Phoenix Suns set to encounter pivotal free agency period

It’s been two years since the Phoenix Suns last entered a pivotal free agency period with one of their stars an unrestricted free agent and lots of cap space to spend if he flees.

After essentially punting any important decisions to this offseason during last December’s abbreviated free agency period, the Phoenix Suns can chart a new future starting at 9:01 p.m. tonight when the free agency period officially commences (players cannot officially sign until July 11, though).

To me, the Suns have four general directions they could go in the coming weeks:

  • Re-sign Nash and find a way to acquire another piece or two and make a run at a top-four seed in the West with a veteran core.
  • Re-sign Nash and bring back the same general team from last season (re-sign Hill, Lopez and either Redd or Brown) to make a run at another No. 8 seed.
  • Watch Nash leave and fill their cap space with a host of young players through trade or free agency.
  • Keep the powder dry, sign more one-year contracts, be bad this season and roll over the cap space until next summer.

Of course, all of that hinges on where Steve Nash will be playing basketball next season. If Nash returns, full-on rebuilding will have to wait. The Suns would owe it to him to be as competitive as possible in the present, future be damned, and that’s what they have tried to do the past few seasons within reason. Since Nash made the comment about needing to see “an improvement” to re-sign, I’m sure adding other pieces would be necessary to entice him to do so.

Therefore, Option 2 seems the least likely of the bunch (especially with their draft pick being a point guard), and based on Nash’s recent comments to Marc Stein Option 1 may be a stretch as well.

Since the Suns only have about $33 million in committed salary for next season, they could be major players in the free-agent market if Two Time leaves. Of course, that number does not include the cap holds for Nash, Hill and Shannon Brown nor the qualifying offers for Robin Lopez and Aaron Brooks. That’s just to say the Suns should have about $25 million to play with to add to a signed core of Gortat-Dudley-Frye-Morris-Childress-Telfair-Warrick as well as the pick Marshall.

Of course, the Suns could always amnesty Childress or Warrick to create even more flexibility or save the amnesty ax for Childress down the road.

The Suns will have many potential ways to utilize their cap space to add players, including:

  • Signing unrestricted free agents.
  • Extending offer sheets to restricted free agents.
  • Making a lopsided trade for a team in need of immediate salary relief (think the Kurt Thomas trade, just in reverse). This could be a straight dump like the KT deal or one in which the Suns land a more talented player on a bad deal for a team craving flexibility.
  • Winning an amnesty auction in which the team would then have to pay the player for as many years are left on his contract at the amount bid.

Suns PBO Lon Babby said in May the Suns won’t necessarily spend money just because they have it.

“We have cap space, but cap space doesn’t mean you’re going to go out and sign free agents,” Babby said. “It could also mean that we’re going to make one-sided trades, and there’s a distinct possibility we don’t use our cap room this summer because we’ve worked hard to put ourselves in this position to have this kind of flexibility, to have a range of opportunities, but I am absolutely determined that we’re going to be disciplined in how we approach this because we cannot get ourselves right back in the same spot that we were in by doing bad contracts, not assessing value properly, not making the right choices in terms of personnel.”

In other words, if the Suns lose Nash, they won’t panic like they did after losing Amare when they tossed money at Childress, Frye and Warrick and traded for Hedo.

“I hope that we land our targets,” Babby told Paul Coro, adding the Suns will contact several free agents tonight. “I hope we exercise good judgment and use what we use wisely. There are some things we can’t control but that doesn’t mean you overreact.

“Our expectation is that quick fixes are not sensible. What we are generally looking to do is put together building blocks going forward. Some may be shorter term going forward. Every piece may not be here when we get to the promise land but it’s part of the process to get there.”

This free agency period represents the first opportunity for this Babby-Blanks front office to prove it has a plan for the future. The damage had already been done when they were hired in 2010 and last season’s offseason of one-year contracts did little except postpone any important decisions to this summer.

They have essentially been waiting two years for their opportunity to shape the franchise through offseason moves, and thus the front office is much better prepared than it was in 2010 when Steve Kerr’s contract had just expired and the Suns faced that crucial summer with no general manager in place.

Blanks raved about the front office’s chemistry after two years on the job together, and they have spent an inordinate amount of time scouting other team’s NBA players.

For the past eight years, Suns fans have enjoyed the illustrious Steve Nash era. As player after player from the team’s golden Seven Seconds or Less run departed, Nash has been the one constant to keep the Suns the Suns.

If he leaves, there will be painful seasons ahead, a point Blanks even acknowledged Friday at Kendall Marshall’s presser.

“I’d also like to add no matter what happens through free agency, from our analysis there is a risk of tough times in the near future,” he said.

This free agency period will help shape what that near and distant future looks like. My hope is that the Suns don’t panic and start dishing out bad mid-level contracts again but rather make smart use of their cap space in this critical first step of building a new contender if Nash leaves.

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