Who will stay and who will go?

PHOENIX – Ever since the Suns signed Steve Nash during the 2004 offseason, the team has essentially entered every summer trying to fill in the cracks to build around a core trio of players.

Of course, Shaq replaced Shawn Marion in the core entering this past offseason, but even then the Suns were just trying to make a few minor upgrades to fit around a set top seven.

This season it’s anyone’s guess what exactly will happen, and it remains likely that at least one of the Nash-Shaq-Amare trio won’t be in Phoenix next season and possible though doubtful that none of them will be.

What follows is a rundown of the situations of six key Suns entering this offseason:

Steve Nash

Steve Nash

Nash

Nash wants to be back and general manager Steve Kerr has talked about wanting Nash to end his career in Phoenix, going so far as to express interest in signing him to an extension this offseason.

Nash, who has said he wants to play four more years, has a team option for $13.1 mil that the Suns are expected to exercise.

It could be tempting to trade the two-time MVP because he still would fetch great value and it would be a simple way to start the potentially inevitable rebuilding process, but that seems very doubtful when Kerr is still calling him the face of the franchise.

Although Nash has flirted with the idea of leaving for New York or Toronto after next season, his first choice has always been to stay in Phoenix. And that means an extension.

“I’d like to solidify my future and know what the future holds for myself and not have to wait and suffer through the unknown, so that would be exciting for me if I could solidify perhaps the rest of my career,” Nash said about the possibility of an extension.

Prediction: Suns sign Nash to a two-year, $16 million extension with a team option for a third year.

Amare Stoudemire

Amare Stoudemire

Amare

Amare represents the biggest question mark concerning this offseason.

Stoudemire will make $16.4 mil next season with a player option for $17.7 in 2010 that he’s widely expected to decline.

After the Suns looked into dealing him at the deadline, I would expect them to at least put out feelers over the offseason, but of course what team is going to give up the haul the Suns would require in such a deal for a player who just underwent such serious eye surgery?

And that’s not even mentioning his surgically repaired knees.

If the Suns don’t trade him over the offseason, I don’t see how they will get fair value in a two-month rental trade at the deadline, and if you aren’t getting a package that can recharge the franchise like the Larry Nance trade did in bringing back KJ and Majerle, why trade STAT?

The other option is to sign Amare to a max extension, something he hasn’t asked for quite yet.

Don’t expect that to happen with so much uncertainty surrounding his health, defense and rebounding.

I think every player would like a max extension,” Kerr said. “I’d like one. I don’t think I’m going to get one after the year I had.”

Prediction: Suns look into dealing Amare but end up keeping him. No serious extension talks take place.

Shaquille O'Neal

Shaquille O'Neal

Shaq

Call him the Big Expiring Contract.

Of the Suns’ Big Three, Shaq is the most likely to move in my humble opinion.

First off, as much as we try to rationalize a “Seven Seconds or Shaq” system, let’s face it: Shaq doesn’t fit with the Suns’ personnel or Alvin Gentry’s offensive philosophy.

Sure it’s nice to throw the ball down to arguably the most dominant big man ever, but he’s certainly lost a few steps.

Plus, everything the Suns gain by having a behemoth down low to guard other bigs is lost in the ineptitude of the Nash-Shaq pick-and-roll defense combo.

Something must be done to fix the D, and one easy solution would be to deal Shaq and draft/sign an agile big to put in a rotation with Amare and Fropez at the four/five spots.

Shaq is also coming off a stellar year in which he stayed healthy and averaged 17.8 ppg and 8.4 rpg, enhancing his trade value.

“The thing with Shaq is he just had his best season in about five or six years,” Kerr said. “He had a great year, and yeah he makes a big number, but there have been plenty of moves with big numbers, and there also have been plenty of guys who like him have had a resurgence at the end of their careers and continued on with their same team, and we’re not opposed to that either.”

Kerr said the notion of Shaq being on his way out of town is “false,” but he stopped far short of saying Shaq would certainly be back next season.

For the record, Shaq said he’d like to return, but if Cleveland doesn’t win it all and comes calling, expect him to change his tune.

Shaq is on the books for a $20 million salary plus one more mil from his trade kicker. It won’t be easy to deal him without taking on long-term salary, but the Suns may be able to swing something with a Cleveland or Dallas that provides some cap relief this year with a non-guaranteed contract.

With the Suns’ finances the way they are somebody might have to be moved, and the Diesel could make the most sense.

Prediction: Traded in a salary dump move.

Grant Hill

Grant Hill

Hill

Like Nash, Hill wants to be back and the organization wants him back.

And unlike when Shaq says it, it actually sounds like the truth when Hill makes a statement like that.

In fact, Hill already put a non-refundable deposit down for his daughter’s school, so that gives you an idea he really wants to be a Phoenix Sun next season.

“I plan on being here,” Hill said. “I love the team, the organization, the community, so hopefully it’ll work out. It feels like home.”

When forced to put a percentage on it, Hill said there’s a 91.3 percent chance he’ll return, so unless the Suns really lowball him expect him back.

After playing for less than $2 mil the past couple years, the Suns should give him a deal starting at least in the $3-4 million range, but we’ll see if they have that kind of dough. It wouldn’t surprise me if they give him an insulting offer and he goes somewhere that appreciates him a bit more.

The 36-year-old Hill plans to play two or three more years, and if the Suns play their cards right, they will be in Phoenix.

Prediction: One-year deal at $3.5 million with a team option for a second year.

Jason Richardson

Jason Richardson

J-Rich

Richardson is on the books at $13.3 million next season and $14.4 million the year after.

If the Suns could find a way, they would likely be happy to rid themselves of that commitment, especially for expiring contracts.

J-Rich was fine offensively, but he often didn’t show up enough in big moments, and he played to his usual career standards defensively, although the Suns think his athleticism can make him a better defender. They weren’t the first team to come up with that idea, though.

Especially with LB in the mix, the Suns could use a more defensive-minded guard than J-Rich on top of cap relief.

Raja Bell, anyone?

Prediction: No takers, J-Rich stays a Sun.

Matt Barnes

Matt Barnes

Barnes

Barnes played last year on a one-year, $1.2 million deal hoping to boost his stock in Phoenix’s system for a future big payday.

That, of course, didn’t exactly happen, as Barnes suffered through some stunningly bad shooting slumps in an overall up and down year.

Barnes certainly won’t be getting a big raise from the Suns, and conventional wisdom says he’s gone.

However, in a postgame interview with Ced Ceballos for the fans at US Airways Center after the season finale, Barnes apologized for his team’s performance this year and already started talking about being a contender next season.

He has talked many times before about how much he loves playing in Phoenix, he has a special relationship with Gentry, and well, he was already talking about the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns.

That doesn’t sound like a player about to skip town.

Prediction: Barnes signs another one-year deal for less than $2 million after the market sours on him again.

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Tags: Amar'e Stoudemire Jason Richardson

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