Surprised But Happy, Nash is a Sun Again

by Jeramie McPeek
VP, Digital
By Mike Tulumello, Tribune
East Valley Tribune
Oct. 5, 2004

Back on July 1, Steve Nash figured he’d probably have to dig deep into his well of Canadian-bred politeness and tell his old friends in Phoenix, "No, thank you."

The Suns had flown a 12-member contingent to Dallas — owners, coaches, players, everyone, it seemed, except the clubhouse attendant — to convince him to sign a deal worth at least $60 million over five years.

But Nash wasn’t really going anywhere, was he?

He’d already let it be known, through those close to him, that Arizona was a fine backup plan — after all, he played are to start his NBA career for two seasons and his parents lived there part-time — but his first choice was to re-sign with the Mavericks.

Nash had become a twotime All-Star and one of the game’s most popular personalities, in large part because he played all out, all the time.

And, as the most successful player ever to come out of Canada — he’s from Victoria, British Columbia — Nash also was a marketing machine.

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Surely, there would be no problem getting a matching offer from Mark Cuban, the Mavs’ flamboyant owner, known as the sort of guy who might use a soiled $100 bill as a cigar wrapper.

Cuban, after all, had employed backups with $10 million-a-year contracts (remember Nick Van Exel and Raef LaFrentz?)

Stunningly, Cuban didn’t match the Suns’ offer — didn’t come close.

Here’s how the deal went down:

The Mavericks, though they didn’t make a formal offer, talked in surprisingly modest terms — at least by NBA standards — for an established star: $36 million over four years (though Cuban has suggested he might have given a partial guarantee for a fifth year).

After the Suns made their impressive offer — oversized some might say — there was talk that Cuban was willing to go to $50 million over five years to keep the 30-year-old Nash.

But Nash says no such offer ever was made, that the only tangible possibility was the first one ($36 million over four years).

"I gave Dallas a chance to up the ante, but they never counteroffered," Nash said. "All the rest is spin control."

Speculation in Dallas focused on whether Cuban’s finances were as healthy as in the past.

Cuban, asked by e-mail why he let Nash go, referred all questions to his Web blog.

Shortly after his decision, Cuban wrote a rambling essay of nearly 4,000 words on why he let Nash go.

Though he praised Nash as a quietly effective leader who was great in the locker room, who played with allconsuming enthusiasm, Cuban wrote, "It’s also that kamikaze spirit and approach to the game that is Steve’s greatest weakness.

"The most improbable stat from Steve Nash is how few games he has missed in the last few years. I have seen the pain he goes through before, during and after games, yet he still manages to trot out there and play at an incredibly high level.

"Our feeling was that we were fortunate that Steve had been so injury free. That it was only a matter of time before his style of play caught up with him."

Suns officials scratch their heads at why Cuban let Nash go.

"I’m still very surprised, but happy, that it worked out that way," club president Bryan Colangelo said.

"It’s a little baffling," coach Mike D’Antoni said. "But I’m glad it happened."

Nash is similarly puzzled.

"I always thought I’d be back in Dallas," he said. "My whole world flipped upside down in less than 24 hours.

"At the end of the day, the Suns wanted me more. That helped me put Dallas behind me."

If Cuban was worried that Nash might break down because he plays at a frenzied pace, Nash figures, this is more or less a good thing.

"There are enough people who are stealing money because they don’t play hard. . . ." Nash said. "People don’t pay somebody because he’s going to break down, especially if it’s because he plays hard."

Nash points out he missed only four games last season, zero the previous two seasons.

"To me, he never really wanted me back, for whatever reason," Nash said. "The lack of a counteroffer indicated that."

In Phoenix, Nash is returning to where he started his rise to prominence. The Suns drafted him in 1996, after failing to work out a draft-day deal for Kobe Bryant.

He made an immediate impression as a potential star, but with the trade for Jason Kidd in December 1996, the Suns didn’t want to carry two high-priced point guards.

So, in a trade that worked well for both teams, the Suns traded Nash for the draft pick that became Shawn Marion.

Now, as he returns, "It’s new and exciting and yet familiar at the same time," he said.

The main difference: "I have more responsibility," he said.

D’Antoni had made no secret that the Suns needed a point guard and leader like Nash; the Suns had been disjointed last season before and after the Stephon Marbury trade.

Now that he got his wish, he’s all but doing cartwheels.

"When your point guard is your leader, and he has the respect of other players, it changes the culture" of the team, D’Antoni said. "It impacts everything you do.

"When one of your best players is your leader, is your hardest worker, that’s a scenario coaches want."

And all because the Suns were willing to pay the price while big-spending Cuban kept his wallet in his pocket.

COPYRIGHT 2004, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.


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