Dragic said the feud with Vujacic was all "in the moment" and not a reflection of their off-court friendship.

"All roads led back to Goran Dragic," said Suns President Lon Babby said at the press conference on July 19, 2012 to re-introduce Goran Dragic.

Dragic officially signed a $30 million, 4-year free agent contract with the Phoenix Suns. And with that, our Slovenian Luke Skywalker fulfills his longtime dream of finally taking the reigns from Yoda Steve Nash as the Suns' point guard of the present and future.

To get here, Dragic had to experience an exile of sorts to learn and command the "force" self-confidence needed to accomplish amazing feats on a consistent basis. With the Suns for the first two and a half of his four NBA years, Dragic experienced some incredible highs (26 points in a playoff game...in San Antonio...with 23 of those points coming in the 4th quarter!) as well as some depressing lows (playing so poorly in 2011 he was traded with a #1 pick for another backup PG).

But then Dragic set the NBA on fire again, this time for more than a quarter or a game at a time. He led the Rockets on a late playoff charge - at one point passing up the Suns like they were standing still (which they were) - before a late-season team-wide fade where everyone tailed off around him.

And now the Suns, in need of a #1 point guard, brought Dragic back into the fold.

"It was best for him (to go to Houston)...What's best for us is to bring him back," Babby said, looking at some notes. "There's an old saying. You have to be big enough to admit your mistakes, strong enough to profit from them and strong enough to correct them."

Hit the jump for a proper mea culpa from yours truly.

When Dragic was traded 17 months ago in a last-minute deal with Houston to acquire the reigning NBA Most Improved Player (Aaron Brooks), I was one of the few who agreed with the move. I wrote that Dragic had regressed, and that he had never shown the consistent self-confidence or command of the team to ever be the starter on a winning team when Nash inevitably left.

The second unit led by Dragic that season was in shambles. In fact, save for only a 3-month stretch in the spring of 2010, the second unit had always been in shambles under Dragic's leadership.

"My first two years in the NBA, I was a lost Euro," Dragic admitted with a chuckle at the press conference.

In his rookie season, Dragic played more than 25 minutes only twice, had more than 10 points only six times, and had more than four assists only 5 times. He could barely get the ball down the court under pressure, always turning away from the pressure which stifled the entire offense.

Yet, Dragic showed flashes of moxie. More than once, when the ball was stolen from him he would chase down the guy and steal the ball right back. And then that time when Jamaal Tinsley dribbled the ball between Goran's legs, on almost the very next play Dragic did the same right back to Tinsley. Dragic did not back down. Ever.

In year two, Dragic made dramatic improvements though he still had only 8 games with at least 25 minutes of court time.

In one of only two starts that year, he put up 16 pts, 10 assists and 4 rebounds in 40 minutes to lead the Suns to a win over an Oklahoma City team on a 9-game winning streak. In OKC. And without, by definition, the Suns best player in Steve Nash.

In a late-season game against San Antonio, Dragic led the Suns on a fourth quarter comeback against San Antonio where the Suns' second unit outscored the mighty Spurs starters to close out the win. Right there was a defining moment for that Suns team - that their bench mob could close the deal against some of the league's best. And that Dragic was the head of that snake.

And then of course there was the 2010 playoffs. When Nash struggled with his health in the opening round against Portland, Dragic's bench mob held up well in their scant minutes. Then against San Antonio, he had the magic 26-point game (23 in the 4th) in game 3. And against the Lakers, he had the famous run-ins with Sasha Vujacic and the ankle-breaking drive through traffic to help seal a home win.

But only twice in the playoffs did he get more than 20 minutes on the court, not with Steve Nash driven to play through obvious pain to carry the Suns to the NBA Finals.

Before the 2010-11 season started, I wrote an article warning that fans and media would expect too much from Dragic after the last memories of 2010. He was still Nash's backup, still destined for only 15 minutes a game. And still only an NBA baby.

Predictably, to me, Dragic struggled in 2010-11. He was one of the worst NBA players in that season - partly due to a lesser surrounding cast on the second unit, but mostly due to his own play. By February, with a new regime hoping for a playoff berth in their first season running the team, Dragic was traded to Houston for the disgruntled but reigning NBA Most Improved Player, Aaron Brooks.

I applauded this move. I saw regression in Dragic's third season and wondered if he could ever run a team consistently. I was looking past the here and now, and toward the post-Nash future. Brooks had a 68-49 record as a starter, had shown the ability to score against anyone and had done it successfully in the playoffs. I expected a lot from Nash's backup when Brooks showed up. We all know how that turned out for the Suns and Brooks.

