PHOENIX — For the past eight seasons,has been the face of the Phoenix Suns franchise, and to borrow a phrase from Lon Babby, its sun, moon and stars as well.
But now for the first time since Jerry Colangelo swooped in with a take-it-or-leave-it offer as free agency commenced in 2004, Nash is a free agent once again.
“Just the fact that I’m unattached in a way coming out of the NBA season is strange,” Nash said. “I’ve been here eight years. It’s just flown by. It doesn’t feel like eight years. It’s incredible. The seasons kind of blend into one and sometimes you don’t realize how long of a period it’s been. It is strange.”
Eight years ago Mark Cuban thought that Colangelo had lost his mind by offering an injury-prone 30-year-old Nash a six-year deal yet even after tacking on two years after that it’s completely reasonable to think Nash will get the three-year deal he plans to ask for … potentially even from Cuban himself.
Nash has not exactly tipped his hand but he has not minced words when it comes to the improvement the Suns must make to keep him, starting with a post-trade deadline media blitz in which he made those intentions very clear on a variety of national outlets.
When asked what the Suns specifically must do to keep him at his end of season presser, Nash said he would want them want “to be as competitive as possible if I were to return.”
As to how to get there, he said, “It depends on your method and philosophy, but I think the team could use more playmakers. It depends on your strategy. You could go for bigs. You could go for a consistent 20-a-game scorer. Or you could go for a few more playmakers at different positions. There are different philosophies and different ways to go about it. The team and the club need to really analyze what their philosophy is moving forward and put a contingency plan together to build the best team. It’ll be an interesting period.”
Nash added that “winning and being competitive and being part of a good environment” are his top free-agent priorities.
Considering the way fans showered Nash with love during his potential farewell game, his respect for Gentry and the coaching staff and the way the training staff has kept him upright all these years, there’s no question Phoenix checks the box for “good environment.” I can’t imagine him finding a better one when considering his comfort level here.
The “being competitive” box is a completely different story unless he means “being competitive” for the eighth seed. We’ve now learned any Nash-led squad will be that after this season.
Save for a lottery miracle, it’s hard to see any series of moves the Suns can make this summer that vaults them into immediate championship contention. If Nash wants to chase a ring, he will be better served elsewhere.
We will really see what his priorities are this offseason, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. In fact, many people have chided him for not pushing for a better situation much earlier.
Yet to Gentry, not doing so is part of make makes Nash who he is.
“Everyone knows what he’s done for the franchise,” Gentry said. “He’s been that guy that’s made all the big plays for us. He’s been that guy who’s kind of been the heart and soul of our team. All you’ve got to do is go back and look at the cut above the nose, the cut above the eye, all the things that he’s tried to play through when he was here.
“For me having the opportunity to coach him for eight years obviously it’s something that everyone should experience because number one I think he’s the most low maintenance superstar you could ever deal with and I think he’s all about the team.”
The team is also all about Nash. As Nash has said, this is definitively his team, and that won’t be the case in most other places.
In Phoenix, starters at least much fit into the Nash style. Elsewhere he might have to assimilate his game to others.
If Nash wants to continue to be the focal point of a team, there’s no better option than Phoenix. He can still be effective elsewhere, but as we saw during the ever so brief Terry Porter era, he won’t be this same guy in other systems.
Nash must make an important decision about where he will finish his career and thus what the final chapter of his basketball story will look like.
Does he chase a ring and try to erase his name from the dreaded s—t list of great players never to win a championship that he is perilously close to joining for eternity? Would such a ring be as valid as if he won it in Phoenix as “The Man”? Does he even need a ring to validate his career? Or does he finish where he started and where he has enjoyed his greatest successes in a good personal situation with adoring fans?
Then there are factors such as money, team fit (he would be a completely different player in Miami) and what kind of contender would really need him with so many great point guards in the league today (especially among contenders).
“Honestly, I have no clue. I couldn’t predict,” Nash said. “I don’t know what the future holds at this point. And I’m actually OK with that. I think now’s the time to maybe get some distance from it and try to find a clear perspective on where I am.”
Then on the other hand the Suns’ front office must ask a similar series of questions. We know they are on the record as saying Nash can play as long as he’d like in the Valley, but is it prudent to rebuild in essence around a soon-to-be 39-year-old? How many years should be offered and at what price? And perhaps most importantly, can the Suns put a contender around Two Time or would these next three years be spent jogging on the treadmill of mediocrity?
The Suns’ immediate future hinges on this decision. By bringing back Nash, they inherently can’t rebuild; they would owe it to him to be as competitive as possible.
If he leaves, however, the cupboard would be bare enough that they would have no choice but to rebuild.
It’s never easy to part with a legend, and it’s often difficult to know when the right time is.
If this is it, as the fans seemed to sense on Wednesday night, Nash will be remembered as a two-time MVP, a player who changed the style of the league, one of the best shooters ever and one of the best passers as well.
Nash has a simpler idea for what he would want on his Suns tombstone.
“I always hope people think of me as a competitor and a great teammate and a winner,” he said. “If I’m fortunate enough for people to think of me that way as a Sun, then I’m very flattered.”
There’s no question they will. Now the question is whether people will think of him as the face of the Phoenix Suns for the next three years as well.