Lon Babby, transparent frontman and president of the Phoenix Suns (Getty Images)
Shortly after this season's trade deadline, but before his Phoenix Suns were eliminated from playoff contention, Steve Nash did a strange media tour of sorts (including podcasts and radio interviews) to sort of explain away why the two-time MVP didn't push for a trade to a surefire contender at the deadline. To summarize, Nash pointed out that he enjoyed playing in Phoenix, and for a Suns team he's been employed with for 10 out of his 16 NBA seasons. And without explicitly pointing to the Suns' league-high $23 million in cap space this summer, he said he would give the team every chance it could to upgrade and re-sign the point guard this offseason, when he becomes a free agent.
Now, we don't know if this is just throwing off the scent to ease Suns fans into a Bobcats-styled wipeout, or candidly talking about how we shouldn't get our hopes up despite the team's highly expensed intentions, but Suns president Lon Babby recently went on record to warn everyone that the Suns don't have to sign a damn thing this summer. Here's Babby's cold water take, as quoted by the Arizona Republic:
"There's a distinct possibility that we don't use our cap room this summer," Babby said. "We've worked hard to put ourselves in this position to have this kind of flexibility, to have a range of opportunities, but I'm absolutely determined that we are going to be disciplined in how we approach this because we cannot get ourselves right back in the same spot we were in by doing bad contracts, not assessing value properly, not making the right choices in terms of personnel."
To us, that reads more as "we don't want to waste all our space this summer on our version of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva" than "we are saving all our money because we're cheap and Steve can take that or leave it."
The problem with reading Babby's words in a vacuum is that the Suns have proven to be cheap. Sure, they technically overpaid (at the time of both signings, according to his market value, even if he eventually earned the money) to acquire Nash in 2004 and re-sign him in 2009, but overall owner Robert Sarver has treated the Suns as one of the more penurious teams in the league since his initial 2004 splurge.
Sarver's had his moments — throwing a ton of money at Quentin Richardson that summer and re-signing Boris Diaw to a deal that his potential deserved but his play didn't live up to. By and large, though, Sarver hasn't spent the sort of money you'd expect a team that often played deep into the playoffs for sold-out crowds would spend on not only mid-level free-agent additions, but rookie scale draft picks. And when he has spent money on mid-level guys, like on the disappointing Josh Childress, the results haven't turned out so well.
Then you have to toss in Babby's sensible but curious comments about Nash's future with the team. From the Associated Press:
''What I would say about it at this very early stage is that every indication we've gotten from Steve is not only is our spirit willing to make this happen but his spirit is willing as well,'' Babby said. ''That doesn't mean it's going to happen. We respect his right to look around. We will work hard with him to find common ground and we'll see where that goes.''
It is not as simple, he said, as Nash saying he wants to come back. There are other issues, such as the amount of a contract and its length.
''We've got to go down a road with him and see if we can find a common path, a path that makes sense for him and then makes sense for us,'' Babby said. ''Everybody here wants Steve Nash to retire as a Phoenix Sun and we're going to work very hard to work with him to see if that can happen, but it's got to be good not only for him but it's got to be good for us, and he understands that.''
Plus, Babby points out, "if [Nash] doesn't come back, we're going to have $10 million more of cap space.''
Again, Babby's not wrong in any of this, and we certainly appreciate the revelations. Most lottery teams stay mum throughout late April and for most of May, save for the days following the revealing of draft positioning. And most personnel chiefs rarely go on record to point out, in essence, that their star free agent will be set to make a certain amount should he come back, assuming it's not a given that star will sign a maxed-out contract. Like, say, "$10 million."
And in a vacuum, Babby's right. There don't appear to be many silver bullets in this upcoming free-agent class, and as the Detroit Pistons proved in the summer of 2009 (in signing Gordon and Villanueva) you can't just sign free agents for the sake of using cap space, especially when you could probably sustain that space over into the 2013 free-agent summer even after matching any deal for restricted free agent Robin Lopez (as Babby indicated in his interviews that the team would).
If the point was to be transparent, and warn Suns fans for either reality, Babby succeeded. But if the point was to disabuse observers from calling the Suns "cheap" as they went about their business? Well, then Babby blew that one. Because even through his honesty, and fair assessments of how to handle cap flexibility and a superstar that doesn't belong on a rebuilding roster, he didn't change any minds.
You get the feeling that this isn't what Babby (who has just one year remaining on his own deal) set out to do, though. And you also get the feeling that it is not only going to take this summer, but the 2012-13 season and possibly next offseason to figure out if the Suns and Sarver (one of the biggest backers of a canceled season during lockout negotiations) really intend to spend for a winner.
That's unfortunate. Sign with a winner, Steve Nash. Nobody is going to think any less of you.
And until Steve makes his decision? Keep talking, Lon. We dig it.
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