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Phoenix Suns fans recently eating at a local Mexican restaurant found it curious when they saw their beloved former point guard Steve Nash dining with his replacement Goran Dragic. Several of those fans let Nash know what they felt about him leaving to join the rival Los Angeles Lakers.
Some fans "were saying, 'Steve come back, Steve come back,' " Dragic said. "Other fans were saying, 'Steve we got a new point guard now and we are going to beat your ass.' "
Nash became a two-time MVP and made the Suns one of the NBA's most entertaining teams during his time in Phoenix. But he never delivered a championship, and with the Suns having missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, the 38-year-old Nash figured it was time to look elsewhere as his career wound down.
"We won a lot of games. It was an exciting time in basketball for a lot of it," Nash said. "I look back on it with a lot of pride. It seems to be the way it happens in sports is no one parts amicably anymore."
Nash, who lives in New York during the offseason, could have signed with the Knicks. The Canada native also debated whether to join the Toronto Raptors. Instead, he took an opportunity to play with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, agreeing to a three-year, $27 million contract in a sign-and-trade deal that gave the Suns four draft picks, including first-rounders in 2013 and 2015.
Suns president Lon Babby wasn't thrilled about trading Nash to the Lakers, calling it a "basketball decision" that was better than losing Nash for nothing. Phoenix will now have significant salary-cap space next summer, giving them the ability to sign one or two major free agents.
"My first reaction was I can't do that," Babby said. "As time went on, [Suns owner] Robert Sarver was really good and said, 'We have to make a basketball decision that's best for our franchise.' "
Said Nash: "They were very kind to allow this trade to go through. I will always be thankful for that."
Dragic will need time to get used to seeing Nash in a Lakers uniform, especially considering how much Nash used to detest the Lakers.
"I was shocked," Dragic said. "Every time we played against the Lakers he was like, 'Let's beat 'em. I don't like the Lakers.' Now, he's over there."
The Suns attempted to sign restricted free-agent guard Eric Gordon, but their offer was matched by the New Orleans Hornets. They instead remade their roster by acquiring Dragic, forward Luis Scola, forward Michael Beasley, center Jermaine O'Neal and forward Wesley Johnson and by drafting North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry thinks his team has the talent to be better than expected this upcoming season. Nash agrees.
"They can be a surprise team this year," Nash said. "They brought in a lot of guys who can play. They brought in some young guys and put themselves in a position to build. I think they did a great job."
Dragic might be the biggest key to the Suns' success as he takes over as the starting point guard. The Suns traded Dragic to the Houston Rockets for point guard Aaron Brooks and a first-round pick on Feb. 24, 2011. After Dragic had a breakthrough season with the Rockets, he became expendable when Houston signed Jeremy Lin. Dragic returned to Suns on a four-year, $30 million contract. Gentry has told Dragic the Suns are "your team."
Dragic "has a lot more confidence now than when he left here," Gentry said. "He feels like he belongs. He feels like a real solid player. We're happy to have him. I told him, 'We are not replacing Steve. We are starting Goran Dragic as our point guard.' "
Dragic is looking forward to the challenge of finally proving himself as an every-day starter.
"When I was a kid, I dreamed about the moment of when I'd be a starter in the NBA," Dragic said. "Everyone wants to be a starter in the NBA. …It's going to be a real challenge for me, but I'm not scared."
Nash served as a mentor to Dragic during his first 2½ seasons with the Suns. At their recent dinner, he left the Suns' new point guard with some advice.
"The only thing he told me is to just be yourself and everything will be fine," Dragic said.
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