Patrick Clarke over at Bleacher Report decided to fan the flames by proposing ten different trades that would, in his words, save the Phoenix Suns and allow them to move forward without rebuilding.
I take no issue with the latter part of Mr. Clarke’s goal with these trades – the vast majority of them would send back valuable players who very well might propel the Suns toward playoff competitiveness, both this year and in the longer-term. And many of his trade suggestions are very good (trades with the Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups and with the Lakers for Lamar Odom are particularly intriguing, even if the thought of Nash in a Lakers uniform makes me want to put catnip on my face and let a tiger go to town).
How much, though, would any of these trades “save” the Suns? This, obviously, is a very subjective question, largely dependent on one’s definition of what could save the franchise. Furthermore, would moving Nash to a team with no shot at an NBA championship (Clarke suggests Memphis, Milwaukee, and Indiana, among others, as possible destinations) make anyone happy, including Nash?
The fact of the matter is the NBA is a league in which two franchises (the Celtics and Lakers) have won more than half of the total championships. Historically, then, a team is playing against a stacked deck in contending for the league’s ultimate prize. I want the Suns to compete as much as anyone, but it truly seems that the team is destined for the bottom half of the Western bracket at best, at least this year. Replacing Nash (and possibly Grant Hill) with talented players that play different positions – or even play PG with a different style than Nash – won’t do much, if anything, to make the Suns noticeably better and competitors in the West. The key to returning to competitiveness, quite likely, rests in building with draft picks and younger players – and in possibly doing so around Nash.
The Suns insist that Nash isn’t going anywhere, and the front office sees Nash, even at his advancing age, as part of the rebuilding process in the desert. Given Nash’s much-publicized care of his body (and the magical powers of the Suns training staff), I’m on board with this plan unless two criteria are met:
1. Any trade for Nash has to bring back a quality, young starting-caliber point guard. Goran Dragic has shown bursts of brilliance – we all saw the Spurs series – but his play this season makes me question whether he’ll ever be more than an excellent back-up. My ideal candidate is Eric Maynor of OKC.
2. Any trade for Nash should send him (and any other pieces from the Suns) to an elite team – one that has a legitimate chance at the NBA title. In essence, Steve Nash should be our Raymond Bourque.
Suns fans are in an extraordinarily unique situation: while our team may or may not be good enough to make the playoffs, we have one of the most enjoyable teams in the league because of classy, talented players like Nash and Hill. Watching a team lose despite players of this quality can be nerve-wracking, but Nash’s nose-to-the-grindstone, no-trade-demands style is part of what endears him so to NBA fans of all stripes. Suns fans never have to worry about their star driving a wedge between them and himself (Sorry, Denver). We are free to cheer whole-heartedly for our team (yes, even for Vince Carter).
Do the Suns and their fans, then, really want to move these two out of some sense of obligation to them – especially since Nash, according to Clarke, doesn’t necessarily see a title as his foremost goal currently? If the answer is “yes,” then the Suns must look to deal Nash to a contender. The more palatable option is to wait until the off-season and see which contenders fall short in the playoffs and see a need to mix things up – and to possibly deal cap space and draft picks, along with talent, for Nash. The Suns can’t (and won’t) be saved by simply swapping talent for talent, especially this year. Enjoy Nash, Hill, and the rest, and be patient. Steve will reward you.