TUALATIN, Ore. – The last time Ronnie Price returned to Phoenix, the experience ended as one he and Trail Blazers would rather forget.
It was Preseason Game No. 2. The Blazers had just beaten the new-look Los Angeles Lakers then the transience of any self-satisfaction disappeared – along with the team defense – in the desert.
“Our worst preseason game,” was how coach Terry Stotts recalled the 104-93 result earlier this week.
The reunion-gone-awry reached worrisome levels after the game as Price, who spent the strike-shortened season as the Suns’ backup point guard, limped out of US Airways Center on crutches.
Early in the fourth quarter, Price had risen for a jump shot and his right foot landed on top of the front of Kendall Marshall’s left shoe. The play resulted in a sprained ankle for Price that threw a pebble into the Blazers’ waters, affecting their rotation for weeks.
On Wednesday night, Price, fresh from his best performance as a Blazer, will stroll back into his former workplace without the support of a walking aid and, without an ounce of fear.
“The whole injury thing, thankfully it wasn’t a major injury so I don’t have any eerie feelings about coming back into the arena and playing, by any means,” said Price, who is in his eighth year in the NBA. “Although the injury was pretty bad, it wasn’t something that put me out for the season.”
Since returning to the lineup in the third regular-season game, Price’s minutes and production have fluctuated.
However, on Sunday, Price pieced together his best overall performance as the Blazers (5-5) extended the winning streak to three games.
Price scored 10 points – becoming the first Portland bench player to reach double figures this season – assisted in five field goals and his steady backup play gave starter Damian Lillard a break as he logged nearly 20 minutes on the floor.
It was as complete of a game that Price has played since last Valentine’s Day when he filled in for the Suns’ regular starter, Steve Nash, and contributed 10 and 6 in 33 minutes.
Coincidentally, that performance came during a stretch as Price attempted to play through a sprain on his right big toe. Eventually the injury would sideline him for a month and by the time Price returned in March, the Suns’ season had disintegrated into a guessing game of “who’s coming back?”
“You didn’t really know but you could tell that something was going to take place,” Price recalled. “It was pretty obvious that you knew some changes were going to be made – you didn’t know what, but you knew some changes were going to be made. Of course, everyone was really waiting to see what Steve was going to do. Once the situation with Steve and Grant (Hill) was pretty much a done deal then everything would start to work its way in the process.”
“We all at the end of the season last year pretty much decided that we’d keep in touch (because) no one knew what was going to exactly take place.”
So after saying his goodbyes, over the summer Price would relocate to Portland with a one-year contract in hand.
Price continues to wear a reminder of his last visit to Phoenix, as medical tape still braces his right ankle. But when the Blazers’ team bus pulls up into the garage of US Airways Center, positive thoughts will dominate his mind.
“Definitely walking in there, seeing the staff and the workers around the arena,” Price said. “To see those guys are pretty cool.”
“I still look at (Wednesday) as a good chance to go play against some old friends and old teammates and try to get a win.”