Disappointed Suns look for changes, but Nash stays
A year removed from their inspired run to the Western Conference finals, the Phoenix Suns are on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
Their plans for the offseason, collective bargaining issues notwithstanding, are the addition of a ''go-to'' scorer to ease the pressure off Steve Nash, and, in what has become an annual mantra, build a better defense.
Nash, it seems, is not going anywhere. The 37-year-old point guard, after a difficult season on and off the court, calls the Suns ''my team'' and expresses no desire to play elsewhere.
Suns president for basketball operations Lon Babby agrees, saying he cannot envision a scenario for the team's future that does not include Nash, who, despite battling injuries since the All-Star break, still led the NBA in assists for the fifth time.
''He is the sun and the moon and the stars of this franchise,'' Babby said at a news conference Thursday. ''There is honestly uncertainty about everything, but we want him back. We recognize his value here. We may have to find better ways to utilize him and to utilize the pieces around him. I think we probably put too much burden on him this year.
''But, I mean, anybody who begins the analysis of the Phoenix Suns and where we're headed with anything that suggests that Steve Nash is the problem and not the solution I think is looking at it backwards.''
Nash has one year left on his contract.
''This is my team. I feel like this is my home as a basketball player and I want to try to get back to the playoffs with this team, try to build this team into a contender again,'' he said. ''It's pretty simple. There's no guarantees. You can't just go out and say, 'Hey, can you go out and trade me to this team?' It's very abstract to think of what the alternative is. But that's beside the point. I want to be a part of this team.''
He wants to keep playing after his contract expires. But, with the Suns?
''Yeah, sure,'' Nash said, ''I want to keep playing another two years. If we can improve in the offseason and be set up to have a good year next year I would be more than willing to extend.''
In addition to his battle with injuries, Nash had personal issues, a divorce announced curiously the same weekend that his wife delivered the couple's son.
Coach Alvin Gentry said injuries were a major problem for his star point guard.
''He probably played in 12 games that the average player wouldn't play in,'' Gentry said, ''but he just felt like at the time after the All-Star break that if we were ever going to make a run for the playoffs that he had to be out there and he had to try to help us.''
Essentially, the Suns never recovered from the loss of Amare Stoudemire, who left after last season for more guaranteed money on the big stage of New York.
First, Phoenix tried to replace him with the offseason acquisitions of Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick. When that didn't work out, the team sent Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark to Orlando for Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat.
After toiling in the considerable shadow of Dwight Howard with the Magic, Gortat thrived alongside Nash.
Carter, on the other hand, looked very much like a player past his prime. Expect the Suns to pay him the $4 million he is due and part ways when and if the NBA gets a new collective bargaining agreement with its players.
The team wants Grant Hill back. Babby, Hill's longtime agent before going to work for the Suns, said he will leave the negotiations to general manager Lance Blanks.
Gentry called Hill ''one of those guys that comes along once in a lifetime,'' someone who has been asked to do more defensively than any other player in the NBA.
''He's guarded Amare Stoudemire and Blake Griffin,'' Gentry said. ''He's guarded LeBron James, Paul Pierce, he's guarded Dwyane Wade, he's guarded Kevin Martin, he's guarded Tony Parker, he's guarded Derrick Rose. The only person we didn't ask him to guard was Dwight Howard.''
The Suns were disappointed in Robin Lopez, who was so good late last season that Gentry expected him to be ''the second-most important guy on our team.''
Gentry said he told Lopez to write off the season as ''a bad sophomore year and let's see if we can regroup and come back and get yourself headed in the right direction.''
While the Suns were pleased with the development of Channing Frye and Jared Dudley, there is no doubt the team is short on talent.
The team, Gentry said, needs ''a go-to guy where we don't count on Steve to create every play at the end of the game and to make every shot in situations like that.''
Such players aren't easy to find and don't come cheap.
While the jury is out on the revamped front office, Gentry and Babby chafed at the suggestion that owner Robert Sarver is unwilling to make the financial commitment necessary to get the Suns back in contention.
''I don't think the issue is spending the money,'' Babby said. ''We can all go back and look at decisions that were made where they may not have been the right decisions in terms of how the money was spent. But my view of ownership generally and Robert in particular are the following: He is passionate about winning. He is really, really smart, and anybody who underestimates those two things doesn't get anything about him.''