If the return of the NBA doesn’t feel like it’s coming, it should. The Phoenix Suns practiced for the first time in the 2020-21 season on Saturday, thus marking another first.
The day took place at the team’s brand new practice facility (nicknamed The Lab) that players have been individually working out in the past few weeks.
Training camp for the Suns last season was in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University, as has mostly been the tradition. But given the status of COVID-19, the facility now existing and so on, it’s obvious why there was a change.
Head coach Monty Williams said the two-hour trip up north felt necessary to get out of town, isolate and have an “old school training camp.”
This time around, Williams keeps catching himself being blown away by how nice The Lab is. He mentioned the flow of things there being “phenomenal” and everyone getting treatment is much easier with the full staff in Phoenix.
The first practice is also just a week from the Suns’ preseason opener in Utah against the Jazz, meaning they’re working on an accelerated timeline of sorts.
Williams mentioned being 18 days away from the season opener on Dec. 23, so it wouldn’t be surprising for the team to treat the preseason as part of training camp, unlike past years.
As the head coach said in his first season last year, he’s going to rely on conversations with the players in terms of how much of he’s willing to incorporate this early in the season. There is no set schedule he’s on, and he’ll change the pacing of implementing things based on feedback.
But one thing’s for sure — there’s a lot to get to.
“We have a ton that we have to unload and get our guys up to speed, especially the new guys,” he said Saturday. “As I watch the guys who were here last year, they’re picking up stuff on the fly pretty quickly but the things that we do can be a little bit different.”
Williams is going to focus on philosophies and concepts offensively while defensive schemes and that side of the floor overall will be more the priority.
That’s on the court. Williams said the number one priority overall is keeping everyone healthy and aware of what they need to do to stay that way. That’s both so everyone can stay safe, but also the advantage teams are going to have that can keep a full roster available.
As you can imagine, the guys are just happy to be back. Rookie Jalen Smith said this is the first time in months he’s worked out against other people on the court, and while there are still restrictions in place that will ease up over the next few weeks, Williams noted he was just happy to be back in the gym with the guys.
The hard-working vibes are pouring through from the team. Smith felt a particular intensity the opening practice had.
Williams said he comes back to The Lab at night and sees players’ cars in the parking lot and can hear the music bumping from outside. For the past three months overall, including when the Suns were using the Madhouse, Williams said the problem has been making sure they’re following all the safety protocols in terms of the number of bodies around since there’s such a demand from players to get extra work in.
“The guys are here all the time,” Williams said.
“It’s continued the environment for us. That’s been huge for me as a coach, coming into the gym and having 2, 3, 4 guys in the gym getting work in and it’s 6, 7, 8 o’clock at night. I really feel like what (team owner) Robert (Sarver) has done has created an environment, in a building where guys want to be … It’s a really good location and our guys really enjoy being here.”