(Christian Petersen)

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.

  • JAS

    Okay, lets get something straight here and now, Steve Nash has been and still is a very good player, on offense that is. Arguably the most popular Suns player with the exception of Sir Charles. Sorry, but they broke the mold on that one. With that said, Nash is a defensive nightmare, unable to guard even mediocre opposition. And please, we can’t trade him because he’s the face of the franchise, get real. Kobe is probably the only player that statement would apply to and thats right now, talk to me when he hits 35 yrs. old. And as far as we fans having any leverage on a trade, come on I was born at night but not last night. No, our Suns will have to face the hard truth at some point. Were a good team amoung many and have been without a true superstar since Barkley. It’s time to move forward.

  • JAS

    Not this time against the Spurs, especially short handed and the second half of a back to back but gutsy effort by our Suns. Spurs have a solid team but their on the other side of the moon from dominant. To this fan they look like a very good team in a year of (as Barkley stated so truthfully) many bad teams. How many seasons have we seen teams winning 12 and 13 games in a row? Thats right, not many. If the NBA does what Hockey made the almost fatal mistake of doing and dump a season over greed, players should be ashamed and pro basketball should look for a new czar.

  • http://mpatino52@yahoo.com kathy lowe

    i think the suns blanks and the big wigs are out of their minds giving up stat and paying big money to turkalou,then giving up on j.rich then trading barbosa i know he is a better back up point guard than goran,they never gave him a shot, then picking up carter who cant play cause of injury;what were they thinking,they are quick to blame the players for losing instead of the refs and the bad calls they always call on the suns the fans can see the suns are being cheated out of their games again just like the spurs did,and the ref said he was paid to throw that game why, did they give the title to the spurs when they know they cheated to get the title they pull it from joiner whats so different from her to a man thats not wright,

  • Will

    I Did not like your article, I agree with Gorin being the next top point guard for phoenix, and I dont appreciate you saying that Grant Hill is not a person to build a team around.