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This Is The Life
JACK McCALLUM
October 31, 2005
In eight splendid days as an assistant coach for the PHOENIX SUNS, the author took a hit from Shawn Marion, lost a bet on Amar� Stoudemire and learned to love the game in a whole new way
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October 31, 2005

This Is The Life

In eight splendid days as an assistant coach for the PHOENIX SUNS, the author took a hit from Shawn Marion, lost a bet on Amar� Stoudemire and learned to love the game in a whole new way

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Over the next hour I am astounded by the preparation that goes into the drills for the first day of camp. Iavaroni breaks down the specifics of a defensive closeout so intensely-using mincing chop steps to advance toward an imaginary offensive player and yelling, "Hey!" at the top of his lungs-that we all break up laughing, Iavaroni included. It's evident, too, that Dan D'Antoni is more comfortable working through drills than he is theorizing in an office. He suggests to Gentry a wrinkle in the defensive positioning used when shadowing the dribbler as he zigzags up the court. "Guys, I like what Danny just told me," says Gentry. They watch Dan run through it and agree: His way is better. It's a small thing, but you can tell Dan is pleased.

The coaches seem satisfied with a plan for keeping their interior defenders from straying too far from the paint-until Gentry says, "Of course, if that's [ San Antonio Spurs marksman] Robert Horry out there, we have to do something different." It's always like that. Just when they agree on an approach, one of them says, "Well, if this is [the Sacramento Kings'] Peja Stojakovic shooting...." or "If we're playing Dallas, and this is [Dirk] Nowitzki...." But they don't want the team to become distracted too soon by these details.

Even within schemes, though, they have to make allowances. When Iavaroni demonstrates the way he will teach how to fight through picks, Mike says that he wants Nash to do something different. "Steve has to keep his hands up to ward off [screeners] before they come at him," says D'Antoni. "I'd rather see him push off and go behind the screen than try to squeeze through."

"You're right," says Gentry. "They come after him then."

"That's how we lost him last year," says Mike, referring to Nash's left thigh injury, which he incurred while fighting through an Indiana Pacers' pick. "We lost him for three games. And-what do you know?-we lost those three games."

OCTOBER 3

TIME TO MEET THE PRESS

The players officially report to America West today, and suddenly there's an intensity in the air. Over the summer Phoenix dealt three-point bomber Quentin Richardson to the New York Knicks for veteran power forward Kurt Thomas; shot blocking reserve center Steven Hunter, a free agent, defected to the Philadelphia 76ers; and most important, the Suns chose not to match a front-loaded $70 million offer by the Atlanta Hawks to restricted-free-agent swingman Joe Johnson. Instead, Phoenix worked out a sign-and-trade with Atlanta for 6'8" backup Boris Diaw and two conditional first-round picks. Replacing Johnson's across-the-board production-17.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, as well as 47.8% three-point shooting-will become the coaches' biggest concern during the preseason. (Until, that is, Stoudemire starts limping.)

The coaches lounge in their office while the players are in the locker room getting their physicals. "Do we run more double drags because we have Kurt and Amar�?" wonders Mike D'Antoni. (A drag is one of the keys to the Suns' transition offense; typically, Nash will be dribbling ahead of the pack and someone, often Stoudemire, will veer toward him, set a pick on the move, and then either roll to the basket or flare to the side for a jumper. A double drag would involve another pick being set a split-second later.) "Or do we run Kurt like we ran Shawn [ Marion] last season, to the wing or short corner?" (The short corner refers to a spot on the baseline halfway between the basket and the corner.)

"I like double drag with Kurt being the last guy," says Gentry.

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