It's somehow comforting that Danny Ainge is still generating boos in the Delta Center.
Put him in the uniform of a Celtic, a Trail Blazer, a Sun or a nun, and fans still would see the former BYU All-American as the villain.Sure, there was a scattering of applause for him during pregame introductions Thursday, but it was overwhelmed by the boos. Whenever his name was announced during the game, there were fresh boos.
All that, of course, means nothing to Ainge, who is less concerned with changing his image than with trying to blend in with his new team. It's not like going to Portland as the new guy on an established team. In Phoenix, the coach and several key players are new.
"I'm right there with everyone else this time around," he said.
Truth be told, Ainge did little in Utah's sloppy, 102-91 loss to the Suns to merit fan abuse. He made two of five shots from the field, scored eight points, snared one rebound and didn't have an assist.
It was Phoenix's best performance of the young season, however, and the first sign that this team of diverse personalities might be starting to blend.
"We've really been struggling, trying to find an identity," Ainge said. "It hasn't been good chemistry on the court for us, but tonight it was."
Ainge said the suggestions that Phoenix - with players like himself, Tom Chambers and His Outspokenness, Charles Barkley - might have chemistry problems off the court are silly. And he's particularly tired of being asked what it's like to play with Chambers, his University of Utah rival from more than a decade ago.
"I've been asked that question so many times, and it's just the stupidest question," Ainge said. "When I was in Boston, Barkley was our rival. It doesn't mean anything now. Every player wants to play with good players."
As for playing with Barkley, Ainge said, "It's fun. Charles has a great enthusiasm that's contagious. He says some silly things sometimes, but he's fun. I hope it stays like that."
Phoenix signed Ainge during the offseason to be the backup shooting guard, behind Dan Majerle, who has stepped up to starter since the departure of Jeff Hornacek. Ainge went with Phoenix because they offered him a three-year contract, something Portland wouldn't do. He had an off year shooting last season, but he's a veteran, a pesky defender, and a hustler.
He's shooting just 30 percent from the field in three games this season, but he thinks that's more a matter of the Suns' struggling to mesh their offense than of his losing his touch.
"Dan (Majerle), Tom (Chambers) and Cedric (Ceballos) have also been missing shots, so it's not just a coincidence," Ainge said. "I'm not trying to make excuses; we're just out of sync."
And despite the Suns' success on Thursday, Ainge doesn't think Phoenix has the West wrapped up, as many have forecast. He expects the Jazz, for one, to get things together and play much better next time they meet.
"Every team has games like that," he said. "We know they are a much better team than they were tonight."