While Phoenix Suns fans have been holding out hope all season - some more adamantly than others - that this team will gel enough to be a playoff force, that glimmer of hope is beginning to grow in strength and power.
Of late, the Suns are winning and defending their home court. They have recently beaten the higher-seeded Mavericks, Clippers, Timberwolves and Lakers. The only other team currently seeded 7-12 in the Conference playoff picture with a winning record in their last 10 games (Minny) just lost their star point guard to an apparent knee injury (Rubio).
The Suns record is only 18-21, but they are just 2.5 games behind the 8th-seed Rockets and 5.5 games out of 3rd in the Conference overall.
The Suns starting lineup - Steve Nash, Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill and Channing Frye - have the best +/- in the NBA for the minutes they've played together. So why only 18-21 overall? Because those five can't play 48 minutes - or even extended minutes - since two of those guys are almost 40.
With the trade deadline only 5 days away, it's time for the Suns to make a move.
Nash is going nowhere. Neither are Gortat, Frye, Dudley, Hill or Markieff Morris. The Suns are winning right now and they like that feeling.
But how about improving the bench talent for a playoff push? Can the Suns, without sacrificing summer cap room, improve enough to be a threat come playoff time?
To be sure, this is no 2009-10 fairytale season. Nash, Hill, Duds and Frye are still around, but long gone are the Suns' 2nd and 3rd best players that team: Amare Stoudemire and Jason Richardson. Marcin Gortat makes up some of that deficit, but a gaping hole remains where star power should be. There will be no approximation of a 28-7 finish and WCF appearance.
This team is cobbled together with masking tape and bailing wire. How are Nash/Hill/Dudley/Frye/Gortat anywhere near the most effective 5-man unit in the NBA? Steve Nash. And as long as Steve Nash runs the team, the Suns will fight and scrap for the win every single game.
There is no tanking in this team's vocabulary. And there is no 'trade Nash' is their vocabulary either. Given the Suns' recent winning record and general sense of optimism, I'd say the chances of a Nash trade in the next 5 days are as close to 0 as they've ever been since 2004 when he returned to the Suns.
So I ask the question: If the team is going to go ahead and win games and come somewhere close to the playoffs with their current lineup, why not make a deal to improve that lineup?
Forget big trades, folks.
The Suns are NOT going to sacrifice summer money for a big, albatross contract at this point. And they are not going to trade anyone from the current 5-man starting unit to get more talent. None of the starters are going anywhere. Remember, Nash is all about chemistry and comfort and his starting unit is highly effective. The top-5 are going nowhere.
But why not take on an expiring deal - or at least 1 with an ETO or player option - to improve the bench for a playoff push?
Gentry cannot simply drop the rotation down to 7 or 8 a night like D'Antoni used to do because of Nash and Hill's age. They need to play 5 extra guys every night to keep the starters fresh for the last 6 minutes. Sometimes all 8. Plus, who among those 8 guys would you play every night in lieu of the others?
Those last 8 guys are generally terrible and maddeningly inconsistent in terms of quality play. Sebastian Telfair, Ronnie Price, Shannon Brown, Michael Redd, Josh Childress, Markieff Morris, Hakim Warrick and Robin Lopez. The keystone cops. Each has played a few good games. None has played consistently well all season.
That is where you need to be looking, Suns fans.
Look for small trades. Quality, available bench players on expiring deals that won't cost anyone from the top-5 on the team, or any future #1 picks either.
Backup PG Aaron Brooks will be available in the next 2 weeks once his team finishes the CBA playoffs in China, but if the Suns sign him this season he becomes unrestricted this summer. That's a huge gamble on the Suns' part. Look for the Suns to wait until summer on Brooks, just as Denver is waiting on Wilson Chandler.
Ex-Suns Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa are both available, and probably for a pittance. But their deals are 9-million and 7-million, respectively, which makes dealing for them nearly impossible due to salary-matching requirements. Neither Toronto nor Charlotte wants to take on long-term money from the Suns (Childress, Warrick) in exchange for an expiring contract unless the Suns sweeten the pot with a draft pick or young player (Morris, Lopez), which the Suns won't do for either of those 2 guys who will be gone this summer anyway.
Nash, Gortat, Frye, Dudley, Hill and young Morris are going nowhere.
The Suns would certainly trade Lopez for another young player.
They would trade contracts (Warrick, Childress) for equally bad, but-not-worse, contracts. No one wants Telfair, Price, Redd or Brown in trade.
They need quality backup PG play and quality 2-way shooting guard play.
Keep your eyes out for those kinds of players who match those contract descriptions AND are available for a pittance (a future second-round pick?).
Note of caution: Last year, the team was in the same exact boat. They were on the fringe of the playoffs and didn't want to move top guys, but wanted to improve bench play and backup PG in particular. Sound familiar?
Virtually every time the Suns have appeared on national TV this season, the "big question" that the commentators just "have to ask" is whether Steve Nash will be traded before March 15th's deadline. After all, what reason could there possibly be for the mediocre Phoenix Suns to hold on to Nash when he's near the end of his career and could leave as a free agent this summer? Why let him walk for nothing when they could get a couple of role players or draft picks for him? And what possible reason could there be that Nash would want to stay on the unglamorous, non-championship contending Suns?
