Blow 'em up? For Suns, it's not that simple
I have an idea for a reality series that would inspire a flood of motivated contestants.
"Rebuild the Phoenix Suns" could pull thousands of eager participants and dedicated viewers from a long-established fan base. Second-guessing a favorite team’s roster is one of America’s top pastimes.
But don’t underestimate the potential interest from high-minded media members and NBA personnel employees who have been offering advice for more than a year.
Surviving to the end of this series won’t be easy.
Based on Wednesday’s 91-88 victory over the Knicks in New York, the aging Suns continue demonstrating enough occasional pluck to erode the hopes of many desperate fans itching for a high — and possibly franchise-rejuvenating — draft pick. Even though the Knicks’ woeful offensive performance may say more about them than it says about Phoenix’s defensive effort, Grant Hill’s work on Carmelo Anthony — backed by a brutally timely star turn by Steve Nash at Madison Square Garden — deserves tribute.
That holds true even if all of the Suns' Gotham gladness adds up to little more than another stuck-in-the-mud tease. With a Friday night date vs. the Celtics in Boston followed by Sunday’s road-trip finale in Dallas, the Suns will return home 5-11, 6-10 or an optimistic 7-9. For now, their wheels are spinning in 12th place in a Western Conference that presents nine teams with winning records.
So with a legitimate shot at a meaningful playoff run seemingly out of the question — given coach Alvin Gentry’s (unintentionally coded?) reminders that this Suns team has little margin for error — the rebuilding contestants should have an obvious direction.
Or perhaps not.
The wannabe contestants began the rebuilding chatter before a 2010 late-season rally got the Suns into the conference finals. Amar’e Stoudemire and his questionable physical future were screaming toward free agency, and some of you were rooting for reasonable compensation before his ultimate move to New York. OK, so Cleveland Cavaliers forward J.J. Hickson now seems better than nothing, but not better than taking that big playoff swing in 2010.
With Amar’e out the door a couple of months later, well-intentioned NBA writers suggested then was the time for the Suns to move Nash. What these rebuild-series candidates didn’t consider was the franchise’s refusal to tear everything apart (very much including ticket sales) on the heels of pushing the eventual-champion Los Angeles Lakers.
It also should be pointed out that even then, the market for Nash (36 years old in the summer of 2010) wasn’t exactly flooded with generous buyers.
Our first testimony comes from a personnel executive working for another NBA team.
"From what I’ve heard around the campfires, they (the Suns) didn’t — and still haven’t — received an offer for Nash that rises above even slightly amusing," the personnel guy said. "In the last year or two, I read several articles that claim Nash would bring back some kind of windfall in a trade. But as great as he is at what he does, only teams on the verge of winning big would move at least decent assets to acquire a guy that age.
"And for a winning team, you might be robbing Peter to pay Paul, reducing a strength in some area for an upgrade at point guard. Teams on the verge usually don’t have high draft picks."
Of course, our reality series wouldn’t be as compelling without opposing points of view. This one is supplied by another personnel sharpie who thinks the Suns should move Nash for whatever they can get.
"Hey, if you’re an old team and not a threat to make a deep playoff run and Nash is going to be ... what, 38 next month? ... how can you just sit on that asset right now?" personnel guy No. 2 said.
For the record, we’re not sure whether "sit on that asset" was his attempt at a clever editorial/anatomical remark. Anyway, an issue No. 2 didn't seem interested in considering was what seems to be a keen franchise interest in using crucial cap flexibility to hire Nash in free agency again.
The belief that the summer resident of SoHo will take the Knicks’ midlevel exception ($5 million) excludes the variables of a Suns offer that probably would be far more lucrative, as well as the prevailing residential status of Nash’s three children, who still live in Phoenix.
For now, Nash refuses to advance the rampaging future-employment gossip. Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby -- fielding questions in his weekly turn on a local radio show -- once again said: "He (Nash) can stay as long as he wants."
With Nash in town, the Suns won’t lose with enough gusto to be eligible to draft a player whom self-proclaimed draft experts consider a franchise-changer. But there’s room for optimism: Draft-judgment errors are made every year.
In his past nine games, the two-time MVP has given the Suns 18 points (shooting a crazy 63 percent from the field) per game while collecting 100 assists against 28 turnovers. But even that probably won’t generate acceptable trade offers — even if the Suns change their minds and decide to gut the roster.
"We’re going to improve our team whenever that opportunity arises," Babby said in his radio chat.
The opportunity the Suns have in mind probably won’t arise until this summer’s free-agency battles. But with the top-tier free-agent candidates reportedly looking to relocate elsewhere, our reality-show contestants are wondering how the team will spend this money.
And according to personnel guy No. 1, that opportunity — even if the unexpected surfaces and Nash is on the market — may not occur in the form of an additional first-round pick in the June draft.
"This draft looks strong enough that having picks will be at a premium," he said.
Depending on which prospects leave college early, the lottery should be a real party. But the late first round may not yield the likes of MarShon Brooks or Norris Cole, two rookies who went 25th and 28th, respectively, in 2011.
Had Goran Dragic provided the make-the-playoffs-now Suns with enough consistency behind Nash last season, he and the 21st overall pick (acquired in the blockbuster trade with the Orlando Magic) would have stayed in Phoenix instead of moving to Houston for Aaron Brooks. Aaron is in China these days, while MarShon — having an opportunity for minutes and shots on a bad New Jersey Nets team (that beat the Suns) — is having a very nice rookie start.
I’m not sure whether the Suns were even interested in MarShon Brooks. But when added to a seemingly wise selection in Markieff Morris and what certainly looks like a lottery addition in June, Brooks would have been part of a nice rebuilding start.
It’s just not part of the current reality.