PHOENIX - JANUARY 05: Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball under pressure from Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the NBA game at US Airways Center on December 23 2011 in Phoenix Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Steve Nash joining the Lakers raises a lot of questions. We tried to provide a lot of answers.
Yes, Joe Johnson's massive deal getting shipped to Brooklyn and Deron Williams' allegiance to the Nets matter, and yeah, there's still the specter of that tall gent who plays for the Magic being swapped to another squad, but Nash seemed like a likely candidate to leave Phoenix for the friendly embrace of the LeBron-led Big Three in Miami, the homecoming and cold, hard cash of Toronto or the bright lights of New York. Only Mike Prada — who ran down the winners and losers of the Steve Nash trade on Wednesday — even mentioned Nash in the SB Nation roundtable on fixing the Lakers from May, and his name was followed by "would be the pipe dream."
Nash in Hollywood? Even for one of the NBA's biggest stars, it feels strange, and the aftershocks will definitely be felt for a while. Let's try to answer some of the questions from the aftermath of the deal.
1. What does this mean for Nash's legacy?
If Nash had gone to Toronto, which reportedly put the most lucrative offer on the table, it would have looked like a "Canada boy comes home" move, because the Raptors have little chance of breaking into the Eastern Conference's upper echelon within Nash's limited window of efficacy. If Nash had ended up in New York, where he would have been the beloved star on a team that has tormented its fans for the better part of a decade, he would have looked like the point guard extraordinaire making his requisite hajj to the Mecca of hoops. But Nash going to Los Angeles — public professing that it brings him closer to his kids, one less than two years old, aside — is going to look first and foremost like ring-chasing. And yet Nash might still get a pass.
That concept isn't entirely foreign to fans. Nash won two NBA MVP awards despite playing about as much defense as a sheet hanging on a line in your backyard. He's rarely blamed for failing to get a Mavericks team with a rising Dirk Nowitzki or Suns teams that frequently looked like the NBA's best for stretches to the Finals; people feel sorry that Nash hasn't been to the Finals, thanks to fond memories of the "Seven Seconds or Less" Suns piloted by Nash and Mike D'Antoni. The reasons for that are probably more complex and worthy of discussion than they'll get in this space (our Bomani Jones and the Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke touched on an important aspect of it earlier this week), but the most important one in this context? Nash is a "pure" offensive point guard expected to be the best possible floor general, never the guy who takes over the game.
It makes sense to see him as support for Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum, because we see Nash as selfless and support as his duty. He'll balance out the fervid hatred many NBA fans have for the Lakers' perma-reign in Hollywood, and he'll make a Lakers team that was as fun to watch on offense as According to Jim DVDs in 2011-12 entertaining again. He'll be loved. Do we really know anything but loving Steve Nash?
And so a guy who forced his way to a team in a fashion that disadvantaged his previous team — "They were very apprehensive and didn't want to do it," Nash said in his statement, and it's not credible to think the Suns wanted a bunch of mid-20s draft picks instead of Iman Shumpert and picks or Landry Fields and picks — is going to be widely seen as a smart, savvy player for doing so. (There is the obvious exception of the Phoenix diehards who have already branded him a traitor for leaving for not just another team but a divisional rival, but they were never going to love seeing him go.)
If only LeBron had been less successful for longer, brought a less handsome return (check out the haul Cleveland got; the No. 34 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft was just the first bit of it, and the Cavs flipped it into Tyler Zeller), and clambered through his escape hatch late in the evening on a national holiday, right?
2. Can Kobe and Nash coexist?
The last time Kobe had a teammmate who needed the ball more than he did when Shaquille O'Neal prowled the paint in Tinseltown, and the Lakers needed Kobe to be Robin to Shaq's Batman. This time, Kobe's still the focal point of the offense, but he needs to let Nash have the ball for most of the shot clock and run an offense his way. Otherwise, there will have been no point to making the move in the first place.
