Three The Hard Way: The Steve Nash Conundrum

Basketball, Columns, J. Tinsley — By on January 9, 2012 at 9:06 am


There’s always that one friend. The one who’s stuck in a relationship (or even worse, marriage!) they really have no business being in. They’re usually the one sacrificing the most, putting up with all forms of disrespect (sans abuse, hopefully) and everything under the sun that’d pretty much tell any other person to throw up the deuces and call it a day. And that person would, too, if it weren’t for two measly – but still very important – qualities: loyalty and contractual obligations.

In NBA terms, Steve Nash is “that one friend.”

For years, Nash has been the prototypical example of what a true point guard represents. He’s a floor general not only teammates, but other players around the league respect. He’s a superb shooter at nearly 50% for his entire career (and 43% from three). His floor vision is nearly second-to-none and for a good period of time was considered above and beyond the best point guard in the league. He’s durable having played and started in at least 70 games per season since 2000. And he’s a two-time MVP, becoming only the fourth point guard in league history (before Derrick Rose last year) to take home the honor.

Nash will someday retire as the best Sun since Charles Barkley. From that point, his place among the all time greats at his position will be questioned (even more). Some’ll call it blasphemous to mention him alongside the likes of Magic Johnson, Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson – the only other point guards before him to be named MVP – and, in a sense, they’ll be right. It’s because, for better or worse, a player is always remembered by his hardware, or lack thereof. Steve is 37 years old and currently on the 2011-2012 Phoenix Suns, a 4-4 team that plays hard but one who’s seen its best days be upended by injuries, fate and circumstance. That being said, it’s Steve Nash and this Phoenix Suns franchise that have been on the cusp of greatness for years and had the rug pulled from under them. Three key examples point to such. Follow along.


Series
: 2006 Western Conference Finals vs. Dallas Mavericks

Result: Mavs 4-2 (Little did they know they were about to play Dwyane Wade, who’d go on to have one of the more memorable and equally controversial Finals of all time and Dirk would sink into the “great-player-who-can’t-win-the-big-one” model that LeBron currently finds himself in.)

Both Phoenix and Dallas were coming off stellar seven-game semifinal series against the Clippers (no, really, THE PRE-LOB CITY CLIPPERS) and Spurs, respectively. This WCF was memorable for a boatload of reasons, but the biggest one was Dirk vs. Nash. The two were teammates for years in Dallas and with sports being the beautiful soap opera it is, the Candian and the German were on center stage with a chance to go the Finals. Game One was an instant classic with Nash going for 27 and 16 (assists) while Dirk poured in 25 and 19 (rebounds) in a contest that saw Phoenix take a 1-0 series lead. To make a long story much, much shorter, the Mavs essentially rode Dirk to the series victory behind a timeless 50-12 performance in Game Five.

Not to be lost, Boris Diaw played exceptionally well that series (25-10 in Game Two and 30-11 in Game Six), as did Shawn Marion, but it wasn’t meant to be. Now, if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice one key name missing from the discussion who has yet to be named: Amar’e Stoudamire. STAT missed all but three games that season due to microfracture knee surgery. While Amar’e played defense about as well as Silkk The Shocker rode beats in No Limit’s heyday, this isn’t saying he slows Dirk down; although he would have made things a tad more difficult. His true impact is felt on the offensive end where a 3-4-5 combo of Marion, himself and Diaw would have potentially proven hazardous for Josh Howard, Keith Van Horn (yes, you read that right) and Dirk.

Does the series shift in Phoenix’s favor if STAT plays? Who knows, but operating without your second-best player at least warrants the argument.


Series:
2007 Western Conference semifinals vs. San Antonio Spurs

Result: Spurs 4-2

The Spurs were clearly one of the better team of the 2000′s. They were also about as exciting as watching CSPAN which is about as exciting as 1930′s porn if there is such a thing. And, in one controversial moment, they were about as conniving and evil as they came. Robert Horry hip-checking Nash into the announcer’s table at the end of Game Four had ramifications that extended far beyond Phoenix’s victory (and keep in mind Bruce Bowen kneed Nash in the man region in Game Three). Amar’e Stoudamire and Boris Diaw left the bench resulting in an automatic suspension, leaving Nash basically to run solo in Game Five, resulting in a three-point loss and falling 3-2 in the series. Both returned for the following game, led by Amar’e’s 38-12 and Nash’s 18-14-6, but ultimately lost by six, and the series was over.

So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s two years in a row Nash lost his running mate during a critical series. Granted, Amar’e actually played this year, but in the NBA, Game Five is usually the most important game in a series when tied 2-2. I’m not saying; I’m just saying. Plus, wouldn’t a Suns/Cavs Finals been a lot more entertaining than Spurs/Cavs?

