Phoenix Suns approaching another pivotal offseason


PHOENIX — For the second straight year the Phoenix Suns enter a pivotal offseason that’s likely to reverberate throughout the next decade.

Last year’s much-ballyhooed Summer of 2010 was a total flop for Phoenix, a major reason the Suns went from the conference finals to the lottery.

They entered that crucial period without a general manager, and it showed. The big domino of course was deciding against giving Amare Stoudemire a fully guaranteed max contract, instead opting to offer a partially guaranteed deal that STAT declined in favor of New York’s contract.

At the time I found the logic sound, and I do to this day. It’s no surprise that Stoudemire thrived in a Mike D’Antoni offense with a team he could call his own; the true test will come during the years the Suns didn’t guarantee when Phoenix felt he could become a major salary cap albatross.

I don’t feel losing STAT killed the Suns, but what they did afterward sure did as they tried to replace him with a trio of role players in Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick. Turkoglu was such a bust that within a month and a half the Suns found it wise to ship him out, but that trade required parting ways with their remaining leading scorer, Jason Richardson.

Still, that trade has become the Suns’ best move in the last year as not only did it shed Turkoglu but it brought back a rising stud in Marcin Gortat, who immediately becomes the most important player in Phoenix’s post-Nash era whenever it may start.

Although the front office will be stable this time around, the Suns can’t really begin to put together a solid offseason plan before they know the rules they will be playing by.

A lockout this summer is a foregone conclusion, and until that issue gets resolved the Suns can’t be sure of the bullets they will have in their war chest.

For now president of basketball operations Lon Babby, a long-time agent who was hired in large part to decode an advantage out of the new collective bargaining agreement, is focused on preparing the team “for every conceivable scenario.”

“It may force our hand in a direction we don’t currently see,” Babby said. “I think you have to have the foresight to see what do you have to do to build a team going forward, and that depends largely on how much player movement there’s going to be in a new system, what the cap situation’s going to be. I think those rules are very much going to determine how we go about building this team and what the mechanisms are going to be to do that.”

The Suns’ first order of business and the move that will determine the direction of all other moves centers around Steve Nash. Nash himself proclaimed that this is his team and he wants to be here and both head coach Alvin Gentry and Babby couldn’t envision an immediate future without Nash.

“If anybody who begins the analysis of the Phoenix Suns and where we’re headed with anything that suggests that Steve Nash is the problem and not the solution I think is looking at it backwards,” Babby said.

Nobody thinks Steve Nash is the problem, and some advanced metrics even make him out as one of the most effective players in the leagues still today based on his impressive pre-All-Star break play. The problem is that Nash will be turning 38 years old in the middle of next season and he’s playing for a team that won just 40 games. There is an issue when your franchise player’s age approaches your victory total.

The Suns are not one move away from a title. They’re not even two or three. Steve Nash is the best thing going for this team in the present, but he’s also the best way the franchise can acquire assets to expedite the rebuilding process when they seem to be no better than a low-seeded playoff team in the near future with Nash.

I will analyze this issue in more depth tomorrow, but for now I will say the Suns must at least kick the tires on a Nash trade that would start the rebuilding project in full force rather than trying to cobble together a roster that can compete for merely a playoff spot.

The Nash issue aside, during the course of the next few months the Suns plan on honestly evaluating every corner of their organization as they try to depart the treadmill of mediocrity this season put them on.

“I think the outcome allows us to do that in a way that if we snuck into the playoffs we would not be as honest about where the franchise is and where we need to go,” Babby said.

That will start with Nash and Grant Hill, a veteran management wants back for his leadership qualities as well as basketball skill although he may not be a good fit for a rebuilding project. Gortat, Jared Dudley and Channing Frye seem like the obvious keepers among the younger players, but difficult decisions will be made in regard to everybody else, as management isn’t blind to the fact this team is missing a few pieces.

Last season at this time a perfect storm of a Suns squad was preparing for a month and a half journey that would span 16 games across three series and land them within a Ron Artest layup of a legitimate chance of reaching the Finals.

At the end of last season’s run players were talking about what they needed to do this summer to make that one final step. This year the Suns are left to reminisce about how close they were as management begins to formulate a plan to return the Suns to the ranks of the elite that’s sure to take longer than it did the last time Phoenix missed the playoffs.

“We still talk about the Artest layup,” Gentry said. “We don’t give that up, maybe what would have happened, and there’s always coulda, woulda, shoulda. … The thing you have to do is you look at that situation and then we sit down and we go to work as to how we can get back to where we were.”

Tags: Lon Babby Steve Nash

  • shazam

    well,this sounds so confusing because of the impending lock out..maybe its just me..cant wait to hear your thoughts michael.

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    Yeah, it’s definitely confusing and it’s hard to say what would even be a smart course of action until we know about the CBA. It’s possible teams could get amnesty for their worst contracts and it’s possible there will be a smaller and hard cap that will limit opportunities in free agency. And then the biggest issue of course for this franchise is Nash and whether the Suns decide they are rebuilding or going for it one more year with Two Time.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    Ugh.

