PHOENIX — Around the same time that the Los Angeles Lakers were introducing newly-acquired Steve Nash on Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns held a less-anticipated and more somber press conference to explain why they sent their franchise star to a division rival.
President of basketball operations Lon Babby addressed the media about the Suns’ decision to go their separate ways from Nash, and it all came down to the team not finding a “common path,” as Babby called it at the end of the season.
In what Babby called “extensive exit interviews” that by his approximation took 10-15 hours through at least four meetings, the franchise and Nash couldn’t come to a compromise considering Nash’s financial worth and the team’s ability to use its cap space to acquire talent to surround the two-time MVP.
“Kind of at the end of the day, what I would say is it just became obvious that you can’t really dive headlong into a transition if the thing you’re transitioning from is still here,” Babby said.
“Despite the good-faith efforts to find a common path — I always talked about a common path — there was no common path,” Babby added. “And so people will say it’s a financial decision. I would adamantly disagree with that, but it was a math decision. At the end of the day, there was no way to accommodate what he rightfully thought he deserved and our efforts to reload our team. The math just couldn’t work.”
Instead, Phoenix ended up going through a process of sending off their star in what Babby said was an excruciating decision. Even more painful was the surprise entry of the Lakers, who first inquired about acquiring Nash with a call from general manager Mitch Kupchak to Babby. Nash then reached out to the Suns, asking them to consider sending him to Los Angeles, a destination that fit with his criteria of being close to his family and having the ability to win games, all while getting a worthy contract.
By the conclusion of the free agency dead period, Babby, owner Robert Sarver and general manager Lance Blanks decided they needed to take their emotions out of it.
It came down to doing what made sense for the Suns product on the court, and receiving two first-round and two second-round draft picks in addition to cash fit the bill.
“When we first heard of (the trade),” Babby said, “we had the same reaction probably that everybody else in this room had, that everyone else in the community had, which was a visceral reaction that said, ‘No way, we’re not going to do that. That’s crazy.’
“I give Robert a lot of credit, because what he challenged Lance and me to do was really make sure that we were taking into account our basketball plan.”
And not surprisingly, Nash’s wish to remain close to his family had some pull in Phoenix’s decision to pull the trigger on the deal with the Lakers. Considering the only other deal that would net the Suns something in exchange for their point guard was New York, who reportedly was offering Iman Shumpert among others, the Los Angeles deal was the most appealing.
“As we engaged in the discussions with the Lakers, I think we came away with a very satisfactory result,” Babby said.
“In all of that, in the back of our minds, of course, is trying to accommodate Steve’s emotional plea for what is in his personal best interest, which is really to be close with his family and his children. You can’t ignore that kind of a request from someone that has the quality of person and the quality of contribution he’s made for our franchise.”
Before the press conference, NBATV displayed a live practice of Team USA in the Suns media room’s flatscreens. Grant Hill was among the commentators, and while his platelet-rich knee surgery that he underwent could be a sign that he’s not ready to hang up the sneakers, his presence on the NBATV set in Las Vegas seemed to allude to his future off the court.
If he does return, then it’s still a question of where he’ll return. But Babby, Hill’s former agent, wasn’t tipping anyone on what the 39-year-old might decide to do.
“You have to ask him,” Babby said. “Everybody knows how I feel about him personally and how we feel about him. He would be a great asset for us with the group that we’re bringing in, but he’s got to do what’s best for him. I wouldn’t speak for him.”