Suns Plans Begin to Unfold

By Jeramie McPeek,
Posted: July 11, 2012

What is your plan?

What are you going to do with Steve Nash?

Is ownership committed to winning?

Will you rely on the draft to improve?

Is Phoenix still an attractive destination for free agents?

Lon Babby and Lance Blanks have heard a handful of questions, or variations of them, over and over and over again since joining the team’s front office two years ago. The club’s president of basketball operations and general manager are now starting to answer those questions with some bold moves.

With the official opening of the free-agent market the Suns completed a trade that sent Nash to the L.A. Lakers and then inked restricted free-agent guard Eric Gordon to an offer sheet for a maximum-salary contract. The two moves leave them well-positioned to return the team to elite status with younger, athletic players.

As widely reported by local and national media last week during the NBA’s “moratorium period,” in which teams could meet with free-agents but not finalize or comment on negotiations, the Suns agreed to Nash’s request for a sign and trade deal to Los Angeles after determining that the deal would yield the franchise valuable assets for the future. Phoenix receives the Lakers’ first-round picks in 2013 and 2015, as well as second-round selections in 2013 and 2014, and cash consideration.

The move, which gives the Suns 10 draft picks over the next three years, was unexpected by Suns management. In fact, the request was rejected outright when Nash first approached the club with the idea, but the team reconsidered out of respect and appreciation for the man who had been the face of the franchise for the past eight years. At the end of the day, the trade allowed the team to add significant assets to its arsenal while also helping a man who has meant a great deal to this community.

While a future without Steve Nash was hard to fathom, it had become clear that there was not a common path for Nash and the Suns.

“At the end of the day, our decision was based totally on basketball,” Babby explained of the parting of ways. “We could find no meaningful way to enter into a contract that was acceptable to Steve, while at the same time transition to a new basketball future. We have stated many times that our goal is to be an elite team, one that legitimately competes for championships. The first step in that process is the honest recognition that we are a team in transition. The wonderful era of Steve Nash and ‘Seven seconds or less’ has run its course. We need to get younger, more athletic, and more balanced at both ends of the floor.”

With a clear plan in place, including more than $23 million in salary cap space and some young players in second-year forward Markieff Morris and 2012 draft pick Kendall Marshall, the Suns entered the free-agent market with a shopping list, and quickly went to work. The moment that teams were first allowed to make contact with agents on the night of June 30, the Suns’ executives were on their phones, expressing interest and lining up meetings. The following morning, Babby, Blanks and Head Coach Alvin Gentry flew to L.A. to meet with 6-10 forward Michael Beasley, as well as their own restricted free-agent center Robin Lopez.

Last Tuesday, the team welcomed in a familiar face in free-agent guard Goran Dragic, who spent his first two-plus NBA seasons in Phoenix playing in Nash’s shadow, before being traded to Houston, where he flourished in a starting role. The 26-year-old playmaker was all smiles as he stepped out of his vehicle on the corner of 1st Street and Jefferson on the morning of July 3, and was met by hundreds of Suns employees chanting “Welcome Home! Welcome Home!”

Several hours later, the Suns’ rolled out the orange carpet for Gordon, as well. Arguably, the second-highest ranked free-agent this summer behind Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams, the 6-3 scorer was also greeted by excited Suns employees, not to mention photos of himself in a Suns uniform throughout the US Airways Center, from the giant outdoor video boards to the in-arena scoreboard, to photo cookies and water bottles wrapped in his likeness in the team’s fourth-floor conference room. The first-class treatment impressed the 23-year-old so much that he publicly announced that his heart was in Phoenix just hours later, and proved it by signing the Suns’ offer sheet.

Due to Gordon’s “restricted” status, the New Orleans Hornets maintain the right to match the Suns’ offer, if they choose, and have three days to announce their decision. In the meantime, Phoenix will be ready to reach out to additional free-agents should Gordon not receive his wish to play in the Valley.

“I think we have answered the question about our ownership’s commitment to winning with a resounding ‘YES!’” Babby said, noting the team’s aggressive moves and willingness to spend the money necessary to add free-agents like Gordon. “We identified our free-agent targets and recruited them in both words and deeds. We made the case that Phoenix was an ideal place to live and play professionally, and I think the responses that we have received speak volumes about our franchise, ownership and our community.”

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