Kobe's not dumb, not anywhere close, and he realizes that. He knows that the alternative to having Nash at the controls is being in the same morass the Lakers were in last season, when the offense melted down and Kobe ran isolations that led to difficult contested shots with unfortunate frequency. (For as much as Kobe gets pilloried for doing that, by me and others, I don't know that he particularly likes it). He knows that yielding the reins to Nash is probably going to help all parties, get easier shots for everyone, and allow him to pace himself better to save the bursts of staggering brilliance for the truly crucial moments of the season. The Nash-Kobe coupling has the chance to be the best backcourt in the NBA (other possible better ones: LeBron-Wade, which is cheating; Westbrook-James Harden and Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili, both starter-reserve tandems; Brandon Jennings-Monta Ell ... okay, I was kidding), the oldest backcourt in the NBA and the smartest backcourt in the NBA, all at once. When it clicks, it will be beautiful.
Will that happen every time out? Nah. Kobe's ego will probably submarine the Lakers from time to time, and Nash's creaky back and age will gum up the works. There's always the chance that the mercurial Bynum decides to capriciously disappear or disrupt at the wrong moment. But if Nash isn't allowed to run the offense right, what else can he contribute? He ain't locking down Russell Westbrook ... or Mario Chalmers ... or Beno Udrih. So the Lakers are going to have to make good on bringing him into the fold by letting him do what he does.
3. Are the Lakers the favorites in the West?
It took Kobe playing completely out of his mind to get even one win at home against the Thunder in the playoffs, the Spurs crushed the Lakers late in the season, the Clippers are likely only going to get better with municipal improvements to Lob City and the West's got a couple more deep contenders (Grizzlies, Nuggets) and a lot of improving young teams. The Lakers are decidedly not the favorites in the West.
But they are back in the upper echelon, probably, and few would argue the Lakers roster as currently constructed is worse than the third-best on talent alone entering the 2012-13 season. It's hard to figure who Nash helps the most: Kobe won't have to go iso on old knees as often, Gasol's going to be getting better jumpers than ever and Bynum might get the touches he's deserved.
And being in the upper echelon, getting better enough to keep pace with young teams that are improving because talented players got seasoned by experience and focused by failure and getting a few breaks could be enough, as every Lakers fan on Twitter will tell you when L.A. starts 17-12 and Nash misses a week or something. Acquiring Nash isn't a home run move, but there's no such thing as one of those in today's NBA, unless you're signing LeBron, or extending Kevin Durant, or trading for ... hey, wait a second.
4. Is the Dwight Howard dream dead?
Remember when the Lakers' big pipe dream move was getting Howard to follow in Shaq's footsteps and flee the City Beautiful for the City of Angels? That was earlier this week, so you should — especially since the dream isn't dead just yet.
The Lakers' Fantastic Four (it'll happen, you wait) of Kobe, Nash, Gasol and Bynum is a really nice core on paper, but it's also Bynum and three guys who will be 34, 38, and 32 when the season starts. And Bynum, rickety even at his best, might be the guy whose health issues are most troubling. The Lakers could certainly ride or die with this crew, but they could also still go after Howard.
The easiest way to do that right now would be packaging Gasol and Bynum (and pieces) for Howard (and pieces), but L.A.'s been adamant about keeping Bynum, and rightfully so. The market for Howard may have cooled, however, with his seeming obsession with Brooklyn stymieing Orlando's efforts to move him anywhere else, Brooklyn's inability to give Orlando anything better than Brook Lopez making that deal look irreconcilably flawed and Houston's platter of Luis Scola and Young Promising Players You Have To Believe Are Good Because Daryl Morey Acquired Them not quite appetizing enough to order.
When it comes to Dwight, Nash buys the Lakers a bit of flexibility — Nash, Kobe, and Howard is a lot more appealing than Kobe and Howard, making a Gasol/Bynum package more possible — and, more importantly, a lot of time. Does Magic GM Rob Hennigan eventually panic, this summer or before the NBA trade deadline, and take just Bynum and pieces for Howard? Does he decide he can't get anything better than the chance to raid Houston's stockpile, and can the Lakers facilitate that trade by shipping Gasol to the Rockets a season after he was sent there in the voided Chris Paul deal? (If the Lakers end up with Bynum and Howard, somehow, the rest of the NBA should consider seceding.) The chances of getting Howard to don purple and gold still aren't great, but are more scenarios on the board for Mitch Kupchak than there were on Wednesday at this time, and that's enough to keep the dream alive.
