After years of pondering the "will he stay or will he go" question with Amare Stoudemire, the Phoenix Suns are right back in a similar position answering questions about their remaining star player, Steve Nash. There's been much speculation from other NBA front offices that the Suns will explore trading Nash and many feel that Nash will ask out of Phoenix. Those things very well could happen, but for now both Nash and the Suns couldn't be more clear about their intertwined common future.
In Alvin Gentry's final press conference of the season, he didn't even wait to be asked about Nash. He walked to the podium, made a little joke, and then addressed the question before it was asked.
"Alright, what do you want to know? Yes, Steve's coming back so we'll put that to rest right away. He wants to be back and we want him back," Gentry opened.
Nash himself has been increasingly clear on the subject over the past few days. Every time he spoke this week his answers became more and more certain. After the final game on Wednesday, he was as definitive as he's ever been on wanting to return.
"This is my team. This is my home as a basketball player and I want to try and get back to the playoffs with this team and try and build this team into a contender again," Nash said in front of his locker after the Suns beat the Spurs to win their 40th and final game of the 2010-11 season.
"There's no guarantees. You can't just go out and say, 'Can you trade me to this team?' It's very abstract to think about what the alternative is but that's beside the point. I want to be part of this team and I want to try and take us back to the playoffs with these guys and hopefully be better next year."
Suns President of Basketball Operations followed Gentry's press conference with a similarly strong statement of his own.
"There's no change in our position about Steve Nash. He is the sun and the moon and the stars of this franchise. It was a disappointing year for us but it would be hard to say that he was disappointing. He led the league in assists and we see how we play with him and we see how we play without him. As I stand here today, I just can't imagine a scenario where he won't be back but there is honestly uncertainty about everything."
Being an NBA executive and a smart and experienced man, Babby of course left the door a crack open. Some might want to stick their foot in that crack and pry Nash away from Arizona. But that crack is about as thin as you will ever hear from a front office type.
Of course nothing is 100 percent certain. But after hearing from Nash, Gentry and Babby it's hard to imagine him being gone.
Nash had an incredible season. For him to lead the league in assist is one of the greatest basketball accomplishments of the season considering the talent level surrounding him. Despite the injuries which severely hampered his shooting in the final few months of the season he came just a fraction away from once again being in the 90/50/40 club. He finished the season shooting 91.2 percent from the line, 49.2 percent from the field, and 39.5 percent from three.
The key, according to both Nash and Babby, is getting him help and rebuilding the Suns bench which was such a strength last season. Steve played in games he shouldn't have because he felt he had no choice. That's just another way of saying they didn't trust his back up -- either Goran Dragic or Aaron Brooks.
The team will try and find another go-to scorer either for the wing or the post to take some of the pressure of Nash to generate all the offense and help him to not wear down as much. That's a familiar refrain and one we heard after the 2007 season when the Spurs eliminated the Suns in five games in large part by focusing their defense on stopping Nash and wearing him down.
Last season the team had finally assembled all the pieces around him and the results were clear. Amare and Jason Richardson were both prime offensive threats and the bench that included Channing Frye and Jared Dudley were able to both defend and score. That all fell apart this season with the mistaken replacement of Lou Amundson with Hakim Warrik and the loss of Jason Richardson as the price for undoing the Hedo Turkoglu trade.
There will be some who feel the Suns should cut their losses now and fully embrace the rebuilding process. It's a song we've heard for several years and one that has a certain appeal. But with Nash returning, along with Grant Hill who is just as likely to be back, this team can improve.
If they did nothing more than cut Vince Carter and play a full season with the same unit they would be at least as good as this season. If they can pull off a deal or two using Robin Lopez as trade bait and make a smart pick in the draft they can get back into the playoffs.
Becoming a true championship contender will probably stay out of reach, but it's obvious that Robert Sarver and the rest of the organization would rather have a decent, playoff caliber team with Steve Nash running the show versus the certainty of a long wasteland that a full tear-down brings.
Then again, maybe some other team will be convinced that Nash can put them over the top and make the Suns an offer they just can't refuse. We'll see what happens between the end of the season and the lockout that will mostly likely begin on July 1, 2011. Stay tuned.