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#FreeSteveNash: ESPN's big guns weigh in

As the Phoenix Suns seemed destined to spend this season in the NBA no-man’s land of “not good enough to make the playoffs and not bad enough to contend for the No. 1 pick,” the #FreeSteveNash movement got some national attention this week. Prominent NBA analysts such as ESPN’s John Hollinger and Grantland’s Bill Simmons weighed in with their thoughts on Captain’s Canada’s future with the Suns and some potential trades for Phoenix to pursue. Let’s examine these proposed trades and evaluate them on both feasibility and potential benefit for the Suns.

Editor’s Note: If you as a Suns fan are squeamish or are prone to hysterics at the thought of Steve Nash leaving the desert, the following trades may prove too much for you, so you may want to save yourself the mental pain and anguish and just look away.

On Tuesday, John Hollinger wrote in his PER Diem about a Nash-to-Portland deal. Here’s the link to the deal on ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine. The crux of the trade is Phoenix receiving Ray Felton, two young prospects, and a pick in exchange for Steve Nash. Hollinger puts this trade forth despite the fact that based on the involved players’ current PER numbers, this trade would drop Phoenix’s projected wins by 10 games. This is partly due to the fact that neither Nolan Smith nor Elliot Williams have played enough to have PER data.

There is no reason to think that a deal such as this one wouldn’t happen outside of both Nash and the Suns front office’s vehement denials of the possibility of a trade. For the purposes of the column, we’ll ignore that. As the Suns sink deeper and deeper into irrelevancy and mediocrity, it’s entirely possible both sides might relax their view on a trade.

The deal makes sense for Portland as Felton’s contract is expiring just like Nash’s. So in essence, the Blazers would be renting with the possibility of re-signing Steve Nash for the price of two prospects and a pick. For the Suns, the prospects will inject some youth into an aging roster. The pick, which will likely be in the 18-24 range, will still be a valuable asset in a draft this deep. In the offseason, the Suns could stand pat with their two picks and two prospects to start a serious youth movement or package some combination of them to move up into the top five or trade for a solid veteran.

In his NBA Season Review: 20 Questions, Bill Simmons also mentioned the possibility of a Nash-to-Portland deal. His version, however, had the Suns receiving Nic Batum in place of the guard prospects. Batum, a favorite of VotS overlord Michael Schwartz, was not extended by the Trail Blazers before the deadline, possibly indicating that Portland is willing to part with him for the right price.

By Hollinger’s prediction this version of the trade would only cost the Suns one predicted win, and thus seems far more beneficial to the franchise (especially when you consider that Felton and Batum’s PER numbers undoubtedly go up in Phoenix as each would play a bigger role than they currently do in Portland.)  In Felton, the Suns would get a point guard who isn’t awful and was extremely productive under Mike D’Antoni last year in New York. In Batum, the Suns get a player who is young, energetic, and efficient, three things Phoenix sorely needs right now. Batum is also a restricted free agent, so acquiring him now would put the Suns in prime position to sign him to a longer deal as Phoenix could match any offer made for him in the offseason.

Whether or not Portland would do this deal depends on the likelihood of Nash re-signing with the Trail Blazers in the offseason. Because he was extended two years ago, Nash’s current contract isn’t eligible to be extended again as outlined in this piece by Mark Stein. Thus Portland would have to hope that another trip to playoffs is enough to entice Nash to give the Blazers his remaining years.

Simmons also proposed a possible deal with Indiana. The deal, outlined here, would swap Nash for Darren Collison and a 2012 No. 1 pick. This pick would probably be slightly worse than Portland’s as Indiana’s schedule is Eastern Conference heavy, but again in a deep draft any pick can help.

For Phoenix, this trade would give them a young, still-developing point guard to replace Nash. Collison is considered to be one of the fastest players in the NBA and has shown flashes of brilliance in his short career, particularly in place of an injured Chris Paul when both were still in New Orleans. Nash is definitely the superior point guard, but Collison with his speed could mature into a strong distributor and team leader under the right tutelage .

Whether or not Indiana would pull the trigger on this deal would again depend on its ability to re-sign Nash in the offseason. Also, the Pacers’ willingness to trade for Nash would definitely depend on how close they believe they are to title contention. It makes little sense for Indiana to trade a young asset who should continue to improve if the Pacers’ ceiling is anything less than a Finals appearance with the addition of Steve Nash.

Bill Simmons posed the question, “Why hasn’t #freestevenash evolved into a social media campaign along the lines of #occupywallstreet?” The answer, as always, is Nash’s fierce loyalty to his teammates and the Suns’ franchise.

“… I just feel that I owe it to my teammates to stay committed to them. I feel that I owe it to the fans and the organization to fight,” Nash said in an interview with ESPN’s Marc Stein. Fight as he may, what happens if the Suns continue to toil in no-man’s land? Could the situation arise where the best thing for the fans and the organization is to move Nash and get some pieces to build around in return? Will Nash and the Suns’ management see the writing on the wall before the March 15 deadline? There is no way to know. For now the “Phoenix Revolution” will remain untelevised.

But it will be on Twitter. #FreeSteveNash

Tags: #FreeSteveNash ESPN Indiana Pacers Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Analysis Portland Trail Blazers Steve Nash Trades

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