All Suns fans got a good jolt the other night when Steve Nash’s skull collided with Tyson Chandler’s elbow and hip down in Dallas. First and foremost, we were simply concerned for Steve’s health, especially on hearing ominous words like “numbness” and “tingling in extremities.” Once it was clear that Steve was okay and that he was going to be able to return to the court sooner rather than later, Suns fans were left to ponder something else that gave them chills:
Life without Steve Nash.
We all know how fortunate we’ve been, having the chance to see this man play for as long as we have. Not many athletes his age still feel like chasing the Chris Pauls of the world around picks. His continued health and vigor have been sources of constant amazement to us, not to mention the unbelievably high skill level at which he plays his demanding position. If Nash is no longer the best point guard in the league, he remains top-tier.
But that can’t last forever. There will come a day when Steve Nash steps aside and rides off into the sunset to pursue other paths. It’s inevitable. We hope it happens with him in a Suns uniform, and we hope it happens on his own terms, but however it happens, it will happen. There’s been a lot of talk about possibly trading Number 13…Even with the big trade the Suns made over the weekend, unless something else truly extraordinary happens, it doesn’t look as though the Suns are serious contenders for a championship this season. For what it’s worth, unless the Suns get an offer they can’t refuse, I don’t think the Suns will trade Steve Nash. He’s what keeps them competitive, and more importantly, he’s who people come to see, whether at home, on the road, or on television. He’s synonymous with Phoenix basketball. He is the face of our franchise.
Which leaves us to wonder, when Steve Nash no longer wears the purple and orange, who becomes the face of the franchise going forward?
For better or for worse (usually better), the Suns have always had a “face of the franchise,” one player who is so completely identified with the team, one player everyone else in the league or who follows basketball that everyone knows, that he and the organization become practically the same thing. First, for the Suns, it was Dick Van Arsdale. Then Connie Hawkins. Then, for a few unhappy years, Charlie Scott. He was followed by Alvan Adams, who was joined, then relieved, by Walter Davis. After another short period where Larry Nance was the face of the franchise, in came Kevin Johnson. Then there were the Barkley years, the Kidd years, the probably-best-forgotten Marbury interlude and, finally, the Time of Nash. In every case, as one era drew to a close, the Suns were somehow in a position to find or acquire the player who would kick-start the next one.
Now, I’m not sure where Steve Nash’s successor will come from.
The existing roster, though composed of talented role players, doesn’t seem to feature the next up-and-coming superstar. Goran Dragic might be the closest thing, but as good as he is and as good as I think he will be, it’s hard to imagine him among the elite of the elite in the NBA. Marcin Gortat? We’ll see, won’t we? That’s about it for the “guys with potential.” Grant Hill and Vince Carter are in the same boat as Nash, age-wise. And while they’re big names, you wouldn’t want to build your NBA team around them.
The draft doesn’t offer much hope. The Suns now have Orlando’s top pick next season, but that doesn’t figure to be very high, and the draft ain’t what it used to be, anyway. Time was, you could count on a first round pick contributing something to your team. Nowadays, you roll the dice, no matter how high the pick, and hope for the best. Ask Kwame Brown. Or Greg Oden. Or Earl Clark. Maybe the Suns get lucky there, maybe they don’t.
As far as attractive tradeable assets, the Suns have exactly two, possibly three. The “possible” one is Robin Lopez (young player, decent contract), but trading him would land the Suns right back where they were before the most recent transaction – small. Another is Vince Carter, whose deal expires after next season. Some team looking to make further moves down the line might want to take on Carter’s contract for the sole purpose of the salary cap flexibility it would offer them. The third, and most valuable, is Steve Nash himself. The list of contenders and wanna-be contenders who figure themselves to be a point guard away from a title in the next season or two would line up for him, and chances are, be willing to part with some attractive pieces to get him…Maybe even a potential face of the franchise.
But a “maybe” is a hard thing to sell a fan base on if you’re going to be trading away your best, most popular player – maybe even the most popular player in the history of the organization.
Regardless, “maybe” is where the Suns are headed, later, if not sooner. In the past, the Suns’ brain trust has always found away to find that star, that face, the team has needed to stay relevant. It will be the current administration’s first true test to transition into its next era a franchise that has had so much more success than failure that its fans have come to expect great things.
In the meantime, savor Steve Nash, both the way he plays now, and your memories of him in the past. No matter who the next face of the franchise is, or how great a player, there’ll never be another like Number 13. He’s that hard an act to follow.