Suns begin a new era in a familiar place

Photo by Alexis Macklin

Photo by Alexis Macklin

For the first time in nine years, the Phoenix Suns return to Flagstaff, Ariz., for training camp.

The Suns will report to Northern Arizona University’s campus for camp from Sept. 30 through Oct. 5.

The Suns were last in Flagstaff in 2004 and have spent the last three years in San Diego.

They’ve also turned to a familiar face by hiring Jeff Hornacek as their new head coach. Hornacek was drafted by the Suns in 1986 and spent six seasons with the franchise.

“I have great memories of training camps in Flagstaff from my time as a player with the Suns,” Hornacek said on the Suns’ team website. “The Flagstaff community has always been very supportive and I’m looking forward to returning there to get camp started.”

One of the most important factors in the Suns returning to Flagstaff is improving relations with their fans, as the franchise has made moves that have not sat well with fans over the past few years.

First, the team failed to acquire the proper talent at the tail end of the Nash era to make a final run at a title. Then, after keeping Nash too long, his trade value decreased, making him nearly unable to be traded.

This season, they have not made acquisitions to immediately improve the team, and, as a result, are still expected to be among the worst teams in the NBA.

Perhaps the final straw for Suns fans was not being able to watch their team in training camp over the past three years. The Suns took a big step in improving the fractured relationship by returning to Arizona.

It will give the fans a chance to watch their 2013-2014 Suns in an informal setting on Oct. 5 at an open scrimmage, but — perhaps even more importantly — it will give the players a chance to bond with the community.

Suns fans seem split on the significance of the franchise’s return to Arizona for training camp.

ASU journalism junior Jeffery Chapman said it means little to him, explaining he only followed the team after they stopped training in Flagstaff.

“The current direction of the team is hard to swallow. I’m used to seeing the Suns score over 110 points, win 50-plus games and have a fairly deep run in the playoffs,” he said.

Gilbert native Josh Cutler had a different take on the relocation. He said he planned on attending the scrimmage and described the Suns’ new direction as a “relief that we are bringing in young talent for the hope of a bright future.”

Rookie Alex Len looks like a potential franchise center, and 29th overall pick Archie Goodwin looks to be the steal of the draft. The team has also acquired dynamic guard Eric Bledsoe but will still most likely finish the season with a Top 5 lottery pick in possibly the most highly anticipated draft of the decade.

The last time the Suns were in Flagstaff, they were coming off an atrocious 29-win season with fans and experts expecting only minor improvements. Instead, the Suns won 61 games and started one of the most successful eras in franchise history. While the rebuilding process probably won’t be as quick this time around, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in Flagstaff.