    It’s really hard. With all of the stupid moves that ‘Sabby’ made, in the end they got us Gortat. He hasn’t even started to realize his potential yet. We don’t know how great he could become.

    I know that nobody wants to say goodbye to Nash. I hated that our franchise gave up on him the first time.

    But we’ve got to get young while we still have young players that compliment Gortat very well. having Frye with a talented center is a perfect model to run with in today’s NBA pre / post-CBA.

    We have great young defenders at the 2 and the 3 while Frye made strides on that end this year.

    Dowdell could hold down the fort at the 1 in a year of transition. He can’t shoot a splash into the ocean, but he steals and defends so well he could be in Ocean’s 14.

    It has to be done before it’s too late. I mean seriously, I’d bounce Warrick and give his time to Lawal if somebody is willing to take him and try to get as many picks as possible.

    Picks equal rookies. Rookies equal cap-friendly contracts, no matter what the CBA ends up being.

  • http://www.audreyandchuck.com audreyandchuck

    Have appreciated everyone’s sentiments through the season, thank you and keep it going.

    I’ve witnessed cookies crumble but this group kindof surprised me. They must lack an enforcer, so Amare proved to be that piece afterall. In this off-season, I hope we get longer and bulkier, like a Portland with fewer tatoos.

    I couldn’t possibly know who around the league could make a transistion to Phoenix like Gortat did so well. I’m sure Babby will know, and now we have improved pieces to support whomever.

    Nash needs help. I’m not against Brooks but he’s not like the off-guards Portland has. If Aaron is back, it will show how few players are available. He is nothing if not admirably calm and confident, though.

    As for Warrick, we’ve seen how accurate his shot became, and that anyone will send only him to the line. With a couple bigs he becomes a wingman making his own shot (very slowly).

    Most of our future players have made serious improvements. Only Alvin, I thought, took a step backwards as far as his demeanor. Maybe next year he won’t lose his temper so publicly. I’ve been with his substitutions all year, and I believe pretty much all the players let him down leading to his depression, but nevertheless he’s got to project being bigger than the game to get more out of the players, if you know what I mean. (I’m sure Lopez haunted his sanity.)

    It may sound like I should follow the Trailblazers instead, but for Frye, Gortat, Dudley, Nash, Hill, and Gentry, who I like better.

    Moves this offseason will fix many things and we will be more competitive next year. But I won’t let my heart get broken like that again.

  • shazam

    nash finding out that j rich is the father of what he thought was his son crushed chemistry up and down the ranks…this and the horrendous turkey glue contract made us make a mid-season trade..this season was over when glue and warrick were signed..a ticket selling con to distract from no stat…just enough to give us hope that 2 time might be able to pull a white rabbit out of his wifes hat…but we did get gortat..michael?what say u? we need guidance.

  • Tony

    Michael,

    good points on the Nash situation. However, I disagree that the Suns will be able to get much in return for him that would ignite a steady rebuilding process. Firstly, the team’s style is predicated entirely on Nash, even most of the team’s players are dependent on Nash creating for them. I forgot the exact stat, but it was something like 80% of the points scored by Gortat and Frye came by way of Nash getting them the ball. Since this team does not have even one guy that can create his own shot, without Nash, this team’s offensive efficiency would drastically plummet.
    Followed by the players, the ocaching staff is catered towards Nash’s style of play.

    Thus, if Sarver intends on trading Nash, he will need to bring in a new coaching staff and immediately add players that can create their own shots, something I doubt he does because of lack of cap room.

    Furthermore, the team’s most interested in dealing for Nash are already very good teams looking to become elite teams. Thus, the Suns are not likely to get good draft picks for him and because of his age, teams’ are not most likely not going to give up young star players for him either.
    All in all, the team has so many needs it’s ridiculous. They need a legitimate starting 2 guard and pf, followed by a new backup pg that shows the potential to be the starter of the future, and a new backup center. A tall order for any front office, nonetheless with the Suns horrible front office, it’s doubtful any tangible improvements emerge soon.

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    @Tony First off, we just don’t know what Nash can fetch until the Suns put him on the block which is why I want them to do that. If his trade prospects are the gloomy then I would prefer just to keep them and shoot for a playoff spot like this year.

    But we’re talking about a guy who put up numbers similar to his MVP seasons, a guy leading the league in Impact rating and adjusted +/- not to mention assists per game and a guy who’s as pure a shooter as any guy in the league who is a walking 50/40/90. You can’t tell me he couldn’t put some contender over the top, and I think it’s very possible a team gets close but falls short this year and realizes Nash could be the missing piece.

    I understand that Nash will be 38 in February, I understand most contenders already have a great point guard and I understand the kind of teams that could use him don’t exactly have lottery picks or useful young players lying around. I understand all those issues make it possible the Suns won’t get the kind of offer people on this site would desire, but at the same time it’s not every day a player of Nash’s skills get put on the market and he could push the right team over the top.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    We all know none of that matters, Michael.

