Suns traded Nash to get younger, more athletic
Lon Babby was practical about the end of the Steve Nash era in the desert, mapping out scenarios that will put the Phoenix Suns in the best possible position to absorb the loss of the two-time league MVP and face of the franchise the past eight years.
When the time came to actually part ways with Nash, the emotional part made it difficult for the Suns president of basketball operations.
''It was excruciating,'' Babby said on Wednesday. ''My job in coming here two years ago was to get us to this point and find a way to get us through it. Whether it was this year, next year or the following year, at some point Steve Nash wasn't going to be here and I kind of felt like that was one of my responsibilities to usher us to through that phase as gracefully and with as much dignity as we could. I think we've done that; I hope we've done that.''
The Suns traded Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers last week in a sign-and-trade deal that sent four draft picks to Phoenix.
The loss of Nash was going to be tough for Suns fans to take no matter what. That he went to the rival Lakers made it even worse, causing ripples of outrage across Planet Orange.
But Babby, general manager Lance Blanks and the rest of Phoenix's front office were willing to absorb the public relations hit for a chance to make the team younger and more athletic.
The way they saw it, trading Nash to the Lakers was a good way to get something for a player who might have left anyway while building a cache of draft picks and saving salary cap space to pursue other players.
''At the end of the day, what I would say is it just became obvious that you can't really dive into a transition if the thing you're trying to transition from is still here,'' Babby said. ''So much of this franchise has been centered around Steve's personality, his play, his contributions to the community that those are painful conclusions to reach. Both sides, it became clearer and clearer that there was no way for us to move forward and at the same time accommodate him.''
But the Lakers?
To Suns fans, that was like the Yankees trading Derek Jeter to the Red Sox.
The front office had the same reaction when Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and, later, Nash approached them about moving him to Los Angeles.
''Frankly, we didn't even contemplate that opportunity would be there for him,'' Babby said. ''When we first heard of it, we probably had the same reaction everyone else in this room, really in this community had, which was a visceral reaction: There's no way, that's crazy.''
The more they thought about it, the more the Suns brass realized the deal made sense.
With Nash likely seeking a contract for more years and money than they were willing to offer, the Suns faced losing their star player and getting nothing in return. Nash had numerous suitors on the free-agent market and the Suns didn't have many options for a sign-and-trade deal, the Knicks and Lakers among the few options.
The Lakers offered up four draft picks - two first-rounders - which seemed like a good fit for a team trying to get younger and gave the Suns 10 picks in the next three drafts.
Nash also had appealed to them on a personal level.
Wanting to be closer to his kids, who live in the Phoenix area, Nash asked the Suns to take a second look at dealing him to the Lakers.
Suns owner Robert Sarver then asked Babby and Blanks to take the emotion of the Nash-to-the-Lakers situation out of the equation and see if they could find a deal that could placate a player that had meant so much to the team while still fitting into their basketball plans.
They did just that.
''You can't ignore that kind of request from someone who is the quality of person and had the quality of contribution he's made to our franchise,'' Babby said. ''But in the first instance, we had to assure ourselves that it was a good basketball decision and if we weren't doing what was right for our franchise from a basketball perspective, then we simply just couldn't accommodate what he was asking and he'd have to make another choice. At the end of the day, we felt comfortable with the assets that we received.''
The Suns have added a few assets since Nash left town. Last week, they signed forward Michael Beasley and point guard Goran Dragic to multiyear deals and on Wednesday official signed restricted free agent Eric Gordon to an offer sheet.
New Orleans can still match the offer sheet to Gordon and the announcement on the deals with Beasley and Dragic won't come until after the Hornets make a decision.
Even if New Orleans does match the offer, Babby said the Suns have plans in place to pursue other players, through free agency or trades, or hold onto the money for next year.
Either way, the Suns are moving ahead in their next era - one without Steve Nash.