Orlando, we know how you feel.
Three years ago when downtown Phoenix hosted the All-Star weekend extravaganza I called it “a party before the Suns set,” with All-Star starter Amare Stoudemire firmly on the trading block and head coach Terry Porter out the door before the circus left town.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-11, 265-pound elephant in the room this weekend surrounds the saga of Dwight Howard, who is perhaps the league’s second-best player but could ditch Orlando for nothing this summer a la Shaq. The Magic were never going to trade him before this weekend’s party to forego the embarrassment of him returning to town as an All-Star in a different uniform, but with less than three weeks remaining before the trade deadline the rumor mill will become unbearable for Superman any second now, if it hasn’t already.
Meanwhile, that same frenzy has yet to build around the Suns’ own— who could become the best player available on the trade market after Superman if Phoenix makes him available — because Nash continues to swat away trade questions with the same effectiveness as Howard in the paint.
When told speculation on his future seems to have died down during Friday’s media session, Nash said, “I really was oblivious to it anyways. You could have just said the speculation has risen recently, and I would have been like, ‘Really?’ I didn’t know it’s died down or rised. I really stay pretty oblivious to all the chatter, so I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m only concentrating on trying to prepare to play and be the best I can for my team. Outside of that, especially in this season, I don’t have much time.”
That’s been the standard Nash answer whenever trade talk has been brought up. According to The Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro, Nash went on to say that he made a commitment to the team and that he won’t demand a trade yet he left the door slightly ajar for a move by adding, “But at the same time, I’d understand if the team wanted to make a move, so I’m completely open.”
Nash has repeated a basic variation of this response the past few years when this topic has been broached, and I would have been surprised only if he didn’t say it once more this weekend when the question was inevitably asked again.
It’s hard to fathom that a 38-year-old All-Star without a ring on a team six games under .500 would not want to at least entertain the possibility of a trade to a contender, but for Nash there are a few plausible reasons that makes sense. It comes down to a combination of his loyalty to the organization and love of the city and its fans, the presence of his children in the Valley, the vaunted medical staff and the fact that Nash is the kind of player who values the journey and does not have any DNA of a ring chaser.
At the same time, the reason the topic must continue to be brought up is that it does not make any sense for Nash to just play out the string for a team going nowhere this season with a dearth of future assets that could really use a nice young piece from a Nash trade and the resultant high lottery pick. We all know this is not a logical situation, but all logic says the Suns must at least explore a Nash trade before the March 15 trade deadline.
I’ve always felt that would only happen if the Suns were completely out of it by the deadline to the extent that even Mr. ORNG himself starts playing the ESPN mock draft lottery game. Seven of Phoenix’s eight games before the trade deadline will be played in US Airways Center but they will face a team below them in the standings only once (Sacramento, a squad they have already lost to), and the Suns have been a brutal home team thus far (7-9).
Putting Nash on the market would be heartbreaking for anybody who considers themselves a Suns fan and that certainly plays a role in this decision. There’s a reason he’s an All-Star even at an age no point guard has earned that honor before and this team could become unwatchable without him.
The other reason the Suns could be hesitant to trade him is because he could be one of the team’s big free agent signings this summer. Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby has long insisted that Nash can stay as long as he wants and Two Time told The Associated Press last week that he would “definitely” consider re-signing with the Suns if they offer fair compensation and make other moves to improve.
The Suns could have the salary cap space for two max players with nobody to offer it to being that Dwight Howard and Deron Williams aren’t coming here. I would not be opposed to making a run at a young restricted free agent stud like Eric Gordon or Nicolas Batum, but it’s not hard to envision a scenario where Nash is the best free agent Phoenix can sign.
That begs the question, how long can Nash keep playing at this level?
“We’ll see,” he said Friday. “I really don’t know. You can’t predict Father Time so you never know when your body’s had enough, but I still feel capable and I feel like I should be capable next year. Hopefully next year I’m playing the same way and can say I feel I’m capable the year after, but you never know. At this stage it’s hard to look three, four, five years down the road, but I feel like I can still play in the league for a long time.”
Since returning to the Suns at the age of 30, nothing he has done has corresponded with his age or the usual peak of a professional athlete. Earlier in his career, Nash never thought he’d still be playing at 38 — not to mention racking up All-Star appearances –yet here he still is.
If I were calling the shots, I would have already pushed the red button and embarked on the rebuilding process, but with Nash showing no signs of slowing down you can see why management might want him around another couple seasons. At the same time, his age cripples his trade value in that there is no precedent for a 38-year-old point guard playing at an All-Star level (not to mention the fact that he will be an unrestricted free agent who cannot be extended before the summer).
Overall it seems like both the Suns and Nash are waiting for the other to make the first move. Both sides have dropped hints that they would be open to exploring a deal if the other side gives the OK and thus both seem to want the other party to hold the responsibility if a trade ends up being consummated.
To me the Suns owe it to their future to do their due diligence on what a Nash trade can fetch them, and if anything close to a solid young prospect and a first-round pick can be had they must make sure Nash is not so oblivious about a potential trade to a contender anymore.