Goran Dragic Crucial to Rebuilding Suns
Entering play Monday sporting a 15-30 record, good for bottom cellar dweller status in the brutal Western Conference, it’s clear that the Phoenix Suns are already looking towards the future. Just over a week ago, Phoenix and former head coach Alvin Gentry decided to part ways after the team got off to a 13-28 start – the Suns’ worst start to a season this century.
Taking Gentry’s place at the helm of the floundering Suns is the team’s former Director of Player Personnel, and 17-year NBA vet, Lindsey Hunter. In the midst of his first season on the bench as an NBA coach, the Suns’ interim head coach realizes the uphill struggle the rest of the 2012-13 season is going to be.
“There’s a lot of work to be done and everybody realizes that,” Hunter said. “We also realize that we can’t overhaul everything over night, it takes time. As much as we can, we’ll continue working on the things that we can work on, whatever that means. We do understand what’s ahead of us and everybody is excited about changing.”
One bright spot for the Suns this season has been the excellent play of offseason free agent acquisition Goran Dragic. After biding his time in a backup role for the majority of his first four NBA seasons, Dragic has emerged as one of the most explosive young point guards in the league.
With a 2-2 record over his first four games coached, Hunter has leaned heavily on Dragic but believes the 26-year-old is just scratching the surface of his NBA potential.
“Goran (Dragic), as good as he is now, he’s worlds away from how good he can be,” Hunter said. “We continue to work with him and encourage him to be more of a vocal leader and to grow his game. That’s what we’re trying to do and he’s doing a great job and being really receptive towards coaching.”
For his part, Dragic seems to be taking the season in stride despite putting the re-tooled Suns on his back for most of the year. Beginning the season as the starting point guard for the first time in his career, Dragic is the Suns team leader in points (14.2), assists (6.3) and steals (1.4) per contest.
“It’s a bumpy season, we’ve made a lot of changes, a lot of new guys and now it’s a new coach,” Dragic told HOOPSWORLD. “It’s a learning process for us, our team, and our organization. We’re trying to rebuild and I’m only here to play basketball, so I’m trying to do my best. With a new coach we’ve won two out of [four] games, so hopefully we can get started going again. Just keep fighting until the end, hopefully we can turn around this season.”
Because Gentry was let go almost three months into the season, there isn’t much practice time to implement a new system even if that was on Hunter’s agenda. Because this is his first time coaching, understandably Hunter has leaned heavily on his assistant coaches to help ease the burden for Hunter at the helm.
Still, even with the same roster and largely the same schemes in place, Dragic says the change still hasn’t been easy.
“It’s hard to change, especially the offensive sets in the middle of the season,” Dragic said. “But we’re really trying to change our defense, in practice we play really good defense and we’re going to try and do that during games. We just have to focus and try to learn and try to be solid.”
In terms of how he views his new coach Hunter, Dragic tells HOOPSWORLD that, while he understands the business, it wasn’t easy to see Coach Gentry hit the road.
“I was surprised but that’s business,” Dragic said. “You never know when players or coaches are going to get graded or get fired. It was a hard thing for everybody because we knew him so well and he was with us for so many years, but that’s just part of the business. I will always be grateful for what he did for me, he gave me a chance in this league and I wish him all the best for the future.”
Looking at all of Phoenix’s moves over the past year, as the team braced itself for life after Steve Nash; it’s clear that the choice to replace the two-time MVP with Dragic was the Suns’ best decision.
Starting center Marcin Gortat has been unhappy with his role on the team and has been rumored to be on the block with the Suns positioned at the bottom of the West. Fellow newcomers this offseason Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson have severely underperformed, and first-round draft pick Kendall Marshall has barely touched the court.
Looking over the roster, Dragic is clearly who Phoenix is going to try to build around over the next three years of his contract with the Suns. Judging by his play on the court and his new head coach’s words of reverence, that might not be such a bad thing for the youthful and rebuilding Suns.