On Wednesday, the NBA's moratorium on free agent transaction was finally over and teams could begin discussing some of their moves. Phoenix Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby spoke to the media and discussed the sign-and-trade deal that sent Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers and also about the offer to free agent guard Eric Gordon.
Babby explained the process after the season ended between the team and Steve Nash. The team on at least four different occasions talked to Nash, for a total of 10-15 hours, discussing plans and desires.
"As we began to go through that process and we we began to look at ways we could upgrade our roster from a talent level and get more younger or athletic, which was our basketball plan, it became more and more obvious that there was no real way to do that and move forward with him and give him the financial opportunity that he was looking for," explained Babby.
"Our view of this is, our goal is the same as it has been always, which is to be an elite team that's going to compete legitimately for championships every year. A team that can establish sustainable success. I think The first step in any kind of process really is an honest recognition of where you are and I think in the two years that we've been here we've come to the realization that the wonderful era of Steve Nash and Seven Seconds or Less was running its course and that we needed to find a way to younger and more athletic and more balanced...
"Kind of at the end of the day, what I would say is it just became obvious that you can't really dive headlong into a transition if the thing you are transitioning from is still here. So much of this franchise has been beautifully centered around Steve's personality, his play, his contributions to the community that those are painful conclusions to ultimately reach...
"There was no way for us to move forward and at the same time accommodate him."
Translation? Nash wanted to be paid like a top point guard, which he deserves based on his production. The Suns know they have to move on without Nash at some point and honestly would like to have him, but they woudl not have been able to improve the team adequately.
On the surface, it looks like it was a simple financial decision. Babby "adamantly" disagrees with that assessment, calling it a "math decision."
"There was no way to accommodate what he rightfully thought he deserved and our efforts to reload our team," said Babby. "If we had given him a similar contract, it would have hamstrung us in our efforts to reload and to move into transition."
That leads to the deal that ended with Nash becoming a member of the Lakers. The Suns did not initiate the deal. First it was LA GM Mitch Kupchak approaching Babby and then Nash approaching the team.
Babby explained the team's reaction, "When we first heard about it, we probably had the same reaction as everybody else in this room had and everyone in the community had, which was a visceral reaction that says, 'No way, we're not going to do that. That's crazy.'"
Then they rethought it, because they wanted to see if it made basketball sense. The team realized it had "exquisite leverage" because the Lakers wanted him and the Suns didn't want to lose him. They couldn't offer him the money he sought, so the Suns had the power.
The result? "We view it as a positive outcome, a highly positive outcome because of the assets that we received," said Babby, referring to the four draft picks and the cash considerations, "which will help us do other things from a basketball perspective."
At the same time, it wasn't a case where Nash was holding the team hostage and forcing its hand. While they wanted to do right by Steve, Babby and his team was looking out for the team. "At the end of the day, it had to be an ideal situation for him and an ideal situation for us," Babby explained. "We would not have made a bad deal simply to accommodate Steve."
That deal allows the Suns now to do what they have been preparing for two years -- transition from the Steve Nash team that kept an otherwise undertalented team competitive to a team that can eventually become elite, competing for championships and achieve "sustainable success."
Said frankly Babby, "We don't want to be a seven to ten team in the West."
"It's taken us two years to get to the runway, and now we're ready to take off and bring in some younger and new talent, and it's going to be a process, and we're hoping that we can find a group of young players that will grow together and learn how to win together, but it's a process. It's not going to be any quick fix."
Translation? This team could very possibly struggle, whatever it looks like.
Which brings us to the next big thing for the Suns, which is Eric Gordon. The team has, in fact, gotten Gordon to sign the restricted free agent offer sheet, a four-year maximum contract, and it has been delivered to the New Orleans Hornets. At this point, a sign-and-trade is out of the question, not that Babby and the Suns really wanted to do that. But, nonetheless, "they (the Hornets) did not want to engage in any such discussions."
So the Suns now wait three days and may lose out on him, as New Orleans can match the offer and keep him. But the Suns aren't placing all their hopes on that decision. "We're not sitting on our hands hoping," he said. "If they decide to match, then we'll move on and react accordingly."
Will that be another free agent? Will it be a player they target to sign long-term like Gordon, or a more short-term fix, looking ahead to future free agent classes?
"We're considering both and just have to balance it," answered Babby, "We're not going to get everything accomplished in one summer and if it turns out we need to keep our power to drive, that's what we'll do and if have an opportunity to get better, that's what we'll do."
This is a crucial decision for Phoenix. They have cap space, but they have insisted that they are not going to use it for the sake of using it. They are willing to sit on the money if they don't find a match. Maybe they think O.J. Mayo would be worth the time and money. Maybe not. Maybe it will be another year or two with Shannon Brown.
At this point, if Gordon ends up staying a Hornet and we see the Suns go after another player for a big contract for a few years, it means that the team feels that player can make the team what they want. If they go short-term, then they are saying that no one out there fits their long-term plans.
Free agency technically just began. Phoenix has just begun its moves. More is certainly to come.
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