have given up on him and I could get him for cheap. But, aren't the Suns in a position where a low-risk, young, talented reclamation project would be nice for us to have, too? And, hey look! We've got one! Why give him away for peanuts?

Since the lockout ended, our discussion has centered around what pieces the Suns can add to their roster. Unfortunately, prospects to add a difference maker are dim. Among current players, there isn't much upside to be found. Jared Dudley growing into an effective starter? Maybe. Channing Frye or Marcin Gortat adding new wrinkles to their games? Could happen. Markieff Morris and Gani Lawal are completely unknown quantities. The 23-year old Robin Lopez is the one player on the Suns roster who has a reasonable chance to play much, much better than he did last year.

And if he does, the Suns front line becomes that much better. An emerging Gortat with his defense and rebounding, and a rejuvenated Lopez with his scoring touch would be a very nice combo, the envy of many teams. We'll see how it plays out when Lopez takes the court, but he certainly sounds like he's ready for the challenge.

Garret Siler ready for the 2011-2012 season

"The 25-year-old Siler said he expects training camp to be different this time around now that he has a year of NBA experience under his belt. During the offseason, he’s worked on improving his perimeter defense and becoming more of a force on the offensive end.

'Before, I didn’t know what to expect," he said. "This time, I do.'

The former Augusta State All-American said the Suns have a weight clause for him, and at 290 pounds he is currently 10 pounds under the limit. To keep weight, the 6-foot-11 Siler has been running and swimming most mornings as well as performing crossfit training."

This past year NBA front offices were stuck in limbo in that they could only evaluate each potential decision based on the current system, not the system those decisions would end up impacting. With...

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Phoenix Suns basketball player Steve Nash talks to the media after arriving at USAirways Center  in Phoenix early Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. The league still hopes to open training camps and free agency next Friday, leaving both sides scrambling to get business finished in time.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Reporting live from US Airways Center where the NBA lockout has been lifted and the Phoenix Suns are back in business. None other than two-time MVP Steve Nash is in the building along with teammates Zabian Dowdell and Robin Lopez.

No one has any idea what the players will do while they are here but we are staking out the hallway to talk to them when they leave. Members of the coaching staff have been spotted as well but apparently the coaches and players are not allowed to interact and we've NOT seen ANYONE breaking ANY rules.

Seriously, no rule breaking going on here.


No one knows what other members of the team might show up today. It's believed that Jared Dudley and Channing Frye aren't in town yet and no one's heard from Marcin Gortat who could be at his home in Florida or he could be in Poland. He also could be in New Zealand for all we know.

Stay tuned for more breaking news as players ARRIVE TO THE BUILDING.

[Note by Seth Pollack, 12/01/11 12:17 PM MST ]

Here's video of Nash talking. There's more not on video. Story to come...stay tuned.


Phoenix Suns basketball player Steve Nash arrives at USAirways Center in Phoenix early Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. The league still hopes to open training camps and free agency next Friday, leaving both sides scrambling to get business finished in time.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Picture these guys in purple and orange, without giving up anything! (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

With all due respect to my buddy Seth Pollack, the Suns' free agency plans for 2012 are alive and well. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams might be off the market by then due to sign-and-trade and extend-and-trade restrictions, cleanly outlined by Seth in yesterday's SBNationAZ article.

But here's the reason 2012 and 2013 will be very good to teams with a lot of cap room and a good, functional nucleus of role players that needs a star or two (ie. the Phoenix Suns):

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS from the loaded 2008 and 2009 drafts!

How do you like the names Kevin Love, Danilo Gallinari or Serge Ibaka in the purple and orange front court alongside Marcin Gortat next summer?

Or how about Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and/or Ty Lawson in the backcourt?

Think about at least 2 of those stars playing alongside Duds, Frye and the Polish Hammer for years to come.

Those guys (not including the #1 pick in each of those drafts) are your top restricted free agents in the next 2 summers. Teams with real cap space can sign these young stars to front-loaded contracts and force their original team to give them away, just like the Suns had to do with Joe Johnson a few years ago. He's been to multiple all-star games since then.

This summer's big prizes are Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan and Aaron Afflalo. Weak by comparison, but each is available for teams with money.

Next summer, the Suns have enough money under the cap to steal TWO of that first group away. They can front-load a massive offer or two to restricted free agents. Young stars around which to build a new contender.

Yes, some of those guys will sign extensions by next summer and be off the market. But the Thunder, for example, cannot keep Ibaka, Harden AND Westbrook after already re-signing Durant to a max contract. The new CBA only allows one max-contract extension per team, on rookie or veteran extensions.

Let's pick on the Thunder even more. Next summer, let's say on July 1 the Suns make big restricted FA offers to both Ibaka AND Westbrook at the same time. The Thunder couldn't possibly match both. BOOM, there's a star. If the Thunder match on Ibaka, then only 3 days into free agency BOOM the Suns drop a max offer to Kevin Love, who might no longer be in love with Minnesota. Or, if the Thunder match on Westbrook, BOOM the Suns drop a max offer on Eric Gordon whose Clipper team is saving their max extension for Blake Griffin. Or the Suns grab one Thunder star next summer, and wait a year for James Harden or Jrue Holiday.

Imagine a mix of those young stars with steady players in Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris and Channing Frye.

There's your future contender, regardless of whether the Suns limp through the seasons at 20 wins or 30 wins, as long as they don't tie up any cap space this summer on more middling players.

Restricted free-agent offers are the future and the Suns will have the most room of anybody.


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