Where is Steve Nash going?  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

I've been very resistant to post this story. In fact, I wrote it four months ago, at the beginning of the lockout, figuring I'd trash it once the lockout was over and the prospect of Suns basketball gave me goose bumps again.

Well, the lockout is effectively over, and I'm not feeling goose bumps.

The more time that passed without basketball, the more objective I feel I can be with this Phoenix Suns team. Without major change, this Suns franchise is hovering in the 25-win (in the event of an inevitable Steve Nash injury) to 35-40 win territory (even if he is "healthy") for the next couple of years. And then after that, if the front office doesn't perfectly plan the transition to the inevitable post-Nash era, we could be looking at 10-15 of years of rebuilding (eye-opening Scott Howard article) while becoming a lottery staple amongst the Clippers, Twolves, Warriors, Pistons, Kings and so many others.

Even in the near term with a healthy Nash, the likely 35-40 wins a year is the WORST place to be in the NBA. You don't get a star draft pick (yet another eye-opening Scott Howard article) and you don't make the playoffs. You just exist in limbo, signing mid-level free agents and drafting mid-level college players in hopes of getting lucky.

The Suns need young, healthy superstars around whom they can build a new winner into the future. Yet, a slow fade by Nash keeps you shopping in the dollar store.

But where do they come from? How do we get that 1-2 superstars in the desert?

If you'll remember, I wrote an article in summer 2010 detailing how "carry-your-team-to-a-championship" superstars must be found via the draft. Trades and free agent signings almost never hit that jackpot. Just look at all the league champions since 1989, covering 22 seasons. Shaquille O'Neal (4 rings) is the only free agent example to date. Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen and Rasheed Wallace/Chauncey Billups (1 ring per pair) are the only trade examples.

By contrast, Michael Jordan (6 rings), Tim Duncan (4), Hakeem Olajuwon (2), Kobe Bryant (2 as the head honcho), Isaiah Thomas (2) and Dirk (1) have led their teams to 17 of the last 23 championships as their team's draftee. Even O'Neal (Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade) and Garnett/Allen (Paul Pierce) had a superstar draftee on their team when they won the championship.

If you want a championship, forget the outlier (Pistons in 2004) and accept the truth: the Phoenix Suns will not win a championship until they DRAFT the superstar who will carry them there.

And the Suns will not draft their next superstar while Steve Nash remains in Phoenix. He wins too many (but not enough anymore) games. Plus they need the cap room in summer of 2012 by not having his 10+ million on the books. 

And when is the best time to trade Steve Nash?

As soon as the lockout ends.

Reason 1: Money. The Suns have already sold the tickets they are going to sell for next season, and that one's only 66 games. The key is the summer of 2012 and a new ticket-selling season. As long as the Suns acquire a new "ticket-seller" by next August, Sarver won't have lost much of anything.

Reason 2: The 2012 Draft is loaded, already being hailed as the best draft since 2003 (which boasted LeBron, Anthony, Bosh and Wade plus 4 other all-stars). If there was a year to have a top-5 pick, 2012 is it. Six top young college players pulled out of the 2011 draft to wait out the lockout in college. Another half-dozen incoming freshmen are considered the best in a long while. By the end of the college season, a handful of these guys will have "multiple future all-star games" on their prospect profiles.

Reason 3: There are a lot of major free agents available in the 2012 offseason, with a more-Suns-friendly CBA on the horizon to help sign them. You get Nash off the books and spend next season cleaning house, you're looking at $30-40 million available to spend on the draft and free agency. Unrestricted free agent stars: Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Deron Williams. Restricted free agent stars: Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook.

Not convinced yet? Compare these two scenarios...

 

Scenario 1 - Keep Nash, Close Eyes, Cross Fingers and Hope For The Best

Keep Steve Nash and Grant Hill through at least the 2012-2013 season. Pray you hit the jackpot with an all-star player at the 11-18 slot next June.

In that scenario, the Suns would likely have about $43 million committed to 9 players entering the 2012 season: Nash @10 mil, Hill @3mil, Morris @2mil, new rookie @1.5 mil, plus Gortat, Childress, Frye, Warrick and Dudley.

