AFTER 13 seasons,six All-Star selections and two MVP awards, point guard Steve Nash is notsupposed to be up for rebuilding. But Nash has never been your typical NBAicon. He signed a two-year extension this summer, even though the Suns'championship window has been closed for a while.

Like any ringlessvet, Nash hungers for his first title, but after last season he also looksforward to more simple pleasures—a return to the breakneck Phoenix offense ofseasons past, teammates who want to run as much as he does and a locker roomthat is much quieter without Shaquille O'Neal.

"Obviously Iwant to win a championship before I'm done," says Nash, 35. "But lastyear highlighted how special it is to have a great working environment,continuity, familiarity, those characteristics that are special to your careerand your life."

The Suns,burdened by championship expectations for much of the decade, seem relieved tobe 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 vetGrant Hill said was the most he had ever seen. The Suns believe that the chaosof 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 giveway to a peaceful '09--10. Still, if Phoenix starts slowly, distracting traderumors will no doubt swirl about Amar'e Stoudemire, who can opt out after theseason.

The Suns hopethey won't do anything slowly. Nash will be back leading the break, and he hasa couple of new big men—free agent Channing Frye and lottery pick Earl Clarkout of Louisville—who can run with him. If Nash & Co. play any D at all,they expect a return to the postseason.

"Hopefully wewin a championship," Nash says. "But more than that, I hope we build agreat environment and spirit around our team."

PROJECTEDSTARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

PG STEVE NASH PPG: 15.7 APG: 9.7 RPG: 3.0 SPG: 0.74 FG%: 50.3
SG JASON RICHARDSON PPG: 16.8 APG: 2.0 RPG: 4.4 FG%: 47.7 3FG%: 39.7
SF GRANT HILL PPG: 12.0 RPG: 4.9 APG: 2.3 SPG: 1.10 FG%: 52.3
PF AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE PPG: 21.4 RPG: 8.1 APG: 2.0 BPG: 1.08 FG%: 53.9
C CHANNING FRYE PPG: 4.2 RPG: 2.2 APG: 0.4 BPG: 0.25 FG%: 42.3

KEY BENCHPLAYERS: 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, collegestats

COACH: AlvinGentry (second season with Suns) • 2008--09 RECORD: 46--36 (second inPacific)

POINTS SCORED:109.4 (first in NBA) • POINTS ALLOWED: 107.5 (27th in NBA)



Points per gamescored by the Suns after the All-Star break under new coach Alvin Gentry, thehighest second-half output since the Warriors averaged 118.7 points followingthe 1992 All-Star Game.


They're just areally weird team. They have old guys like Steve Nash and Grant Hill; they havea bunch of young guys who have no star potential; and they may lose Amar'eStoudemire as a free agent this summer. Instead of trying to go old like Bostonor young like Portland, it looks like they've taken the middle ground—but Iwould argue that it has left them nowhere.... Nash is more efficient than justabout anybody out there. It wouldn't surprise me if we saw him in the NBA forfour more years.... There's no question Stoudemire's original spring and bouncehasn't been there over the last couple of years following his knee surgeries.With his aggressiveness he could be a dangerous scorer inside, yet he stilluses a lot of drives and spin-backs and fadeaway jumpers. The problem for himis that it's hard to go inside when you haven't developed the moves, and it'seven harder when you don't want to take the banging because you're alreadybanged up.... Channing Frye is a soft guy who likes to shoot perimeter jumpers,so this is not a bad team for him. The only way he can play center is in thisup-and-down style, which keeps him from having to go in the trenches on everyplay.

PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHSTEVE NASH He's relaxed and ready to run (and run, and run). PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH