Posted Oct 3, 2012 9:57 AM - Updated Oct 3, 2012 10:30 AM
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Steve Nash was behind enemy lines, at the Lakers practice facility, wearing a new uniform, surrounded in every direction by several layers of reporters pushing in to ask a guy born in South Africa, raised in Canada and working in the United States about being in a foreign land. It was Monday, media day, and Nash was getting a crash course in his new life.
"I'm sure we'll draw a little bit of attention from time to time this year," he said.
So he still has the sense of humor, heavy on deadpan and sarcasm. (Nash after winning the Skills Challenge at All-Star Weekend 2010: "This is a real resume' builder.") He is still seemingly ageless, saying on the dawn of his 17th pro season, after a full four in college, that he has never felt better. And Nash, 38, can still play. He won another assist title last season and finished first among guards (ninth overall) in shooting.
But this is different. For all the accomplishments that will sweep him into the Hall of Fame, for all the years of resume' building to complement that transcendent Skills crown, Nash is more of a curiosity now than at any time in his career. Maybe the start of 2004-05 tops it. That was the first training camp of his second stint with the Suns, after leaving the Mavericks and good friend Dirk Nowitzki. There were questions then, in some circles, whether back problems would catch up with him. Many wondered how going from Dallas to Phoenix would tip the West balance of power. But this, right now, is tough to beat for intrigue.
This is the Lakers. Joining the Raptors or Knicks, the other suitors that received serious consideration in Nash's free-agent summer, would have been changing teams. Moving from the Suns to the Lakers was defecting.
Nash was never able to picture himself joining the very team that spent so many years shortening his playoff life. But the Lakers had one advantage that proved unbeatable: Nash wanted to be as close as possible to his two daughters and son living in Phoenix. That's about a 90-minute plane ride.
When the Lakers didn't have the cap space outright for a credible offer, Suns owner Robert Sarver surrendered to Nash's request to work a sign-and-trade for Draft picks as a show of gratitude for all Nash had done for the franchise.
"To be honest," Nash said Monday, "at the time it was difficult to think about coming to the Lakers because of the history that I had playing against them. But the No. 1 reason I couldn't pass the opportunity up was my children being so close in Phoenix. That was kind of the tipping point of me deciding to come to the Lakers. But since then, I've become increasingly excited about the opportunity."
A few minutes later, in the center of the media scrum, Nash dryly noted: "It's not an awful situation."
The curious case of Nash in L.A. extends to the court. For the last eight years, he was the ignition to a feared fast break, a pick-and-roll technician (especially with Amar'e Stoudemire as a finisher). Nash will not be the same distributor in L.A. Coach Mike Brown will use some 2011-12 sets in a Princeton offense implemented by new assistant Eddie Jordan. It will not be like it was in Phoenix.
Still, Nash playing off the ball more, if it happens, is not automatically a bad thing given his standing as one of the best shooters in NBA history. But it would be different.
Nash points out that there will be a learning curve for all involved. It may look strange for a while. It may feel strange to him.
That's OK, though. It's not as if many will be watching. There's only going to be a little bit of attention from time to time.
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