Did Steve Nash play his last game as a Sun?


That’s the question we will all have to ponder if the NBA lockout wipes out the 2011-12 season and along with it the final year of Steve Nash’s Phoenix Suns contract.

Ever since Amare Stoudemire announced his plans to revive New York basketball, the question of what to do with Nash (and by proxy the rebuild or reload debate) became Phoenix’s most important future roster decision.

With the Suns seemingly headed for rebuilding mode, Nash trade rumors swirled for much of last season, although Suns management did all it could to quell such talk with Lon Babby proclaiming Nash is the “sun, moon and stars” of the franchise.

With seemingly one season left to make a decision on Nash’s Phoenix future, I laid out three potential resolutions to the Nash dilemma: trade him for picks and prospects, let his contract expire and rebuild with cap space (thus forgoing the inevitable fan revolt from trading Two Time) or sign him to an extension.

I am still optimistic that the players and the owners will come to their senses and negotiate a new CBA to its conclusion being that they have come so far. Since they have agreed on the BRI split, it’s asinine to allow systems issues to cripple a $4 billion industry. It makes no sense on any level.

But if both sides dig in and the entire 2011-12 season becomes a casualty of the fight, Steve Nash may very well have played his last game as a Sun.

Presuming 2011-12 contracts will expire even if the year isn’t played, Nash would forfeit his $11.7 million salary and hit the free agent market, which of course takes the trade route out of the equation.

This is the direction I have advocated so the Suns could add a young asset to their future core and be bad enough to have a shot at one of the numerous 2012 studs in next year’s draft (ESPN’s David Thorpe sees the Suns as Anthony Davis’ best fit, but Phoenix would have to be pretty putrid next season to make that happen).

Without a labor deal that is all out the window.

Even with a shortened season the odds of a Nash trade seem to decrease significantly compared to what might have happened with a full offseason.

It would be difficult to make a major move during an abbreviated offseason period in which everybody is just trying to digest the new rules and fill out their roster in the chaotic environment we saw in NFL free agency.

On top of that new rules could prevent or hinder sign-and-trades to certain capped-out teams and Nash’s value figures to decrease with a couple months of the season already canceled.

If you believe the Suns, none of that matters because he was never going to be traded to begin with. But in the event of a canceled season Nash would now be a free agent who can sign anywhere he pleases whereas before Nash and the Suns would have had a whole season to work out a new agreement.

If it gets to that, this could end up being a blessing for Suns management as they could say goodbye to Nash mutually and amicably as this contract expiration could allow both sides to move on from an era that sadly has already come to an end. Nash would be free to find his best fit personally and the Suns would have tons of cap space to start rebuilding in earnest with.

Still, it’s jarring to think that Steve Nash may have played his last game as a Sun without any hint of a farewell party at the end of last season when such a situation seemed unfathomable.

A canceled season very well may lead to the retirement of Grant Hill as well. Hill would be 40 by the time play resumes if this season is wiped out, and although he would be a young 40 due to all the games he missed to injury and the lockout year, that seems like a lot to ask.

If this were to really happen, the way the league determines the 2012 draft would be franchise-altering as well. I’ve long written about the Suns’ need to pluck a star from this draft and thus being bad enough next season to put themselves in a position to do so.

According to ESPN’s Ric Bucher, the league has discussed different ways to handle the draft without a season, including aggregating winning percentages from the past three to five regular seasons and putting the bottom 14 into the lottery.

Such a method figures to hurt the Suns, since they barely missed the playoffs twice in the past three years and won 54 in the other. The great Suns teams of the recent past would really come back to bite the current Suns if the past five years were to be weighted.

I don’t feel that’s entirely fair when you consider how much teams change in five years (you think Cleveland will be in favor of this?), but at the same time I don’t necessarily see a better way to do it.

At this point Suns fans can only hope these are questions that never have to be answered.