The best thing about Penny Hardaway this season is the noise level he's generated about being a reserve who averages 19 minutes per game.
That level would be zero decibels.
The dry Salt River bed is generating more waves than Hardaway, who the Suns say is both playing smoothly and accepting his new role gracefully.
This was true even when his playing time dropped to as little as 12 minutes a couple of weeks into the season.
"Penny hasn't complained one bit," says coach Frank Johnson.
"I was just going with the flow," Hardaway says.
Going with the flow? In the past, the flow might be as turbulent as the rapids on the approach to Niagara Falls.
As recently as the team's media day gathering before training camp, Hardaway seemed skeptical at the news that he might be backing up Joe Johnson at off guard. But the squeaky-wheel days seem to be fading in the Suns' rear-view mirror. Much like Dan Majerle, another player whose role evolved in different directions over the years for the Suns and other clubs, Hardaway — one of a host of players who were once dubbed "the next Michael Jordan" — seems at peace with his status as a role player.
One bit of evidence that Hardaway is content is his latest tattoo. Written just below his right shoulder are the words, "The Storm is Over." The Suns appear to appreciate the passing of the dark clouds. Johnson recently called Hardaway in for a meeting to assure him that his playing time would be more consistent. This meeting was Johnson's idea, not the result of any unhappiness on Hardaway's part, Johnson emphasized.
In reducing his time to nearly single-digit minutes, "I made a mistake," Johnson says.
Hardaway now can count on entering the game somewhere around the 7:00, 6:00 or 5:00 mark of the first quarter. And there's a good chance he'll play extended minutes.
Hardaway now is not only backing up Johnson, who is playing well, but he's also at times relieving Stephon Marbury as the club's point guard.
"He's done a fantastic job of running the team," Johnson says.
Part of the reason for Hardaway's confident, yet low-key approach is that he's healthy. His legs are working and there haven't been any other setbacks, such as last year's thumb injury, which kept him out for 24 games.
Because of past injuries, "I was second-guessing myself," Hardaway says. But not any more.
"I can still do everything I did in the past," be it leaping over the rim, posting up or hitting shots.
And yet, "I've balanced my whole game to fit into the system this team has. If I were playing for Cleveland or the Clippers, you'd see a different style of play.
"But . . . I haven't been shooting more than three to five times a game. . . I know it's not my job to lead the team in scoring. . . . I'm just doing the little things to help the team win."
He acknowledges that, "There's a lot I had to let go," in adopting this approach, but he's done so just the same.
"That just comes with being a pro," he says. "You keep your mouth shut, keep practicing and make the most of the minutes you get."
Says Johnson of Hardaway's quietly effective attitude, "That's just total leadership. "He's done everything I've asked, everything the other coaches have asked. I'm happy for him."