    If a contender comes up short and they know that adding Nash could be the difference, they will go around the league looking for trade partners to get PHX what it’d want. It’s happened time and time again. So often that it would be expected.

  • shazam

    am i the only one who thinks two time being two timed by j rich hurt our chemistry this year?

  • Steve

    Ha, I honestly hadn’t kept up with the Nash/J-Rich situation. That’s hilarious (in an awful way), straight out of a Judd Apatow. Really makes sense of the quick divorce mid-season.

    I’m with Michael and Rich on this. If management is smart, they’ll at least put him on the block. I think he’ll generate a lot of interest. He’s a two-time MVP who is still playing at a superstar level. SOMEONE is going to want him if they know he’s available. And, for the right price, I’d be fine seeing him go. He has been excellent to the Valley, and he’ll probably have the greatest legacy of any Suns player ever. But if the Suns would be better served by dealing him, then that’s the way it has to be.

  • king fahd

    I have to disagree, Mike, with the notion of trading Nash away is the solution. There are other ways of rebuilding, rather than trading away one of your most loyal franchise players ever. The Suns franchise (going back to the Colangelo’s) always seem to bring this idea of disloyalty to ship their aging (once star players – J. Kidd was the most recent to come to mind), and trying to get something in value for them.

    Also, I think the Suns are two or three players away from not only being a playoff contender, but a championship contender. We have great veteran guys, who know how to play in a system, so there’s no issues of “waiting for them to click together in a few yrs scenario”. We just need to add a PF that can bring a presence in the interior defense and rebound. Tyson Chandler will be on the market. NO QUESTIONS – PLEASE GET HIM AS THE FIRST PRIORITY!! Also, other than losing Stat (from the Conf finals team last year, we also lost Lou Amundsen, Barbosa, and J-Rich (which you did mention). So I honestly believe if we can just get a good perimeter scorer (Rudy Gay might be on the market. Look at how the Griz are doing w/o him) to be the go-to guy.

    As for the future to eventually replace Nash, I think Brooks brings a Kevin Johnson 2.0 type of game to Phoenix. And we have a potential lottery pick in the offseason that could bring some spark immediately.

  • T-Max

    I agree with the above that this offseason will really hinder the vision of where our future is heading (much like the last lockout did to the Suns). The positive is that we have a franchise center now in Marcin Gortat, some perimeter shooting and defense with Jared Dudley, and forward/center who can help spread the floor in Channing Frye. I personally don’t see much being offered for Steve Nash or Grant Hill (not due to their value) as they are in the final years of their career and most teams aren’t going to mortgage their futures even for them. I think we are best off saving them for their experience, skills, and leadership as we transition the next couple years. Robin Lopez is a back of the bench reserve to relieve Gortat when needed but he won’t bring anything back in trade value either. I think if Mikael Pietrus can develop some consistency we may have a solid reserve to help out on defense and outside shooting. Aaron Brooks would be solid on the second unit if he is willing to accept that role. Same can be said for Hakim Warrick. Josh Childress has talent to offer, just not on the Suns as far as I can see, but not much for trade bait either. The Suns ultimately need to add a slasher to get in the lane and youth to mix with the veterans. I would love to see the Suns grab Kemba Walker in the draft and perhaps acquire two solid veterans (shooting guard) and maybe a power forward (Tyson Chandler idea is interesting, but Dallas won’t let him walk). With the West opening up so much and the slow decline of the Spurs, Lakers, and Mavericks, we might have a shot and getting back in the mix next season if this summer doesn’t screw it up.

  • Steve

    The slow decline of the Spurs, Lakers, and Mavericks? Are you aware those are top 3 seeds in the West?

    I love the optimism, guys, but if you carry a 40-win roster over to the next season, you’re going to end up with a 40-win team. We have virtually nothing of value outside of Nash, Gortat, Frye, and maybe Dudley and Hill. Of those, Nash and Gortat obviously have the most value. If we’re going to shake up our roster, the only way we’re going to get quality players in return is to get rid of one of those two guys. There really isn’t a way around that. Of the two options, I would rather see Nash go.

    PS- Brooks is NOT KJ 2.0. KJ was a mid-range/at-the-rim PG who could penetrate at will and dished 10 apg. Brooks has virtually none of KJ’s traits.

  • T-Max

    The slow decline of the Spurs, Lakers, and Mavericks? Are you aware those are top 3 seeds in the West?

    I realize these teams are the top three in the West but I highly doubt they would beat there same teams from three years ago. Granted neither are the Suns but the Suns have the opprotunity to make some adjustments while those three still cling to their rosters. I agree that Nash and Gortat are our two most valued players but the Suns won’t tade either, especially now that Gortat is establishing himself as a possible top 5 center in the league. As I said before, Nash is the engine for the Suns but most teams either have a franchise point guard or a young one being groomed. Nash won’t bring us a lottery pick or superstar in return plus depth. Maybe star for star but how will that improve things? We need a young power froward who can score inside and rebound much like Amare only with the heart to rebound night in and night out with some defensive ability.