5. Speaking of the CP3 deal: Houston really got screwed back then, huh?
Yes and no. But mostly no.
In the sense that the Rockets failed to get their man and have had to burrow deeper into the mediocrity trap, sure. Consider this, though: the Rockets' roster, after a trade that would have sent Luis Scola and Kevin Martin to Houston, would have been Pau Gasol (who Morey evidently wants like a long-lost son), Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic ... and, well, Marcus Camby? Chase Budinger? Chandler Parsons? Marcus Morris? Is that a better situation than what Houston is dealing with now, with everyone in limbo and no better player than Martin under contract?
Save Houston, every team involved in either the invalidated Paul deal or the eventual Paul deal has gotten better for it. The Lakers endured a season disappointing enough to get aggressive and land Nash, and smartly turned Lamar Odom into a trade exception that greased the skids; the Hornets got a season of Eric Gordon, at least, and bottomed out long enough to land Anthony Davis; the Clippers now have Chris Paul.
But it's unclear whether Houston would have been better off had the deal actually happened. Is it fair to say that David Stern screwed Houston when all he did was prevent likely mediocrity and preserve certain mediocrity?
Now, Rockets fans must hope that Morey can swing a deal for Howard, or Gasol and good parts. Otherwise, the Houston holding pattern just gets longer and more agonizing, and Rockets fans have to continue doing things like hope Jeremy Lin bites on an offer sheet.
6. Okay, but the Knicks really got screwed by that deal, right?
This is way more plausible. Really. Bear with me.
There are Knicks fans who still hold a weird grudge about the Stern-scuttled Chris Paul trade, despite New York never having the sort of assets that could bring CP3 to MSG after depleting their cupboard to acquire Carmelo Anthony, because it somehow blocked the CP3-'Melo-Amar'e Stoudemire triumvirate they slobbered over. Fortunately, they can be mad about it all over again, and for good reason this time: if it had happened then, the Knicks might well be welcoming Nash today.
Paul coming to the Lakers would likely have made snagging Nash — still very much good enough to start and play most of the minutes at point — a non-starter for Kupchak. It would also have left the Clippers looking more moribund, and prevented them from being an appealing landing spot for ring-chasing. And that would have left the Knicks, who went from front-runners to runners-up in a hurry on Wednesday, in the best position to swing a deal for Nash.
Some Knicks fans would have found a way to moan about how losing Iman Shumpert meant more than gaining Nash (if you don't believe this, you do not know very many Knicks fans, which may be an overall positive for you), and there would have been plenty of carping about Rajon Rondo carving up Nash for a 25-15-15 triple-double at some point, but Nash reuniting with Amar'e would have been sweet, Nash mentoring Lin even sweeter, and the Nash-'Melo-Amar'e-Tyson Chandler just formidable enough for many, many people to claim that the Knicks are going all the way this year.
And hoping Nash stays healthy would have been easier and better than hoping Lin comes back strong, hoping Baron Davis comes back at all and hoping Raymond Felton decides to come back to the place where he had about a week of success, long before he made himself more well-rounded by eating a lot during the lockout. I don't blame you for being delusional, Knicks fans: the alternative is facing grim facts.
If it helps, the facts are grimmer in other locales: the Raptors still got snookered into signing Landry Fields for $21 million for the next three years, the Mavericks' trade for a half season of Odom struggling on the floor and moping on Khloe and Lamar (which, to be fair, may have been caused by legitimate reasons) gave the Lakers the trade exception that made this deal work, and the Suns ... well, it's hard to figure out what's going on out there.
7. WHAT THE HELL ARE THE SUNS DOING?
The single most perplexing part of this deal is that the Suns may have let arguably the best and inarguable the most beloved player in franchise history go for less than they could have gotten and antagonized their fans in the worst possible way to boot.
