Over the last few months, an NBA trade meme has developed that has nothing to do with the "will they, won't they" drama surrounding Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony. No, the meme I'm talking about is the idea that the Phoenix Suns should trade Steve Nash to a contender because, you know, they owe it to him. It's all over the place, both in fan sentiment and writing. And my frustration has finally begun to boil over at the sight of it.
Maybe it's just me and maybe my bias as an actual Suns fan clouds my judgment a bit, but this type of sentiment makes my eyes roll back into my head to a nearly painful point. The primary thrust of my own argument is that Nash owes the Phoenix Suns for his current standing just as much as the Suns "owe" Nash, which effectively makes it a wash.
I realize up front how unpopular this opinion is about to make me, but hear me out anyway, just for kicks.
Nash fans will probably point out that when the then-30-year-old guard signed with the Suns in 2004, he helped morph the Suns from a 29-win disaster to a 62-win power. And frankly, that's just the beginning of the laundry list of Nash's accomplishments with Phoenix.
Now in his seventh season with Phoenix and second stint with the franchise, Nash has won two MVP awards, been All-NBA first team three times, All-NBA second team twice, and a five-time All-Star. And that's only the individual accomplishments.
As a team, the Suns are 359-187 (through February 21st, 2011) with Nash -- a winning percentage of .658. They've also made the Western Conference Finals on three separate occasions and the second round of the playoffs once more.
Nash also adjusted his game to help drag an Amar'e-less Suns team to the Western Conference Finals in 2006 while actually making Tim Thomas look like something other than a corpse for a few short months. Under the stewardship of Nash, the Suns spawned the Seven Seconds or Less Era, brought fun back to basketball, and have been a regular title contender.
Not that this is a surprise to any of you, but the Steve Nash era in Phoenix has been pretty sweet.
But look at where Nash was at the point he came to town. Before signing in Phoenix in 2004, this was Steve Nash (presented in bullet point form for impact):
- Eight NBA seasons
- Career averages: 12.5 points per game, 6.1 assists per game in 28.6 minutes per game
- Averages in the four seasons preceding his departure: 16.5 points per game, 7.8 assists per game in 33.8 minutes per game
- All-NBA Third Team twice (2001-2002 and 2002-2003)
- Two All-Star appearances (2002 and 2003)
- $29,440,760 in salary during six seasons
- Dallas won over 50 games four times and made it as far as the Western Conference Finals
Not a bad resume, but not a great resume -- certainly not the type of credentials that would get you into the Hall of Fame or would suggest someone is on the way to the Hall of Fame. I mean, you know who else was twice All-NBA third team and a two-time All-Star during that period of time? Stephon Marbury. Yup, I just went there.
But it wasn't just the pedestrian resume. In Dallas, Nash was a very clear number two man to his pal Dirk Nowitzki. At least he was ahead of Michael Finley.
Think about what being in Phoenix has meant to Nash and his career.
Becoming a Sun has allowed Steve Nash to have his very own team -- away from being Dirk's friendly Canadian pal. In a Suns uniform, he was immediately the man; Mike D'Antoni and the organization put the ball in his hands almost constantly and gave him free reign to create.
He also walked into a situation that was quite favorable. Young talent like Amar'e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion (already an All-Star), and Joe Johnson was already in place -- they just needed a catalyst to make it all work. For me, it's comparable to how Phil Jackson stepped in and took both the Bulls and Lakers from very good teams to great teams. A catalyst like that is important.
Obviously I don't think just anybody could have done what Nash did with Phoenix. Look at the aforementioned Marbury. He had essentially all the same weapons as Nash did, but did no better with it than 44 wins and a first round exit. In fact, his greatest career accomplishment was probably consuming lip balm on UStream.
In Phoenix and with all that talent surrounding him, Nash averaged 11.5 assists in his first season, which was 2.7 more per game than his previous career high. He went on to lead the NBA in assists on four separate occasions.
None of that even takes into consideration the money Nash has collected as a member of the Suns. At a time in which Dallas was not willing to offer Nash an extension of more than four years (at around $9 million a year), Phoenix threw six years (the sixth year was an option) and $65.6 million at him.
Paying that much money and locking up a 30-year-old point guard for that long was seen as a relatively large gamble at the time. Again, the payoff for Phoenix was significant, but the money and security offered by the franchise was not something that was available to him on the open market.
Nash also signed a two-year, $22 million extension before last season to bring his career Phoenix earnings to $87 million. That money obviously doesn't take into account endorsements and other money Nash will earn based on going down in history as one of the greatest NBA point guards of all time.
Perhaps it was all coincidence. Perhaps Nash was going to break out like he did regardless of where he was playing ball. I mean, there is the obscure fact that Nash shot 46.8% for his career with Dallas and has shot a ridiculous 51.2% in his career in Phoenix (maybe it's just the lighting in US Airways Center), but it's awfully hard to believe Nash would have followed the same career arc had he remained in Dallas.
Dallas was going to continue to be a team based around Dirk Nowitzki and his unique abilities. Unlike Dirk -- who could create his own offense -- Stoudemire and Marion needed a guy to put them in the right position to succeed. Nash was obviously that guy.
None of this is an attempt to take anything away from Nash; it's more a commentary on the fact that the Suns franchise has meant as much to Nash's career as he's meant to the franchise. It's been such a perfect marriage that I find it almost insulting that people can claim either party owes the other party.
When thrown together, the Suns were a title contender and Steve Nash became a Hall of Famer. The Phoenix Suns provided Nash with a canvas and useful paint brushes, while Nash's wonderful creativity and ability painted the picture.
Whether the team trades him or not should be based on the direction of the franchise and quality of the deal offered -- not some non-existent concept of an owed debt.