PHOENIX — Alvin Gentry’s two young boys skipped into the visiting locker room after Tuesday night’s game and ran over to their newest favorite Rocket.
He asked them about school and they told him how much they already miss him almost two weeks after his trade to Houston.
Yes, it was a strange night in US Airways Center withrocking red threads and speaking about how disappointed he was about the Suns winning after getting a visit from his former coach’s kids.
With the Suns playing their first home game since the trade in many ways it felt like Dragic never left.
He got a rousing ovation when he checked in during the waning minutes of the first quarter and then treated the Phoenix faithful with the kind of high-energy defense and aggressive forays to the hoop that made him beloved as The Dragon in this town. Even the Suns’ season tickets for this game coincidentally depicted the point guard from Slovenia.
“It’s strange, it’s really strange,” Dragic said of returning to Phoenix in the Suns first home game since the deal, “but that’s part of the business.”
Before the game Dragic sat at his locker and stared at a fact sheet on the Suns, but he admitted he was only reading it because he was bored. Instead a guide to his new teammates might be handier as The Dragon attempts to adjust to a new city, a new coach and a new team after two and a half years in Phoenix.
Dragic has averaged 7.5 points and 2.5 assists while playing 13.7 minutes per game in his first six contests in Houston. He sees this as a new opportunity escaping the shadow of Nash and his consistent playing time but he has walked right into the same situation behind Kyle Lowry. In fact, Nash and Lowry took their breaks at almost the exact same times in Tuesday’s game, leaving Dragic with the kind of spot duty he used to get in Phoenix.
“It’s a little bit different,” Dragic said. “Everything with Steve, you know every game Steve is going to play his minutes so it’s hard to back him up because you have to play hard and if you’re not playing so well they can see the difference. I was just lucky to play under Steve for two years and a half, now it’s a new step in my life, a different team, and that’s it.”
Dragic said he was “a little surprised” when he caught wind of the trade as the Suns’ plane touched down for the start of their road trip in Toronto, but Dragon said he’s just grateful to have gotten the chance to play with his mentor and receive a two and a half year crash course on the position from Dr. Nash.
During that time Dragic blossomed from a timid rookie afraid of his own shadow to The Dragon that slayed San Antonio during a second season in which he morphed into the leader of the Suns’ mighty bench unit.
Then this year he seemed to take a step back despite averaging right around the seven points and three assists he has his whole career.
The constant shuffling of the bench certainly affected his ability to find that same bench groove as last year, and playing behind a superstar like Nash made his struggles look all the more pronounced with Dragic last in adjusted plus/minus by a wide margin (–11.51) for Phoenix after ranking second on the team behind Nash last season (+ 4.34).
“He’s fine, he’s going to be fine,” his old coach Gentry said. “The only thing he has to worry about is consistency and his confidence, but he’s still a young player. I think Goran’s going to be a good player.”
Dragic showed many flashes of being a special point guard throughout his tenure in Phoenix, and his many explosions on the floor and good-natured personality off it made him a real fan favorite in the Valley.
Like Gentry’s children, it’s likely tough for many Suns fans who invested so much emotional energy cheering Dragic on and being with him every step of the way through the many trials and tribulations of his Suns career to all of a sudden watch him step onto the floor in Rockets red.
Such is life in the NBA, where trades sometimes make it seem like we’re rooting for laundry, but for the special moments he delivered Dragic’s all-too-short tenure in Phoenix will always be looked back on fondly.
“It was a fun two years and a half,” Dragic said. “I’m grateful that they gave me the opportunity, Sarver, that I could play, that I could show my talent. It was amazing the two years and a half. I have a lot of friends here in Phoenix. It was nice memories.”
For more on Dragic, check out my discussion on the trade after two weeks with Red94′s Rahat Huq below.