Posted Nov 11 2009 10:08AM
The Most Interesting Man in the NBA took the easy way out. No suspense. No rumors. No visiting envoy at his doorstep at 12:01 a.m. holding a suitcase full of cash.
Nope, Steve Nash re-upped with the Suns last summer for two additional years on top of this one, taking himself out of the 2010 drama and reaffirming his commitment to the franchise that drafted him and brought him back. That's not the move we expected.
"I just felt a great sense of pride and loyalty to our group," Nash said. "We had a bad year last year, but that didn't diminish how I feel about my teammates, the organization, the city and the project that we've been building here.
"Yeah, we had a bad year. Yeah, we're maybe not as talented as the Lakers, but I felt like it was really important to be a part of this group going forward. My family enjoys it. I really appreciate the fans and the city, so for me that's lasting. Whereas chasing a championship around can be fleeting."
Nash is about substance, so the decision not to spend the golden years of his career trading in Phoenix orange for New York orange makes sense. Still, no one would have been surprised and few, if any, would have been hurt if Nash didn't at least take a look-see.
The call of the Big Apple and his former coach had to mean something to this transplanted New Yorker. What about joining forces with L.A.? Nash is more and more Hollywood these days, with the occasional acting gig and film interests taking more of his time. And you can't discount the lure of a couple of years in Toronto for a conquering Canadian hero.
Nash admits there was an allure to New York, but it wasn't about joining LeBron or D-Wade in some super free-agent class of 2010. Nash was intrigued by the possibility of being part of a new "project," helping build something sustainable with Mike D'Antoni that may lead to a title down the line. Maybe even after he's hung up the recycled sneakers.
Yes, Nash wants to compete in the NBA Finals. He just wants to do it on his terms. Being a rent-a-player has no appeal.
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"I want to win a championship," he said. "If I do, it'll be the best accomplishment of my career, but if I don't, my career has been really rewarding. I think I still have a lot to play for whether I win a championship or not."
There's also a practical side to staying put. Nash is 35 and keeps himself in great shape, but the likelihood of serious injury increases with age. Another guaranteed $22 million is nothing to sniff at in this economy and there's no guarantee that more, or even that much, would have been waiting next summer.
And now the Suns' situation is comfortable again. After the Terry Porter experiment fizzled last season, new coach Alvin Gentry brought back the seven-seconds-or-less attack that helped Nash become a two-time MVP. General manager Steve Kerr also pulled the plug on the Shaquille O'Neal Era after just 16 months.
As much as Kerr and Porter wanted to give Shaq and a more conventional system a shot, it became obvious last season that both had run their course. There were whispers that O'Neal, feeling better than at any time in the last few years, wanted a greater role on the team (and a contract extension), which made for a prickly situation behind closed doors.
And let's face it: As popular as Shaq is, Nash is the face of this franchise.
"He's still playing at an incredibly high level," Kerr says of Nash. "At the end of last year, once we made the change back to Alvin, his numbers were as good as they've always been, so I don't think he's slipped. The first reason to sign him is because he's still one of the best point guards in the NBA, but the second reason is we're bringing in younger players now.
"We're trying to make a transition to the future and I feel very strongly that having Steve and Grant Hill, those two in particular, as mentors for our young guys was huge. They need to lead them and teach these young guys to be pros and help them win games."
Nash is averaging 18.3 points and 12.9 assists, tops in the NBA, after lighting up the Sixers for 21 points and 20 assists Monday night. After missing the playoffs for the first time in five years, the Western Conference-leading Suns (7-1) are one of the league's surprise stories.
As much as winning a title drives Nash, there won't be a void in his career if he's never soaked in champagne in late June.
"You don't think I'd trade my career with Steve Nash's?" Kerr said. "I have five (championships), but I'd trade my career with his in a heartbeat -- the way he's played and what he's been able to accomplish. He's one of the great point guards of all time. Whether he ever wins a championship or not is not going to diminish what he's done."
For certain players, their body of work and the bonds they make are their own reward.
"It's just a matter of perspective," Kerr said. "If it were that easy to chase a championship down, everybody would do it. There's never any guarantee no matter who you sign with."
The Suns drafted a skinny kid from tiny Santa Clara in 1996 and signed him back as an All-Star in 2004. At times awkward and uneasy last season, especially under Porter, Nash is at ease now. He's happy at home -- twin daughters keep him and wife Alejandra busy -- he's involved in several business, entertainment and athletic ventures, and his charitable work through The Steve Nash Foundation is making a difference worldwide.
So when Nash says a title isn't the end-all to his career, it's believable.
"Basketball gives us visibility, which allows us to connect with people in a lot of different ways," he said. "For me to be able to be able to use the visibility and the connections and the opportunity to help people and make a difference in the community is part and parcel with the want to do well and do good things."
Maybe Nash did take the easy way out by staying with the Suns, rather than testing free agency and chasing a championship elsewhere.
But no one ever said easy can't be just as meaningful.
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