Free agent point guard Steve Nash spent Sunday, the first day on free agency, being courted first by the Toronto Raptors and later by the New York Knicks. These two teams appear to be the top suitors for Nash because (a) they are willing to come up with enough money to be "respectable", (b) Nash loves both cities and (c) Nash is their top priority.
Each team represents an opportunity for the Suns to facilitate a sign-and-trade to help Nash make more money while going to a team of his choosing.
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To take a look at the sign-and-trade possibilities for the Suns, hit the jump...
Sign-and-trade Nash to Raptors for Jose Calderon ($10.5 million, 1 year) and 1-2 more young assets
The Toronto Raptors reportedly made an offer to Nash for 3 full years at somewhere north of $10 million per year. While the Raptors can fit this contract into their current salary structure, they'd much rather rid themselves of incumbent "Nash-lite" PG Jose Calderon (much the same way that Hakim Warrick is "Amare-lite"). Calderon's contract has only one year remaining at $10.5 million.
The Raptors have previously been unsuccessful in trading Calderon, yet have him on the block again to create extra space for summer moves. There has been no specific discussion of a sign-and-trade for Nash with the Suns, but that may only be a matter of time. Why max your cap with Nash when you could basically replace Calderon with Nash, then add yet another guy like Ersan Ilyasova or Nicolas Batum to boot?
For the Suns, there is value in bringing back Calderon as they lose Nash. For one thing, Calderon could share the PG duties with rookie Kendall Marshall for a year. Certainly not a long-term answer, he is a very good one-year PG option who can pass, shoot and provide matador defense while Marshall establishes himself in the NBA.
For another, it stands to reason that the Suns can wrangle another prospect out of Toronto for making it so easy to bring Nash to Canada for a net expense of about $1.5 million (Calderon makes $10.5 million, Nash asking for $12 million).
Don't expect DeMarr DeRozen or Andre Bargnani over even rookie Terrence Ross to be added to a deal, but maybe the Suns could whittle young PF Ed Davis out of them or a future #1 pick, or both?
Sign-and-trade Nash to New York Knicks for Fields, Douglas, cash...and 1-2 more as-yet-unnamed assets
Now let's look at the New York Knicks situation, which absolutely requires a sign-and-trade to bring Nash to the big apple. The Knicks cannot offer Nash more than $3 million per year (the mini-MLE) on their own. In fact, reports out there say the Suns and Knicks have already discussed the parameters of such a sign-and-trade.
Reportedly, the key figure coming back to the Suns would be 23-year-old SG Landry Fields, who has been no better than a 5th-best player on a contender. Yet Fields is young, tall (6'7"), a good defender and a good 3-pt shooter who could come on the cheap (ie. 3-4 million per year). While this move adds yet another mid-level guy to the team, his presence would conceivably provide more defense on the wing as a Hill-type defender who happens to be almost half the age and half the price. Having Landry Fields also saves the Suns the effort of finding (and possibly overpaying) a backup SG on the open market who can do what Fields does.
Other assets coming back to the Suns would reportedly be short combo guard Tony Douglas, non-guaranteed contracts and $3 million in cash. Very underwhelming, to be sure. Yet, that only projects to add up to an $8 million salary for Nash and Nash would likely require more money to be swayed away from Toronto.
Sounds to me like New York would have to include another contract, and we all know how much the Suns front office loved 6'6" combo guard Iman Shumpert in last year's draft. Why would the Knicks part with Shumpert? Two good reasons off the top of my head: (1) Shumpert is injured, not projected back into the lineup until January and (2) the Knicks really, really, really want Nash.
If the Knicks get Nash, that means they want to win NOW. Waiting until January for Shumpert to rehab from knee surgery won't help that cause too much. However, that's perfect for the Suns. 2012-13 is shaping up to be a throw-away transition year anyway. Shumpert has good, long-term upside as a defender and scorer who can vaccilate between PG and SG. Because he defends so aggressively, he appears more attractive than, say, O.J. Mayo or even Austin Rivers.
Of course, these last 'git er done' pieces are just speculation.
Toronto has not yet offered a sign-and-trade at all. And New York has not yet offered any more than Landry Fields and filler.
But the writing IS on the wall, and the bidding war is just getting started. Let's hope the Suns get SOMETHING good out of this.