Shawn Marion can brood and mope and threaten to opt out of his contract next summer, but there's no one in the NBA – never mind the Phoenix Suns' front office – who believes he'll walk out on $17 million. He has nowhere to go, and everyone should understand that, despite all his insecurities, his petty, illogical jealousies, the best solution is still this: For one final season, Marion stays a Sun.
Steve Kerr walked into the general manager's job with a fistful of championship rings, the most blessed player in modern NBA history taking over a relentlessly respectable franchise that's never won a title. Yes, he's been in the right place at the right time in winning five titles, but he's done his part, too. He made the winning shot in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA finals for the Chicago Bulls, and saved the San Antonio Spurs with a late-game shooting barrage in a conference final game in 2003.
Besides recruiting Grant Hill, here's how Kerr takes ownership this season, perhaps the best chance these Suns will ever have to win a title: Keeping Marion, and keeping the peace for one more championship chase.
These Suns don't need an overhaul now, not when so many people in the league, including the franchise itself, believe it's the best team in basketball. Keep this marriage to the Matrix for one more season, and then Kerr can take care of his owner's luxury tax phobia and make the best deal for Marion. For now, the Suns are officially soliciting offers, but the wisest decision is still holding onto his talent.
What did Marion's trade demand change this week? Nothing, really. Kerr already had told Marion that they weren't extending the final two years of his contract for the $20 million a year he wants. And they already had been offering him around the league. Kerr had a three-way deal this offseason with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett, but Marion wouldn't go to Boston and the front office's nudging to do so only deepened the gulf between them.
Marion is acting out now, pouting, craving for someone to feel his pain in having to endure being the franchise's highest-paid player at $16.4 million, a four-time All-Star and defending chucker of the most shots in the league's most dazzling offensive machine. They Suns have had to babysit his moods for a few seasons now, and with the leadership in place – from Kerr to coach Mike D'Antoni to Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire – they believe they can do it again.
As much as anyone, Suns owner Robert Sarver trusts and listens to Kerr. He made him cut payroll by dumping the invaluable Kurt Thomas and future No. 1 draft picks, but Kerr has the capacity to convince Sarver where the line is in compromising the core of a contender.
Western Conference sources believe the Suns would be willing to trade Marion to the Los Angeles Lakers for Lamar Odom or to the Utah Jazz for Andrei Kirilenko. But for once, the Suns, forever the most brilliant of long-term builders in the league, need to think with a more narrow focus.
This year, this team.
Right now, the Suns are better off with the baggage they know than that of Odom and Kirilenko. On a pure basketball level, one league executive's scouting report of the Lakers forward was: "Odom is most effective with the ball and that may help rest Nash." Yet, the executive says that Odom isn't the finisher on the break that Marion is, and wondered how much that would comfort defenders who get worn down by the Suns' relentless running.
As for Kirilenko, it wasn't lost on Suns leadership how AK-47 thrived in the faster tempo of Utah's conference semifinal series with Golden State. Still, Kirilenko's contract is prohibitive for Phoenix (four years, $63 million), as must be his headcase tendencies.
Marion has long disdained being the third wheel on these Suns, and the fact that he is no longer in the team's long-term plans will only intensify that feeling. The Suns need to cut payroll, and while Stoudemire and Nash aren't going anywhere, Phoenix is willing to lean more on Boris Diaw at power forward.
Still, Marion would be wise stay in Phoenix for as long as the Suns will have him. No matter what he has there – a great team, the best point guard in the sport to get him the ball, a perfect offensive system for him – he always wants something else. In so many ways, he reminds you of Larry Brown. You get the feeling that going elsewhere for more money and more plays would not make him happier.
He's hurt that the Suns tried to shop him. He needs to get over it. In these salary-cap days, almost no one is immune from trade talks. And whatever his not-so-veiled resentment of Nash's MVP seasons, just wait until the Matrix is no longer playing with Nash, until he sees how the rest of the league lives without a superstar playmaker to get him the ball, and he'll long to be back where he is now.
And so, yes, this is the Suns' season to win a championship. Without that gash on Nash's nose in Game 1 of last season's conference semifinals, without Stoudemire leaving that bench, maybe they'd have beaten the Spurs. This year, there are no excuses. There's no reason to think that they can't finally overtake San Antonio.
They have survived Marion's moods for years, and privately, the Suns believe they can survive them for one more season.
Maybe they don't really want Marion, and maybe he doesn't want them. Soon enough, they'll be free of each other forever. Between now and then, though, the Suns can finally be a champion. But they have to keep Marion and somehow keep the peace. After all these years without a title in the desert, that should be the only choice.