PHOENIX — Now that “We Want Steve” Night has provided a goosebump moment, the Phoenix Suns must handle the potentially tricky “What Steve Wants” period.
We’re looking at close to three months of speculation and negotiation that will decide the short- and long-range futures of the Suns franchise and its dime-dropping, ticket-moving face.
With Nash issuing a reenlistment mandate of upgrading the roster to a more competitive level, the Suns could be dragging considerable salary-cap space into this “Summer of Steve.” But for that to occur, several teammates who made this season’s second half unexpectedly compelling would, in theory, have to go.
While hauling away their accumulated locker room possessions on Thursday morning, these candidates for departure sounded willing to return. With disparate career and financial situations, however, their abilities to satisfy the franchise game plan made fielding questions difficult.
“I would like to come back,” said Shannon Brown, who signed a one-year deal with the Suns last December. “But I understand that it’s a business. Whatever happens happens.”
This year’s happening included an extended period of adjustment for the ex-Los Angeles Lakers guard, who intended to use this season as an opportunity to “set myself and my family up for life.” By the time Grant Hill surrendered to a balky knee, Brown was fluent enough in the Suns’ offensive system to become an emergency go-to guy. In the Suns’ last 18 games, Brown knocked in 16 or more points 10 times, with 32 against the San Antonio Spurs and 28 for the Denver Nuggets.
The Suns lost both games. Perhaps that defines their dual predicament, but Brown thinks he’s capable of filling that expanded role on a more permanent basis in Phoenix.
“I think I can,” he said when asked about becoming an early option. “But actions speak louder than words.”
So do multiple years on player contracts. Now that he’s attained a higher profile than that of Kobe Bryant’s stunt double, Brown could command a contract lasting beyond one season. When asked if he’d require a multi-year deal to stay in Phoenix, Brown chose to play it close to the vest.
“I just want to see what happens,” he said. “My plans may not fit everyone’s plans. I have to be prepared for anything. I think I came out and showed people I can play basketball.
“I like it here. I like everything about it.”
The issue in rehiring Brown andor center Robin Lopez andor forward Michael Redd is the potential compromise of what Suns president Lon Babby frequently has referred to as cap flexibility. The team could have a pile of spending loot if some or all of these players go. But with the market potentially flooded by restricted free agents, upgrading the roster might require the Suns to overpay.
There could be a free-agent bounty worthy of serious money in the 2013 pool, a notion that might inspire the Suns to — like this season — bring in a few players on one-year deals and save the big loot for next year. But another year of upgrade delay doesn’t jibe with Nash’s stay-put conditions, and it may not work for some of the players referenced earlier.
On the other hand, Redd seems like a candidate to buy in for another one-year contract that isn’t too robust. His association with the Suns’ training staff and status as a financially established veteran probably make Phoenix the place to be — at any reasonable price or contract length.
Sebastian Telfair is a young veteran who used the second half of this season to carve out a place in the league. That place still looks like a backup role, but the point guard — whose option for next year figures to be picked up by June 30 — is planning to be back next season.
After starting the season backing up Ronnie Price — who was working on a one-year contract to be Nash’s backup — Telfair’s fire and fearlessness earned him the team’s Dan Majerle Hustle Award.
Lopez, in the final year of his rookie contract, may hit the market as an unrestricted free agent. One year after a season of back-related physical decline, Robin looked fit and relatively bouncy in the sporadic minutes he received while Marcin Gortat was being established at center.
“We’ll see,” Lopez said when asked about returning. “I’m just kind of weighing options, but I like Phoenix.”
Lopez, whose size and competitive nature should create a competitive market for his services, hasn’t made any conditions on his role for potential suitors.
“I think I can be comfortable coming off the bench or starting,” he said.
Another looming question mark heading into the “Summer of Steve” is Nash’s close friend Hill, whose season as a 39-year-old began and ended with knee issues. His future isn’t tied to Nash, but bringing him back at anywhere near this season’s tab (6 million) would cut into the coveted flexibility.
For the record, Nash’s shopping list does not include the names of current teammates or potential free agents working for other teams. At least not publicly. Nash is too crafty for that, although he did provide some insight Thursday while cleaning out his Suns locker-room stall — maybe for the last time.
“I think the team could use more playmakers,” he said. “It depends on your strategy. You could go for bigs. You could go for a consistent 20-a-game scorer. Or you could go for a few more playmakers are different positions. The team and the club need to really analyze what their philosophy is moving forward and put a contingency plan together to build the best team.
“It’ll be an interesting period.”
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