"At first I was really sad," Dragic said. "But then I realized that was part of the business. It was the best thing to happen to me. I could play more minutes, I could demonstrate I could play in the NBA. I don't have hard feelings of any guys. That's why I come back. I like it here and I have a bright future."

If Dragic had stayed in Phoenix, we wouldn't know if he could be the long-term starter because Nash never sat out for extended periods of time. The front office would likely have signed a different point guard this offseason to compete with Dragic, and probably for a bigger contract. And Dragic may have chosen to make a new start somewhere else if that had happened.

But that's not how it went. How it went was that Dragic was "loaned" to Houston to get more minutes and a chance to prove himself. Kevin McHale loved him (and his 18 pts, 8.4 assists and 2 steals per game as a starter) and even wanted Dragic over Jeremy Lin and Kyle Lowry. But Dragic wanted to return to Phoenix.

"I don't have any hard feelings for this organization," Dragic said in the press conference. "Going to Houston was good for me, and I am really happy to be back and play for coach Alvin.

"Phoenix is my home. I have happy memories here, and I'm looking forward to give everything I got, to being strong, to battle. Thank you once again for the Phoenix organization for bringing me back home."

This time, he gets to come home to a place without Steve Nash for the first time since 2004. Fans will mourn the loss of Nash, and any point guard taking over Nash's position was bound to be put in a no-win situation.

But if you had to script it, is there any better option than the return of the Dragon from exile? Fans loved, loved, loved Goran Dragic. He represents a fun part of the Suns' history - that 2010 playoff run. And he CHOSE Phoenix over other opportunities, demonstrating his love for the organization.

"Kid, just wait for your opportunity," Dragic said Nash told him. "You're going to have one or two opportunities, and you've got to take advantage of it."

Goran Dragic is an underdog. A kid from Slovenia who couldn't shoot, pass or dribble under NBA pressure when he first arrived in 2008 after a protracted negotiation and large buyout from his Euro team.

So what's different now about Dragic that we didn't see in his first three years in the league?

"I became better at running the team," Dragic said. "I became more vocal on the court, talking a lot with players in Houston and coach Kevin."

Dragic mentioned "home" and "confidence" and "being verbal" several times in the 28-minute presser, while Babby mentioned "mistake" at least 3 times.

"Now, my fifth season in the NBA, and now I just know things. I learned from the best, Steve."

"The thing that I like about him is the intensity and the competitiveness that he plays with," Gentry said. "Becomes very important for what we are trying to do here."

Dragic - who was offered more money from Charlotte and also had heavy interest from Houston and Toronto - is looking forward to playing with Luis Scola next season, who was just claimed on amnesty waivers by the Suns a few days ago.

"Scola is a great player, a great guy. I played with him when I was 17 years old in Spain, and then in Houston, and now Phoenix. He is going to be a great help, a great leader."

It will help Dragic to play with several guys that he knows well, including Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick, and maybe even Robin Lopez in addition to Scola. At the end of the press conference, Dragic stood and held up his new jersey with the number 1 on it.

"I chose No. 1 because it's a fresh start for me, it's a second time that I came back," Dragic said. "I'm a new guy now. I'm a different player, different person than when I was here. I want to have a fresh start here."

The first time Dragic played in Phoenix, it took the Suns two years to get the tilde over the 'c' in Dragic. Now it's there on day one.


PHOENIX — At his end of year press conference following the 2010-11 season, Lon Babby took the podium and proclaimed that “the jury’s out” on the trade that sent Goran Dragic and a...

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[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
PHOENIX — When Goran Dragic visited the Suns as a free agent on July 4, the team’s front office sold him on something that had always been there. Phoenix was his home, and home was where...

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Kendall Marshall's pro career has gotten off to a rough start. But that's OK. He still has plenty of time to make the transition.

The Phoenix Suns drafted point guard Kendall Marshall with the 13th overall pick in the NBA Draft. High expectations are an inevitable result of being a lottery pick, and Marshall is no different. Many fans immediately penciled Marshall in as the back-up point guard as soon as he was drafted, and some even considered starting him before Goran Dragic signed with the Suns.

Now, after just two summer league games and a total of 59 minutes and 31 seconds of playing time, many fans are freaking out and almost ready to whip out the bust title. The truth is, Kendall Marshall is not ready to be an NBA point guard right now. But that's okay. It's time to temper expectations and let the kid develop. He has a lot of changes to make, and a short amount of time to make them in.

Kendall Marshall was one of the best collegiate distributors in the last 10 years. He finished his sophomore season second in the NCAA in assists per game and set the all-time single-season assists record in the ACC. His entire game is about moving the ball and getting it to his teammates where they are most effective.

