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Alvin Gentry has one of the better unknown players in the league in center Marcin Gortat.
Alvin Gentry has one of the better little-known players in the league in center Marcin Gortat.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images

Nash-less Suns enter season as one of biggest unknowns

By Scott Howard-Cooper, for NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2012 2:07PM

Maybe it helps that the guy taking the first stab at replacing Steve Nash is the guy who used to replace Steve Nash.

Goran Dragic, the former backup to Nash with the Suns before being traded to the Rockets, has returned to Phoenix as a free agent and the new successor to Nash. Dragic has the advantage of knowing the system of coach Alvin Gentry, however much it may be altered in this, the most transition of seasons on Planet Orange. He also has the advantage of knowing the new/old home base and has the advantage of knowing what he is getting into in taking over for one of the more popular athletes in the city in any sport.

There is just the one disadvantage.

He is replacing Steve Nash.

Dragic can't really know what to expect. That's fine, though. Same goes for all the Suns -- for the whole league, really. The uncertainty is roster wide. This is a bridge season for the entire organization because, yes, Marcin Gortat has become one of the better centers without many outside Phoenix noticing, and, sure, Luis Scola was an excellent addition to form a big-man tandem with Gortat, and, definitely, point guard actually has the kind of depth and hope for the future most teams would envy. But this is the first time in an NBA generation that the franchise is going at it without Nash and Grant Hill.

While the change from Nash was long overdue, it doesn't change the fact that it makes the Suns one of the bigger unknowns of the league. Nash, in Phoenix since 2004-2005 in his second stint before leaving for the Lakers in a sign-and-trade, and Hill, since 2007-08 before taking a free-agent deal with the Clippers, were more than just central pieces of the lineup. They helped set a tone with a determination and work ethic that will be examples for years to come. They also were the kind of citizens few in the NBA can match, and they continued to play at a high level well after most their age had retired.

The Suns knew going into camp that their lineup was set, barring sudden shifts. Dragic at point guard, Michael Beasley at small forward, Scola at power forward and Gortat at center, with Jared Dudley or Shannon Brown at shooting guard. The Suns also knew that absolutely nothing is set in this brave new world.

How would the new pieces fit on the court, with Scola, Beasley, lottery-pick point guard Kendall Marshall, Wesley Johnson and Jermaine O'Neal in Phoenix for the first time?

How would the chemistry work, or not work, with Nash and Hill gone?

"I don't know," Gentry said when asked how good the Suns can be this season. "Obviously it's going to be how the chemistry of the team comes together. Luis Scola obviously is one of those guys that seems to be a great teammate wherever he's been, on the Olympic team, in Houston, wherever. That's a good thing. And then we've got Michael Beasley, who's a very talented guy. He's a much more mature player than he was a few years back and I think he understands what has to be done off the court, so we like that, too. Kendall is a guy that's going to take some time, but I think he's going to be a very good player. We got good talent. We're just going to have to make it come together."

Among the certainties is that although the Suns project as a lottery team, this could still be a credible team far from the skeleton crew some envision. There are a lot worse ways to lean into the wind than with Gortat, Scola and Dragic out front, with Marshall arriving as the best pass-first point guard in the draft, and a veteran coaching staff that has delivered unexpectedly positive results before.

"The one word I'll preach is patience," Gentry said. "It's not anything that's going to happen overnight. It's going to be a process, and the fans and everybody else has to be patient enough to understand that."

Just so everyone knows what to expect.

Three points

1. Dudley-Brown is the real position battle, but Dragic-Marshall is the glamour showdown. One is here on a four-year contract worth a reported $34 million, the other as the No. 13 pick in the draft. Two big investments, one job. Plus, both are suspect shooters, so playing them together will be a challenge. Dragic had a clear early lead based on experience.

2. Beasley, the former No. 2 pick, has another chance to find career stability after going from the Timberwolves to the Suns as a free agent. He has a clear path to the starting lineup as Hill's successor at small forward for a team that will need to replace lost scoring.

3. In what would have been a 2012-13 of transition anyway, news that Channing Frye will probably miss the entire season because of an enlarged heart was an unexpected roster blow in September. Frye started at power forward last season and had the 3-point range to cause matchup problems as a complement to Gortat or Scola.

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

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

AT A GLANCE

LAST YEAR: 33-33, 3rd in Pacific

FINISH: Missed playoffs

2011-12 Regular Season Standings

2011-12 TEAM LEADERS

Marcin Gortat

15.4 PPG

Marcin Gortat

10.0 RPG

Steve Nash

10.7 APG

2011-12 STATISTICS

 OFFENSEDEFENSE
PPG98.498.6
RPG41.743.4
APG22.521.5
FG %0.4580.455
3PT %0.3430.352
FT %0.7570.762
 Complete 2011-12 Stats 
STARTING FIVE

GORAN DRAGIC, POINT GUARD

11.7 PPG | 2.5 RPG | 5.3 APG

Steve Nash's former backup in Phoenix has returned to the Valley of the Sun to be Nash's successor. He's quick and crafty, but those are some big sneakers there to fill, eh?

JARED DUDLEY, SHOOTING GUARD

12.7 PPG | 4.6 RPG | 1.7 APG

Versatile and dependable, Dudley is coming off the best shooting season of his young career (better than 48 percent overall).

MICHAEL BEASLEY, SMALL FORWARD

11.5 PPG | 4.4 RPG | 1.0 APG

Talented if sometimes a tad excitable, Beasley has a clear path to another starting job after being displaced in Minnesota.

LUIS SCOLA, POWER FORWARD

15.5 PPG | 6.5 RPG | 2.1 APG

A scrapper that fell into the Suns' laps after he was amnestied by the Rockets, Scola gives the new-look Suns a needed boost.

MARCIN GORTAT, CENTER

15.4 PPG | 10.0 RPG | 0.9 APG

Gortat, with Nash running the show in Phoenix, quietly developed into one of the more dependable centers in the game. But can he pick and roll with Dragic?

RESERVES
NAMEHTWTPOSCOMMENT
Shannon Brown6-4210GIn the mix at shooting guard.
Kendall Marshall6-4195GHopes to push Dragic for minutes at the point.
Markieff Morris6-10245FScola arrival could cost Morris minutes.
 Complete Roster 
OFFSEASON MOVES

ADDED: F Michael Beasley, G Goran Dragic, G Wesley Johnson, G Kendall Marshall, F Jermaine O'Neal, F Luis Scola

LOST:  F Josh Childress, F Grant Hill, C Robin Lopez, G Steve Nash, G Ronnie Price

MAN ON THE SPOT

GORAN DRAGIC, G

After shining for stretches in Houston, Dragic finds himself in a great situation in his return to Phoenix. No longer a fill-in or the understudy, the 6-foot-4 point guard is being given the reins to run the Suns in the post-Steve Nash era.

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