It's not what Nash said, it's what Suns do
When the chips are down and he's backed into a corner by representatives of the vicious Phoenix media, Steve Nash often unholsters the C-word.
On Sunday night, the C-word was not "cohesion." He doesn't need that these days because Nash and the Phoenix Suns have developed on-court chemistry in their march toward playoff contention.
That cohesion provided a victory over the woeful-but-game New Orleans Hornets in the Suns' first contest since the two-time MVP stirred things up during a string of national radio interviews.
His spin around the talk-show circuit inspired considerable g-nash-ing of teeth by local reporters and fans who began wondering whether the franchise face would be signing with another team.
In recent weeks, Nash's future has been forecast as a warm and fuzzy two-year deal to remain with the Suns. That would claim roughly one-third of the team's anticipated salary-cap room, with the Suns looking for a go-to guy with what's left.
But thanks to a hypothetical premise posed by Dan Patrick, loyal followers have been worried that Nash might become the point guard for the Miami Heat during this summer's free-agent derby.
In response (retaliation?), Steve rolled out the C-word "context" to explain what occurred over the national airways.
After handing out 14 dimes to help the Suns dispatch the Hornets, Nash insisted that his willingness to at least listen to a Heat hiring inquiry (couched by Patrick as an imagined diplomatic contact from LeBron James) has not been embraced in the spirit of what he intended.
Nash said he'd listen. He issued admiration for what the Heat have cookin' in Miami after a declaration that he won't re-sign with the Suns if the team fails to put better teammates around him.
"I'm not going to come back to the Suns if there isn't an improvement, if they're not ambitious, and they're not looking to upgrade the roster seriously," Nash said on Patrick's show. "And I think they are. They'll have a lot of flexibility in free agency. They also have been standing pat in many ways so they could do some things this summer. I think they'll become a definite possibility for me. I do want to win. I do want to consider all my options."
With that statement about roster upgrades, some have suggested Nash was putting down his Phoenix teammates. But he didn't come out and directly criticize any of them.
After Friday's practice, Nash told local media that his requirement for an improved team is nothing new and pretty obvious. Who would promise to come back — under any circumstances — if the team wasn't committed to getting better, right?
Nash has been steering free-agency-related questions in that direction for a while now. But the difference last week was the lack of deflection when the question became specific to a certain team.
That doesn't mean he's leaning toward Miami. The Heat face salary-cap limitations — all they can offer is a midlevel exception — and his potential presence as a third dominant ballhandler may not jibe. Miami would seem better served using the exception to hire a big, rebound-gulping galoot.
Anyway, instead of stating the willingness to listen to any interested parties when a more appropriate time comes, Nash said a couple of flattering things about the Heat. Instead of reminding Patrick that he's busy thinking about what is needed to help the Suns continue their playoff surge into April, he went into some detail.
That hardly suggests he's through with Phoenix, but it also wasn't an accident. Knowing the Dove Men's Care promotional tour would put him in the crosshairs of questions aimed at assessing his future, it's very doubtful Nash was unprepared to handle them.
Locally, those seemingly measured responses have been hailed as a warning shot across the bow of Suns management. With team representatives insisting that the notion of trading Nash and building for the future would occur only if Nash requested such a move, some followers see last week's stance as Steve's checkmate.
But we really won't be able to gauge a definitive lay of the Nash land until July.
Until then, we'll have to wonder whether Nash really was disturbed that the Suns put forth little effort to sign former glory-days forward Boris Diaw after he escaped from the Charlotte Bobcats. Diaw went to San Antonio and is playing with French national team buddy Tony Parker.
We also will have to wait for July to find out whether the Suns can dredge up enough talent to keep Nash, who has singled out the need for a go-to scorer. Or whether they really, truly want to keep Nash. They certainly seem to.
So if they're committed to keeping the sun, moon, stars and turnstile-spinner of the franchise, do the Suns abandon their stated premise of not overpaying some restricted free agent in this summer's market to keep Nash in town? There's not exactly a surplus of go-to scorers available.
Or with possibly as much as $31 million in cap room (pre-Nash decision), do the Suns offer a first-round draft pick or two for a player (or players) under contract if they're unable to make reasonable progress in free agency?
We'll be waiting to see whether Suns president Lon Babby's plan to escort the Suns back to elite status is fast-tracked enough to suit Nash.
Nash didn't put the team in what many experts consider one of the NBA's toughest long-term predicaments. But his whirlwind radio journey could be considered an assist the Suns didn't need.