Goran Dragic spent most of the last seven years with the Phoenix Suns, while Channing Frye was in the valley for most of the last six. Both experienced their best NBA seasons here in Phoenix, statistically as well as joyfully.
Their love for the Suns franchise began with being surrounded by sage veterans in Steve Nash and Grant Hill, among others, and was cemented by their development into their best version of themselves while wearing purple and orange.
Nash was a two-time MVP for the Suns who was still quite productive even into his 37th year, while Hill was a glue guy and high level defender even in those last years. Their pinnacle as a foursome - Nash, Hill, Frye, Dragic - came during the spring of 2010 with the magical playoff run with Nash and Hill as starters, and Dragic and Frye dangerously productive off the bench.
The magic can't last forever though.
"All of us wanted to stay, being Suns for a long time," Frye said to Paul Coro this week in Orlando. "When you go through what we went through and having great chemistry, it's like a tough break-up. We wanted to be there and to be a Sun. Because of situations and what happened, we understood it was the right time to leave, but anytime you break up there are going to be some feelings involved."
The situation was a roster way past its prime and getting worse by the month, even as early as 2012. Nash and Hill were in their late 30s and beginning to show serious signs of age by the end of each season. The Suns needed to reboot. Some compared the 2011-12 season to a 'cover band' or a reunion tour of what once was a formidable duo in Nash and Hill.
Nash and Hill were shown the door in July 2012, albeit in a less-than-mutual fashion. The 37 year old Nash was offered a low-ball contract in part to entice him to leave for another team. The 38 year old Hill wasn't even offered a contract. While each move was the right one for the future of the franchise, the partings were still awkward.
Frye (30) and Dragic (27) - who was re-signed after having been traded in 2011 - immediately became starters and building blocks for the transition to a new tomorrow. But unfortunately, Frye had a medical issue that forced him to miss the 2012-13 season and then, in an effort to acquire talent no matter the position, Dragic was shifted into a shared point guard position with Eric Bledsoe in 2013.
The 2013-14 season was magically fun, but came up short of the playoffs once again - marking the team's 4th straight playoff-less year - despite Frye and Dragic having excellent seasons. But both wanted huge raises in their next contracts. Frye wanted more than the Suns wanted to pay, while Dragic wanted his full-time PG gig back as a condition of re-signing to a max deal.
The writing was on the wall for both of them to move on when their contract ran out.
First, Frye left abruptly when Orlando offered what he wanted contractually. Rumor has it the Suns treated Frye's free agency last summer like restricted free agency. When he didn't agree to the Suns best contract offer (reportedly three years at something less than $8 million per season), the Suns told him to shop for offers and give them a chance to match. Owner Robert Sarver last week said Frye did just that, but only gave the Suns a few minutes to "match" by that time.
"We'd been talking for months ahead of time," Frye said to Coro this week. "I don't know where that came from. It didn't go down like that. I just don't do business like that. That doesn't even make sense in the realm of business. Orlando did a good job of selling me on the future and showed that they wanted me.
"It makes sense what (the Suns) were trying to do. They were trying to get a five-star athlete (LeBron James) and all-stars (Chris Bosh). From what my boys are telling me, it's just been a lot of turmoil over the last couple of months for them."
Some of that turmoil caused Dragic to give up on the Suns for his future. He saw Bledsoe getting most of the PG touches, leaving him to become a Manu Ginobili type. But he didn't want that. He wanted to be a full time PG again, and the Suns were not going to accomodate him.
Dragic's words right before the deadline took a flame-thrower to the landscape and the Suns responded in even uglier ugly fashion.
When I now look back on what I said about the Suns before the trade—"I don't trust them anymore...I don't feel comfortable with my situation"—I feel bad, because it came out a little too harsh. I didn't mean it like that, but it happened in that moment, so I cannot go back and change it. I just said what I was thinking.
I'm an honest guy, and I had never said something bad about that organization. They were always great to me—they were like family—so I didn't mean that. But at the same time, I thought that the situation was not good anymore for me, so that's why it came out like that.
I apologized to Suns owner Robert Sarver. We had a good conversation—he was always there for me and my family. He knew that I was not going to re-sign with them, so I wanted to do something before the trade deadline and hopefully they could get some players or some picks. I really appreciated what he did—trading me.
While the net result was good for all involved - the Suns got two draft picks rather than nothing this summer, and Dragic got his full-time PG spot in Miami and a promise of a huge contract in July - the process was U.G.L.Y.
What we have here are players who wished nothing had changed, yet the world keeps turning so that's impossible.
Nash got older and so did Hill. Neither Nash nor Hill played much after leaving the Suns and both are now out of the league. If they'd been kept, the rebuilding process would have slowed down. Frye was 32 last summer, wanting some financial security into his 36th year. He took that security, but has struggled in Orlando and has now lost his starting job on a rebuilding team that ultimately doesn't need his skills the way a playoff contender would.
Of the four, Dragic, still just 28, might become that guy you wish never left. You wish he would have embraced the Ginobili-type role of combo guard, with the added carrot of a great contract (the Suns reportedly were willing to match any offer, no matter how big) and a starting job.
But Dragic wanted to be the full time PG with the ball in his hands all the time. In Phoenix, he makes it sound worse than anyone this side of Slovenia thought it was.
To be honest, it feels like I've never played point guard before. I was off the ball in the corner in Phoenix, and you lose that grip a little bit. But with every game I feel more comfortable and, of course, this is what I was working all my life to be—a point guard. And I'm happy with that.
Now he's a full time PG again in Miami. He's excited about their championship pedigree and winning mentality. He loves the veteran support he's getting from Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng that he didn't have in Phoenix. I hope it works out for him, and that the Suns find enough replacements to make it work out for them.
Already, Brandon Knight is getting acclimated to the 2013-14 Dragic role and appears to be the vocal leader the Suns have been looking for.
Sure, Knight isn't the end-all-to-be-all. He's not a finished product. And he might not even want the "Dragic role" either. He's a restricted free agent this summer and if he doesn't want the Dragic role he might find a way to get out too. Who knows.
But the Suns have put their eggs into the Bledsoe basket and other guards just need to work around that. The Suns recognize that Bledsoe isn't ready to be the only playmaker on the floor, so they rightly have a Knight/Thomas/Dragic type on the floor with him. Bledsoe shows flashes of being the best of anyone the Suns have had since Nash, but he still has a lot of learning to do.
If Bledsoe develops and the Suns add new stars around him in the near future, all this turnover will be worth it for the Suns.
But at least it's good to hear that Dragic and Frye still have warm feelings for the Suns organization.