If you accept the theory that the Suns had three choices for sign-and-trade deals — and you should, because Nash hinted at two deals at least in his statement and Toronto's sign-and-trade interest was widely reported — and that they were Shumpert plus picks and cash from the Knicks, young players plus picks and cash from the Raptors and picks and cash from the Lakers, the deal with L.A. looks like the least appealing. If you accept the idea that Nash consulted with Robert Sarver and Lon Babby and got his wish granted — and you should, because Nash basically said this in the statement — then the Suns made that least appealing deal to be nice to a departing legend, which facilitated Nash to L.A. in a way that would not have been possible without it. Nash would have had to take a lot less money to suit up with the Lakers without the Suns' cooperation, and though he's by all accounts one of the NBA's most selfless humans, even him taking eight figures fewer than he had to would have been jaw-dropping.
Suns fans would probably be OK with this if they were all temporarily Suns fans because of Nash, but:
- a) That's not how being a fan of a team actually works.
- b) The Suns fans who did climb on because of Nash have been mad at Sarver for years because of his undermining of his team's title prospects in the name of profits.
- c) Those picks aren't going to be very good picks, meaning Phoenix will probably run its streak of consecutive years without bringing a top-eight pick to camp to (are you sitting down?) 25 years in 2013.
- d) The only top-eight pick the Suns have even had in that time? Luol Deng, selected at No. 7 in 2004 ... and immediately sent to the Bulls for Jackson Vroman, who played 10 games for Phoenix, cash, and a draft pick that Phoenix used to take Nate Robinson in 2005 ... who the Suns promptly traded (with Quentin Richardson) to the Knicks for Kurt Thomas and the rights to Dijon Thompson, who played 10 games for Phoenix. Yep: Phoenix swapped Luol Deng for cash, two players who would play 20 games for the Suns combined, and a guy who was 33 when he came to the desert. You see where the mistrust comes from?
- e) All that considered, it's not unlikely that Sarver will sell these future draft picks for money. He's been better about keeping and investing in rookies of late, but those recent rookies being Robin Lopez, Earl Clark, and Markieff Morris might change his mind.
The Suns' best-case scenario for this offseason was never rosy. If Nash sentimentally chose to re-up and Eric Gordon came along, that would have been great, but it would have produced no better than a team looking at the No. 6 seed in the West. Now, the Suns look more like a team that will flail about (signing Michael Beasley and Goran Dragic is a strong indication of flailing, even if signing Dragic would be more okay if the Suns hadn't traded him and a first-rounder for Aaron Brooks at one point) and angle for the lottery, endangering well-liked Alvin Gentry's job.
Phoenix's roster is currently eight men deep, but, never fear, there are four more players who will join it: Brooks and Lopez, both restricted free agents, and Beasley and Dragic, both signees. The best Sun is probably Jared Dudley; if not, it's Marcin Gortat — either way, it would hard to find a less inspiring flagship player. One year removed from having the finest offensive point guard of the last decade, they may have four point guards in a rotation — Dragic, Brooks, Kendall Marshall and Sebastian Telfair — and no shooting guard.
At the very least, this move should have gotten the Suns a player or a pick that gives fans a little bit of hope in exchange for the pain of losing a legend they adored. Instead, the Suns got four picks that will likely be sold or used as fliers, and Sarver got $3 million that he's clearly going to
use to defray ticket costs for aggrieved fans pocket.
It's within the realm of reason to consider Steve Nash a traitor, I think, because he seems to have wanted to go to Los Angeles. But remember, Suns fans: it wouldn't have been possible without the guy you've hated all along.
8. I read this far. Can you just tell me what the best and worst things about this trade are and then shut up?
Awww, thanks for reading! I can answer those questions!
Best: Nash joining the Lakers means we'll see a lot of Nash until he decides to hang up his sneaks, and that's a good thing for every basketball fan, even those who loathe the Lakers. He's a magical offensive player, one of the best shooters ever, and a joy to watch, and it's a shame that his play in the Suns' stirring, doomed run at the final playoff spot in the West last season was largely overlooked. Nash may not get a ring in L.A., but he will probably make the Lakers the more fun team at the Staples Center again.
Worst: This deal's just further proof that the Lakers are always going to be good for the reason the Yankees are always going to be good: piles and piles of money. Adding Nash to the Kobe-Gasol-Bynum core would be prohibitively expensive for dozens of other luxury tax-averse teams, but the Lakers can do this without even chipping away at a war chest of TV revenue that would make Scrooge McDuck envious, let alone Mark Cuban. And they could still add Dwight Howard.