Steve Nash won't return to Phoenix 'if there isn't an improvement'

Steve Nash said he won't return to the Suns if they don't plan to "upgrade the roster seriously." (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

Steve Nash said he won't return to the Suns if they don't plan to "upgrade the roster seriously." (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

Steve Nash sent a message Thursday that Suns management must have heard loud and clear: he will only return next season if Phoenix improves.

Nash spoke to everyone from Bill Simmons to Dan Patrick to Jim Rome as part of a Dove Men Care promotional media circuit and touched on a variety of interesting topics but none more important than what he said concerning his pending free agency.

“I definitely do want to win,” Nash told Patrick (which can be heard here). “I’m not going to come back to the Suns if there isn’t an improvement, if they’re not ambitious and they’re not looking to upgrade the roster seriously. And I think they are.

“They’ll have a lot of flexibility in free agency. They’ll also have been standing pat in many ways so they could do some things this summer. I think they’ll become a definite possibility for me. I do want to win. I do want to consider all my options, so it will be interesting to see what happens this summer.”

To my knowledge this is the first time Nash has made such a definitive statement on what Phoenix must do to placate him this offseason. Many have questioned why he would not demand a trade to a contender while playing for a Suns team that floundered before the All-Star break. His competitive nature was questioned by being so at peace to play out his age 38 season on a lottery team.

However, now we know Nash will not be content to play out his days in a system he enjoys, in a city whose fans adore him (where his kids happen to live), for a coach he respects and with teammates he genuinely likes. He also wants to play for a winner.

Such a proclamation (or at least the line of thinking itself) puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the front office to make moves worthy of keeping Nash. This will not be easy since any potential addition would likely want to know Nash is returning as well.

As Larry Coon recently wrote, the Suns are slated to have about $26 million to spend on upgrades next offseason, tied with the Cavs for most in the league. The Suns could likely hand out a max contract and re-sign Nash if such a scenario presents itself.

However, there are not many elite unrestricted free agents aside from Deron Williams (who is not coming here). In theory, the Suns could make a run at an aging star like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen, or they could toss some money at a young restricted stud such as Eric Gordon, Nicolas Batum, Ryan Anderson or Brook Lopez.

If they cannot acquire a player worthy of a big dollar contract I would prefer the Suns to sign some one-year deals and save the money for the next summer, but it appears as if such a scenario would mean Nash walks based on today’s comments.

I had been an advocate of exploring a Nash trade due to how easily Two Time could escape for nothing if the right contender calls.

In that vein Patrick asked Nash how he would respond if LeBron James tried to recruit him to Miami.

“I would listen,” Nash said. “He’s phenomenal. I love what they’re doing there. A lot of people don’t like them because they put all that talent there. But they’re professional, they play hard, they play together. Their coaching staff has done a great job, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for them.

“I would definitely listen.”

To me such a scenario seems unlikely unless Nash was willing to play for a mid-level contract and become more of a complementary piece rather than a player the system revolves around as is the case in Phoenix.

Still, if the Suns do not make the requisite improvements so that Nash can stop talking about how much less talented Phoenix is than other teams, it is certainly no stretch to think he would bolt with only cap space left to show for him (which would not be terribly awful if the Suns nabbed a pair of restricted studs, but how likely is that if Nash leaves?).

After a quick 2011 offseason in which Phoenix essentially punted any important decisions to this summer, Lon Babby and Lance Blanks really have their work cut out for them.

They will have to balance bringing back a team good enough to entice Steve Nash to stay with the opportunity to potentially acquire some quality young players. Ideally a player like Gordon (if he’s healthy) could accomplish both goals — serving as a go-to scorer in the present next to Nash as well as a player to build around — but the Suns must resist the urge to overpay a short-term solution.

Now we all know that Nash really does care about winning and that he is not content to lose games in a comfortable situation the rest of his career.

At this point it will be up to the Suns to add the right pieces this summer to convince Nash he can both win and be comfortable in the desert.

 Other interesting tidbits

 I listened to Nash with Simmons on the BS Report and he had many interesting nuggets to share:

  • Nash feels the 2006-07 Suns were the best SSOL team: “I think that was the best of all the teams because of a number of factors. We added a couple of pieces and had been through a few wars. .. 2010 was kind of a magical year.”
  • With Mike D’Antoni recently resigning as the Knicks’ head coach, Simmons asked whether his system can work at the highest levels of the NBA. That led to a discussion on all the bad luck the Suns suffered during the SSOL years, with Nash saying the suspensions of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw hurt the most with that team being undersized to begin with. “You can’t look back on that series and go, ‘If the suspensions didn’t happen we were through.’ But we were also at an all-time high. It was a team with a lot of belief. We had gotten our heads chopped off a couple years in a row. We were poised to chop someone else’s head off. … That was the year you couldn’t say D’Antoni’s system didn’t work.”
  • To Nash, the biggest thing the team was missing during that era was a defensive center to play even as few as 15-20 minutes a game.
  • Nash said he made sure potential trade rumors about him did not become a distraction because he did not want to do that to the Phoenix fans or his teammates. He also said the team has been playing better this past month due to improved rebounding and bench play and that getting a good night of sleep is one of the keys to his late-career success.
  • Nash told Patrick that he “could be back for sure, but that will be more interesting than the trade deadline.” He said he has not spoken to Dirk Nowitzki about a potential reunion in Dallas and he said he was a lockdown defender at times who pressured fullcourt early in his career as a Maverick.

Tags: Steve Nash

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