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Young, Nash-less Suns take first steps back to respectability

Young, Nash-less Suns take first steps back

POSTED: Sep 7, 2012 9:48 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury


Goran Dragic (left) is back in Phoenix to take over for his mentor, Steve Nash.

This is the seventh in a series of articles on the teams that did not make the playoffs last season, previewing their prospects of making it to the postseason in 2012-13. Coming Wednesday: the New Orleans Hornets.

For a team as aptly named as the Suns, it really was as plain as day from where Lance Blanks sits as general manager.

Time to move on.

"From my perspective, it was obvious that we were at a point where we needed to inject something for our future," he said. "In order to move forward, to move the needle, we could not be afraid to embrace change and to start a new era."

It meant letting go of two-time MVP Steve Nash and taking a flyer on a former No. 2 pick, Michael Beasley. It meant bringing back an old local favorite in Goran Dragic and adding a steady veteran presence in Luis Scola.

"We've added a lot of new faces, guys that match our situation in that their careers align pretty smoothly with where we are as an organization. They have something to prove, they want or need a fresh start. A lot of them are youthful and have a lot of room to grow. And we're a team that has to start to grow all over again.

"We're aware of the challenges that Michael Beasley has had on and off the court, mostly off. But we're betting on ourselves as much as on him that we can get him to make the right decisions.

"Goran's situation is what I'd call a successful failure. He probably needed to go away [to Houston] to get the chance to become the player he's shown. But I know you don't often get a chance to get a young player of his caliber back again for another chance.

"This is a team you don't want to put any predictions on because of the newness of the group together. Not a whole lot would surprise me about this team. I believe these guys are talented, but we have to be careful not to put too much on them.

"Right now, it sounds like fun. Of course, it's always fun and always looks great for all 30 teams in mid-August. So we'll have to wait and see what the season brings. But what we know for sure is it's a new start."

Where they've been

The Suns have spent the past two seasons trying to convince themselves that an era of run and gun and fun and surprisingly deep playoffs runs weren't a thing of the past, as outdated a concept as, say, easy mortgage money and parachute pants. After clock struck midnight on the Cinderella sprint to the Western Conference finals in 2010, when Ron Artest caught Kobe Bryant's airball in Game 5, they've been trying to recapture the magic with little success. An extra win here or there in either of the past two years could have let them sneak into the playoffs at the No. 8 spot, but little else. It was difficult emotionally to let Nash take that walk to the Lakers, but it was a necessary step nonetheless.

Where they are now

It was always the plan for Dragic to succeed Nash as the man running the offense. But maybe it was never going to happen if he had to sit on the bench in Nash's shadow. Now, after a breakout year in Houston, Dragic returns as confident and capable and he'll be backed up by the first round pick Kendall Marshall, who many thought was the best pure point in the Draft. The 1-2 combo of Marcin Gortat and Scola on the frontline is quite promising. At stop No. 3 already in the fifth season of his pro career, Beasley is at the point where he wakes up and gets it or is simply passed around the league in coming seasons like an old gym bag. While the Suns also added veterans Jermaine O'Neal up front and Wesley Johnson at shooting guard, more than any other player on the roster, Beasley determines how fast the rebuilding process gets up and running.

Biggest hurdle

Despite the nice mix of youthful talent and enthusiasm with some steady veterans, there will obviously be a period of adjustment as the new parts learn to play together. And it all has to happen for the first time in nine seasons without Nash there to pull it all together. It's one thing to say you're ready to turn the page. It's something else entirely to actually do it.

Where they're going

If the lightbulb suddenly goes on inside Beasley's head and he comprehends what it takes to be a professional, the Suns will have gotten a bonus lottery pick and be a quantum leap ahead in their plan. But with his track record in Miami and Minnesota, that's a longshot. It's more likely that a young nucleus takes its lumps this season, adds another lottery pick in the Draft next June and keeps moving toward steady and serious improvement down the line.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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