You say "Goodbye" and I say "Hello, hello, hello". I don't know why you say "Goodbye", I say "Hello, hello, hello". - The Beatles, "Hello, Goodbye"
Apparently the rumors are true. Portland is trying to pry Steve Nash away from Phoenix. The only problem is Phoenix and Nash's relationship is one big catch-22. The Suns say they are only going to trade Nash if he asks for a trade, while Nash has said repeatedly, most recently over All-Star Weekend, that he has not asked for a trade and it is up to the Suns' management. (I suppose the more appropriate lyric for the Beatles would have been "You say 'Aloha' and I say 'Aloha'". But that doesn't have as nice a ring to it.) Now, before we go any further, I should be clear: from everything I have read the overwhelming feeling around the league is that Nash is going to stay in Phoenix for the rest of the year. But since the Blazers are interested, why not have fun with it?
The case for not trading Nash. If you look at their roster, they have a fairly decent core. They have a really nice rotation of big men in Marcin Gortat, Robin Lopez, Markieff Morris and Channing Frye. Those four guys can pretty much do everything you would want your front court to be able to do: rebound, score in the paint, block shots, and stretch the floor. Alvin Gentry has shown he can win given the right talent (hey, he led them to 54 wins in 2010, and they went to the conference finals), so the problem doesn't lie there.
Where they are really lacking is wing talent beyond Nash and Jared Dudley (Sebastian Telfair, Hakim Warrick, Josh Childress and Michael Redd are not going to put them into contention anytime soon). Depending on how the lottery turns out this year, they could add someone like Harrison Barnes (UNC), Michael Kidd-Gilcrest (Kentucky), Bradley Beal (Florida), or Jeremy Lamb (UConn) to the rotation. If they are able to resign Nash after this year, you're looking at a playoff team next season.
This also may be an instance where Nash is more valuable to the Suns than anyone else. It sounds like none of the trade proposals they are fielding are exactly laden with star talent or blue chippers, most teams are probably looking at Nash as a three month rental; at most a one-to-two year investment to make one last championship push (we're all looking at you, Dallas) (or, you know, the Lakers). Teams just aren't willing to mortgage their future for a 38-year-old PG with a balky back.
The case for trading Nash. If you look at their roster, they have a fairly decent core. But even with Nash that core has the 10th worst record in the NBA. The first thing they need to consider is the draft. The worst-case scenario for the Suns in Secaucus, NJ? Having three of the lottery teams currently in front of them in the standings leap-frog them into the top three, thereby giving the Suns the 13th pick in the draft.** While highly unlikely, weirder things have happened in the lottery. A top-ten pick in the draft is great; picking in the 11-14 range gets dicey. So by trading Nash Phoenix would improve its lottery chances. This draft is going to be loaded, they should do anything they can to get a young, dynamic wing scorer.
**For those that don't know, the NBA lottery, held every year in Secaucus, NJ, only determines the top three picks in the draft. After that it goes by record. So if the regular season ended today only Portland, Utah, Minnesota and Golden State would have better records than the Suns. If three of those teams won the lottery and got top-three picks, then the Suns would be stuck with the 13th pick, just on the cusp of the lottery.
Let's say they can add a dynamic wing scorer in the draft. It should make the Suns a playoff team, but would they be a championship contender? If the answer is no, is there really any point in keeping Nash? Only if they can surround him with better players in free agency to round out the roster.
The problem with that is Phoenix' cap situation. Not counting Nash, the Suns only have roughly $14.5 million in expiring contracts this year. (They have roughly $26 mil including Nash.) They are saddled with bad contracts throughout the roster (Channing Frye, Warrick, Childress, Sabby Telfair), and need to figure out how to shed them. They are going to be forced to spend a few million in cap space on their first round pick, and they also need to resign Lopez after this season (another few million). That doesn't leave a lot of room for signing quality backup free agents. Trading Nash would be an opportunity to free themselves from some of those bad contracts and invest in the young players on the roster going forward.**
**If I were bizzaro Robert Sarver who cared about winning a championship, here's how I would rebuild the Suns: 1) Trade Nash. He's been nothing but a class act for me for years, I owe it to him to give him one last shot at a championship. In return for Nash, all I ask for is expiring contracts and for the team to take at least two of my bad contracts (Fry, Warrick, Childress). 2) Trade Gortat to a center-needy contender. Trading Gortat should get me a first round pick this year, plus I can probably get the team to take my last bad contract. 3) In the draft, I go after the best players available. Preferably a wing player first, and another big man. 4) In free agency, resign Lopez and then go after Deron Williams hard. With all my cap space, I can offer him the max, and put him next to a young, talented core of players. If I can't sign Williams, I take my cap space and go into next season with a young, talented roster and financial flexibility.
So how does Portland get Nash? Ultimately, the Blazers can offer Sarver cap relief. With this trade, Phoenix gets $18 mil in cap relief this year, plus gets out from under the Childress and Frye contracts going forward. Portland does not sacrifice any of it's future to make a run at a title this year, we get an athletic big man who is healthy and can stretch the floor in Frye. He's not a great rebounder, but at least he's healthy. In this and the next trade, the Blazers could throw in a second-round pick or two.
There is a slight variation of this trade that could have side benefits. With this trade, Phoenix gets Jamal Crawford as well to help replace some of the scoring they would lose with Nash. The interesting side benefits would be that Portland would get rid of the poor-shooting black hole Crawford, which would leave the Blazers thin at guard. However, it would give some of the younger guards (Armon Johnson, Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams), a chance to step up and show they can be a rotation player. Heck, the Blazers spent first-round picks on Williams and Smith, the least they can do is see if they are worth anything.
Again, this probably isn't going to happen, and I don't want the Blazers sacrificing a first round draft pick or Batum just for a long-shot title run with Nash this year. He's 38, there's no guarantee he resigns after this year, and he has back problems. So if Sarver is willing to take cap relief and dump bad contracts in exchange for Nash, then I say it's absolutely a gamble worth taking.