PHOENIX — At 6-foot-11, Channing Frye does not have an easy time with physical exams as it is. His stride is so long that he hits the front of the treadmill during the stress test that measures heart response, and he almost bumps his head on the ceiling.
The exam he took two weeks ago was one he really hated: It showed an enlarged heart that could end Frye’s season and perhaps, in a worst case scenario, his career.
“Being realistic, our expectation is that he may well miss the season,” Suns president Lon Babby said Friday, “but the priority is on his well-being.”
Frye, 29, was looking forward to an increased role this season, both on the floor and as locker-room presence, in the absence of veteran playmakers and team leaders Steve Nash and Grant Hill. Frye heard the criticism of the team’s offseason moves, and he was anxious to play a part in proving them ill-founded.
That changed after an initial diagnosis was confirmed at the Mayo Clinic earlier this week. Frye is to limit himself physically for at least the next three months, at which time he will be re-examined by team cardiologist Dr. Tim Byrne and probably get another opinion. Doctors have found no damage to the heart valves and see no indication of a genetically caused weakness for the increase in size but diminished function of Frye’s heart muscles, a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy.
“At the end of the day, the most likely cause is a virus,” Dr. Byrne said. “There is a very good chance he could return to a normal lifestyle. The chances are better than not.”
The shock of the initial diagnosis led Frye to wonder if his career was over, although he later said: “I’m not done yet. I still have a lot to prove.”
“Any time you hear something about your heart … it’s not a knee, it’s not a shoulder, it’s not your foot. We just have to wait and see. I can kind of rehab it by doing nothing. I want to be optimistic. There is always hope that after four months, five months, six months, that I’m back to normal and it was just your normal virus,” Frye said.
“I would almost say (it is) irresponsible of me to push something like this unless I have full clearance. I’m never going to be 100 percent after eight years in the league, but at least 99. This is not something to play with, because this affects me every day I am running out there and pushing myself.
“I’m going to hope to come back as soon as I can, but at the same time, I have to allow my body to do what it has to do so when my son is 15, 16, I don’t have to sit on the sidelines. I can actually go out and hoop with him and run with my daughter and go out there and play.”
Frye’s exercise regimen for the near future includes yoga, Pilates, golf and walking. He has a son, Hendrix, 2, and a daughter, Margeaux, soon to be 1.
To play with the condition could risk a catastrophic event on the court. Boston Celtics guard Reggie Lewis died on the floor during a practice on July 27, 1993, of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a structural heart defect. Loyola Marymount player Hank Gathers collapsed on the court in a West Coast Conference tournament game on March 4, 1990, of the same condition. While Frye’s diagnosis is different, the effects could be the same, Dr. Byrne said.
“High-level aerobic activity is to be avoided, at least in the short run,” Dr. Byrne said. “When he is cleared, he will be cleared to participate at the highest level, but that’s when and if.
“We’ll know a lot better about where we are in 90 days. In some patients, (recovery) happens very rapidly, and in some it takes a little bit longer. There is really no way to predict the future on this.”
Frye said the diagnosis came from “the left-field stands.” He had been working out strenuously to rehabilitate the right shoulder injury that ended his season last April in anticipation of an expanded role that might have included some post-up work in addition to perimeter shooting, which had been his specialty while averaging 11.5 points and making 436 3-pointers in three seasons with Suns.
Frye’s absence could mean an increased role for second-year forward Markieff Morris, Babby said, and will not trigger another move for a retooled roster that includes new/old point guard Goran Dragic, small forward Michael Beasley, power forwards Luis Scola and Jermaine O’Neal and No. 1 draft pick Kendall Marshall to a nucleus of Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley.
Frye said he plans to attend home games and will be in the facility to rehabilitate his shoulder. He also will take advantage of the extra time to spend with his family, a rarity for a professional athlete.
“I like being involved. I like being part of the guys. But at the same time, they need to develop their own chemistry,” Frye said. “I look at it as a rare opportunity to spend time with my family that I may not get again. I want to soak this all weekend (and) give them an answer on Monday of what I want to do and what is going to work best for them. I don’t think traveling a lot is going to be in the cards.”
Frye said the response has been overwhelming — he received 50 text messages immediately after Suns’ press release Thursday as well as hundreds of tweets and emails.
“This is probably just a turn in the road, but at the same time, it’s good when you are running a marathon and have people supporting you and cheering you and giving you a glass of water when you are thirsty,” he said.