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Steve Nash returns to Phoenix; Suns take shot at shooting guard

PHOENIX (AP) – Steve Nash returned to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday after agreeing to backload his $65 million, five-year contract to allow the Suns to further strengthen their backcourt.

Before a news conference with Nash, the Suns signed shooting guard Quentin Richardson, a restricted free agent after four years with the Los Angeles Clippers, to an offer sheet.

The Clippers have 15 days to match Phoenix's $45 million, six-year offer.

Nash will still average $13 million, but accepted less up front after the Suns ran into problems with the $43.87 million salary cap – about $2 million below their projection.

"They were trying to accommodate Quentin," said Bill Duffy, Nash's agent.

"We had to be a little flexible ...

But we knew what the club's objective was, and we worked together to maintain the integrity of the deal, so it worked out very well."

Nash, a two-time All-Star point guard, learned to trust the Suns front office in 1998, when he requested a trade from the team that drafted him No.

15 in the first round in 1996.

"It didn't take as long as you may have thought after six memorable years in Dallas," Nash said.

"I think there was quite a few other options that would have presented themselves, but Bill and I talked, and my family and I talked, and we decided that if it wasn't going to be Dallas – where I planned to go back with those teammates that I'd grown so much with – Phoenix was the only place I wanted to go."

The Suns were 29-53 last season, bad enough to be a lottery team and in dire need of inside talent to line up with power forward Amare Stoudemire.

After the rush on big men at the top of the draft, Phoenix traded down from No.

7 to No.

31 and wound up with 6-foot-10 Jackson Vroman from Iowa State.

Jake Voskuhl and Maciej Lampe, both 6-11, are the only other potential centers on the roster, and Shawn Marion, an athletic small forward, may become trade bait to add another.

But Nash had no second thoughts, calling Stoudemire part of "a formidable nucleus" of young players.

"You know, there's only about two or three, maybe one, dominant center in the world, so you have to be pretty lucky to have one of them," Nash said.

"Everyone else is just trying to find a way to win and compete without one.

I've played without a center my whole career, basically, and I think this team has tremendous potential without one."

If the Suns remain undersized, they still might have two of the best shooters in any NBA backcourt.

Nash has averaged more than 40 percent from 3-point range in seven of his eight seasons, and Richardson had 30 or more points seven games last season, including a career-high, 44-point effort against Denver on Dec.

31 to become the first Clippers player in a decade with a 40-point game.

The 30-year-old Nash has averaged 12.5 points and 6.1 assists in his career, but 16.5 points and 7.8 assists over the last four seasons.

He ranks third all-time and first among active players in free-throw percentage (.893) and third among active players in 3-point percentage (.416).

"When the floodgates of free agency opened up on July 1, we had one specific goal and one specific purpose," Colangelo said.

"We set out to address toughness and leadership on this team."