The Diamondbacks are stagnant, the Coyotes irrelevant and the Cardinals worrisome. If you are in need of a dose of positive Valley sports karma, spend a few minutes with Jared Dudley.
Training camp opens in 11 days and no one is more excited about wearing a Suns jersey than the third-year forward. If you're looking for a tangible example of what's right with professional sports, for a guy who won't go Serena Williams on an official or suffer repeated bouts with unsportsmanlike behavior off the court, Dudley's your man.
He's an NBA anomaly, a 6-foot-7 forward with questionable hops, so questionable that when he dunks in practice, his teammates stop action and demand it's recorded on video.
If you put Dudley through NBA pre-draft workouts, "in the combine portion, he'd come out undraftable," David Griffin, the Suns senior vice president of basketball operations, said smiling. "But in the Wonderlic category? He's a lottery pick."
Dudley's best trait is that he knows his role and embraces it. The Suns need him to come off the bench and wear down the defense as well as space the floor for Amaré Stoudemire on offense. Gentry wants him to give the reserves an identity. If they follow Dudley's lead, they'll not only provide a dose of energy but always be in the right position.
"Everybody's blessed with different talents," Dudley, 24, said. "Like early on in college, I wasn't someone who could shoot the ball really well. I was good at other things and I focused on those."
That's why he was a four-year starter at Boston College, where he earned the nickname "Junkyard Dog," and left there as the ACC Player of the Year. That's why, even though he didn't put up crazy numbers in pre-draft workouts, he was the 22nd pick overall in the 2007 draft by the Charlotte Bobcats.
Although some players treat practices like they are merely auditing them, Dudley is a true student of the game. Since joining the Suns midseason in the trade that sent Raja Bell and Boris Diaw to Charlotte, he has studied the best traits of his teammates so he can both emulate and complement their play.
He marvels at Steve Nash's mastery of the pick-and-roll and the guard's high shooting percentage from the field and free-throw line. He notes Grant Hill's ability to stay in top shape and is in awe of the player's diet and weight-room approach.
And he pays attention to Stoudemire's work ethic, a trait for which he believes the star forward doesn't receive enough credit.
"He lifts all the time," Dudley said. "Then he comes back at night and gets his shots done."
Dudley spent part of the off-season in Las Vegas so he could compete in games with players such as Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul and Tayshaun Prince. He left early, however, despite his lease, when he heard Stoudemire, Nash and Hill were already back in Phoenix practicing.
"I thought, 'If they're back, then I definitely have to be back,' " Dudley said.
Dudley has made the most of his time in Phoenix since he returned from Las Vegas. He goes out of his way to connect with fans, from frequent "tweets" to Internet chats. He revealed during a Slam magazine online chat Wednesday that when he was young, he wore the Fila shoes associated with Hill.
He's engaging because he is equal parts entertaining and honest. He acknowledges chemistry was an issue last season, in part because two key ingredients were shipped off in the trade that brought him here.
He was thrilled about that trade. He loves the area, has connected with the community and already has taken in a preseason Cardinals game because he's a "Matt Leinart and USC fan."
He believes in the Suns organization and hopes to help prove skeptical fans wrong.
"We're not as talented as some of the top teams yet just by having Steve and Amaré we have a shot," he said.
Gentry feels having Dudley is a perk, too.
"He's an intelligent player and he's a lot more skilled than he'll admit, to," he said. "I think he'll be in the NBA 10, 12 years easily because he'll do the necessary things to help you win games.
"He's the kind of guy every coach wants to be on his team."
And the kind of a guy the Valley sports community needs right now.