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Scott Howard-Cooper

Argentina's Luis Scola (right), battling LeBron James in London, will play for Phoenix next season.
Catherine Steenkeste/NBAE via Getty Images

Suns finally break from past to envision a promising future

Posted Aug 5 2012 10:16AM

Steve Nash is gone, to the Lakers in a sign-and-trade. Grant Hill is gone, to the Clippers as a free agent. These are good things.

Not how they happened, necessarily, especially the way the Suns maneuvered themselves into a position of weakness in dealing Nash. But now, at least, the Suns can cross the bridge to the future. It might not be pretty in the standings for a while, but at least it is moving on, and few teams, if any, so desperately needed to get on with their life.

On the other hand, it might not be that ugly in the standings either. New acquisitions Luis Scola and Goran Dragic join with returning double-double man Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley. They'll have lottery pick Kendall Marshall for point-guard depth behind Dragic. They aren't starting from the bottom.

Of course Nash and Hill will be missed. There will be anguishing weeks in the schedule. Fans will hurt seeing the demon Lakers come through town a couple times, especially if Los Angeles is still among the elite and Kobe Bryant is playing with a blinding swagger thanks to his new backcourt partner, Nash.

But this will be the first season of building for something, not the first season without Nash and Hill. The end of holding on to something that had not existed since the 2010 run to the Western Conference final, when even that accomplishment was unexpected.

"It's going to be different," Markieff Morris said. "But somebody has to step up to be the leader. We're just trying to find ourselves without those guys here."

Who will lead? Morris finds himself as one of the longest-tenured Suns, since he's in his second season and all. But Dudley is the one who has really been around forever. He arrived in December 2008. Dragic is in the conversation with an asterisk. He was with the Suns from the start of the 2008-09 season before being traded to the Rockets for Aaron Brooks in February 2011.

"Eventually there was going to have to be closure," coach Alvin Gentry said. "The organization decided to do it right now, so it's just a matter of us taking that transition and moving into another phase of Suns basketball."

The phase of new blood.

"I think it's good for us and I think it's good for Steve also," Gentry said. "It puts him in a good place where he has a chance maybe to win a championship. The same thing with Grant. Now we've got good young players and we've got to develop them and we've got to try to make this transition and try to get back to where we're a factor in the West and a factor in the NBA."

Adding a lottery pick -- Marshall, in this case -- and being involved in free agency and the trade market were always obvious options. The Suns signed Dragic, even after picking Marshall at No. 13 as the best pass-first point guard in the Draft, and then Michael Beasley as the projected starting small forward. They re-signed Shannon Brown. They dealt Robin Lopez, Hakim Warrick, cash and a second-round pick in a three-way trade with the Hornets and Timberwolves that returned Wesley Johnson and a first-rounder, plus also cleared the potential for $15 million in cap space next summer.

Scola, though, was unexpected, and he is key to the new Suns. Once the Rockets amnestied him and the Suns won the claim, he became the kind of boost that greatly accelerates a move to the future. Phoenix, after years of sifting through power-forward candidates, suddenly had a windfall answer with a durable, skilled offensive presence to play alongside Gortat's dependable rebounding.

With Beasley (or Dudley) projected to start at small forward, Gortat at center and Scola, the new frontcourt had quickly come together.

"The one word I'll preach is patience," Gentry said. "It's not anything that's going to happen overnight. I do think that at some stage, we'll kind of get it together and it will come together, but I don't think it's just going to be something where we walk out October 1st and everything is there. It's going to be a process, and the fans and everybody else has to be patient enough to understand that."

They should understand that, through the losses and the disappointment of splitting with Nash and Hill. It's a good thing.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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