PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Suns have always known they would someday face a future without Steve Nash.
That day may well have come. After eight often-spectacular seasons, including two MVP years, at the controls of the Phoenix offense, Nash is a free agent and plans to examine his options through the summer.
He has no desire to spend his final NBA years on a struggling, rebuilding team. And for their part, the Suns realize that, as valuable and popular as Nash is, the point guard is 38, and this could be the time, finally, to move on.
For the second season in a row, the Suns fell short of the playoffs. Considering Phoenix's roster and slow start, its .500 record (33-33) might be as good as anyone had a right to expect.
In truth, the team never has recovered from the departure of Amare Stoudemire after Phoenix's surprising run to the Western Conference finals in 2009-10. There is no "go-to" scorer on the team, a problem especially in the late going. It's an issue that needs to be addressed whether Nash returns or not.
"We need to improve in some areas as far as taking the pressure off of Steve to have to make all the plays down the stretch," coach Alvin Gentry said. "We need to have a guy like that and I think it's pretty obvious."
Lon Babby, the Suns' president of basketball operations, has said the team will be active in free agency, fully aware that the roster sorely needs an upgrade. Yet this class of free agents is thin, and whether any of the big names would want to come to Phoenix is an open question, especially if Nash is gone.
Babby plans to address the media next week. He has said that he wants Nash, who wants to play at least three more seasons, to retire as a Sun.
Asked what the odds are he'd be back, Nash said, "I honestly have no clue."
"I couldn't predict what the future holds at this point and I'm actually OK with that," he said. "I think now is the time to maybe get some distance from it and try to find a clear perspective on where I am. Until I do that, I couldn't put a number on it or take a guess on what the chances are that I'd be back or not."
Nash has never played in an NBA finals, let alone won a title. He has been in this free agent position only once before, when then-owner Jerry Colangelo headed a big delegation that flew to Dallas to lure him from the Mavericks in 2004.
"Just the fact that I'm like 'unattached' in a way come the end of the NBA season is strange," Nash said. "I've been here eight years and it's just flown by."
The criteria for his decision, he said, are "winning, being competitive and being in a good environment."
Nash seemed taken by surprise when the crowd spontaneously chanted "We Want Steve" as Wednesday night's season finale against San Antonio wound down.