PHOENIX -- At no point in recent history have the Phoenix Suns entered an offseason with so much uncertainty. From Steve Nash and Grant Hill to free agency and the draft, the front office has plenty of decisions to make in the next few months.
Suns leadership plans to approach such decisions very carefully, and President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby stressed Wednesday the organization will remain disciplined in how it uses its great deal of roster flexibility.
"We've got to make the decisions from the standpoint of not only what's going to be good for us today but also what's going to be good for us tomorrow," Babby said in a meeting with local media. "Discipline will be the watch word upstairs."
No names were named, but it's safe to assume that discipline means Babby and general manager Lance Blanks won't use roughly 23 million in salary-cap space on deals like the ones Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress got two summers ago in the wake of Amare' Stoudemire's departure. This year's free-agent class has a few big names at the top, but thins out quickly.
A former player agent, Babby knows what it's like to be on the other side of negotiations. That should help the Suns stick to the disciplined approach.
"When you've got a team who can't get what they want, can't get their first choice, and the pressure builds to do something, you get teams to make some very bad decisions," Babby said. "We're not going to do that.
"If we can get the right person, we'll act. If we can't, we'll be careful."
Before the Suns can truly dive into the free-agent market, however, they'll likely have to determine whether Nash will be back next season. And that's a bit of a pickle. Nash has stipulated that the Suns must make roster upgrades if he's to return after eight seasons here. A chicken and egg situation unfolds, as without Nash the Suns are presumably less attractive to free agents, and Nash doesn't want to commit to returning without upgrades.
Babby said the Suns will do their best to balance their pursuit of Nash and other free agents all at once. He made clear the Suns will try to keep Nash in Phoenix, but also that Nash is not an exception to their disciplined approach.
"We've got to go down a road with him and see if we can find a common path, a path that makes sense for him and makes sense for us," Babby said. "Everybody here wants Steve Nash to retire as a Phoenix Sun. We're going to work very hard with him to see if that can happen."
While Babby said the Nash situation won't dictate the rest of the team's personnel moves, it may inevitably do so. There is a long list of other decisions to be made, starting with their own free agents, which include Grant Hill, Michael Redd, Shannon Brown, Ronnie Price, Sebastian Telfair and Robin Lopez. Telfair and Lopez are restricted. Babby said cap space doesn't necessarily equate to free agency alone, as the team could take on salary in trades.
As for Hill, who will turn 40 before next season begins, Babby said health and Hill's desire to keep playing will drive the situation.
Ultimately, Babby and Blanks want to use the summer of 2012 reposition the organization is a contender for championships, rather than just postseason berths. Babby called the Suns "a team in transition" and acknowledged that transition might not be completed as quickly as fans might like.
"I hope that it all happens this summer, and it might," Babby said. "We're not on any artificial time frame. If the opportunities are there, we're going to seize them, but we're going to make decision we think are going to put us in position to make us elite."
Babby didn't preclude following the same path as last season, signing a few players to short-term deals to remain as competitive as possible while waiting until the 2013 offseason to make a bigger splash.
"I'm not interested in patching it up and getting good for a year or even two without making progress," Babby said.
Its difficult to prognosticate what the Suns might be able to accomplish with such roster flexibility or look like come training camp. It is clear, however, that they have worked hard to put themselves in a position of greater financial flexibility than perhaps any other team this offseason. But that doesn't translate into a quick evolution into a title contender, given the current state of the roster.
"I'm not going to sell false hope," Babby said. "We're going to move forward and build this thing brick by brick however long it takes. All I ask of our fans is to engage with us in the process and enjoy it as we grow."