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Remodeled Suns look to surprise in post-Nash era

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Remodeled Suns look to surprise in post-Nash era

PHOENIX (AP) Meet the Phoenix Suns. Introductions certainly are necessary. This team has undergone an extreme personnel makeover in the aftermath of Steve Nash's departure to the hated Lakers.

Five players return from last year, and only two - center Marcin Gortat and guard Jared Dudley - figure to start.

The newcomers include a pair of former high draft picks, Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson, looking to thrive with a clean slate.

In Beasley's case, the second overall pick in 2008 insists his marijuana-related issues are behind him. Johnson, the fourth overall pick in 2010, looks to be a designated sharpshooter off the bench for the Suns.

Phoenix also landed Luis Scola, a 6-foot-9 Argentine who gives the team a steady power forward, something they've lacked since All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire packed his bags for New York.

The most significant addition isn't new to the Suns at all. Somebody had to replace Nash, and the Suns coaxed his former understudy, Goran Dragic, back to the desert.

Phoenix, dissatisfied with Dragic's play at the time, shipped him to Houston for point guard Aaron Brooks in February 2010. Brooks was a disappointment in Phoenix and last season, when he moved into the Rockets' starting lineup, Dragic flourished.

Dudley noticed the difference between this Dragic and the one who was traded away.

"I thought him leaving, going to Houston and starting has helped his confidence, helped his maturity," Dudley said. "He definitely is the face of the franchise now. It's his show."

Dragic, always popular with his teammates and the fans, knows that following Nash, one of the best playmakers the game has known, is a daunting challenge.

"My confidence is huge," he said. "I feel awesome. I feel great. I'm in shape now. I just try to find the open guys and just be myself."

Standing 6-foot-3 with long arms and a dynamic, aggressive playing style, the Slovenian playmaker knows the spotlight will be on him.

"I never have avoided that. That's part of the business," he said. "Every night I'm going to go out there and give my hundred percent, try to play as hard as possible, then see what's going to happen. I'm not afraid. I'm comfortable with that role. I was talking with coach and my teammates. They trust me and I trust them."

Coach Alvin Gentry enters his fourth full season with the Suns, but first without Nash. He is counting on effort as a crucial component of this mostly young bunch.

Gentry said that in practices and preseason games, he's been impressed by the "level of intensity and overall competitiveness at every position."

Dudley has been with the Suns since 2008, longer than any other current member of the team. He figures to start at shooting guard and can slide to small forward. The other longtime Sun, forward Channing Frye, is out for the season for treatment of an enlarged heart.

The team will look to Beasley to provide a bulk of the offense, giving the exceptionally talented player a clean slate in a new setting.

The 6-foot-10 forward signed a three-year, $18 million contract with Phoenix after the Minnesota Timberwolves decided to let him go. It's the third team for Beasley since he was drafted so high by the Miami Heat.

The contract was not that big for someone who was expected to be so good. He brings a 15.1-point career scoring average but also carries the baggage of off-the-court issues.

Beasley was ticketed for possessing marijuana and speeding in a Minneapolis suburb in June 2011 and has acknowledged that while playing for Miami, he twice violated the NBA's drug policy and entered a treatment facility in 2009. At the news conference introducing him in Phoenix, Beasley said he realized his drug issues were holding him back.

"I realize 10 minutes of feeling good is not really worth putting my life and my career and my legacy in jeopardy," he said at the time, "so I'm confident to say that that part of my career, that part of my life, is over and won't be coming back."

Gortat will surely miss the pick-and-rolls with Nash that gave him so much success on offense, but he will still often be the target in the Suns' system, which will remain up-tempo but with the ability to play a half-court style when necessary.

As for depth, streak-shooting Shannon Brown will be the backup shooting guard. Markieff Morris, a first-round draft pick a year ago, will back up Scola. At center, Phoenix brought in 34-year-old Jermaine O'Neal to play behind Gortat.

Phoenix's first-round draft pick, Kendall Marshall out of North Carolina, will have to fight his way into the rotation. Sebastian Telfair, who played the best basketball of his career for the Suns last season, opens this season as Dragic's backup.

It's not a cast that can stand up to the powerhouses in the West - Oklahoma City, the two teams in Los Angeles, and San Antonio.

