"This is a day I never foresaw in my life," rasped Steve Nash with an uncomfortable stare as he sat down after posing for the litany of cameras with his new purple and gold Los Angeles Lakers jersey - "but just an incredible opportunity for me". It was a little after noon yesterday that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak introduced their newest player and all eyes were on Nash.
He already looked Hollywood with his new hairdo and pin-striped suit I thought, squinting my eyes and slowly shaking my head.
The deal was consummated - number 13 was now officially number 10. The presser continued and questions of leaving Phoenix hit the table.
"Originally I wanted to come back. I wanted to finish the project that I was working on and leave the franchise in a better place than it had been in the last two years - you know, really remain loyal to my teammates there and my coaches and do the best I could to leave that franchise in a better place. But when it became apparent that the Suns you know had different plans and wanted to move in a different direction and kind of start over in a way - that's when I had to get used to the idea of living somewhere else and playing for another franchise..."
My foot started tapping and Nash's voice began to gradually decrescendo and flatten-out, reverberating and becoming faint in my head - almost like the voices of grown-ups in Charlie Brown's world. "The era is officially over" I thought, again tsking my desk with a blank stare. The press conference would push nearly an hour and a half... but as 1 o'clock rolled around here in Phoenix and the Laker point guard's press conference began to wind down - another press conference was just getting started at the U.S. Airways Center.
Lon Babby would step to the microphone, "This is a highly critical and very very exciting time for our franchise.."
I thought to myself - "Aaaah Uncle Lon, great timing. I was just about to ram these ballpoints through my eyes, help me off this ledge please?"
"I think we're in a much better place now - with a much clearer path moving forward. It's obvious what we're doing now in ways that it couldn't be for the first two years just because of our circumstances"
By 'circumstances' he meant Steve Nash, and by 'what we're doing' he meant rebuilding.
The Silence of the Lons... and Lance.
Rewind time two days. It's Tuesday night and we await anxiously for the date to change. But as the clock struck 12 (9pm AZ) the anticipated explosion of flying ink and an Eric Gordon signed contract reached an anti-climactic fizzle much like the failed Big Bay Boom a week ago. We were left in the wake of a nebulous smoke of confusion and perplexing haze with only the news that, "oh hey yeah, hi guys - we'll get around to that big Gordon thing sometime tomorrow morning.. go get some sleep." Meanwhile, Deron Williams and others around the league were signing their contracts digitally on iPads and celebrating like the ball had dropped in Times Square.
Back to the future.
We knew the word on the tweets was that the New Orleans Hornets were determined to match the offer - but we had ramped our anxiety up so much that we treated 12:01 July 11, 2012 like we were children waiting for Christmas morning. It's kind of our own fault really. This business of rebuilding a team - it takes time and we need to be patient. Many of us are just a little too excited about the possibilities of actually rebuilding a team and acquiring young talent, maybe we're too anxious to snatch a 'rebound' from being freshly dumped by Steve, or maybe the anxiety stems from a lack of confidence in Robert Sarver or in our new front office - who ever since taking over about 2 years ago have run a tight-lipped ship and sailed in directions unfamiliar to many Suns fans.
No front office leaks about potential trades - no indications of draft selections and not a whole lot of the openly candid dialogue about team direction that we were used to with Steve Kerr and other front-office predecessors. To poke fun at the discreet nature of our FO we've even drafted fictitious comedy sketches to express our frustration of the unknown. There's a Spanish colloquialism which I love that goes, 'entre broma y broma la verdad se asoma' meaning literally - between jokes the truth comes out. And it was true to an extent, we seriously had doubts about Sarver's innovative master plan to bring a lawyer/agent into the fold - and the Lance Blanks contrast of character to Kerr was peculiar and left many of us scratching our heads.
But after yesterday's press conference I have a budding Bright Side perspective and a new-found appreciation for our franchise leadership. Why? It might be best if you just take in what was said by Babby for yourself and decide if I'm not just completely desperate or if you feel the same boost of confidence.
At the bottom of this post you can find the audio and listen for yourself, but I've transcribed and summarized a lot of the more interesting points for you.
Phoenix Suns Goals
The first thing Babby iterated yesterday was a reiteration of their stated goal.
"Our goal is the same as it has been always - which is to be an elite team, a team that can compete legitimately for championships every year"
He detailed that the first step to approaching that goal was to honestly recognize where the team stood in comparison. He said that they quickly realized that the Nash era was ending, that it "had run its course".
The Nash Trade
In all fairness - this truly is the first normal and full off-season that Lon Babby and Lance Blanks have had since joining the organization. He made a point to mention that and I believe it's worth taking into consideration when analyzing their tenure thus far and especially their moves this summer.
At the end of last season - they (the FO) had "extensive exit interviews" with Nash, about 10-15 hours worth on at least 4 different occasions. Both sides approached those meetings with the "highest level of good faith and integrity."
During that process - they looked for ways to upgrade the roster (as Nash stated the Suns would need to do for him to stay per quotes during the season) in order to move forward with Steve and give him the financial opportunity he was looking for.
"At the end of the day - it just became obvious that you can't really dive headlong into a transition, if the thing you're transitioning from is still here...
... Both sides ultimately it became clearer and clearer that there was no way for us to move forward and at the same time accommodate him"
Translation - Steve had a price that the Suns couldn't afford and at the same time upgrade the roster to his satisfaction. It was time to move on. Babby continues on by expressing some of the trade details we are all already pretty familiar with - that Steve had lots of opportunities, some of which would potentially yield zero return for the Suns, others (like the Knicks and ultimately the Lakers) could.
