—In this April 25, 2012, file photo, Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash leaves the court after an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs in Phoenix. Nash's agent Bill Duffy said Wednesday, July 4, that the two-time MVP point guard is going to the Los Angeles Lakers in a sign-and-trade deal with the Phoenix Suns. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
For years, Suns fans wanted Steve Nash to assert himself with management. When he finally did, it wasn’t in the way they had hoped.
Nash’s ultimately granted request for a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers set off a whole new wildfire in the southwest. The Lakers? His career-long Western Conference rival? At the Suns’ expense?
The salt in the wound was served just a week ago, when Nash seemed honestly uneasy at the idea of donning purple and gold.
“The truth is I’m a bit old school,” Nash said. “For me, it would be hard to put on a Lakers jersey. That’s just the way it is,” Nash said. “You play against them so many times in the playoffs, and I just use them as an example, and I have the utmost respect for them and their organization.”
Respect apparently became affection, though the key factor wasn’t basketball related at all. Nash’s plea — after Suns’ owner Robert Sarver initially rebuffed the idea of trading him to L.A. — was for his family’s behalf as much as (or more than) for his own. He wanted to be closer to his kids, something any decent human being can appreciate.
Unfortunately, Suns fans don’t know Nash’s kids nearly as well as they know the Lakers, and familiarity definitely bred contempt on Wednesday. And while Nash supporters can certainly respond to any variation of “Why the Lakers?”, there is another question that needs to be asked.
Why did he wait to be assertive until it hurt the team the most?
As Phoenix’s once-promising core of All-stars was gradually depleted in favor of poorly planned contracts and lopsided trades, Suns fans clamored for management to keep a balanced contender, rather than balance their collective checkbook.
As names like Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire were replaced with Marcus Banks, Shaquille O’Neal and Hedo Turkoglu, many wondered why Nash remained so gracious even as Phoenix used his ultimate trait — that of making everyone around him better — to help cover up the increasing amount of crippling signings and trades.
In fairness, it’s impossible to know whether Nash ever clearly expressed frustration toward management. All we have are reporters and “sources” (everyone’s favorite word this week). Yet, according to those reporters and sources, it wasn’t until this year Nash finally took a definitive stance on what he wanted.
“I’m not coming back to the Suns if there isn’t improvement,” Nash told “The Dan Patrick Show” in March.
Fans couldn’t blame him. Phoenix, as indicated above, had fallen a long way from its contending status, sprinkling in a 2010 run to the conference finals amid three lottery seasons.
Make no mistake, management deserved to be called to account. But fans have to wonder why Nash didn’t take a hard-line stance before the Suns were pigeon-holed into (at best) mediocrity. Why wait until Phoenix has no assets with which to make a move and better the roster? Did he make as strong an impression toward Suns brass when Joe Johnson was about to leave? Marion? Stoudemire?
By all accounts, no. Which is a shame, because back then the Suns might have benefited far more than they did this week. Instead they meekly accepted four picks (none of which are likely to be higher than No. 20) in exchange for the privilege of seeing their defining star of nearly a decade cross over to the enemy.
By all accounts, Nash’s heartfelt plea swayed owner Robert Sarver’s heart.
Now Suns fans are left wondering what Sarver would have done had that plea come sooner — on their behalf, and not that of the Lakers.
Matt Petersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow WeAreSuns on Twitter at @WeAreSuns.