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AFTER 13 seasons, six All-Star selections and two MVP awards, point guard Steve Nash is not supposed to be up for rebuilding. But Nash has never been your typical NBA icon. He signed a two-year extension this summer, even though the Suns' championship window has been closed for a while.
Like any ringless vet, Nash hungers for his first title, but after last season he also looks forward to more simple pleasures—a return to the breakneck Phoenix offense of seasons past, teammates who want to run as much as he does and a locker room that is much quieter without Shaquille O'Neal.
"Obviously I want to win a championship before I'm done," says Nash, 35. "But last year highlighted how special it is to have a great working environment, continuity, familiarity, those characteristics that are special to your career and your life."
The Suns, burdened by championship expectations for much of the decade, seem relieved to be under the radar. After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2004, they had 10 players working out in Phoenix by mid-August, which 15-year vet Grant Hill said was the most he had ever seen. The Suns believe that the chaos of last season—which was marked by the hiring and firing of coach Terry Porter, the trading of Raja Bell and Boris Diaw, and the griping of O'Neal—will give way to a peaceful '09--10. Still, if Phoenix starts slowly, distracting trade rumors will no doubt swirl about Amar'e Stoudemire, who can opt out after the season.
The Suns hope they won't do anything slowly. Nash will be back leading the break, and he has a couple of new big men—free agent Channing Frye and lottery pick Earl Clark out of Louisville—who can run with him. If Nash & Co. play any D at all, they expect a return to the postseason.
"Hopefully we win a championship," Nash says. "But more than that, I hope we build a great environment and spirit around our team."
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: G Leandro Barbosa, 14.2 PPG; F Louis Amundson, 3.6 RPG; F Earl Clark (R), 14.2 PPG; G Goran Dragic, 2.0 APG • New acquisition • (R) Rookie, college stats
COACH: Alvin Gentry (second season with Suns) • 2008--09 RECORD: 46--36 (second in Pacific)