The Phoenix Suns have stumbled a bit this season.
After losing Amar'e Stoudemire, who signed as a free agent last summer with the New York Knicks, they've spent much of the first half of this NBA season struggling to find their way. They've also dealt with a minor identity crisis trying to fill the void left by Stoudemire's absence, and have already pulled off a blockbuster, acquiring Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus for Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu.
It adds up to a team that currently sits 10th in the Western Conference standings, at just 24-25, just one year removed from pushing the Lakers to six games in the Western Conference Finals. So what does this all mean? Should they start trying to rebuild and focus on the future? Or do they still have enough pieces in place to make one more run with Steve Nash as the leader?
Here are 10 reasons why the Suns should look to make another move in the coming weeks.
Hey, they weren't really supposed to have a shot last year either, remember?
It was right around this time one season ago when they had just endured seven losses in nine games, were 26-21, and considered to be in a similar spot to the one they now find themselves in. But they managed to turn things around, went 28-7 down the stretch, and were a tough out in the playoffs.
Who's to say that the ageless Steve Nash can't help them do the same thing this season? The new pieces are starting to gel, as evidenced by their four wins in the last five games, including a blowout of the Boston Celtics.
So, they should be active in the trade market to try to add another piece to this puzzle for one more run this season. ... Right?
Well, maybe this year's a little different from last year.
Steve Nash, Grant Hill and company are all a year older, and of course there's no Amar'e. Even at that low point last season, they were in a better place than they are now, and they're actually in one of their better spots this year.
Maybe lightning could strike once, but can it strike twice? Do we really see them being able to take out the Spurs, Lakers, or any other Western Conference power come May? Sure, they could squeak into an eighth seed by passing Memphis and Portland, but it'll be a quick exit.
They should realize this fact, and stay ahead of the curve by starting the rebuilding process now.
Phoenix just saw this past summer what happens when they don't face reality.
They held onto Amar'e Stoudemire because of their great stretch run last season in the hopes that they could ride him to a magical title last year, and that they could persuade him to stay in the desert for the long haul.
Obviously it didn't work. He's enjoying an MVP-type season and has finally done what had seemed impossible. He's made the Knicks relevant again, and they look like a legitimate playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the hole at power forward at US Airways Center has been gaping all year.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The Phoenix Suns can't let themselves be fooled twice.
I've called Steve Nash ageless, but the fact is, he just celebrated his 37th birthday, and Father Time stops for nobody.
Grant Hill is 38. Vince Carter is 34. Together, that trio comprises the Suns' top three players this season. None of the younger players currently on the roster (Channing Frye? Robin Lopez?) has shown the ability to carry the team once those three aren't doing the job anymore.
So the team simply has to import someone, preferably someone under 30, who can be the new face of the franchise. And it's preferable that they do it sooner rather than later, because the trade value for guys like Nash and Hill will only go down after the season.
Their value is as high as it's going to be right now. The Suns would be wise to take advantage of it.
Despite the fact that the new-look Suns have played better of late, winning four of five, it seems to be clear that the VC experiment hasn't had the desired effect.
He's played well in spurts, but he's been wildly inconsistent. He followed up a 29 point, 12 rebound effort in a win against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden with a 1 for 6 shooting performance where he scored just 3 points against Cleveland.
He also scored just two points each in recent games against the Sixers and the Bucks, and his best game in the Suns recent stretch of wins, when he scored 33, was the one game they lost, against the Thunder.
The team isn't playing much better than they were before the trade, and it's time to just blow things up and start over.
Steve Nash has said and done all the right things, and is the furthest thing from a selfish superstar. He's stood by and watched quietly, holding his tongue as the team he has run so ably has been dismantled, until it now hardly resembles the one he originally rejoined back in 2004.
But even he might eventually get tired of spending his last few productive seasons stuck in a losing situation that could only get worse next season. He might be quiet and unassuming off the court, but on it he's as competitive as anyone, and he wants to win.
It would be sad to see the situation deteriorate to a point where he felt compelled to demand a trade. Let's not let it get to that, so everyone can hold onto their happy memories of team-first Steve.
Sure, Steve Nash puts fans in the seats. He's a one man show, and he continues to be worth every penny.
And that might last through the rest of this season. Maybe next. But eventually, the fan base will realize that the rest of the product isn't what it needs to be, and that the people in charge haven't done what they've needed to do. And they'll grow restless.
The front office can head those feelings off at the pass right now, though, by showing that they're willing to make the tough decisions in the name of brighter days ahead. It might be unpopular at first, but the real fans will eventually know that it was done for the right reasons.
Sure, the Suns have always been a fun team to watch lo these many years, but when it's come down to it, their formula was never really the winning formula.
In the regular season? Sure, it was a perfect formula. The Suns have won 54 or more games five times with Nash and the uptempo style they've used, but they've never reached the NBA Finals because in the playoffs, you can't just outscore your opponent.
The game slows down in the postseason. You have to play defense. It's toughness and resolve that win games then. And the one time the Suns might have had it, their plans were thrown askew by a Robert Horry hip check.
It's time to face facts: if they want to be more than just an exciting regular season team, they need to come up with a new way forward.
Trading Nash would be the furthest thing from disrespect. It would be honoring his years of selfless service.
Nash is a once-in-a-generation talent, a two-time MVP, who deserves to finally have the shot at winning an NBA title. And there is no shortage of contenders who would love to bring him on board. How would he look in a place like Oklahoma City, where he could step in at the point and let Russell Westbrook move to the 2. Nash creating for Kevin Durant? Now that's a title contender.
That's only one scenario. And the Thunder have enough good young players and other assets like first round draft picks and expiring contracts to make the swap worth Phoenix's while.
I already talked about the vacuum in the space where Amar'e Stoudemire used to be.
Let's take that scenario to the next level. Everyone can see what has become of the collection of players wearing Cleveland uniforms that used to be the Cavaliers. I say used to be, because nobody can really say what they are now. They're nothing. They're irrelevant. They're NBA purgatory.
Phoenix must avoid that fate at all costs. Take the example of Denver, where the Nuggets will (presumably) ship Carmelo Anthony off somewhere before the deadline. Because whatever they will get in a trade is better than getting nothing.
That's not what the Suns face right now, but they face the added pressure of time in Nash's, Hill's, and Carter's ages. There's no time like the present to look to the future, lest the past haunt you when the future becomes the present.