PHOENIX (AP) -The delightful, if ultimately unsuccessful, breakneck style of the Phoenix Suns is history.
That's probably just as well, because an aging Shaquille O'Neal enters his first full season at the center of Phoenix's game.
New coach Terry Porter will take a few fast breaks, but his area of concern is at the other end of the court.
``The challenge for us all year long will be doing a better job at the defensive end,'' he said. ``That's going to be a long, long process.''
The low-key Porter is a marked contrast to the flamboyant and talkative Mike D'Antoni, who left after five-plus successful seasons in Phoenix.
But D'Antoni's Suns only once made it as far as the conference finals. He and general manager Steve Kerr had different ideas about how the game should be played.
Kerr - a close friend of owner Robert Sarver - prevailed, and he brought in Porter to cast a new mold for the team.
the floor, where we need to be, helpside defense, things of that nature. It is an adjustment. I think we're beginning to see it can be really helpful.''
The 36-year-old O'Neal enters his 17th season and, he says, most likely his next-to-last. Steve Nash, 34, is in his 13th NBA campaign. And Hill, 35, is in his 14th year as a pro.
Those numbers probably explain why the Suns no longer are mentioned as one of the teams to beat in the West. Porter, though, believes his team can be a contender.
``I still think you look at our roster and we have everything an NBA team needs,'' he said, ``inside presence, obviously perimeter presences, we have some athleticism and we have speed in areas that we need.''
D'Antoni never went more than eight-deep, and often used only seven, in his player rotation. Porter wants to use nine but says ``there are some guys that are going to make it tough.''
At least 10 players seem to merit time on the court.
Porter decided to start Matt Barnes, an offseason free-agent acquisition, ahead of Hill at small forward. The other starters are Amare Stoudemire at power forward, O'Neal at center, and Nash and Raja Bell the guards.
That leaves Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw and Hill coming off the bench. Then there are the team's two rookies - 7-footer Robin Lopez and heralded young European playmaker Goran Dragic.
n the preseason and impressed Porter. Lopez is counted on for some rugged defense in relief of O'Neal.
``When you look at our bench, we've got a lot of options, a lot of versatility,'' Porter said.
The 26-year-old Stoudemire is approaching the prime of his career. In 2006, his first season back from microfracture knee surgery, he was second-team all-NBA. Last year, he averaged 25.2 points and 9.2 rebounds, earning first-team all-NBA honors.
Stoudemire had to play out of position at center before the arrival of O'Neal. Now he's at his natural spot. At 6-foot-10 and 249 pounds, with quickness, power and an accurate jumper to about 18 feet, he will be a big matchup challenge to opponents.
In the 29 games after Shaq joined the team last year, Stoudemire averaged 28.5 points.
Stoudemire was slowed in the preseason, first by an ankle injury, then by a torn iris from a poke in the eye, then in the final game he dislocated his left pinkie.
``Thank God it's over,'' he said.
Nash has seemed in denial that the Porter-led Suns would mean a severe decline in the speed of the Phoenix's game.
``I think we'll come to a consensus and be somewhere toward the middle,'' he said. ``I'm not really concerned that we're going to change styles completely.''
Nash enjoys the fact nobody is calling the Suns a title favorite anymore.
rs,'' he said, ``so I'm happy that no one cares.''
The Suns open their season Wednesday at San Antonio. Their home opener is Thursday night against New Orleans.

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