DALLAS — On March 23, Jimmer Fredette played his first NBA minutes in more than three years, logging 4:21 for Phoenix in a road loss at Sacramento.
One day earlier, the Glens Falls native had signed with the Suns. He’s appeared in six contests, averaging just under 11 minutes a game. Even with his limited bench role, his return to the Association has still been a success.
“Yeah, it’s been fun. A great opportunity to come back and be a part of the Suns organization,” Fredette, 30, said prior to Phoenix’s season finale Tuesday night in Dallas. “I’m grateful for that opportunity. I’m just glad to be back in the same time zone, back in America where I can talk to my family all day and be closer to them.”
Fredette has spent the past three seasons in China with Shanghai of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). And in his three years there, he’s built a rock-solid resume, one including a scoring title and a CBA International MVP award.
Of course, he’s not the first NBA player to venture to China. Some who have traveled a similar path didn’t enjoy their time there, while others remain lukewarm about their experiences. Fredette, however, savored every minute.
“It’s been an awesome experience. It really helped me out as a person, as a player,” he said.
Phoenix first-year head coach Igor Kokoskov likes the veteran presence Fredette has brought to his young roster, but regrets not being able to find more substantial minutes for the well-traveled guard.
“Once we signed him and brought him in, we knew his agenda, what he was about. Definitely a very talented offensive player,” Kokoskov said. “We just feel bad that there’s some games where we didn’t find more minutes for him, but very happy that he is enjoying the team and with what he brought to this team.”
The Suns’ season ended with a 120-109 loss in Dallas, a game where Mavericks franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki, a former NBA and Finals MVP, playing his final time at home to cap an incredible 21-year career, was center stage.
Nowitzki, who led Dallas to the 2011 NBA title, was honored throughout the night, including in a postgame ceremony which featured fellow NBA legends Charles Barkley and Larry Bird. Fredette and his teammates remained on the court to see the ceremony and Jimmer, who’s played against Nowitzki on several occasions, was left in awe.
“It’s unbelievable. To play in the NBA for 21 years is spectacular,” Fredette said. “Most people aren’t healthy enough to play for that long. To be able to play for the same team for 21 years, it’s unheard of. He’s a legend, one of the greatest basketball players ever. He’s a great guy and a guy you want to be involved with.”
Once that game ended, the Suns’ 2018-19 season was over. That means Fredette’s next course of action is returning to Denver, where he and his family call home, to spend plenty of quality time with his wife and two children.
Becoming a father is one big difference between the Jimmer who last played in the NBA in 2016 and the current incarnation.
“Yeah for sure, it definitely does (change your life),” he said. “You just want to be with them and that’s the most important thing in your life. It puts everything in perspective. It’s an amazing feeling. I’m excited to get back with our baby boy, Taft. Now we’ve got two. I know I’m going to be busy this summer, so I’m trying to get as much sleep as I can right now.”
Also on his summer itinerary is a trip back to Glens Falls to see friends, family and other well-wishers.
“It’s a small town, but there’s a lot of great people from there. I just love being able to tell people that I’m from Glens Falls,” Fredette beamed. “A blue-collar town, the people there have just followed my career and stayed faithful the whole time. I’ve always appreciated that. I love to be able to get back each summer and see my old friends and family and be able to feel like I’m home again.”
Fredette played only six games for the Suns as a late-season addition, and despite a lack of consistent minutes, still had a positive impact on an incredibly young roster, both on and off the court, as a veteran that many of his teammates grew up watching at Brigham Young University.
“They all grew up watching me in college when they were in middle school and high school. I feel a lot older now, which is unbelievable. When I first came in the league, I was the young guy and now being one of the older guys on this team, it’s a complete 180,” Fredette said. “It’s a good feeling.”
As for his future, Phoenix holds a team option on Fredette for next season, so the ball is clearly in the Suns’ court as to whether he remains a Sun or changes teams in the fall. Phoenix won just 19 games this season, tying it with Cleveland for the second-fewest victories in the NBA, meaning the Suns will again pick high in the draft.
Picking in the lottery yet again means next year’s team will be even younger than this Suns squad, which means opportunities exist for a veteran or two like Fredette who can provide leadership in the room and on the court.
But Fredette won’t spend his summer worrying about whether he remains a Sun or if he ventures elsewhere next season.
“Yeah, I’m going to see what happens. Obviously, it was a great opportunity (in China) for the last three years,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen in the future and you’ve got to take it as it comes. Obviously, my goal is to be here (in Phoenix) and play here. I’m definitely not opposed to going back there (to China). If that’s where I end up being, then I know how it is. I know the situation and am comfortable with that, but the focus and plan is to be here, be in the NBA and be able to play with my family when I go home on occasion and be able to live with them again. I’m excited for that opportunity and hope that’s the case.”