PHOENIX — It was not quite an over-my-dead-body moment.
But it was close.
Steve Nash wanted to be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers?
“When we first heard it,” Phoenix Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby said Wednesday, “we had the same reaction that probably everybody in this community had, which was a visceral reaction that says, ‘No way. We’re not going to do that. That’s crazy.’ ”
The Suns moved off that position for four Lakers draft choices and $3 million, ultimately coming to the conclusion that to move forward, they had to jettison the face of the franchise.
As counterintuitive and even, well, crazy as that sounds.
So while Nash spent Wednesday afternoon saying how surprised and excited he was to bring his 9,916 career assists and his three-year, $27 million, sign-and-trade contract to the contending Lakers, Babby spent time explaining why it had to happen that way and why the Suns eventually will be able to contend because of it.
The Suns and Nash met four times early in the offseason, Babby said, and spent at least a dozen hours discussing scenarios before it became clear that the Suns could not offer Nash a market-value contract while also leaving room for the new blood needed to rebuild.
“He had his criteria, and we had our criteria. There was no common path,” Babby said.
“People will say it is a financial decision. I would adamantly disagree with that. But it is a math decision. You only have a certain amount of cap space. You only have a certain amount of money you are allowed to spend. The math could never work. He ended up with a terrific contract with the Lakers, but if we had offered him that same contract, it would have hamstrung us in our efforts to reload and move into transition.”
In the Suns’ world, the transition would start with shooting guard Eric Gordon, a restricted free agent whom the Suns signed to a four-year, $58 million offer sheet by the end of business Wednesday. Except . . .
New Orleans, Gordon’s former team, has 72 hours from the time it receives the offer sheet to match it or lose Gordon. The Hornets are expected to match, according to reports out of New Orleans, to mesh Gordon with first-round draft choices Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers. The fact that Gordon signed an offer with the Suns means the teams were unable to work out a sign-and-trade arrangement.
The Suns have a Plan B if Gordon does not arrive, Babby insisted, but it is clear they would rather add Gordon and unrestricted free agents Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley to returnees Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley moving forward. The Suns have agreed to a four-year deal with Dragic and a three-year deal with Beasley, according to reports, but Babby did not want to talk beyond the Gordon move — presumably because of the ripple effects of the Hornets’ decision.
Memphis guard O.J. Mayo could be a fallback candidate if Gordon remains in New Orleans, and the Suns also could move to retain Shannon Brown and/or Michael Redd in that scenario.
The Suns also have 10 draft choices in the next three drafts, five firsts and five seconds, after receiving No. 1s in 2013 and 2015 and No. 2s in 2013 and 2014 in the Nash trade.
“They may not all be great picks, but they are picks,” Babby said. “There are some very successful picks made late in the first round and into the second, so we’re very excited about that.”
Let the rebuilding begin.
“I don’t hesitate to call it rebuilding. I think it is obvious what we are doing,” Babby said. “We’ve competed at a reasonably high level, but not at a level that was satisfactory. We don’t want to be a 7- to 10-(seeded) team in the West and be satisfied with that.”
He added that the Suns would not have agreed to Nash’s plea to stay on the West Coast and be close to his children unless the team viewed it as a win-win for both parties.
“You can’t ignore that kind of request from someone who has the quality of person and the quality of contribution he has made to our franchise,” Babby said. “But we had to assure ourselves that it had to be a good basketball decision. At the end of the day, we felt comfortable with the assets that we received.”
None of which made it easy to part with the player helped bring the Suns within a series of the NBA Finals in 2005, 2006 and 2010.
“It was excruciating,” Babby said.
“I just feel my job in coming here two years ago was to get us to this point and to now find a way to get us through it, whether it was this year or next year or the following year. At some point, Steve Nash wasn’t going to be here, and I kind of feel that was one of my principle responsibilities, to usher us through that phase as gracefully and with as much dignity as we could. I think we’ve done that. But you never want to see a good friend go, and a player of his caliber go. We view it as a highly positive outcome because of the assets we received.
“It has taken us to two years to get to the runway, and now we are ready to take off and bring (in) younger and new talent. It’s going to be a process. We are hoping we can find a group of young players who will grow together and learn how to win together. It is not going to be any quick fix, that’s for sure.”