Coming out of high school, Marshall committed to North Carolina, one of the most prestigious basketball schools in the country. He began his career backing up Larry Drew, the incumbent at the point for the Tar Heels. However, by mid-season, the team was struggling and Marshall was given the chance to show what he could do. He took advantage of that opportunity and never looked back.

Marshall wowed fans with his incredible court vision and quickly won his teammates over with his unselfish play. North Carolina had plenty of talented athletes (as they always do), but Marshall was the missing piece that tied it all together.

He was put in the best possible position to succeed for a player with his unique talents. During his time in Chapel Hill, Marshall was surrounded by skilled bigs and knock-down shooters, and all of them could run the floor. He developed great chemistry with these players and knew all their strengths and weaknesses. He knew how they played and where they liked to get the ball. Joined in the starting line-up by three other first round draft picks (with a likely 2013 lottery pick coming off the bench), Marshall didn't need to score. All he was asked to do was push the tempo, pick apart defenses and spread the ball around to the shooters and finishers. He did that at a high level for two years, and became very comfortable in that role.

But that's not going to cut it in the NBA. He's not going to be able to just sit back and pass the ball like he did in college. Marshall is going to have to learn to play a different way.

We saw him try to play his North Carolina game in his professional debut, and the result was five assists, five turnovers, one shot attempt and a 15-point loss. He appeared to be uncomfortable and unsure of himself, and it showed in his play. After the game, Suns Summer League head coach Dan Majerle said Marshall is going to have to shoot more.

Marshall took Majerle's words to heart in his second game, but the results weren't any better as he went 1-10 from the field and the Suns lost again.

"Yeah, they were pretty adamant about that, you know, telling me to shoot the ball and it’s a little different for me so it’s something I have to get used to," Marshall said after his second game.

He knows he has to work on it. He knows he has to get in the gym and work on his jumper. That's the first step. Majerle noted the progress from game one to game two for Marshall.

"He played better. A little bit more comfortable. You can see his confidence growing. He’s still got a long way to go, but we’re going to expect that. He made strides definitely from last game."

There is so much truth in that quote. Yes, Marshall did make strides in his second game. Perhaps those strides weren’t as long as some fans were expecting, but he did play better. That being said, the rookie does have a long way to go. A long way. But the team expected nothing more from him, and certainly isn’t ready to give up on him yet.

The summer league roster he is playing with is very different from the team he meshed so well with in college. There aren’t many slashers or shooters or true big men. Instead, the roster is full of combo-forwards, and most of them look to post up or face up and go one-on-one. There doesn’t appear to be much chemistry with this team right now and the players don’t know how to play together. This is not the type of roster that allows Marshall to play to his strengths.

Another factor to consider is Marshall is just now returning to the court after injuring his elbow and wrist. He is still trying to get back to where he was before the injury, both from a physical and a mental standpoint.

"It’s still going to take time to get into game shape," Marshall said. "Obviously summer league games are a lot different from season games. You know, season, they’re back to back to back for four or five months. Once I figure that out I’ll be good."

Despite the struggles, Majerle still has plenty of confidence in his point guard.

"He’s got to figure it out. I just told him to have fun, don’t worry about anything," Majerle said. "He was a little nervous [on Tuesday]. I said you’ll figure it out and take your shot when it’s there. He’ll get it done. He’s a good player. You can see that he knows what he’s doing."

If you watch Marshall closely, there are some positives. As Majerle said, he does know what he’s doing. Marshall loves to run and is looking to push the tempo every chance he gets, often having to urge his teammates to run with him. He looks to get the ball up the court as soon as possible and is a very good outlet passer. He’s also made some impressive passes in the halfcourt, including some pick-and-roll plays with Markieff Morris and a few cross-court skip passes to wide open shooters.

He may have only one made field goal, but it was an impressive one. He used a series of head fakes and jab steps to set up a long pull-up jumper that hit nothing but net. He also made an impressive move to the basket before having his layup roll off the rim.

However, the negatives still outweigh the positives at this point. His jumper needs a lot of work, and he needs to be more aggressive. So far, he spends most of his time around the perimeter and rarely drives past the free-throw line. The next step for Marshall in his progression is to focus on penetrating and getting the ball in the paint. He needs to look to make plays rather than just passes.

We may or may not see that in the final two games of the Summer League. The most important thing for fans is to be patient. He is far from a finished product. But he knows that, and he knows what he needs to work on. Pre-season will be very important for Marshall’s development, so hold off on any serious evaluations until then. The coaching staff still has confidence in Marshall, and until he proves otherwise fans should as well.

All he needs is time.

Have patience.


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