The Price of Loyalty
Will the sun set on Steve Nash’s time in Phoenix?
by DJ Dunson / @dunsonchecksin
The trade deadline is often a nerve wrecking time of year. For half of the players involved, it’s a time of change and for the other half, it’s a relief.
With the 2012 deadline having past, Pau Gasol can finally exhale… until this summer. Meanwhile, on the other coast, Orlando fans can finally breathy easy after Dwight Howard ended his standoff with the Magic front office and agreed to stay in Orlando for one more year. Or perhaps he just extended it by 12 months.
But Howard’s decision will have a domino effect. As a result, Nets point guard Deron Williams will begin looking for his next new home in either Los Angeles or Dallas. Dwight Howard’s decision to opt into the final year of his contract likely ends the Nets’ hopes of keeping Williams under contract. It’s been a widely accepted assumption that if the Nets were unable to trade for a superstar to join Williams in New Jersey he would leave in free agency.
If the Nets’ point guard does follow through on his promise, he’ll have to cut back on his budget as he’ll be sacrificing one year and $29 million in guaranteed money. On the other hand, Texas has no state income tax. His accountants can calculate the differential.
But there is one point guard in a losing situation who hasn’t sought a trade this season. Eight years ago, Steve Nash signed with Phoenix with the intent of winning an NBA Championship alongside Amar’e Stoudemire in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense.
Nash’s career could best be described as a unique anomaly in the vacuum of a copycat league. He’s a philanthropic, part-South African, part-Canadian point guard who wasn’t considered a Championship building block until he won the first of his two MVP awards at age 30.
In 2004, Nash’s running mates in Phoenix included a younger, injury free Stoudemire, Celtics cast-off Joe Johnson, Brandy’s husband, Quentin Richardson, versatile forward Shawn Marion, journeyman Jim Jackson and rookie Leandro Barbosa. Together they led the Suns from a 29-win lottery team to a 62-20 record and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
All but Nash are gone and the sun officially set on Phoenix’s Championship aspirations when Stoudemire departed the Arizona desert for the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple.
While his slick alley oops and pull-up jumpers no longer lead off the SportsCenter highlights and the Suns rarely play on national television anymore, Nash is still ballin’. His points per game average has declined every year since 2009 but he still averages 11 assists per game and is one of the most efficient scorers in the game.
On the day Mike D’Antoni’s resigned as the New York Knicks coach, Nash scored 12 points on 2-4 shooting and dished out 16 dimes. The Lakers could use a point guard with that type of skill in pursuit of Kobe’s sixth title and the Suns would be willing to deal. But Nash isn’t interested.
The pace has also slowed down considerably and so have the wins. The Suns are currently 20-22 and clawing at the eight seed in the West. Last summer, the franchise Nash left to play with Phoenix won the NBA Championship with an even older point guard.
In an age when Serge Ibaka of the Congo has attained Spanish citizenship for a legitimate shot at an Olympic gold medal or King James abdicates his throne in Cleveland for the tropical climate and shared spotlight with All-Star teammates despite earning the League’s best record in consecutive seasons, Nash actually wants to stay.
Characters with Nash’s eternal loyalty only exist in Word War II movies or in movies. He’s the real life embodiment of Robert Neville. You know him right? The fictional Will Smith character trapped alone in Manhattan frantically searching for a cure to the disease that decimated the human population instead of searching for a survivors colony in Vermont.
Conversely, Nash is more committed to seeing through this dark period than he is with latching onto an unfamiliar roster as a ring chaser.
In classical mythology, a phoenix is described as a bird that burns itself alive on a funeral pyre, only to rise from the ashes with renewed life to live through another cycle.
At 38 years old, Nash is currently committed to riding it out with the Phoenix Suns through their period of decline. Who knows when he’ll retire? He has the toughness of a hockey player and the agility of a player 10 years younger.
Nash will be a free agent this summer. But Nash has always displayed the same unselfish tendencies off the court as he has exhibited on it. It’s entirely possible that he cares more about the Suns organization than he does about winning a ring for himself.
If there was one player who deserves to emerge as the primary distributor on a title-contending team—like Jason Kidd did last summer in Dallas—it would be Nash.
I wouldn’t count on it. He still has one more contract to sign this summer to keep himself in Phoenix through the end of his career.