He underlined the point that the sign and trade option to the Lakers was in no way, shape, or form initiated by the Suns and their initial reaction was the same as ours = no bleeping way. But he then goes on to praise Sarver, who he gives kudos to because he challenged Babby and Blanks to take into account "what was in the best interest of the Suns as a basketball team". Plus - the Suns had leverage with the Lakers, and in the end that's what allowed them to get 4 picks and cash considerations. We'll now have 10 draft picks in the next 3 years - 5 first rounders and 5 second round picks.
He also made a point to mention that throughout the process the Suns remained cognizant of Nash's wishes to remain close to his family, "you can't ignore a request like that from a guy like Steve" he said. He described the trade as being a proud day for himself and the organization.
"We have moved through an wonderful era, hopefully into a bright new era - and we've done it with grace I think and with dignity and with respect for someone who had made the greatest contributions you can make to our franchise and did it without compromising our plan from a basketball perspective"
I can dig that.
Babby proceeded to open the floor for questions.
Are we rebuilding? It Seems like the Suns have tried to shy away from that term.
"Yeah - I like to call it a transition but I don't hesitate in calling it rebuilding - I think it's obvious what we're doing. It's kind of taken 2 years for it to become obvious to people that really when we got here the first things we did were begin to put ourselves in a position now where we would have flexibility from a cap standpoint. "
"We don't want to be a 7-10 team in the West and be satisfied with that"
"It's taken us 2 years to kind of get to the runway and now we're ready to take off and bring in some younger new talent and it's going to be a process and we're hoping that we can find a group of young players that are willing to grow together and learn how to win together but it's a process. It's not going to be any quick fix - that's for sure"
Question to you the reader = Lon Babby feels one of his main jobs coming in was to usher us through this transition away from Nash with dignity etc. - and he feels like he did so with grace. Do we agree?
Nash expressed he wanted to stay - the Suns expressed they wanted to keep him. Where was the breakdown?
"It had to be an ideal situation for him - and it had to be an ideal situation for us"
"There was no common path - people will say that it was a financial decision, I would adamantly disagree with that but it was a math decision."
"You only have a certain amount of money you're allowed to spend under the rules... Our job - my job in particular is to allocate how you're going to spend that. And at the end of the day there was no way to accommodate what he rightfully thought he deserved and our efforts to reload our team - the math just could never work"
"He ended up with a terrific contract with the Lakers - but if we had given him a similar contract it would have hand-strung us in our efforts to reload and to move into transition"
"There was no ideal situation that would work for the both of us"
What it came down to was this - could the Suns give Nash 10 million for 3 years for 30M and still bring in great young talent? The Phoenix Suns decided they couldn't. So...
Question to you the reader = Were the Suns right NOT to give Nash 3yr/30M?
The question of whether or not we (Phoenix) would be able to attract free agents -
Babby gawked at the idea and expressed that he has never understood that question. As a former player-agent he understands Phoenix is a desirable location and is known around the league as a "Player-friendly" destination.
Eric Gordon was really the first free-agent that Lance and he were able to formally court and give their recruiting pitch to. He left excited and desiring to play here - even said something fluffy like "His heart was in Phoenix" -
Look at the free-agent guards out there this year, and next to Deron Williams, Eric Gordon was the next best player. His mere willingness to choose Phoenix is a great endorsement of what the Valley and the Suns franchise means to players and of what Babby and Banks can do on the pitch.
RE Why the Suns weren't willing to sign and trade for Gordon (or at least why they expressly stated that they weren't willing)
Babby's answer was simple. He said that the Suns "didn't want to take 1 step forward and 2 steps back". He also mentioned that, as of the presser yesterday - the Suns had not had "any meaningful discussions (with NOH)" exploring the option of a sign and trade.
Read into that what you like.
RE If the Hornets wait until the 14th and match - what's the plan?
"We're a pretty carefully prepared bunch - and we anticipate that and we just have to play it out and we know the risks associated with it and have our plans mapped out accordingly hopefully getting Eric (Gordon) and if they for some reason decide to match despite his desires to be here - then we will be ready to move in that direction."
"There's certainly a disadvantage in having your money tied up - but those are the rules. All we can control is what we do."
They went after the player they wanted and signed him to a max contract. Boom.
-- "We're not sitting on our hands, hoping ... If they decide to match we'll move on and act accordingly."
-- "We're not going to get everything accomplished in one summer and if it turns out we need to keep our power to try that's what we'll do. If we have an opportunity to get better then that's what we'll do"
-- "I think we're in a much better place now - with a much clearer path moving forward. It's obvious what we're doing now in ways that it couldn't be for the first two years just because of our circumstances"
So yes - we are rebuilding. Yes it was time to shake the 'circumstances'. Now those circumstances are just finishing up their weekly rounds with TMZ and making buddy buddy with Jack. We'll move forward with JMZ and make buddy buddy with the dragon.
Maybe I'm a little loco en la cabeza - but I'm buying stock in the Blanks and Babby fan club. To me the timing was perfect - just as the Lakers made their acquisition official, Babby took the mic and his pulling ever so slightly of the front office curtain shed just enough light to eclipse the memories and highlight the future.
Listen Here - Lon Babby Press Conference 7/11/12