Timing is everything when it comes to playing for an NBA winner. Eric Piatkowski is the perfect example.
The sharpshooter spent nearly a decade toiling for the other team in Los Angeles, averaging in double figures three times for the Clippers and proving to be one of their most consistent players.
But the Clippers reached the playoffs only once under frugal owner Donald Sterling over that span — 1996-97, when they were swept in three games by Utah.
Only after Piatkowski left for Houston and Chicago did Sterling finally pry open his wallet and give the Clippers a fighting chance. By then, Piatkowski was caught in another rebuilding project with the Bulls.
A month shy of his 36th birthday, the University of Nebraska product is finally in the right place at the right time. As a role player on a talented, smart, up-tempo team, he's among players talking not about what it will take to reach the postseason, but what it will take to win it all.
“Just being around this kind of optimism and knowing it's not just talk — you have no idea," said Piatkowski, who jumped at the chance to sign for the $1 million minimum with Phoenix as soon as free agency began. “I've been with so many teams talking about rebuilding or how if this and this happens, the playoffs could happen.
“This team has high expectations and all the necessary tools to achieve them. It will be the kind of season when you look up in March and April and say, ‘Gee, where did the time go?’
“When you're losing, it's like it will never end. It's just torture, and no one is coming to rescue you."
Piatkowski knows his minutes will be limited, his opportunities inconsistent and his seat on the Phoenix bench quite familiar. He played only a few minutes in the first half of Phoenix's preseason win over Lottomatica Roma last Thursday and is questionable against the Philadelphia 76ers in Cologne, Germany, after spraining his ankle in practice Monday.
A smart player who keeps himself in excellent shape, he is a career 40-percent shooter from 3-point range. He led the Clippers in 3s during eight of his nine seasons.
It's a perfect fit.
“System-wise, this is great. And I've evolved into a role player and even when I was at my peak, I wasn't a 40-minute guy," he said. “When you've played 12 years, and a lot of them are over before they start, you learn to overlook a lot of the individual stuff. Playing for great organizations like Chicago and Phoenix, quality of life and having a chance to be on a winner are the important priorities.
“This team is led by talented, focused and sincere players. They are doing everything they can to win. Instead of trying to kill each other in practice, we are building, trying to reach a level of fitness and working toward peaking at the right time. There isn't a hint of doubt, and that's fun to be around."
Playing the wing in Phoenix is about hustle, defense, spacing and being ready to shoot, a checklist Piatkowski knows he can handle.
“Playing against them, I know there is no way to prepare for how the Suns play," he said. “I'm not a guy who creates off the dribble, but I don't have to worry about that here. Teams have to worry about stopping Steve Nash or Shawn Marion or Raja Bell or Amaré (Stoudemire) or (Leandro) Barbosa — who's going to worry about me?
“All I have to do is knock down wide-open looks. And when I don't play, I'll be the loudest guy on the bench and the happiest when we win."