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Scott Howard-Cooper

Steve Nash
Steve Nash can complete his move to the Lakers at midnight ET on Tuesday.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Nash's breakup with the Suns should not have ended this way


Posted Jul 10 2012 10:29AM

They will always have 2009-10 and the five assist titles in seven years and the sheer professionalism. Suns fans everywhere will cherish the memories of the finger licks while bringing the ball up the court and the two MVPs. They'll have a forever fondness for Seven Seconds Or Less and all those clinics on passing and shooting. Steve Nash in Phoenix will be forever.

But it never should have ended this way.

Not necessarily the part about Nash going to the Lakers, a move that can become official when the league-wide moratorium on signing free agents is lifted Tuesday at 9 p.m. in L.A., midnight on the East Coast. Stranger things have happened than a player setting aside a professional rivalry to be closer to his children.

The part about the Suns doing a sign-and-trade now is what was unnecessary. It was a classy payback for all Nash had done for the organization, sure, but the Suns never should have been in that position in the first place, allowing emotions to rule a pivotal moment.

Management had at least two trade deadlines and one previous offseason to make the deal that was best for the team. The clock had been ticking on the spectacularly fun Nash era for about two years. He did, no matter what anyone's eyes said to the contrary, turn 38 in February. A transition plan had to be in place.

Instead, the Suns held on. It would have been different if the Suns were trying to keep a winning group together, the way the Celtics are now by re-signing Kevin Garnett and adding very-veteran Jason Terry to replace Ray Allen. But Phoenix was 33-33 last season, 10th in the West. That was after going 40-42 the season before. Phoenix hasn't made the playoffs since the improbable run to the 2010 conference finals.

The Suns held on to Nash for a lot of good reasons. He was an All-Star and carried himself at that same level off the court. He was hugely popular in town. The Suns couldn't market victories, but they could market Nash. Suggesting that Phoenix trade its star point guard during the previous two seasons usually brought a string of disagreements from fans and a refusal from the front office to entertain such a notion -- unless Nash wanted it.

Still, trading him before he became an unrestricted free agent would have been smarter. The Suns wouldn't have been dealing from a position of weakness. Surely the Suns would have gotten a much better deal in March 2012 or last summer than the reported return the teams agreed to last week -- first-round choices in 2013 and '15, two second-rounders and $3 million. Surely Nash, still among the league leaders in assists, still shooting better than 50 percent, could have brought more than picks in the 20s.

In the end, the Suns didn't make the trade they wanted to make. They made the trade they felt obliged to make.

Recounting his conversation with Phoenix owner Robert Sarver in the excellent ESPN.com story of how Nash unexpectedly -- even to Nash himself -- became a Laker, agent Bill Duffy said: "I told Robert that, in all the years that you're going to own this franchise, I don't think you'll ever have a person in this organization as special as Steve Nash. He's inarguably the greatest Sun this franchise has ever had. So if you're ever going to make an exception for something, he'd be the guy. And Robert, bless his soul, ended up giving his blessing."

Added Nash in the same article: "I'm really thankful that Robert reconsidered. He and some of the other partners were gracious enough to realize what this means to me. They also got some assets back, which I feel good about, but it was a great gesture for me and my family. He was in a tough spot, but he put himself out there to do the best thing for me and my kids."

Give the Suns this much: They didn't get caught up in the negative perception of making a trade within the division or the fallout from doing a deal that gets the Lakers closer to a championship. Phoenix needed to find the best outcome for Phoenix. The Suns and Lakers are in different worlds right now, not locked in battle.

Besides, the outcome could have been much worse. Nash, the Canadian hero, came close to signing with Toronto, a move that would have meant the Suns getting nothing for their best player. Dealing with the enemy in their backyard is better.

It's just not as good as the outcome the Suns could have had if they had gone through this amicable breakup any time in the previous year and a half. On their terms.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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