Phoenix Suns forward Channing Frye burst onto the scene as an aggressive, sweet-shooting rookie back in 2005, working with the New York Knicks during the depths of the Isiah Thomas era. His production has tailed off a bit in the years since that impressive debut as he bounced from New York to Portland to Phoenix, but he remained a good enough rotation player to work as the Suns’ starting power forward in the final year of Steve Nash’s time in Arizona. Things came to a screeching halt in September of 2012, though, as Frye was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart. As a result, Channing’s Suns career was put on indefinite hiatus.
With support from what he called “the best staff in the NBA,” referring to the Suns’ much-praised medical crew, Frye vowed to return. And now, in an exclusive interview with Bright Side of the Sun, he reveals that he has been cleared by several doctors to return to the NBA:
"I saw [the doctors] earlier this summer and they said 'you're good', and that I could start to exercise," Frye recalls. "Saw them a couple months later and 'You're better than what you were'. Not only one doctor, but three other ones, maybe four other ones agree with me.
"Now its in the Suns hands."
With training camp starting in just a few weeks, the Suns will have to decide soon on their next step with Frye. Of course, each party is doing what's best for them.
"[The Suns] have to do what they have to do to make the team what they want to make this season," Frye said. "For me, I'm doing what you guys ask me to do, and being professional. I can be an example of doing things the right way and whatever happens, happens. It's been very professional. I just want to get out there and play and do the best I can to help us win."
The “in the Suns’ hands”-part of things is significant, because quite a bit has happened to the organization that Frye last suited up for in April of 2012.
Nash has since moved on, being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, and only Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, and Markieff Morris remain from that year’s .500 team. Though former general manager Lance Blanks didn’t mean to bottom out last season, that’s exactly what the Suns did in 2012-13, going through two coaches and heaps of embarrassing play on their way to a 25-win season without Frye.
Blanks is long gone, thankfully for Suns fans, and new GM Ryan McDonough has fully embraced rebuilding model that not only allowed for advanced analytics to sit alongside traditional scouting, but a organization-wide embrace of character-driven talents (though it’s admittedly easy to dump poor-behaving players when they play as terribly as Michael Beasley). On top of that, unlike Blanks (who signed veterans like Jermaine O’Neal, Luis Scola and Michael Redd), McDonough is committing to a proper youth movement, instead of dotting his roster with disparate ages.
In terms of the character worries, Frye has that area taken care off. He has long been well-liked by teammates, coaches and fans, despite some nagging issues in the rebounding and defense department.
In terms of his fit on the rebuilding Suns? That’s a different story.
Frye turned 30 in May, and even if he were to return at full strength while approximating his 2011-12 numbers (14.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, turning the ball over about once per road trip), that’s not going to do much for a team that is thinking about 2015 while it works through 2013-14. Frye’s contract ($13.2 million over the next two years, with a player option for 2014-15 that Channing will no doubt pick up) isn’t onerous, but it might be sizable enough (when paired with Channing’s history, and age) to be tough to move.
With that in place, having a capable stretch power forward to sop up reserve minutes for your rebuilding team while making just over the NBA’s average salary isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a team looking to claw out of the lottery pit. Or, at least, attempt to see what it can find in the 2014 lottery before eventually climbing out.
Markieff Morris isn’t exactly an earth-shaker as a starting power forward, but he’s also a former lottery pick, and the Suns are going to have to see what they have in the former Lance Blanks selection before deciding to pick up his option for 2014-15. And though the departed Michael Beasley was a low efficiency chucker and a minus on both ends, the best thing you could say about him as a basketball player is that “Michael Beasley played minutes on a basketball court.” There are 48 of them in a game, sometimes more, and the Suns will need someone to pick those up as they enter 2013-14. P.J. Tucker is more of a wing, and new addition Miles Plumlee is more of a center, and coming off of a disastrous rookie season.
That is to say, the Suns need a power forward. Even if he is 30, and originally acquired to take in dishes from Steve Nash lo those many years ago.
(Four years ago.)
This is why the Suns will probably clear Channing to play. If the myriad doctors’ reports are correct, and he can continue without putting himself at risk, then this is something that could be worked out. These cases are always frightening, and it’s worth mentioning that (according to Bright Side of the Sun) Frye’s athletic pursuits were only recently limited to practicing yoga, playing with his children, and golfing, so you can understand the trepidation.
Still, a doctor’s note is a doctor’s note, and they’re starting to pile up. All feature good news, and that’s a great thing.