'New' Suns begin first camp of post-Steve Nash era

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- With coach Alvin Gentry's pronouncement, "They're gone and they're not going to come back," the Phoenix Suns prepared to open their first training camp of the post-Steve Nash and Grant Hill era.

The Suns have six new players, not counting the five they added this week to pad the roster for the camp's opening in San Diego on Tuesday. The latter group includes former Arizona State standout forward Ike Diogu.

One newcomer isn't really new at all. Point guard Goran Dragic is in his second stint with the team. He was traded to the Houston Rockets in the 2010-11 season.

Others among the incoming are forward Luis Scola, forward Michael Beasley, guard Wesley Johnson, center Jermaine O'Neal, and rookie point guard Kendall Marshall, the team's first-round draft pick.

Now Gentry's job is to put this group together to compete in the West. Expectations from the outside are decidedly modest.

"We're not trying to chase the Lakers right now," Gentry acknowledged at the team's media day on Monday. "We're trying to re-establish what we're going to be and the culture of our team for years to come, and it will start on Tuesday."

He was asked if he believed this is a playoff team.

"I believe that we're going to compete every night and play hard, and I believe we're going to play unselfishly," Gentry said. "Whatever that brings, that's what we'll accept."

Dragic, self-effacing but full of confidence after taking over and playing well last season in Houston, return to the Suns to replace one of the best playmakers in the game's history.

"It's tough but still I'm not like Steve, nobody is like Steve," Dragic said. "He's one of a kind. I just want to be Goran Dragic. I know we have a different game, so I'll just try to be me, play hard as possible every night and give my team 100 percent."

Dragic will benefit from the presence of a teammate from Houston, Scola, the 6-foot-9 Argentine who looks forward to providing leadership on this exceedingly young team.

"Hopefully what I do on the court and off the court will help this team grow," he said. "I don't know if that's so, but I will try to make that the case."

This is the first training camp without Nash since he signed with Phoenix in 2004 and transformed the team into an ultra-up-tempo squad, entertaining all who watched and advancing twice to the Western Conference finals, but never any farther. Hill, one of the most respected men in professional sports, joined in 2007 and resuscitated a career that had been devastated by injury.

But after the departure of Amar'e Stoudemire to the New York Knicks, the Suns descended into mediocrity and after last season, Nash and Hill left for the greener pastures of Los Angeles, Nash to the Lakers and Hill to the Clippers.

Another absence on Monday had not been planned. Forward Channing Frye, who during a routine exam two weeks ago was diagnosed with an enlarged heart. He is expected to miss the season.

"It's a lot bigger deal than basketball," Gentry said. "I'm happy that he's OK right now. He's got a great family, two wonderful kids."

Gentry said he believes the Suns are "still going to be a pretty deep thing, have the ability to play nine or 10 guys. We will really miss Channing. He's still going to be a part of our team. Anytime he wants to be here, he wants to be around, he will be here with us."

Gentry, entering his fourth full season as Suns coach, promises to maintain the fast-paced style with improved half-court play and, as is always promised, an improved defense.

"Hey, we like being the underdog," he said. "It should give you the incentive to play harder, work harder, do everything that's necessary because, basically, what they're saying is they don't believe in us. We believe in us. The coaches believe in us, the players believe in us. At the end of the day, that's the only thing that matters."

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