The actual day that free agents can sign with another team is July 11. However, all 2011-12 contracts expire at 9PM AZ time tonight. Those players without 2012-13 contracts become free agents, to some degree, on July 1. At 9PM tonight, each free agent can be courted by any and every NBA team.
Unrestricted free agents (like Deron Williams and Steve Nash) can agree to contract terms whenever they want, though they can't actually sign on the dotted line until July 11. Most of the best unrestricted free agents will be committed to new teams by then.
Restricted free agents, though, cannot commit to anyone until they can sign an "offer sheet" and those cannot be offered until July 11. So those teams who want to make an offer to Eric Gordon or Nicolas Batum have to wait until July 11 to make their move. The Suns, for example, will likely wait until July 11 before making any free agent moves to fill their shooting guard position, since their top target appears to be Gordon.
Who will sign where? Will anyone agree to contract terms right after the bell rings?
In an interview with his old buddy Marc Stein of ESPN, our very own Steve Nash said that this is the first time in the last eight years that he is actually considering playing for another team. We've heard endless clamoring all over the country for the past few years, begging the Suns to trade Nash to a contender and begging Nash to wake up and smell the "play for cheap and win a ring" coffee.
Nash has always resisted that temptation. Be it his personal philosophy that chasing a ring isn't as easy as it sounds, or that going to a team that isn't a perfect fit is just an invitation to get traded in six months, Nash has always maintained that it's better to stay with what you know.
This time, for the first time in eight years, it's different. And to hear it from Nash, it's different because the Suns front office is sending different signals than ever before. So he's on the market again, for real.
"It's been eight years so I don't remember what it's like," Nash told Stein. "But I do know I feel excitement, anxiety, nerves just knowing that after eight years in Phoenix its possible that I could move on. That's something that I would say I didn't foresee. I always thought I would probably just stay until the end but now there's a chance I could go. So we'll see. I definitely could go back to Phoenix but there's this feeling that I could be moving on."
What's different about now versus 2009? Or even last season?
"But I don't feel like it's a home run anymore. One, I don't necessarily feel like they are trying to keep me and two, there's other opportunities that are exciting so I think I just have to be open-minded and take it all in and be present and be in the moment and that the same time forecast where I'll be the most successful and happiest."
Interesting the word choice here: Nash wants to be wanted.
Back in 2004, Mark Cuban did not want to pay Nash the money he felt he was worth. In fact, without even wavering, Cuban declined to match the Suns offer. Cuban instead spent the money on a defensive center and eventually won a championship through his philosophy of shifting parts around Dirk Nowitzki until they all fit.
Bryan Colangelo wanted Nash more than his current team did. That was true back in 2004, and its true again today. Toronto will provide the biggest contingent and biggest offer of money - amnestying their "version" of Nash in the process, Jose Calderon. Sure, the day might soon come where BC realizes that 2012 Nash is not the same coup as 2004 Nash, but today and tomorrow are not those days. Toronto is reportedly willing to offer more the 3 years Nash wants at somewhere around $12 million a year.
So Nash is ready to listen to offers. But apparently, it's not going to linger into the summer. Heck, it probably won't even last through the 4th of July.
"I think I'll make a decision, probably, in the first day or so I would imagine, because things happen fast and people want to get it out of the way and move on. Not only myself but the teams as well."
He know it's Deron Williams first, then Nash second. Yet he still thinks it will happen right away. The conversation with Stein did not even mention New Jersey. Only Toronto and Dallas. And Phoenix.
Who would he list as a favorite right now?
"Right now, I couldn't list a favorite. But I do know that, for the first time I realized that it might not be Phoenix. And I would have said even, in the middle of the season or last year that I would have, probably would have stayed in Phoenix forever.
Nash does have great memories of his time here in Phoenix. Great, great memories.
"If this is it in Phoenix, regardless of whether I come back or not, I'll look at the last eight years as a tremendous success."
He mentioned trips to the conference finals 3 or 4 years (probably counting the second-round loss to the Spurs in 2007 as the fourth), bad breaks, injuries, suspensions. But he also said he knew the team wasn't built like other championship contenders.
"You know, most teams that win a championship had a defensive center and we never had that.
"But we were exciting, won a lot of games and in many ways put an imprint on the league and the way the game is played now and I'm proud of my time there. And I have no regrets. Obviously I wish I could have made a couple more buckets or assists or stops and won a championship along the way or got to the Finals but it didn't happen and at the same time it was incredibly rewarding.
"Great teammates, great staff, great city, fans and I feel really proud that I was a Phoenix Suns for the last 8 years and two at the start of my career."
Sure sounds like a goodbye to me.
Yet, given the tone of the conversation, you have to think that Nash will give the Suns a final chance to convince him to stay. The Suns front office has established a pattern of low-balling their initial offers (the Suns initial "offer" to Nash is reportedly $10 mill/yr for 2 years), only to raise them later. They convinced Channing Frye to stay 2 seasons ago, and Grant Hill to stay twice in the past 3 years by eventually paying market value.
Will that happen here? Likely only in the form of money, and not years. With Kendall Marshall in the wings, I can't see the Suns committing to Nash for Marshall's entire rookie contract.
But I do see Sarver stepping up with more money per year, to match or exceed the (reasonable) competition. I can envision a 2-year, $25 million contract. Maybe even with a mutual option for year 3. But that's it.
In the end though, it's about rhetoric. The summer of 2009 was a no-brainer to Nash because the Suns were still fully committed to him. Even last season was a no-brainer. Nash was the "sun, moon and stars".
But he's not anymore. Rightly or wrongly, the Suns are no longer ready to commit their long-term future to an all-star who is slowing down as he approaches 40. Two years? Sure. Three or more? That's a different story.