PHOENIX — Late in the third quarter of a preseason game with limited interludes of importance, Channing Frye fired a 3-point shot that bounced off the front rim and politely passed through on its descent.
“Joel Freeland was like, ‘How did that go in?’ ” Frye said, recollecting one of those important interludes during the Suns’ Wednesday night triumph in Portland.
Here was Frye’s response:
“When I shoot, I always expect it to go in. That’s my job.”
And Frye being able to do his job again was the main reason this practice game seemed so compelling. After missing all of last season with an enlarged heart, the former University of Arizona and Phoenix St. Mary’s High star had returned to the Suns with the seemingly optimistic hope of playing sometime in December.
“You know me,” Frye said after Friday’s practice at US Airways Center. “I just continue to push myself, and here I am.”
Bagging 14 points — making 5 of 6 shots, including 3 of 4 from deep — in 16 minutes in Portland had a few reporters pushing Frye for insights regarding a surprisingly swift readjustment to NBA-level basketball. Until a couple of weeks ago, we weren’t certain the Suns’ medical staff would even allow Frye to attempt a comeback yet.
When that hurdle was cleared, the Suns — and Frye, to some extent — believed it would take a while for the 6-foot-11 stretch four to achieve levels of conditioning and timing worthy of playing time.
First-year coach Jeff Hornacek, whose commitment to a faster tempo and an appropriately spaced offensive alignment wasn’t exactly accompanied by a legion of sharpshooters, certainly expected much less at this juncture.
“Yeah, because I didn’t think he was going to play at all,” Hornacek said. “I thought he’d go slowly, but he kept pushing through stuff during training camp. He rarely sat out.”
But he did sit out during Monday night’s game with Maccabi Haifa, setting up his return in a place (Portland) that’s become his second home.
“Very emotional,” Frye said when asked if the gravity of what he’d been through accompanied him into Wednesday’s game. “I was emotional all day. I think, to me … it’s like … what an opportunity.”
An opportunity he made the most of … as in making 5 of 6 shots.
“I got hot,” said Frye, who had warmed up during camp in Flagstaff, a run of elite marksmanship that included last Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage.
With Markieff Morris stepping into the lead power forward gig and a couple of card-carrying centers looming as stunt doubles at that position, Frye’s comeback suddenly has provided Hornacek with more options.
“Once they said he could play,” Hornacek said, “we all started thinking about him.”
Are they thinking of him in a starting capacity?
“We don’t know,” Hornacek said. “We don’t know how we’re to do it yet.”
But barring a setback, Frye seems good to go once the regular season begins. Beyond his ability to make jumpers and keep help defenders out of the lane, Frye’s experience is important on a team with so many inexperienced newcomers.
“He’s a veteran guy,” Hornacek said. “He’s been around long enough to know how to play basketball, and we see it through rotations defensively where some guys are still slow to react. He knows the game, and he’s already there.
“That makes it a lot easier, especially teaching the young guys.”
The mentoring aspect is fine and important, but Frye — the Suns’ senior citizen at age 30 — isn’t preparing to take a subordinate role.
“My attitude is like I’m all in,” he said. “It’s awesome to be able to get out there and run. We have the best training staff in the league, and they continually help me push myself to the maximum but then recover and be able to do it again the next day.”
For most of the past year, Frye’s physical exertion was limited to light yoga. Now, he’s attempting to regain sufficient strength and stamina to battle some of the biggest, baddest players in professional sports.
“I was saying December,” he said of his return target, “but here I go playing the second game of preseason. I’m going to use this preseason as much as any veteran is going to use it.”