Goran Dragic returns home to familiar mentor in Alvin Gentry

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 he could find his family, specifically head coach Alvin Gentry.

Officially introduced on Thursday afternoon as the successor to two-time MVP Steve Nash, the 26-year-old and his old-and-new head coach both made it clear that the trade that sent Dragic and a first-round pick to Houston for Aaron Brooks in 2011 resembled anything but a business decision. In the end, that resulted in a bittersweet return to Phoenix as a point guard grown up and ready for the pressure as the Suns enter a new era.

“It was hard to see him go because he was like a son to me,” Gentry said of the trade. “I’m probably as close to him as any player I’ve coached in my life. It was extremely, extremely difficult to see him go. The thing I said to him, which any dad or friend would say, you got to go and you’ve got to prove to everyone that you belong in this league and that you can be an elite player in this league, and take advantage of every opportunity you have.”

Taking advantage of a starting opportunity in Houston amounted to a return to the Valley of the Sun and a four-year, $30 million contract that he chose over offers from Toronto, Houston and Charlotte, Dragic told the media.

Furthermore, it gave him the chance to sign with a team coached by Gentry, who Dragic called a “second father” after he came to Phoenix as a shy rookie.

“I know all the coaching staff,” Dragic said. “That is the most important thing for me, because I have a great relationship with Alvin.

“Alvin’s my guy,” he added. “He was my first coach in the NBA who gave me an opportunity to play. I’m really grateful for that. That’s why it wasn’t a hard decision to come back.”

The bond runs deeper than the duo. Gentry’s two sons have a special friendship with Dragic as well, and proof lies on Twitter and in older son Ryan Gentry’s bedroom; this past season, the only jersey hanging was Dragic’s jersey and a Rockets jersey at that, Alvin said.

And because of Gentry and Dragic’s relationship, perhaps Suns fans can get a feel for the future of the franchise being one that doesn’t only include a young roster that now has a face at point guard.

The move might also allude to Gentry being in the team’s future past this 2012-13 season, when his contract will end.

President of basketball operations Lon Babby made it clear to point out that their relationship is crucial to the future of the franchise, and hinting in the confidence that Gentry’s development and handing of the once young, fragile Dragic is that the front office is equally confident in the coach’s role with the Suns, something that hasn’t been too apparent throughout Gentry’s tenure.

“The relationship that Alvin has with Goran is a special relationship,” Babby said. “The depth of that relationship will serve us well as we move forward.”

He’s no Nash, but that’s OK

It’s unfair to expect anything like Steve Nash out of Goran Dragic, but the former mentor taught his heir apparent the way of the business.

“He’s one of the greatest point guards in the league,” Dragic said of the new Laker. “I’m a different player, I play different basketball than him. The only thing I want to be like Steve Nash, is how he works hard, he has a winning mentality. Still, I have to work hard to improve my game, but I know that with the coaching staff that we got, I can improve all my things and I can run this team.”

Added Babby: “We wanted Goran here for his own talents. He’s going to carve a different path. He was aware of how we’ve played in the past, but we’re going to carve a new path. We’re not comparing Goran to Steve Nash. You can’t duplicate what was here, and we have no intentions of doing that.”

Dragic said Nash taught him how to practice, how to eat right and the nitty-gritty of the pick-and-roll. And Dragic, who blossomed as a more vocal floor general by leading Houston last year, was already being Nash-like while watching the Vegas Summer League and rookie Kendall Marshall.

The advice he wanted to give?

“Kendall struggled his first game,” Gentry said. “But Goran said to me, ‘Maybe I should talk to Kendall a little bit and explain to him that it’s no big deal that he didn’t play as well as he’d like his first game.'”

That came from experience. Gentry said Dragic went to his hotel room to cry for an hour after he struggled in his first Summer League game before his rookie season.

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