Could Steve Nash be an option for Suns?

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Steve Nash is a part-time consultant for Golden State. (AP)
Steve Nash is a part-time consultant for Golden State. (AP)

Last month, the Phoenix Suns’ decision to gut head coach Jeff Hornacek’s staff – canning assistant coaches Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting while keeping Hornacek on the job – evoked a similar reaction across the NBA: Huh? Rarely, if ever, have teams turned over assistant coaching staffs like that midseason. To most, it was a temporary stay of execution for Hornacek, in the final year of his contract, marching toward an inevitable end.

That end came Monday, when the Suns fired Hornacek hours after a 91-78 loss to Dallas, Phoenix’s fourth straight defeat that capped a brutal 2-12 month of January. Since a startling 48-win season in 2013-14, the Suns have regressed rapidly, falling to 39 wins in 2014-15 and a 14-35 record a little more than halfway through this season. Hornacek, hailed as a brilliant hire after finishing second in the NBA Coach of the Year voting in 2014, has been criticized by scouts for an offensive system deemed far too simplistic.

“They don’t run much of anything,” a scout told The Vertical recently. “It’s five guys, spread them out and try to beat you with basic stuff. It’s like watching an AAU game.”

Hornacek took the fall, but make no mistake: Phoenix’s failures are a collective effort. The talent drain over the last year, from injuries (Eric Bledsoe) to trades (Goran Dragic and Marcus Morris), have stripped the Suns of firepower. The decision to ship Marcus Morris to Detroit last summer sent his brother, Markieff, into an irrevocable spiral while the ballyhooed offseason signing of Tyson Chandler – averaging 5.7 points and 8.4 rebounds, his worst output since 2010 – has fallen flat. Firing Hornacek is defensible (the Suns rank in the bottom third of the NBA in offensive and defensive efficiency), but his performance has been far from the franchise’s only problem.

As the Suns regroup, expect one name to surface: Steve Nash, the two-time MVP and former franchise point guard, who has been operating as a part-time consultant for Golden State this season, parachuting into the Bay Area as needed. Suns owner Robert Sarver’s affection for Nash is well known – the two recently bought controlling interest of a Spanish soccer club – and there is no question the return of Nash would reinvigorate the fan base.

Nash has yet to indicate when, or if, he intends to seek a larger role in the NBA, or what kind of role he would look for. Intelligent and widely respected, Nash’s potential is seemingly limitless. Coaching is an option, although Nash’s balky back could make a front-office position more appealing. Currently Nash is the general manager of the Canadian men’s national basketball team, a job he enjoys, friends say, and it’s a title he has held since 2012. But a write-your-own-ticket offer from Phoenix, where Nash remains hugely popular, could be too appealing to pass up. The Suns have a bright young general manager in Ryan McDonough, whose role was enhanced when Lon Babby, Phoenix’s former president of basketball operations, stepped down last summer, but many believe Sarver will do whatever it takes to lure Nash back.

Whoever is in charge faces a prolonged rebuilding effort. The Suns have a franchise cornerstone (Bledsoe), a budding All-Star (Brandon Knight), a defensive stalwart (Chandler) and a smattering of young talent (Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, T.J. Warren and Devin Booker) in need of further development. It’s decent, but it’s far from the kind of roster needed to compete in the savage Western Conference. Hornacek had to go, but Phoenix needs more, much more, than just a capable coach to replace him.

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