Words. Dave Dulberg
During a troubling time in the state’s sports scene, Arizona’s aficionados are comforted by the grace in his fadeaway jump shot, the unnatural ease by which he floats through the lane and the work ethic he puts on display hours before the US Airways Center is even near capacity. Steve Nash isn’t just a two-time MVP or a seven-time All-Star, he’s the face of not only a fading Phoenix Suns team, but of a city whose professional sports identity has withered away in recent years as iconic stars like Luis Gonzalez, Randy Johnson and Kurt Warner quietly walked away when their ticking clocks finally wound down.
But with Nash’s Suns falling further behind in the Western Conference standings (15-21), currently sitting in the uncomfortable position of 11th place, where does Suns owner Robert Sarver and Co. go from here? Perhaps Chris Webber was right: It may finally be time to “Free Steve Nash.”
In the sports world of political correctness, how do you handle the future of your most attractive ticket seller, your primary billboard subject and without question, your franchise savior? Do you ship him off to a situation where he deservedly has a chance to win a championship? Do you handle him with kid gloves, telling him everything will be okay? Or do you stay the course, and view the situation like any other player personnel decision; trading him only if the other party involved is willing to giveaway lucrative pieces in return?
Sarver and his new minion of puppets – President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby and first-time General Manager Lance Banks – have a situation on their hands that frankly, they created this offseason.
In a move that many lauded them for, the team refused to cave in to Amar’e Stoudemire‘s demands for a five-year, $100 million dollar contract, citing past injuries (microfracture surgery and the detached retina which cost him the final 30-plus games of the 2009 season). Sarver, without the player evaluation prowess of former-GM Steve Kerr, was now forced to play the role of a fantasy sports owner and said goodbye to the once-thought-to-be future face of the franchise.
The only problem is that he had never thought to make a Plan B, C or even D.
Lots of money, plus an owner desperate to keep fans in their seats, equaled an offseason of frivolous spending and multi-year deals to likes of now-backup power forward Channing Frye, oft-used wingman Josh Childress, one-move extraordinaire (that would be dunking for those of you counting at home) Hakim Warrick and the dearly-departed Hedo Turkoglu (who looked as lost in a purple and orange uniform as Robert Horry did back in the 1996-97 season).
These are not your Colangelo-run Suns anymore that is for certain.
For a franchise which has committed every faux pas in the book of organizational blunders in recent years (from shipping off the draft rights of Rajon Rondo, Nate Robinson, Rudy Fernandez and Luol Deng, to trading Kurt Thomas and two future first-round draft picks to the Sonics in 2007 in exchange for a conditional second-rounder, to compromising the style of the most fascinating offensive attack in the NBA since the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s with the forgettable Marion–Shaq trade in 2008), the Summer of 2010 takes the cake.
Letting your star player bolt without a legitimate fight was a head-scratcher. But trying to fill his void with $80-plus million devoted to three B-tier free agents, all while signing a streaky three-point shooting big man in Frye (who has seen his three-point percentage drop nine percent from last season) to a five-year extension reeks of mismanagement. And while season ticket holders and die-hard fans loathe the site of the finger-waving Sarver and every decision and indecision he has made during his dubious tenure, the biggest victim in the demise of a once, well-regarded franchise is Nash.
In six seasons, the Nash-led Suns have ranked atop the NBA’s categories for offensive efficiency and points per game, Phoenix has reached the Conference Finals on three different occasions and the team has gone at least to the Conference Semifinals every year but the 2008-09 campaign – when a Terry Porter firing and Stoudemire’s gruesome eye injury saw the team fall to an unlikely 46-36 record.
During that time, Nash has been forced to to lead a new starting lineup every season. The crafty Canadian may have the prestigious lumber to suggest such changes have been easy since he dawned a Suns uniform for a second time back in 2004, but it hasn’t. From Joe Johnson to Quentin Richardson to Raja Bell to Boris Diaw to Marion to Amar’e – and even the recently shipped off Jason Richardson – Batman has survived ineptitude from upper management, but Robin never has.
So as Sarver – the team’s unpopular breadwinner and organizational kryptonite – mulls over what his franchise has become in the coming days, what can anyone really expect from a guy whose most consistent trait is his aura of inconsistency? Is it time to hang up the Nash jersey in the closet for the last time? Does No. 13 have one last heroic tale left to tell in a Suns uniform? Will the era of the Fun N’ Gun team finally come to a close? But most importantly, should the face of a sports town have a say in where the final chapter in this award-winning career takes place?
The ball is in Sarver’s court, and for Suns fans and the man they call MVSteve, that is a harrowing place to wait.
What do you think should happen?
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.