Series: 2010 Western Conference Finals vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Result: 4-2

Vegas allows you to bet on anything from who’ll look the dumbest in the next Republican primary to who’ll win Dancing With The Stars. So if you were in Sin City on May 27, 2010, and you placed a bet that Kobe Bryant – who had a near triple double with 30-11-9 – would air ball the game-winning shot only to have then-Ron Artest throw up a prayer and have it go in, you would have walked away with, as my grandma would say, “All the tea in China.” With the series tied 2-2, Game Five tied at 101 with 3.5 seconds left, overtime looked all but a foregone conclusion.

Well, it appeared that way until the second sentence of the previous paragraph happened. For a Lakers/Kobe fan, it was a “WTF? YES!!” moment. For the rest of the free world, it was a “SHIT!” moment. For those who followed Nash’s career, it was simply a “Here we go again…” moment. Phoenix was never the poster child for defensive intensity during their glory days. Yet, had Jason Richardson even halfway attempted to block World Peace out, we’re looking at overtime and who knows what happens from there. Nash’s immediate reaction said it all, too. This series was his last chance at that one final push, especially with Amar’e testing free agency later that summer. There was no chance in hell he’d advance to the Finals with Channing Frye, Jared Dudley and Hakim Warrick as his running mates. Especially not with the Thunder getting better and the Lakers still at, what appeared at the time, full strength. In what could probably be the best line from this entire article though (they’re few and far between), Metta World Peace effectively delivered the knock out blow to Steve Nash’s career. Just like that.

So here we are in the present day with more games behind Nash than in front of him. Steve’s in a relationship that has long since run its course. He’s that one friend. He knows the good days are gone and he’s staying now not causing a scene when so many of his colleagues across the league would have done anything outside of calling Al Sharpton to demand a trade. It’s respectable, indeed. But it’s time for the Canadian to turn American and think about himself for a second. Demand a trade. Demand one to a contender. Maybe it works; then again, maybe it doesn’t.

Memphis handed Mike Conley a new contract last year, but if they’re willing to play Russian Roulette and package him and OJ Mayo (who they’ve been trying to move anyway) for Nash and other pieces, it could possibly work. Nash with Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Z-Bo, once he returns in two months, is scary. And there’s still Tony Allen, Sam Young, Marreese Speights and Josh Selby. Will it happen? Hell no. Conley’s a good fit for the team and a popular player in Memphis by all accounts, but the hypothetical makes sense in a “NBA-2K12-someone-has-to-go-to-make-this-work” scenario. Or if you’re Otis Smith and Orlando, why not roll the dice, call Phoenix again and make a trade for Nash? Hedo Turkoglu finds himself in Phoenix for a second trip along with Jameer Nelson and possibly JJ Redick while the Magic take on Nash and, ironically, Grant Hill. Come this summer, this team’ll likely be destroyed worse than the final scene in State Property anyway, so why not at least toss a deal out there and see if it sticks?

I’m just talking myself into a depression at this point and I’ve left the realm of logic about 700 words ago. But I’m still recklessly serious, though. At the end of the day, I just want to see Steve Nash get one last shot at a ring.

He at least deserves that. Even if he feels otherwise.

J. Tinsley

@JustinTinsley is stuck halfway between a dream and reality. The plan? To make that dream a reality.

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    6 Comments

  • Man, I loved this piece. Nash is the consummate pro and has to be the most fun teammate to play with. Yet he’s going to go down as one of the greats to never win it. It’s sad watching him toil away on a mediocre at best team in his waning years, but you do have to admire his loyalty. As much as it’s painful to see it play out this way, it’s nice not hearing all the trade talk and the petty demands, showing a complete lack of appreciation for the franchise that made him very handsomely paid.

    It’s a catch-22 for sure, but maybe the league would be better served if there were more guys with the mentality Steve Nash has.

  • J. Tinsley says:

    He really is. The way he makes his teammates appear so much better is a testament to how good he actually is. Amar’e looks fine in NY, but with Nash, he looked flat out unstoppable at times. And don’t get me started on Joe Johnson.

  • Joe Simmons says:

    Another good piece Tinsley. Nash on his frame alone is a minor miracle. The man still just goes about his way and does work. He makes everyone better around him and that is what the PG is supposed to do.

  • Aaron Smarter says:

    One thing Tins did not mention, which is still a point of bitter concern for me from the 2006 WCF: Tim. Effing. Donaghy.

    If nobody thinks that the officiating had anything to do with the Suns going down so hard, I defy them to conjure evidence that had those games been called fairly, they would not have DROWNED the Spurs in points.

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