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Phoenix Suns face three options with Steve Nash that will determine their future direction


Lon Babby has crunched the numbers, and rebuilding just doesn’t make sense.

According to The Arizona Republic, Babby and the Suns have determined that conference finalists that tear down and launch a “massive rebuilding project” take an average of a decade to get back to that level.

Such an analysis shows why Babby seems to prefer to keep the Suns’ older core players like Steve Nash and Grant Hill while adding to that nucleus with pieces like Markieff Morris and perhaps a decent free agent shooting guard rather than starting over and building through the draft.

Babby is trying to prevent the Suns from turning into the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that actually reached the 2003-04 West Finals but has not been a playoff team since and has won 32 games the last two years combined in Years 6 and 7. That’s why Babby keeps reiterating that the Suns won’t be trading Nash, period, exclamation point.

The downside, of course, is what if this means he is just delaying the inevitable? What happens if the Suns are forced to rebuild whenever Nash leaves but don’t face as favorable a landscape to start the project? Such a scenario could just delay the decade or so the Suns must wait before returning to their Nash era heights.

As has been the case with most things on Planet Orange the last seven years, Steve Nash is the fulcrum on which their future direction rests. I see three possibilities:

"1.  Trade Nash immediately after the lockout or at the trade deadline.2.  Sign Nash to a two-year extension.3.  Let Nash walk at the end of the 2011-12 season."

Originally I planned on writing this article about how if the Suns would not consider Option 1 then they had to start working on Option 2 right after the lockout ends. After further examination I see merit in all three choices.

The biggest reason to trade MVSteve would be to put the team in a better rebuilding situation. I would have favored the draft day deal involving Derrick Williams that was discussed so the Suns could be bad for what may be a shortened 2011-12 season and then have D-Will and a high lottery pick in the 2012 draft to build around along with Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley.

The 2012 draft is a huge part of this strategy. The Suns desperately need a future star, and with next year’s draft seemingly flush with those kinds of players Phoenix would be wise to start thinking of a 2012 plan that would involve a high draft choice, cap space and perhaps a quality young player from a Nash trade.

The downside is that it goes against everything the organization has said in regards to Nash over the course of the last year and directly contradicts Babby’s argument against rebuilding made at the start of this story. On paper it’s easy to figure the Suns could execute a quick rebuild with a 2012 pick, cap space and assets from a Nash deal but such quick rebuilds rarely actually come to fruition.

If Phoenix struggles out of the gates it would seem to make logical sense for the Suns to consider this scenario, but at this point they seem to be squarely focused on Option 2 (or possibly 3).

The next question that must be answered is how long do the Suns feel Nash will continue to play at a high level. Presumably the answer is past this season because if the Suns didn’t think Nash had much left in the tank then they would be trying to move him.

In that case the Suns would have to consider another two-year extension probably in the same neighborhood of the deal he’s making now. I might even recommend a two-year, $20-million deal, which is a slight pay cut but also an incredibly high salary for a player who will be 40 by the end of such a contract.

This deal would be a gamble for the Suns. If Nash performs anywhere near his current level of play this would be a supreme steal, but if he finally declines or becomes hampered by injuries that’s a lot of money to be tied up in a player nearing 40.

Re-signing Nash would accomplish Babby’s goal of staving off rebuilding since the Suns figure to at least be a decent team so long as Nash is around and it’s always possible another run could be in the cards, but continuing to employ Nash could cost the Suns a chance to find a future star in the draft.

Option 3 was reprehensible to me until analyzing the Suns’ salary situation. Without Nash in the equation, the Suns only have about $28 million committed during the Summer of 2012. Taking back players, of course, would cut into such flexibility.

In this way the Suns would enjoy the savings from Nash’s $11.7 million expiring deal without having to take the blame that would come with being the front office that traded Steve Nash away from Phoenix. If the split is amicable with the Suns rebuilding at that point and Nash going off to a contender, the Suns would avert the public relations disaster that a Nash trade would be seen as to some.

Expiring contracts that lead to cap space only become supremely valuable if they put you in position to sign a max-contract player whose true value is much higher than what an NBA max contract allows. That’s why the Knicks mortgaged so much for the opportunity to sign two max guys.

We will have to know the results of the new CBA before truly evaluating the viability of this option, and we’ll have to see if any top 2012 free agent would be interested in Phoenix so the Suns don’t just end up with a bucket full of role players once again.

Added into this calculated analysis is the emotional aspect of Steve Nash. We’re talking about one of the most beloved players in franchise history, so on top of Babby’s study warning against massive rebuilding projects it would be flat-out heartbreaking to ship away Two Time.

For now the Suns steadfastly refuse to consider Option 1 and have not commented publicly much about Options 2 and 3, but the path they eventually choose in regards to Nash will go a long way toward determining the length of the Suns’ next rebuilding project … and perhaps whether they will need to rebuild at all.