PHOENIX -- It wasn't the clichd "best shape of my life" line often uttered before the start of a new season, but Phoenix Suns center Robin Lopez did report Thursday that he's doing a whole lot better physically than he was last season.
With an unusually long break due to the NBA's 149-day lockout, Lopez said he's feeling healthier and more athletic after struggling at the end of last season, thanks in part to lingering effects of a March 2010 back injury.
"I just needed to make sure I used the break to get in the right mindset for this upcoming season and try to get right physically," Lopez said. "Just seeing where I am now athletically, I don't think I realized how much I was missing."
Lopez made it very clear he's not blaming his struggles on injury issues, saying he "just wasn't playing well, period." But with those issues behind him, the fourth-year center is looking forward to getting back on the court.
"For the first time in a while, I'm hoping that I can contribute to a pretty good front line out here," Lopez said. "Obviously we've got Marcin (Gortat), and I'm hoping I can contribute where I failed to contribute last year."
Lopez was one of three Suns players the others being Steve Nash and Zabian Dowdell to work out at US Airways Center on Thursday, the first day the arena was available to players since the NBA and the players union reached an tentative agreement to end the lockout.
In what was a disappointing 2010-11 season for the Suns, Lopez's play was particularly glaring. After making strides the previous year amid the Suns' run to the Western Conference Finals, Lopez seemed to regress last season. Some of those struggles were no doubt injury-related, but now Lopez says he feels more smooth and athletic and has better lift and agility.
"I haven't had any pain while playing," Lopez said. "I feel a lot quicker, a lot bouncier."
Lopez kept pretty busy during the offseason, working out with other pros and playing a pair of exhibition games with the likes of Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, Hawks center Al Horford and Kings point guard Tyreke Evans as part of a U.S.O. Tour in Hawaii last month.
Most interestingly, Lopez -- along with his twin brother, Brook -- spent time in the offseason working out in Houston with legendary NBA center Hakeem Olajuwon. Due to the lockout, the trip was on Lopez's tab, but he didn't mind anteing up for the chance to learn from a legend.
"That's just an eye-opener," Lopez said. "He has so many moves down in the post that it's impossible to absorb them all. You've got to pick one or two to work and then go from there. I think I picked up one or two moves from him."
As for the business side of things, Lopez got plenty involved, attending meetings and votes regarding lockout issues.
"It's my job and it's my future," Lopez said. "I felt like I should definitely keep in touch with this. I was hoping a few of the younger guys -- well, not younger guys, but a few of the rookies -- might kind of be a little more interested in it, but they seem to be a little more excited to play."
So is Lopez happy with the deal the players appear ready to approve?
"At the end of the day, it's not a bad situation," Lopez said. "It may not be exactly what we wanted, but I guess with all that business out of the way, it's time to have some fun. Time to play some basketball."