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Young Suns look for improvement in slow climb to contention

By BOB BAUM

AP Sports Writer

PHOENIX (AP) The Phoenix Suns went back to work Monday, not quite as young as they were before but still with a long road ahead before their youthful talent matures into NBA contenders.

They will move forward without Alan Williams, the energetic, emotional center who played his way into a regular role late last season and signed a three-year, $17 million contract with $6 million guaranteed. It was a big reward for a player who grew up in Phoenix and whose mother is the city's police chief.

Williams underwent surgery Monday to repair a torn meniscus and, general manager Ryan McDonough said, will miss half the season or more.

"Anytime a player gets injured it's tough for the group, tough for the organization, tough for his teammates," McDonough said, "but I think this one really hit close to home with a lot of our guys. They really like Al. I've said it before, I'll say it again, I think he's the most popular teammate on our roster."

The Suns, who won 24 games last season, haven't made the playoffs in six years, the longest drought in the franchise's long history, and prospects aren't good this year either. But the front office and ownership has decided to build from within, developing young talent so at some point they will be able to compete with the powerhouses of the Western Conference.

"Our goal is to try to win a championship," McDonough said. "We have a time frame in mind. I hope it's this year but it's probably not. .... I hope a few years from now people look back and say, `Boy they might have been young and there might have been some growing pains along the way but they really built something special.'"

Devin Booker, who turns 21 next month, is the rising star. He scored 70 points in a game against Boston last season.

"The next step for Devin is rebounding, rebounding and solid defense," coach Earl Watson said, "being accountable at both ends of the court. He's phenomenal offensively, one of the most gifted players I've ever seen at such a young age."

The Suns also have 24-year-old T.J. Warren, 20-year-old Marquese Chriss, 19-year-old Dragan Bender and 21-year-old Tyler Ulis.

Then there is the newest addition, 20-year-old forward Josh Jackson, the fourth-overall pick in the draft out of Kansas who already has wowed the Suns in summer workouts.

"From what I've seen in our offseason workouts and summer leagues and the pickup games we've had, we got exactly what we thought we were getting, maybe more," McDonough said. "He might even be better than we thought and we thought he'd be pretty darned good coming out of the draft."

Veteran Tyson Chandler said Jackson reminds him of "a young Kawhi Leonard."

"He's a superstar just waiting to happen," Watson said.

The Suns headed to Flagstaff after media day ended for a week of high-altitude training camp.

Updated September 25, 2017

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