Should Phoenix really trade Steve Nash?

For a guy who’s earned more than $107 million before turning 40, dances on stage at awesome concerts and plays soccer with international legends, Steve Nash elicits an impressive amount of sympathy.

The reason, of course, is that he plays an supremely charming style of basketball yet appears destined to languish in the Phoenix desert– sand choking his final gasps (he’d probably use that breathe to praise and thank the Suns faithful, his teammates and trainers, and even give a shoutout to some towel boy, then do it again in Spanish).

It’s hard to watch such brilliance go begging for a ring each year and the future blackens by the moment. For half a decade, his franchise has failed to pay or draft anyone worthwhile.

In that time, Nash’s skipping, slithering style patched over a ragged roster, but now the team wallows in “NBA purgatory” (new cliché of the summer!). You know, that place so the Pacers have been keeping cozy for the past seven seasons; not good enough to win in the playoffs, not bad enough to get franchise-altering lottery pick.

So moving Nash seems like a happy marriage of both individual and corporate interest. As ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh lays it out, trading Nash gives the Suns a chance to bottom out and Nash the opportunity to compete for a ring with a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Haberstroh lists some intriguing talents that Phoenix could possibly receive from a team looking to “win now.” Big time players like Tony Parker (with Tiago Splitter) and James Harden (with Serge Ibaka) are mentioned as possible prizes.

The problem there is that moving Nash for younger talent amounts to swapping out an older, borderline elite player, for a younger one on a team that still needs to be demolished, not remodeled. Nash is like a beautiful old bell tower on top of a crumbling Cathedral–replace him with something shinier or louder and you do little to fortify against total collapse.

And that’s why I think it’s unlikely Nash will be traded, barring some unforeseen change to the new CBA that makes it easier to move mega contracts. If Nash leaves the Suns to become a free agent after another year of entertaining (but not necessarily successful) basketball, the Suns will get bupkis in return. At that point, it’s possible that Phoenix would have the worst roster in the NBA. This is a good thing.

If they can ditch a couple “hold my hair I’m going to be sick all over this hallway” contracts, the Suns could also have one of the cheapest rosters around. That’s important, because step one of a rebuild is to strip a franchise of all financial burdens. Step two, a step that Robert Sarver’s club has avoided as though “changing a rookie’s diapers” was a literal phrase, is draft a bunch of top talent.

The only way to get that young talent is to be bad. And not just bad, but excruciatingly, Toronto Raptors bad. Then you get a top five pick, then you get the cheap talent, then you get the wins in a few years (note: bungling this process is as easy as making a David Kahn joke). Picking up Harden and Ibaka, or Parker and Splitter, muddies that clear stream flowing towards Thunder-esque glory. Not only are you going to want to pay those guys (they’re really good, after all), but they’re young, so you’ll want to sign ‘em for a long time. This, it appears, is a fool-proof (caution: phrase may not apply to Sarver-run team) recipe for remaining in that undesirable netherworld of 43-39 seasons.

Instead, trade Nash for a big bag of garbage that’s going to come off the books as soon as possible. What’s the point of releasing Phoenix’s favorite son if the team isn’t going to tank in time to capitalize on the stacked 2012 draft/freeagent market?

There is also a possibility that Nash could be traded for a bunch of awesome draft picks. But there aren’t many contenders, the kind of team that could help Nash hoist a trophy, with those kind of assets. Orlando is a notable exception.

And to my mind, that’s the only feasible (I’m guessing Dwight Howard and Chris Paul don’t want to play for Sarver and live in Phoenix) deal that makes total sense for the Suns and Nash. Can you build a winner in the West around Ibaka and Harden? Perhaps. But there’s a great chance that sort of maneuver could more permanently entrench the Suns in the position from which they hope to extricate themselves.

The surest way to completely annihilate any chance that Pheonix stays out of the lottery is, paradoxically, to not trade its best and most beloved player for anything other than expiring contracts or draft picks. But trading Nash for nothing immediately useful probably isn’t so attractive to an owner with an uphill PR battle.

On the other hand, if Phoenix hangs on to Nash for one more season then becomes truly awful, it will have a good opportunity to acquire dirt-cheap young talent and, when he becomes a free agent, allow Nash to find a contender of his choosing.

Losing Nash, then a whole bunch of games, may be the only way for a win-win in Phoenix.

Follow Beckley on Twitter.

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  2. [...] and Knicks reportedly are the only franchises to have sold out season tickets for 2011-12.”Beckley Mason of HoopSpeak on if Phoenix should trade Steve Nash: “The only way to get that young talent is to be bad. And not just bad, but excruciatingly, [...]

  3. [...] Haberstroh’s article caused Hoopspeak’s Beckley Mason to pose the question once again: Should Phoenix really trade Steve Nash? [...]

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