This is why I love Steve Nash
On his way to the morning bus, Steve Nash dug his hands into his pockets and looked at the ground. It’s been a long season, one of the longest of his 15-year career, between a team stripped down for parts and a marriage that dissolved the day after his third child was born. Long year, and it’s not over yet.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “Family’s number one in your life, and basketball is number two, and my two sanctuaries have disappeared, in a sense.” He brightened up a little. “But I always take life as an opportunity to grow and get better.”
The basketball’s been great as long as you don’t note the fact that Nash’s Phoenix Suns, despite a recent 9-3 surge that included last night’s 110-92 win over the Toronto Raptors, still sit 10th in the West. The kid from Victoria is producing numbers that equate to his back-to-back MVP seasons of 2004-05 and 2005-06, but a great point guard is only of so much use when you’ve reduced last year’s Western Conference final team down to Nash and a pile of role players. Nash never wavers in his commitment to making it better, but that doesn’t make it easy.
“It’s difficult, you know?” Nash said. “I went from being a putback from being up 3-2 and [being a game from] going to the Finals, to going into the summer saying I’m going to do everything I can to get better so I can go to the Finals this year, to starting with a whole new team in October. And that’s a difficult climb, especially because we had it figured out.”
But then Amar’e Stoudemire left for New York, and Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu were peddled to Orlando for the remains of Vince Carter — half-man, half-retired — and some more role players, and the Suns are paddling above .500, trying to catch a playoff berth. At 37, Nash is as brilliant as ever — 16.8 points, 11.3 assists, and a stellar shooting line of .523 from the field, .406 from three-point range, and .918 from the free-throw line — and is also the league’s all-time leader in playoff games without an appearance in the Finals.
And though it seemed logical that a team ripe for a rebuild might trade the most valuable player on the roster, the Suns didn’t budge through this week’s trade deadline, and Nash didn’t ask. But yesterday, Nash opened the door, just a crack, to leaving.
“I’m open to whatever they want to do,” he said. “I mean, if they want to move me, I’m open to that. If they want to keep me, I’m open to that too.”
It’s not anywhere close to a trade demand, and it’s unlikely that Nash will ever issue one. The closest he came to setting parameters was to say, “It’s very important to have a chance to be in the playoffs. I don’t want to be on a team that just isn’t going to be in the playoffs.”
But it sounded like a signal that a graceful exit is possible if the Suns wanted to go down that road. That fits with what the seven-time all-star’s longtime agent, Bill Duffy, told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein earlier this month.
“Steve is a Phoenix Sun and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say he’s the face of that franchise,” Duffy told Stein. “But logic dictates that it would be prudent for the Suns to start looking at their long-term future in the summer, so we would expect that they may entertain moving him during the summer. We are ready for that and we anticipate a very respectful process if they decide to look at starting over with a younger core.”
That being said, the Suns seem a long way from considering a post-Nash era, and anyway, he’s not yet in a mercenary mindset. As the league’s elite players fall over each other to join forces in the wake of the formation of the Miami Heat, Nash watches, but can’t follow.
“Well, I mean I think for me, of course I want to win a ring,” Nash says. “But at the same time I’m like, ‘I don’t want to win it with those guys. Those guys have been the enemy for X amount of years.’ So I’m not quite in that camp yet — ‘I don’t care, put me on the best team and I’m going to try to win a ring.’ I still feel like kids from my neighbourhood want to beat the kids from that neighbourhood, like we were growing up. I’m not ready to concede, ‘Well, they’re better than us, I’ll join them.’ I’m just not there yet. Maybe I’ll get there.”
He concedes Dallas, with his good friend Dirk Nowitzki, would be a different deal. (“I’m not saying that couldn’t happen,” Nash said.) But for now, it’s Phoenix, for as long as it lasts.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Well, why don’t you ask for a trade?’ Well, you could ask for a trade and go to a team that’s in a worse position this year,” said Nash, whose contract runs through 2012. “So I try to be thankful for what I have, great teammates, great coach, a city I’ve had a lot of success and enjoyment in, I just want to play until they tell me it’s time to move on.”
“The guy is still one of the top four or five guards in the league, and for what we do, I still think he’s the best guard,” Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry says. “So there was no reason to move him.”
Nash’s game remains instantly recognizable, and so does he. His relentless fitness work renders him more and more sinewy, like a triathlete, and his face is a little more weathered. But he still licks his fingers and tucks back his hair. He still throws those passes you could hang in a basketball museum, and last night’s aberrant 2-for-12 performance notwithstanding, still launches that jumper that remains as precise as the finest sort of clock.
But nobody is ageless in sports. Nobody gets better forever. And, sadly, Steve Nash isn’t going to be the first.