PHOENIX (AP) — Goran Dragic is back with the Suns, pronouncing himself a far more confident, vocal player than the one Phoenix traded to Houston not too long ago.
As evidence, he displayed his new jersey bearing No. 1, not the No. 2 he wore as Steve Nash's understudy in his first two-plus seasons in the NBA.
"I'm a new guy now," Dragic said at a news conference Thursday. "I'm a different player, a different person from when I was here and I want to have a fresh start here. That's why I take a different number, No. 1. I think that's a good number for me."
The popular point guard signed a four-year, $30 million contract, which can rise to $34 million with incentives, to come back to Phoenix, bolstered by his play as a starter for 28 games with the Houston Rockets last season.
With Nash gone to the Los Angeles Lakers, Dragic will be at the controls, reunited with an obviously elated coach Alvin Gentry. The Suns had pretty much given up on Dragic when they traded him and a draft pick to the Rockets for point guard Aaron Brooks.
But they were more than willing to bring him back, and he was happy to return.
"When I went to Houston I got a lot of opportunity, I was playing 30-35 minutes as a starter," Dragic said. "My confidence went way up. I was not rushing my shots. I was just patient to try and run the team. I think that is the main reason that I am a different player than I was before, because I got opportunity. I don't have any hard feelings for this organization because I left. I think that was good for me to show a lot of people what I can do and I'm really happy to be back."
Still just 25, Dragic said he has grown a lot from that shy youngster from Slovenia who joined the Suns as a second-round draft pick four seasons ago.
"I was a lost kid from Europe," he said. "I didn't speak English so well. It was a lot of things. But now everything's different."
Lon Babby, the Suns president of basketball operations, said the move to Houston "was good for Goran."
"He grew as a player," Babby said, "and then when we assess now we have to do what's best for ourselves going forward and what's best for ourselves is bringing him back. We actually had no hesitation. He left here on the greatest of terms. He returns on the greatest of terms."
Dragic was the backup in Houston, too, until starter Kevin Lowry was injured. The lanky Slovenian took over and never relinquished the role. In those 28 games he started, Dragic averaged 18 points, 8.4 assists and 1.82 steals per contest.