After a day of hanging with the Phoenix Suns coaches for a Sports Illustrated story (appearing in this week's issue), I was telling a colleague of mine what I had seen and heard, and he said, "You should hang around longer and turn it into a book." I laughed, but he was correct. In 25 years at SI, I've never worked on a story that was so hard for me to condense into the allotted space ... and they gave me a lot of space.
Anyway, here are some of the "outtakes" from the piece, which is about being an assistant coach during the first five days of preseason practice. I spent 12 hours a day with coach Mike D'Antoni and assistants Marc Iavaroni, Alvin Gentry, Phil Weber, Dan D'Antoni and Todd Quinter, and during that time they asked me to go off the record only about half a dozen times.
Oct. 1: America West Arena, Phoenix
I arrived three days before the start of camp, but the coaches had been meeting off and on all summer. By now, they have picked up the intricacies of the new, sophisticated digital machinery in the basketball offices (with the exception of Dan, Mike's brother, who was officially hired on July 1). "It was either pay for this," says Mike, waving his hand at the screen, "or pay for Joe Johnson. We went with the technology."
Everyone laughs. But only soft of. Finding a way to replace the multi-talented Johnson, who defected to the Atlanta Hawks in the off-season, was the Suns' primary worry going into camp.
Oct. 2: America West Arena
We were on the practice court discussing what drills to use during the opening of two-a-days when the discussion moved to defending a curl off a stack, a pet play run by every team but most lethally by the Detroit Pistons. Typically, Rip Hamilton comes hustling around a double screen set along the lane and can usually catch and get a jump shot inside of 15 feet. "Or Rip comes off and finds Chauncey Billups right here," says Gentry, striding to a position near the 3-point line.
"I never got that about Detroit," I say. "With all their talent, why didn't they score in triple figures?"