October 16, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) Two seasons ago, the Phoenix Suns were one of the NBA's surprise teams, winning 48 games and barely missing the playoffs.

Last season was a big step backward, and after adding Tyson Chandler as a big presence on the court and inside the locker room, the Suns are an otherwise young bunch aiming to compete for a playoff spot in the tough West.

It's been a tough time for what used to be one of the West's most admired franchises. The Suns haven't made the playoffs since 2010, when Steve Nash led the highly entertaining, high-speed team to the Western Conference finals.

Chandler sees depth as a strength of these Suns.

''This is a roster with a lot of young talent,'' he said, ''a roster that can grow together.''

Chandler signed a four-year, $52 million contract to come to Phoenix. General manager Ryan McDonough made a strong bid for free agent LaMarcus Aldridge, and the Suns were reportedly one of two teams the former Portland star considered but he chose San Antonio.

So Chandler became the big addition.

He sees his job as ''helping these guys grow, help them understand what it takes to win, how dedicated you've got to be in this league if you want to win.''

Last year's effort to go with three point guards was a failure and the Suns wound up trading two of them - Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. But Brandon Knight came from Milwaukee in one of those trade deadline deals, so Phoenix again will go with two point guards - Knight and Eric Bledsoe.

Here are some things to watch for with the Suns this season.

MARKIEFF'S ATTITUDE: Suns power forward Markieff Morris was unhappy, to say the least, when the team traded his twin brother Marcus to Detroit.

Markieff said in a series of tweets that he too would not be with the Suns this season.

But here he is, and he's said all the right things, that he will improve as a player ''with or without my brother.''

''He's been great,'' coach Jeff Hornacek said. ''He's obviously worked on his game, which we knew he was going to. The game's slow to him now. He knows exactly what to do. He's not afraid to take big shots. We've seen that last year. He's determined to go out there and help this team win.''

Those who made a big deal of Markieff's offseason tweets didn't know him day to day like the coaches do, Hornacek said.

''The coaches aren't surprised,'' by his attitude going into the season, Hornacek said.

SMALL COMPETITION: The biggest competition in the preseason has been at small forward between P.J. Tucker and T.J. Warren.

Tucker is known for his toughness and his defense. Warren is a prolific scorer.

Hornacek may decide to rotate the players, using Tucker when the team is facing a high-scoring small forward and Warren when the opponent has some defense deficiencies.

BLEDSOE & KNIGHT: Bledsoe and Knight didn't get much chance to play together. Knight was injured shortly after his arrival.

Bledsoe stayed in Phoenix all summer to work with his teammates, unlike a year ago when he stayed away to await resolution of his contract situation.

''I think they're still learning how to grow together,'' Chandler said. ''I think there's a lot of potential there. When you look at the two of them and you look at their strengths, they really should complement one another - Bledsoe being a freak athlete who can penetrate at will. Brandon, he shoots the ball. Having two guys on the court that can make plays, one basically shoots the ball like a two guard. They should be complementary.''

THE KID CAN PLAY: First-round draft pick Devin Booker has made a big impression, and the Suns expect the 18-year-old sharpshooter to contribute right away.

''He's proved that he knows how to play the game,'' Hornacek said. ''Typically with young guys you're going to worry about that. How many times is he going to be in the wrong spot? But he's done a good job of that. He knows how to play the 3 game. He makes the plays. He's going to, like every rookie in this league, go through some growing pains. But he's not afraid of the foul line, he's not afraid of a last-second shot.''

HORNACEK'S CONTRACT: Hornacek is entering the final year of a three-year contract, and there's no sign an extension is imminent.

After a long career as a player, he shrugs it off.

''Just like a player,'' he said, ''you do your job.''

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