"Well, that's familiar territory," says Mike. "Nobody on our team takes a charge."
Phoenix's players and coaches don't like to hear criticism about their porous defense, but among themselves they joke about it all the time. It's human nature: We can tell you how bad we are, but don't you tell us how bad we are.
At practice the eternally upbeat Weber says to forward James Jones, "The word for the day is serendipitous. You know what that means?"
"Not exactly," says Jones, "but I saw that movie Serendipity. That the same thing?"
"Just about," says Weber.
A former Indiana Pacer who was acquired over the summer in a sign-and-trade, Jones came from a system with many set plays. Like fellow newcomers Bell and Thomas, he is having difficulty learning how to read and react on the fly. "By this time last year [Pacers coach Rick] Carlisle would have put in maybe one tenth of his playbook," Jones tells me, "and that would be a hundred plays."
I ask if this is more fun. "Oh, definitely," he says. "Coach Carlisle is a great coach, but it's all about efficiency of possessions. He doesn't run that much, because he worries that it puts his defense out of position. He would rather have a 24-second violation than try something with the shot clock running down."
I relate that to Mike D'Antoni. "Most coaches believe defenses are more vulnerable late in the shot clock, that you can get them out of position with a lot of passing," he says. "We think defenses are most vulnerable before they get set."
I tell Quinter (who 25 years ago was an outstanding high school basketball player in Nazareth, Pa., where I covered him for a small daily newspaper) that I need some more reps today. We trade spots on Coaches Shell, a defensive drill in which the coaches make passes around the perimeter and sometimes cut through the pack without the ball. It doesn't sound like much except that, per Iavaroni's orders, the defense is charged with "tagging" the cutter, or more euphemistically, "massaging" him. I get massaged on all sides and put one hand up in front of my face for protection. I am once again overwhelmed by the size and strength of the players. "With a hand in front of my face, I wouldn't have been in real great position to catch a pass," I tell Quinter.
"Don't worry," he says. "Wasn't much chance of you getting one."