Competing for one of the last spots in the playoffs may be a more realistic goal.

"I think that we will be competitive and we will try to play the right way and we will play unselfishly," Gentry said. "If we can put those three things together, anything that happens we will accept."

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Follow Bob Baum at www.twitter.com/Thebaumerphx

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Free agent, former Redskins linebacker Junior Galette considering retirement

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Free agent, former Redskins linebacker Junior Galette considering retirement

Free-agent Junior Galette has been offered deals with multiple teams this offseason, but the eight-year veteran linebacker hasn't signed anything because he's considering retirement as well. 

In an Instagram post Sunday, Galette — who has been with the Redskins since 2015 but only played in the 2017 season because of injuries — wrote that he's simply not sure if he wants to continue playing football. 

He said, on Instagram: "The real reason I haven’t signed is because I’ve contemplated retiring. I have 3 Deals Currently on the table and will Plan Accordingly. All my fans i promise this will be my Best I’m not saying nothing else God Bless All I’m BACK".

Galette signed with the Redskins in the 2015 offseason, but he missed both that season and the 2016 one because of multiple Achilles injuries. He played in all 16 Washington games in 2017 and finished the season with 20 total tackles and three sacks. 

Prior to signing with the Redskins, Galette was with the New Orleans Saints for the first five seasons of his career. In 2013 and 2014 — his best seasons, by far, stats wise — he combined for 87 total tackles and 22 sacks, plus two safeties.

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

When the Washington Nationals visited San Diego on May 7-9, they won the first two games of a three-game series to move within 1 1/2 games of the National League West lead.

At the time, the Nationals were on a bit of a run and the Padres were reeling with a 13-24 record.

Two weeks after that series, the Padres and Nationals meet again in Washington, D.C (7:05 p.m. ET, Monday). And the fortunes of the two teams have changed a bit.

Since winning that series finale at Petco Park to avoid being swept by the Nationals, the Padres have gone 7-4 and are riding a three-game winning streak.

The Nationals have gone 4-4 and just lost a third straight game to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in Washington to slip four games off the lead in their division.

The Nationals are the home team this time for a three-game series that opens Monday night with a matchup of left-handers -- Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 2.36 ERA) going for Washington with Robbie Erlin (1-2, 3.46) making a spot start for San Diego.

On paper, the pairing clearly favors the hosts.

Erlin, 27, has met the Nationals twice in his career. Both games were at Nationals Park. Erlin is 0-2 in the matchups with a 16.39 ERA.

In Erlin's two previous outings in the nation's capital, Erlin has given up 17 runs, 19 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. The Nationals have hit .413 against Erlin, who has a 2.68 WHIP against Washington.

This will be only the second start of the season for Erlin, who returned this year after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery midway through 2016.

Thirteen of Erlin's 14 appearances this season have been out of the bullpen. His one previous start was April 16 against the Dodgers. He gave up six runs (five earned), seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in three innings.

Erlin is filling the vacancy created when rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi went on the disabled list with a slightly strained glute. The Padres are hoping Lucchesi will miss only one start, although it looks like it could now be two or three.

Gonzalez is no stranger to the Padres. He started the May 9 game that the Nationals lost 2-1. Gonzalez allowed one run, five hits and three walks in six innings. Afterward, he said he struggled with his command.

Gonzalez was not involved in that decision. During his career, he has made seven starts against the Padres and has a 3-2 record with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.357 WHIP and a .253 opponents' batting average. Against the Padres, Gonzalez has given up 19 runs (15 earned), 41 hits and 16 walks with 41 strikeouts in 42 innings.

When the Nationals were in San Diego, first baseman-left fielder Matt Adams went 3-for-8 with a double, two homers, six RBIs and three runs scored -- although he got the third game off.

Since leaving San Diego, Adams has hit only .143. Washington's Bryce Harper is hitting .125 in the last eight games with a homer and three RBIs.

Another key player in the first Padres-Nationals series was Howie Kendrick, who was 5-for-12 with a double and two runs scored. But Kendrick has been lost with a ruptured Achilles tendon and on Saturday the Nationals promoted a 19-year-old prospect from Double-A.

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