Basically, the same team we've got today and only about $10 million to spend on free agency. That's 1 or 2 more mid-level veterans. No way a superstar (Howard, Paul, D Williams) comes to play with a fading Phoenix team still hanging its hat on Steve Nash.

Another couple years of 30-45 wins, here we come.

 

Option 2:

Trade Steve Nash and Josh Childress to the New York Knicks for SG Landry Fields, PG Chauncey Billups, combo G Toney Douglas and the rights to rookie PG Iman Shumpert. Really, there's nothing else on that team worth having that NY would give up for Nash.

Figure out how not to play Billups. Either buy him out or trade him again for more young talent.

Win 20-25 games, resulting in a top-5 pick. Draft the player with the best potential, regardless of position.

That summer, the Suns would have only $24 million committed to 8 players: 

  • 1 high-quality 3rd-best starter (Marcin Gortat)
  • 2 good-enough-to-round-out-a-lineup starters (SF Dudley, SG Fields)
  • 5 quality backups (PF Morris, PF/C Frye, PF Warrick, PG Shumpert and combo G Douglas)

Scary? Sure. That lineup right there would win 20 games a year.

Tons of options? YES.

That lineup leaves $30-40 million to spend on a "star" free agent PLUS your top-5 draft pick and one more starter to fill whatever hole is left. $30-40 million is a lot of cheese, folks. And a top-5 draft pick next spring will likely net you a multi-time all-star.

Forget Dwight Howard. That would be just mean to the Polish Hammer.

But if you're PG Deron Williams or Chris Paul, would you want to step into a young 10-man rotation with a rookie superstar plus 3 solid starters and 5 proven backups ready to raring to go?

I'd think yes. 

And that, Suns fans, has a much better future. 

Poll
Day One Post-Lockout Question:

  899 votes | Results


Let there be NBA basketball. After a 15-hour meeting that lasted into the wee hours of Saturday morning, the NBA owners and players reached a handshake agreement, ending the 149-day...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

We will have an NBA season! According to several reports, NBA owners and players arrived at a handshake agreement on a new CBA a little after 3AM EST today. A 66-game regular season will start on December 25 once the deal is ratified by a full vote of players and owners, and a fast, furious free agent signing period and preseason is completed.

Finally!!! Much, much more to come on this breaking news story. For now, do a happy dance, raise a drink in honor of pro basketball's return next month and start thinking about how the Suns will try to improve their roster via free agency once the free agent signing period starts. 

This here basketball blog will soon be filled with content about real basketball!!!!

@HowardBeckNYT: Free agency and training camps set to start simultaneously on Dec. 9, Stern says.

Beck's full story in the New York Times can be found here.


Photo

Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash and former Suns guard Jason Kidd are planning a charity game of NBA players at the University of California-Berkeley's Haas Pavilion for December 10, reports Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic.

Nash and Kidd each have San Francisco Bay Area connections, as Kidd grew up in Oakland before attending Cal, and Nash attended Santa Clara.

Said Nash:

"Excited to go back to the Bay Area with Jason to play for the fans and raise money for the children our foundations benefit," Nash said. "We go way back to college so to see the distance we've both come and to take it back to those days will be a lot of fun and for a good cause."

Yahoo's Marc Spears reports that Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, David Lee, DeMar DeRozan, Corey Maggette, Trevor Ariza, Ricky Rubio, Shawn Marion, Michael Beasley and likely Amar'e Stoudemire and Kevin Durant will also participate, which would make for a star-studded exhibitiion.

The Bay Area recently turned out over 4,000 fans for an exhibition of current and former Golden State Warriors players in the We Believe Vs. Dub Charity Basketball Game at San Jose State University on November 5th. It was reported to be a "near sellout" of the 4,600 seat SJSU Event Center. Haas Pavilion's capacity is 11,877, so it will be interesting to see how many fans will turn out to see this, if players go ahead with the game.

One thing that might stop this game from proceeding is if a deal is reached in the painfully long and ongoing NBA lockout negotiations. Talks have resumed and continue today, as the league attempts to salvage its nationally televised Christmas Day games. More details can be found from Ken Berger of CBS Sports here

If this reminds you of the movie Groundhog Day, you're not the only one. A key difference is that the current meetings are more lawyer-y since lawsuits were filed. Players' lawyer David Boies is in, and Derek Fisher is filling a reduced role. Feel free to be as hopeful or jaded about this as you like.


