Teammates love to tease Channing Frye. They mock his love for the city of Portland, Ore. They laughed aloud when the big softy was kicked out of a game for fighting, and how he became the target of Kevin Garnett's ire.

And yet a wonderful thing has happened for the Suns in the stretch run of 2010-11:

Frye has become something of a tough guy.

"I've been the hero," Frye said. "And I'm not afraid to be the goat."

When Frye was awarded a 5-year, $30 million contract after one good season in Phoenix, many felt the owner was giving the one-dimensional player an alumni bonus. Jared Dudley wondered how he could get his hands on that kind of money. Fans wondered why Robert Sarver wouldn't show such generosity to Amar'e Stoudemire.

Now it seems like a bargain.

Frye is primarily a floor-spacing, spot-up shooter with great touch. That hasn't changed. But he has improved as a defender. That takes work. He began asserting himself as a rebounder, and that takes courage. The latter is a trait not always associated with Frye, the local kid with the suburban name and the suburban game to match.

Now the Suns have a big man playing big-boy basketball, and it has made a tremendous difference.

"The people who say I'm a finesse player are the ones who can't guard me on the perimeter," Frye said. "And that's all perception, anyway. I never back down from anybody. Nobody is going to punk me out on the court. Sometimes you get torched, like what happened to me with Dirk Nowitzki. That happens. But I'm always going to compete, and I've always said that when my opportunity comes, I'm going to grab it."