For all the talk of rebuilding and roster turnover, neither the Suns' front office nor Steve Nash nor Grant Hill have ever even hinted at a parting of the ways. Only handful of Suns are under contract for the 2012-13 season, leaving most of the team - including team leaders Nash and Hill - as unrestricted free agents.
National media and local media alike have been begging for years now for these vets to join a "contender" so they can be showered with diamond-studded rings to cap off their Hall Of Fame careers. Yet neither player has indicated any real desire to "chase a ring" that is no guarantee to be won.
The rumors kicked into high gear in the summer of 2009 when last these two were unrestricted and free to sign with any NBA team while the Suns were fading into the sunset. The failed Shaquille O'Neal/Terry Porter experiment was fresh meat, and Nash and Hill were begged and pleaded to sign with "contenders". Instead, without even posturing beforehand, each re-signed with the Suns at relatively bargain rates.
Now, in the summer of 2012, both players are free to chase that ring again. Both are free to sign with any team in the NBA. So what are they saying when the question is posed to them over and over again?
Just like Steve Nash has repeatedly expressed his desire to stay with the Suns, so did Grant Hill yesterday to Chris Tomasson, a reporter prepping for the Suns' Florida swing:
Hill, 39, is in his fifth season with the Suns, and the seven-time All-Star said he plans to be back next season.
"I definitely think I can go another year, maybe two," Hill said before scoring a team-high 19 points in Tuesday's 99-95 loss to Miami at AmericanAmerican Arena. "If the season were to end right now, and I would sort of evaluate the season, I would definitely want to come back and play next season."
Hill, averaging 10.6 points, signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal before the season. He hopes to end his career with the Suns and says "Hopefully, they feel the same way."
So, it looks like the Suns' core will return next season (Nash, Hill, Gortat, Frye, Dudley, Morris) with enough cap space remaining to sign 1-2 high-quality NBA players to join them in the quest back up the mountain of the Western Conference.
For all the angst over the Suns owner and front office, you've got to consider the possibility that all is not bad in the Valley of the Sun if two of the most highly respected and revered players in the NBA continue to choose Phoenix over every other NBA city.
[Note by Seth Pollack, 03/21/12 7:34 AM MST ]
It's worth noting, again, that the Suns have more cap space than any other team this offseason. ESPN's Larry Coon estimates $26m and that's without using the amnesty on anyone.
More importantly, none of the contenders discussed by outsiders as possible destinations for the ring-chasing captains have anything close to the cap space to offer them more than the Suns can.
Dallas is the possible exception and if they don't land Deron Williams, I wouldn't be surprised to see Dirk and Cuban try and lure Steve back.
The Knicks, Bulls, Heat and Lakers will all be both over the cap and over the tax. Teams over the luxury tax can only offer the mini-MLE which isn't enough for either of these guys. Not to mention the likely desire for these teams to start shedding contracts in order to avoid the massive new tax bill coming in 2013-14 season.
See, the new CBA is making a difference....I think.
My money is on both Steve and Grant returning to the Suns next year. They are established here with their families. They are having fun and have great chemistry with this group. They are competitive. They can be fairly paid.
It makes sense for the Suns to tie up $10m $15m on these two stars for another two years and still have another $10m to $15m available for free agents. They can throw a big offer sheet at a guy like Batum or Gordon but it's unlikely their teams don't match. That leaves a very thin class of unrestricted free agents.
So why not spend that money on Steve and Grant, have enough to keep Robin Lopez, and still go into the season under the cap. Add this year's rookie and an older Markieff and you can see how the "rebuild on the fly" thing might work out.
Also, how many times have we seen teams under the cap take on a bad contract from a team and grab an extra pick in the process? Having cap space, especially when there's going to be some teams desperate to get under the luxury tax, can have some unexpected benefits.
It's no wonder the the Miami Heat have won 14-straight at home. Down 10 points with about seven minutes left, the Heat came out of a timeout and looked like another team. They ramped up the defensive energy and went on a 17-0 run to put the Phoenix Suns away.
The Suns shot just 28% from the field in the fourth quarter after shooting 53% through three. Miami put on as impressive a defensive performance as I've seen all season.
Overall, it was a good game and just like a few weeks ago in Oklahoma City, the Suns had a chance to steal a road win over one of the league's best. You can look at a few blown lay ups from Robin Lopez and Channing Frye, but the reality is, the Heat had too much fire power when they decided to finally go full bore.
"The moral victory thing is long gone. We have to have wins. We put ourselves in a position to win the game and we let it slip away. Obviously, you've got to give them some credit. They made some plays down the stretch, but we also had an opportunity to make plays that we just didn't complete," Alvin Gentry said after the game.
"The biggest disappointment is that we did come up with stops and they got the ball back on the offensive rebound and that just can't happen in the guts of the game."
The Suns bench definitely gets a game ball.
Shannon Brown continues to play under control and Michael Redd and Robin Lopez mostly played well. Markieff Morris (12 points, four rebounds) had some horrible plays but also dazzled with a block on a one-on-three breakaway and followed that up with a three-point play. He played hard and tough and seemed to rise to the occasion with was a positive sign.
42 points overall for the bench who all were in the positive in the all important +/- category while the starters were all in the negative. The Heat are vulnerable but the ability to crank up the defense to close games is a pretty nice safety net to have.
The starters were led by 19 points from the ageless Grant Hill. Steve Nash had nine points and 10 assists. Only Channing Frye didn't contribute. He had a team-low two points in 25 minutes. It wasn't his night.
Moral victory or gut busting defeat?
Whatever. Tomorrow is the Magic.
Bonus stat of the night: The Heat were 13-19 from the line through the first three quarters and then 13-16 in the fourth.
Well now, guess who has a four point lead over the Miami Heat on the road at the half. The same team that got down nine in a blink of an eye and then rallied back with a combination of strong defense, solid shooting and great bench play. The Phoenix Suns are balling.
Looking at the box score, the Suns are -10 on points in the paint (30-20), giving up 58% shooting, and have turned the ball over ten times leading to 16 Miami points. But where they are dominating is on the offensive glass with an 11-2 advantage in second chance points.
Who is this team?
Can they hold on to steal the win? Yes.
Will they? I have no idea.