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Don't forget how Steve Nash changed the NBA

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Before the disaster in Los Angeles, Steve Nash was part of one of the best shows in the league. We'll always have Seven Seconds or Less.

Christian Petersen

Editor's note: This piece originally ran on October 24, 2014. We're republishing it due to the news that Steve Nash has announced his retirement from the NBA.

Steve Nash was fun to watch. We can use the past tense here because even though Nash hasn't officially left his career behind, the days of joy and wonder are long gone. He played only 65 games with the Lakers the last two seasons and won't play at all this year.

During his time in L.A., he looked like a cover-band version of the player he was in Phoenix and Dallas. Nash could still shoot and he could still pass, but in Los Angeles he was part of an ensemble that never clicked or made much sense in the abstract. Nash was never really a pure point guard in the Stocktonian sense. He needed the ball in his hands as much as Kobe Bryant, but they never seemed to need each other.

You can blame everyone and everything for what's gone down in LA the last three years, from injuries to Dwight Howard's frayed relationship with Kobe (and vice-versa) to the coaching staff, ownership and the front office. No one is exempt and no one has emerged from this failed era unscathed. It's a sad coda to Nash's career, but most athletic lives end like this.

The final act shouldn't obscure the fact that Nash and the Seven Seconds or Less Suns were the best thing about the NBA during their prime. They were not the best team -- at least in the playoffs -- but they were the best thing about the simple act of catching a game late on a Friday night in the middle of winter. They were the antidote to the boring old Spurs who have become, in their own way, a better, more complete version in recent years.

It's hard to remember now, but the Suns felt like a counter-cultural movement as much as a basketball team. They played fast, free and loose and threatened to subvert the time-honored tropes that defense-first, isolation basketball wins championships. Nash and the Suns attacked the entire ecosystem from the outside-in with pick-and-rolls and wide open threes. That they couldn't ultimately succeed felt at the time like a tragic letdown. It's not an accident that a lot of the great early basketball writing on the Internet was influenced by their philosophies.

They also helped bridge the gap between the end of the early 2000s Laker dynasty and the arrival of LeBron James. That was a down period for the league, and like the Sonics of the 90s who rose up between Michael Jordan eras, the Suns were fatally flawed. Their greatest strength belied their biggest weakness, but like the Sonics -- but for completely different reasons -- their influence has extended far beyond their run. You can see it today in spread offenses, dominant point guards and an emphasis on pace.

Nash was the maestro of what appeared on its surface to have all the structure of the last run at the Y. He would run that same pick-and-roll over and over again, usually with Amar'e Stoudemire, and when that wasn't there he'd probe and pick with his dribble before shooting or kicking out to someone on the wing.

Seven Seconds or Less worked because of Nash. His talent, to say nothing of his popularity, often eclipsed the contributions of the others, namely Amar'e and Shawn Marion who were in their own way equally indispensable. Yet Stoudemire missed significant time during their four-year run and the machine kept rolling, with Nash making household names out of Joe Johnson and later Raja Bell. For a while, it was glorious madness, but like all innovations, it had an expiration date.

There are worse legacies, but Nash's history is complicated by winning two MVP's with Phoenix that with the benefit of careful scrutiny and advanced metrics probably should have gone to Shaquille O'Neal or Kobe or his old friend Dirk Nowitzki. Maybe so, but Nash and the Suns defined those years.

Like Allen Iverson in 2001, there may have been better players, but there was no better show. That's the Steve Nash we'd like to remember.

★★★

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