In a season featuring more feel-good moments than feel-bad moments for the Phoenix Suns, the return of Leandro Barbosa is nearly at the top of the warm and cozy pile of things. The former and current Suns guard, a player that won the 2006-07 Sixth Man of the Year Award for his work with Mike D’Antoni’s ‘Seven Seconds of Less’-crew, hadn’t played with Phoenix since being traded to Toronto in 2010 for Hedo Turkoglu. Turkoglu, who has been a fan non-favorite in just about every city he’s played in save for Sacramento, clearly did not work out in Phoenix, and sadly Barbosa had nearly as many struggles as he bounced around to two other teams past Toronto.
Those struggles hit a low point in February 2013, when Barbosa tore the ACL and meniscus in his left knee while working for the Boston Celtics. For a player that relies on speedy athleticism and quickness to find ways toward the rim, having to return from a career-altering injury at age 31 seemed like quite the daunting task. Instead, Barbosa has returned to become a solid enough contributor for a Suns team that lost Eric Bledsoe to a meniscus tear (that went on the bad pile) earlier this season.
And on Monday night, with his temporary 10-day contract wrapping up, the Suns informed Barbosa that his comeback was complete. He was to be signed for the rest of the 2013-14 season. From Paul Coro at the Arizona Republic:
“It was really heavy on my shoulders,” Barbosa said. “I was worried. I can breathe. It was something I had in the back of my mind that I don’t now.”
“My shoulder is not 100 percent but I’m trying to help the team,” Barbosa said. “It’s a great, talented team. Very fun. I’m happy that I found out I’m going to stay. I’m going to pray and thank God because it was a hard time for me when I did the surgery. If I look back and see what I’ve been through, many people didn’t believe I could come back and play for the NBA again. Now, they say they want to stay with me for the rest of the year. It’s a great thing. There are more things for me to do. It’s not like I’m going to get the contract and chill. Now I’m going to work really hard because I really want to help the team and I know I can. But, for now, thank you Phoenix.”
Aww. Hugs all around.
Barbosa hasn’t exactly been a stopgap in Bledsoe’s absence, because his contributions aren’t anywhere near what Eric was giving the Suns prior to his injury, nor are they anywhere near Leandro at his peak in Phoenix. Any little bit helps, though, and Leandro has played exactly like what you’d expect 31-year old Leandro Barbosa, coming off of ACL surgery, to play like. As he acclimates more to Suns coach Jeff Hornacek’s playbook and works his way back into shape and full strength, things will improve.
For now, Leandro is averaging 8.7 points on 40 percent shooting in 21 minutes a game, but the speed looks like it’s in place – a welcome respite for Leandro after years of working in slowdown offenses in Toronto, Indiana, and Boston. Barbosa has managed five and-ones in nine games back with the team, and you can’t help but get the feeling in watching him that he’s at the low point in his season, shaking off the rust with new teammates, worrying about that contract.
In a day, the low point became a high point, and as Barbosa’s shooting touch and familiarity improve, the sustained speed could mean great things for a surprising and entertaining Suns team that could be sending guard Goran Dragic to the All-Star Game next month. For someone who is already beloved in the community for his work on and away from the court, this is all great news.
The Suns are a darn good ballclub, Hornacek has done brilliant work, but a touch of familiarity and a throwback presence (even if we’re only throwing back a few years) can’t help but make things even nicer.
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