Posted Jan 3 2012 9:40PM
The city of Phoenix, with golf courses galore and sunshine for days, is an excellent place to fade into retirement unless you're a two-time MVP who never won a championship.
Then it's the perfect place to watch your career die on the vine, which is the curious if not sad situation with Steve Nash at the moment.
It's tough to watch Nash, who turns 38 next month, try to make the Suns respectable and exciting when he should be winding down with a contender instead -- if the basketball gods had a heart. Or more accurately, if the Suns had done him and the franchise a favor and traded him two summers ago.
It's a common mistake teams often make, holding onto a star too long mostly for sentimental reasons, only to watch his skills and trade value recede like his hairline. While Nash is still blessed with enough hair to keep tucking behind his ears, you wonder what he can do about a body that's not getting any younger. And a team not getting much better, if at all.
Wouldn't it be fun to watch Nash trading jumpers with Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City? Or throwing lobs to LeBron James in Miami? Or giving Derrick Rose a breather in Chicago? Or in any number of situations that would land him in a better place to win than with the Suns, who are moving in a totally different direction?
He will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and with the Suns likely to use Nash's salary on other free agents, his options are retirement or playing elsewhere. That's another reason the Suns would've been wise to move Nash last season, when he was still productive: 39.5 percent shooting on 3-pointers and an average of 11.4 assists.
It all changed for Nash and the Suns in the summer of 2010, just weeks after they surprisingly reached the conference finals. At that point the franchise had every opportunity, and every reason, to cut ties with Nash. Free agent Amar'e Stoudemire bolted for New York and the Suns had the perfect excuse to rebuild. Instead, they spent roughly $80 million to add Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick as well as re-sign Channing Frye in an ambitious-but-flawed attempt to reload on the fly. They missed the playoffs in 2010-11, marking the second time in three seasons they sat the postseason out, and appear no closer to making the playoffs now.
Interestingly, Nash never pushed for a trade after Stoudemire's exit. In an era where players are making demands before they actually reach free agency, Nash isn't the one raising the possibility of being traded. And he isn't requesting one now: "I want to be here," he said during training camp.
But Nash hasn't said he'd refuse a trade, either. Which means it's really up to the Suns what happens next. Keeping him for attendance reasons seems a reach because winning is what sells. After three home games this season, the Suns are 25th in average attendance; they were 16th in that category last season. Evidently, by knocking down all trade possibilities (publicly anyway), the Suns believe Nash is worth more to the franchise as a member of the team, for whatever reason.
Even if they were actively shopping Nash, Steve Kerr, the former GM who followed Stoudemire out the door back to his old job as an analyst for Turner Sports, doesn't believe Nash will fetch much on the market now.
"It's easy to make a blanket statement about trading him but the reality is you're only looking at trading him to contending teams," Kerr said.
Unless Nash finds a contender next summer -- the Knicks are a possibility -- he'll leave the game without a ring, joining a graveyard full of Hall of Famers in that sense. John Stockton, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing ... they all were denied a championship. But they were denied by Michael Jordan. Nash was denied, at least in part, by a cheap shot from Robert Horry in Game 4 of the 2007 West semifinals.
Kerr said Nash "is the perfect face, the ideal player" for the Suns franchise, so you can see the reluctance to easily send him along for a bag of chips. He remains a fan favorite in Phoenix and people want to see him play, even at his advanced age, even on a lightweight that lacks a single player with All-Star fiber (aside from Nash himself). There is a charm to that, perhaps. It's indeed refreshing on a certain level to see Nash willing to ride out the rough spot and stick around until the end of his contract.
No, the ideal time to send Nash to a better place isn't today; it was yesterday, when he was a year younger and a bit more marketable. Whatever the Suns were offered then for Nash, no doubt, is better than what they're seeing now. Which is next to nothing.
Barring a change of heart by the Suns at the trade deadline, Nash will finish out in Phoenix and take what's left of his skills somewhere else. Maybe the native Canadian will head home to play in Toronto. Maybe Mark Cuban will undo a mistake and bring Nash back to Dallas.
This championship-seeking story doesn't have to end on an empty note.
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