With NBA free agency quickly approaching, the Phoenix Suns find themselves in a position to make some serious changes to the current roster before the start of the 2012-13 season.
The Suns finished the 2011-12 season with a .500 record (33-33), just three games out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference.
While those numbers make it seem like the team is just a few key pieces away from being in the playoffs, with just seven players under contract for next season, the roster appears to be in total rebuilding mode moving forward.
Teams can begin negotiating with free agents on July 1st, and can officially start signing players on July 11th.
The number one priority for the Suns in that time will be deciding what to do with their 38-year-old unrestricted free agent point guard, Steve Nash.
Nobody has meant more to the Suns organization the last eight years than Nash, but with the team looking to get younger and build a solid foundation for the future, Nash may not figure into those plans. Factor in the small window the two-time MVP has left to play (and win a championship), and one would think Nash has played his last game in a Suns uniform.
I'd still be surprised if both sides don't make a concerned effort to bring the team's all-time assist leader back for another run in purple and orange, but the Suns will no doubt explore their options to replace him should he leave for a team more ready to win right now (Dallas? Miami? Portland? New York? Chicago?).
While they will have plenty of options to do so, there are two players the Suns should absolutely make a hard run at that could not only help them right now, but in the future as well: unrestricted free agent point guards Deron Williams and Jeremy Lin.
Both players have their obvious upsides: both bring instant star-power and seat-filling ability, both have had success operating a pick-and-roll based offense (Marcin Gortat will no doubt appreciate that), and both are still relatively young enough to build around for the next five to six years.
But it's the differences in the two players that the Suns should take into account when deciding which one they want to hand the keys over to if Nash departs for another team.
Let's look at Lin. Lin is younger (23 as compared to Williams who turns 28 by the end of the month), comes with a much cheaper price-tag, and has so much commercial appeal both nationally and internationally that he would instantly sell an insane amount of tickets, jersey's, and bring instant SportsCenter air-time.
And with so few games under his belt, Lin may not even have come close to his ceiling last season in which he averaged 15 points, 6 assists, and posted a player efficiency rating (PER) of 19.97, which ranked 10th among the leagues point guards.
The cons when it comes to Lin are few, but are worth noting: while his ceiling is unknown, teams seemed to figure him out some before his knee injury ended his season. Then there's just that; an injury. Lin has never logged as many minutes as he did last season, and there could be concerns that a heavy load could keep him in suits instead of basketball shorts on game days (but then again, that's what the Suns training staff is for).
Now let's look at Williams. D-Will has been in the top point guard conversation for years now, and he's openly expressed doubt about returning to Brooklyn with a Nets roster that is underwhelming to say the least. Williams has similar draw as far as ticket sales are concerned, and is the best free-agent available without question.
Williams does come with some downsides though. First, he isn't signing anywhere without getting a max deal (my guess is somewhere between five to six years and upwards of $100 million). Second (and probably most importantly) is if the team could even convince Williams to come to Phoenix, he doesn't have the same ego as other stars do, and doesn't necessarily have to be "the man" wherever he ends up. In fact, Williams seems more concerned with being put in a position to win than anything, and with the current state of the Suns roster, that doesn't exactly fit.
Conclusion: I would push as hard as possible for Deron Williams. Amnesty Josh Childress (which saves roughly $21 million over the next three years), present him with a plan to use the immense amount of cap-space to surround him with a good supporting cast. Sell him on Gortat, and Markeiff Morris. And use the 13th pick on someone with star potential like Austin Rivers.
Should that fall through, give Lin the contract he desires, and sell him on the medical staff keeping him healthy. Explain to him how the Phoenix media isn't nearly as hard to deal with as New York, and make a bold move in free agency (Eric Gordon or Nick Young perhaps?).
The end of the Nash era in Phoenix would no doubt be sad, but the NBA is a business, and the Suns need to find a way to get business booming once again.