A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.

~ Cicero

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. A four-day weekend comprised of eating and sports? What's not to like? As I grew older and began to better understand what the holiday is about, I only grew to enjoy it more. Giving thanks for what one has, showing gratitude, is one of the biggest keys to living a happy life. If there is a human trait deserving of a holiday, it's gratefulness.

At any given moment, we can find something to complain about: we might hate our job, our family might irritate us, maybe we want more money, etc. As Suns fans here, our current complaint is that the NBA lockout has taken away the sport we love. Before that, our complaint was that the Suns franchise is in decline, with a front office full of numbskulls and rubes, and an owner who is cheap and incompetent.

This has created an interesting dymanic here at BSotS. It reminds me of the old joke: "the food at that restaurant is terrilble, and the portions are so small!"

Last year was disastrous for the Suns: a team that pushed the eventual league champion to 6 games in the conference finals in 2009-2010 dropped by 13 regular season wins and missed the playoffs. The hand-wringing and "woe is me, we're doooooomed!" was more prevalent here than Marcin Gortat's nose is on his face.

But, now that we're staring into the abyss, the possibility of no NBA season at all, wouldn't a season of even a medicore or worse Suns team be great in comparison?

I thank you in advance for jumping it.

I've been a sports fan for as many of my 30-something years as I can remember. When I was a kid, it would sometimes make me cry when my team lost a tough game. As a young adult, I'd brood for a day or two and lash out at anyone who talked trash to me after a loss. Then I began to realize that, of course it's more fun to be a fan when my team is winning and contending. But the real joy is simply in being a fan, win or lose, championship contenders or doormats.

There is always something in these games to appreciate: a spectacular Steve Nash pass, a thunderous Hakim Warrick dunk, an unexpected performance from an unpopular player. And if you choose to be an optimist, there is always hope.

"This young player is gonna be great for us!"

"Nash is a freak of nature and therefore has a few years left as a top performer."

"Veteran role player X will continue to improve due to his high character and hard work."

Then there is the community that sports fosters: fans gathering in person and electronically to cheer or groan, celebrate or commiserate.  Sharing the emotions and analysis of the game is a great deal of the experience, whether that's excitement for a team that has a chance to win it all, or the desire to light an underperforming member of the team on fire, in jest (at least, I think in jest).

All of this is what makes it fun to be a fan. It's why we keep coming back no matter how many tough losses, how many players we see leave when we'd like them to stay.  And it's all better than lawyers arguing while we have no NBA to watch.

On the eve of Thanksgiving 2010, the Suns lost a thrilling but heartbreaking overtime game to the eventual Eastern Conference finalist Bulls. The Suns led by 19 after the first quarter and 12 going into the fourth but Derrick Rose and the Bulls proved to be too much in the end, as this recap by Alex Laugan and Seth Pollack details. The word "frustrating" appeared several times in the comments.

And it was frustrating. The Suns had a very good team down big, and then let them take the game at the end. It was a performance that, unfortunately, displayed a lot of the weaknesses that would haunt the Suns for their entire 40-42 campaign.

This Thanksgiving, we have no Suns basketball. We have no NBA at all, and the best we can possibly hope for is games by Christmas. When the lockout does eventually end, there's a fair chance that the Suns will be no better or possibly worse than last season's team. And I'm guessing it won't be long until somebody makes a comment along the lines of "the Suns suck so bad, I wish the lockout hadn't ended so I didn't have to watch this."

That comment won't be coming from me.

On this Thanksgiving, one thing I'm thankful for is that I'm a sports fan. I live a comfortable enough life that I can afford to care, to cheer, to gripe, and realize that the fortunes of my team aren't any kind of real hardship. Win or lose, it's all a celebration. And this lockout isn't lasting forever.

Your turn now, BSotS-ers. My questions for you:

  • What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?
  • What is your favorite part of Thanksgiving Day?

And, don't forget to answer the critical question in the poll. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Poll
What is your favorite kind of pie for Thanksgiving dessert?

  60 votes | Results


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