Goran Dragic looks for Phoenix rise
The 27-year-old point guard took over the reins of the Suns last season from Steve Nash but could do little to arrest a slide toward the draft lottery in a 25-win campaign that underlined the feeling that one personnel move after another in recent times could be adjudged a bust.
As a result, the team cleaned house, cutting ties with the troubled Michael Beasley, saying goodbye to GM Lance Blanks and bringing in Ryan McDonough from the Celtics as a replacement. The Suns then installed former fan favorite Jeff Hornacek as head coach. They now have a much younger roster, a ton of salary-cap flexibility, a small stock of first-round picks and, most importantly of all, the chance to re-build over the coming years.
At the EuroBasket championships this month in his native Slovenia, Dragic led his national team to fifth place, averaging 15.8 points and 4.5 assists per game. And in conversations with the fifth-year point guard, Dragic said Hornacek promised to revive a familiar look in the desert to begin the process of turning the Suns around.
"He told me he wants to bring back that old Phoenix Suns basketball, up-tempo game, try to create off the dribble and off fast breaks," Dragic told ESPN.com. "Probably a little like we play with Slovenia, putting pressure on the ball and trying and play as fast as possible.
"Of course, we still have a lot of salary cap. Probably next year, we'll go for big names, one of the superstars. But I think we drafted well, especially Alex Len, the big guy from Ukraine. Then we brought in Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers. So I think we'll play together in the backcourt, me as a 2 or 1, him as a 1 or 2. That will be a good combo for us."
Dragic figures to take on an even greater load with so many new faces around. However, he has had plenty of practice over the past six weeks. He figures to be an All-Tournament selection at EuroBasket, shrugging off the intense scrutiny which comes when you are the most recognizable member of the home team in the biggest sporting event your country has ever staged.
"Doing well here has given me extra confidence," said Dragic, who agreed to a four-year contract when he returned to Phoenix last summer as Nash's replacement.
With a little more help back in the NBA, he could do something similar.
"Every season I try to improve my game, try to get one step higher," he said. "Last year was the first year that I was a starting point guard in the NBA and playing all 82 games. For me personally, I had a great season. We did not have a good season with the team, we had a lot of ups and downs.
"I felt a lot of pressure with this European Championship, the pressure from the Slovenian people, expecting big things from me. As a point guard, I have to lead this team, I have to create, I have to defend, I have to score.
"It was really hard job for me. But in the end, I'm never going to step away."