Suns labor in first season without Nash

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 18, 2013
The Phoenix Suns traded away two-time league MVP Steve Nash and let former All-Star Grant Hill leave to kick off a rebuilding effort, knowing it would likely lead to a difficult 2012-13 season. They probably didn't expect it to be this tough. With no go-to scorer, continuing defensive deficiencies and an interim coach who doesn't know if he'll be back in front of the bench, the Suns finished 25-57, the second-worst record in franchise history behind their 16-66 effort in their inaugural season in 1968-69. After a season like this, there's plenty of room to grow. ''It was a tough season,'' Suns point guard Goran Dragic said on Thursday as the players cleaned out their lockers at US Airways Center. ''We struggled to only have 25 wins. I don't know who is going to be here next season, but we have to remember this season, how it was, try to fix the situation so the next season is going to be better.'' The Suns went through a dramatic overhaul during the offseason, revamping their roster with an eye on getting younger. Unable to come to terms on a new contract with Nash, Phoenix left fans irate by trading him to the hated Lakers. Hill, another popular Suns player, also was allowed to become a free agent, signing with the Clippers, and forward Channing Frye had to sit out the season due to an enlarged heart. The Suns tried to make up for the losses by rebuilding their roster They signed Dragic, the former backup to Nash who was traded to Houston in 2010, along with Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson, two former high draft picks still trying to live up to their potential. Phoenix also added gritty forward Luis Scola, center Jermaine O'Neal and used the No. 13 overall pick in last year's draft to get North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall. The pieces never fit into a cohesive unit. Phoenix struggled from the start and went into a tailspin in December and January, losing 13 of 15 to cost popular coach Alvin Gentry his job after five seasons. The Suns then turned to player development director Lindsey Hunter as interim coach, a move that infuriated assistants Dan Majerle and Elston Turner, who left the team. The change in leadership didn't do much good; Phoenix closed the season with 16 losses in its final 19 games to finish a whopping 31 games behind the Clippers in the Pacific Division. ''It was a struggle for us - I'm not going to sugarcoat it,'' Suns guard Jared Dudley said. ''But hopefully we can get better next year.'' Dragic had an impressive return to the desert, leading the Suns with 14.7 points and 7.4 assists. Scola gave Phoenix a boost as well, averaging 12.8 points - second-best on the team - while grabbing 6.6 rebounds per game. The rest of the newcomers were inconsistent. O'Neal played well at times and was Phoenix's third-leading rebounder, but was limited to 55 games due to injuries and his 13-year-old daughter's heart surgery. Johnson had a hard time earning minutes under Gentry and took a little while to find a role under Hunter before finishing the season strong. He scored 15 or more points 10 times over the final two months of the season and finished with an 8.0 average. Along with Dragic, Beasley was Phoenix's biggest offseason acquisition after signing a three-year, $18 million contract. The No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 draft, he never fully lived up to the potential of his talent in four seasons with Miami and Minnesota, occasionally putting up big numbers, but also making bad decisions off the court. Beasley had a roller coaster of a first season in Phoenix, putting up big numbers one game, disappearing the next. He was chided by Hunter for not being mentally ready at times and saw his minutes dwindle as the season wound down. Beasley averaged 10.1 points and 3.8 rebounds. ''You always want to have a definitive rotation so the guys kind of know what's going on,'' Hunter said. ''In the situation we were in, we weren't able to do that because we weren't consistently playing well. And when you're not consistently playing well, you try to find guys or combinations that can give you something. Unfortunately, we were doing a lot of that.'' The Suns are set up to rebuild in the future, with plenty of salary cap space and a stockpile of draft picks. The question is whether Hunter will be leading them next season. ''If it's based on wins and losses, I don't stand a chance,'' he said with a laugh. ''But I won't worry about it. Whatever happens was supposed to happen.''
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