Surely, Nash wants to go to Miami, or LA, or New York. I mean, how couldn't he? That's what players do in this day and age, isn't it? Of course, the people making decisions on Nash's immediate future, Suns President Lon Babby, owner Robert Sarver and Nash himself, have already answered this question time and time again. The Suns will only trade him if Nash requests it, Nash won't request it. Seems clear, doesn't it?
But, no. Nash needs to be "freed" because, apparently, playing for an organization he loves with teammates he respects in a city he enjoys doesn't matter. He "deserves" a chance at a title and if his career ends without a ring it will just be so, so sad.
All I can gather from this national media chatter is that a lot of people aren't paying attention. They haven't realized what motivates Nash, his approach to his career and to his life. He's not like LeBron James, or Chris Bosh or Carmelo Anthony. Nash isn't going to work the system for supposed short-term gain. That's not who he is.
They see his loyalty and dedication to keeping his word and fulfilling his commitments to his teammates and employers as quaint notions, obviously not understanding the meaning and value of loyalty at all. How cynical.
Follow the jump for more of my "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it any more!"
ESPN's Bill Simmons is sort of the godfather of sports bloggers, isn't he? I used to read him religiously and would even forgive his rambling, self-indulgent content about The Karate Kid and playing Blackjack with his buddies in Vegas, but I've come to believe that he's a lot of what's wrong with blogging and is the primary cause for the scourge of rosterbation we see. He's become a caricature of himself.
He was on Colin Cowherd's radio show a few weeks ago and Cowherd said to him, "you're great at predicting NBA trades...."
Yes, if by "great" you mean he makes up a bunch of silly stuff that never happens, then sure, he's great. Simmons is at it again in a trade deadline piece on his blog grantland.com.
I don't blame the Suns anymore. I blame Nash. I think he's afraid to get traded. I think he likes toiling away on mediocre teams, playing that martyr role and having everyone feel sorry for him. Poor Steve Nash! Look what the Suns did to him! We have to get Nash out of there! #freestevenash Maybe he doesn't want the pressure of playing in the playoffs anymore. Maybe he'd rather bang out meaningless regular seasons, go traveling during the playoffs and save himself two months of wear and tear. Maybe he's hiding behind this whole "leaders don't sell out their teammates by asking for a trade" thing. Maybe he's just being a coward.
(By the way, I don't believe any of this — I just wanted to use a little reverse psychology to get Nash to ask for a trade because Phoenix is obviously too cowardly to accommodate him. I'm at wit's end. Don't you want him in the playoffs?)
This is a common tactic of the "free Nash!" crowd. "We're looking out for his best interests! And, ours too!" Last night during the broadcast of the Suns/Mavs game, commentator Chris Webber put forth a false dichotomy in which Suns fans wanted Nash to stay while "Nash fans" wanted him to move on.
I suppose, to an extent, that's true. There are general basketball fans and those who appreciate Nash's game who would rather him be on the national stage on a contender instead of facing the gross indignity of dishing assists to the likes of Jared Dudley and Channing Frye. How uncivilized that poor Steve has to play with such mutts!
Yeah well, I'm looking out for my best interests as a Suns fan and a Nash fan too, and I want him to finish what he started in Phoenix. As much as Nash has done for the franchise, they've done equally right by him, handing him the keys to the team and surrounding him with talented players. Does Nash win two league MVPs on another team, coached by men other than Mike D'Antoni and Alvin Gentry? That's doubtful.
Most importantly, Nash says he wants to honor his contract and fulfill his commitment in Phoenix. What the hell is it with so-called experts who pretend they know his situation and motivations better than he does? On last night's post-game, analyst Dennis Scott called Nash "too loyal" and that the Suns "owe him" a trade. Those sound like the words of a man who isn't loyal enough, or who has no clue what loyalty is.
And what about some guy named Patrick Dorsey of ESPN and his "Steve Nash Intervention"? Nash has 9,645 career assists, he's a future Hall of Famer, an international superstar, a two-time MVP, a film maker. Guess what, "experts"? He can make decisions better than you can, especially concerning his own life. And, he's not a BS-er. If he says he doesn't want to be traded, I take him at his word.
For those who trade in idle speculation and in repeatedly asking a question which has already been unambiguously answered countless times, knock yourselves out. Keep at it until the trade deadline and then moan about the fact that Nash is "stuck" on the Suns. Just don't mind me as I stand over here shaking my head at your foolishness.
Steve Nash has, of course, come up in trade rumors, again, and the Portland Trail Blazers are reportedly hot on his trail. You can understand why the Blazers would want Nash to partner with LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews but as with all of the Steve Nash trade rumors, it's generally an exercise in hot air.
We know that the Suns have no interest in trading Nash and Nash has shown no interest in going any where. But that doesn't mean we don't like talking about it.
In this case, we fired up the video magic devices and put together a little interactive chat with my friend Dave from Blazersedge. We talk about why he thinks Nash would even fit in Portland and what it would take to get a deal done.
What do you think?