With Nash gone to the Los Angeles Lakers after eight years in which he turned Phoenix into one of the NBA's most high-scoring teams, the Suns are handing the point guard reins to Dragic, who signed a four-year, $30 million dollar deal in the offseason to return to the place where he began his career under Nash's tutelage.
Dragic emerged as a starter in Houston last season, but became expendable with the signing of Jeremy Lin. His return has given the Suns (33-33) reason to be optimistic as they try to move on from the loss of one of the most popular players in franchise history.
"My confidence is huge," Dragic said. "I feel awesome. I feel great. I'm in shape now. I just try to find the open guys and just be myself."
After moving into the starting lineup for the final 26 games last season, Dragic averaged 18.2 points and 8.3 assists for the Rockets. During that stretch, only four point guards averaged more points.
"I thought him leaving, going to Houston and starting has helped his confidence, helped his maturity," swingman Jared Dudley said. "He definitely is the face of the franchise now. It's his show."
The Rockets' eagerness to create cap space helped Phoenix more than once in the offseason. The Suns were awarded Luis Scola after winning an amnesty auction following Houston's decision to release a big man who's averaged 16.7 points over the past three seasons.
The Warriors (23-43) were hoping to have finally found a long-term solution in the middle when they acquired Andrew Bogut from Milwaukee in March. Bogut, who has averaged 10.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks the last three seasons, should help the Warriors improve after finishing 28th in points allowed (101.2) and rebounds per game (39.2).
But Bogut has yet to suit up for the Warriors and hasn't played in a regular-season game since Jan. 25 due to a fractured left ankle. He's still feeling the effects of that injury, but went through a full practice for the first time this season Monday and could play depending on how the ankle reacts.
Either way, Golden State will rely on returning leading scorer and rebounder David Lee for production in the paint. Lee averaged 20.1 points and 9.6 rebounds a year ago, and scored 50 points in two games against the Suns.
Stephen Curry has also had his share of injuries, but he'll play Wednesday despite rolling his surgically repaired ankle during the preseason. Similar injuries limited Curry to 26 games last season.
He'll also suit up with a bit of long-term security. Golden State gave Curry a four-year, $44 million extension hours before Wednesday's deadline, a move that certainly carries a risk factor given the concerns over his ankle.
Curry will be joined by a pair of impressive young wing players with range. Klay Thompson will start at shooting guard after averaging 18.6 points while starting his final 28 games as a rookie, while coach Mark Jackson named 2012 No. 7 overall pick Harrison Barnes the starter at small forward on Monday.
Barnes averaged 10.4 points and shot 49.2 percent in the preseason.
"There is a lot of optimism and lots of excitement," Curry told the team's official website. "The roster is a little more experienced and we're shaping up well. Once Wednesday starts it's about taking those opportunities that we have in front of us."
The Suns, meanwhile, are hoping to revive the career of another former top 10 pick. Michael Beasley, who averaged a career-low 11.5 points with Minnesota last year, had 29 points and 10 rebounds against Denver to close the preseason.
"That's the kind of effort we have to get from him night-in and night-out," coach Alvin Gentry said. "He can be a playmaker, also. We just have to get him to that point where we get that type of effort consistently."
The Warriors took two of three from the Suns a year ago, including a 106-104 win at US Airways Center that snapped a 13-game losing streak at Phoenix.