Suns president Bryan Colangelo said he never looked at Raja Bell as an insurance policy in the event the team lost starting shooting guard Joe Johnson in free agency.
But when it comes to insurance that the team would have someone to lock down on the Western Conference's best shooters, the Suns felt like they were in good hands the minute they locked up Bell with a five-year contract worth almost $24 million.
Undrafted in 1999 out of what was then Florida International, Bell bounced around Europe, the International Basketball League and the CBA until finally catching on with Philadelphia in 2001. Four years later, the 28-year-old Bell was a co-captain in Utah, averaging 12.3 points a game for the Jazz and earning NBA Sixth Man of the Year votes for his defensive prowess.
He was Phoenix's No. 1 target in free agency, and he was signed on the first day.
“We looked at our organization and said, ‘We're exciting, we're thrilling, but we really need to address toughness and competitive issues when it comes to the defensive end of the floor,'' Colangelo said. “And Raja has a reputation for doing just that.''
Bell said he relishes the challenge of defending stars such as Seattle's Ray Allen, San Antonio's Manu Ginobili and Los Angeles' Kobe Bryant, but the chance to play in the Suns' up-tempo offense alongside his former teammate in Dallas — reigning MVP Steve Nash — was also a big draw.
‘‘That was a major reason why I wanted to come to Phoenix,’’ the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Bell said. ‘‘I’m so excited about the style, the atmosphere and commitment to winning. It was really a no-brainer when I heard there was interest — this was the first team on my list.’’
There will be plenty of shots available on the perimeter with Quentin Richardson gone to the New York Knicks in a trade and Johnson all but gone to Atlanta in a sign-and-trade deal that should be completed this weekend. Bell shot 45 percent from the field and 40 percent (54-for-134) on 3-pointers last year and said he's ready to increase those totals in Phoenix's offense.
“I love to play defense, but I also like to score and (Nash) makes that easy,” Bell said. “But I know coming in what I was brought here to do. I'll worry about my toughness and defense and just figure there will be enough shots to go around.''