Nash defying age with historic play, not anticipating trade from Suns
SACRAMENTO -- Steve Nash hopes you can excuse him for his unrefined play.
The uncertainty of the NBA lockout made summer training an inexact science, and Nash estimated that he played basketball only three or four times all offseason while rehabbing a pelvic injury that plagued him late last season. If only the Suns' point guard could've prepared properly, then maybe he would manage to accomplish something this season.
"I was pleased I was able to play at a decent level the first month of the season -- other than I hurt my rib and had a few bad games to start the season -- even though I was really still shaking the rust off," Nash said Saturday during the Suns' visit here. "And even now, I'm still not totally comfortable out there."
NBA players everywhere should strive to be so mediocre.
Lost in the endless chatter about Nash and whether he'll remain in Phoenix beyond the March 15 trade deadline is the fact that the 38-year-old is having a historically efficient season. He ranks an astounding third in shooting at 56.3 percent, trailing big men Tyson Chandler of New York and Tiago Splitter of San Antonio; the next-highest guard, Miami's Mario Chalmers, is 20th at 50.7 percent. No point guard has shot better than 55 percent since a 25-year-old John Stockton did it for Utah in 1987-88, and no point guard older than 30 has exceeded that threshold.
Nash has assisted on 58.1 percent of the Suns' baskets while on the floor, which puts him on pace to break the record of 57.5 percent set by Stockton in 1990-1991, when the league's all-time assists leader was a decade younger than Phoenix's future Hall of Famer. With 10.3 assists per game, Nash is also on track to join Stockton as the only players to lead the league in that category six times (Stockton did it nine times).
The Western Conference coaches recognized Nash's exploits last week by choosing him as a reserve for his eighth All-Star Game. And the personal cherry on top for Nash is that the Suns have recovered from a 6-12 start to win six of their last nine games, including four of five.
In other words, all is well in the Valley of the Sun. For now, anyway.
As inspiring as Nash's play is to the fans and the many teammates who hope they're still playing -- let alone playing well -- at his age, the reality is that the Suns face a daunting crossroads in the next month. Their options? Hold on to Nash through the deadline and until the end of the season, at which time he'll become a free agent and they'll possibly be left with a talent pool as dry as the Arizona desert. Or, of course, listen to trade offers and be open to the idea of swapping their beloved franchise centerpiece for young talent that could speed up the rebuilding process.
General manager Lon Babby has made it clear that Nash is far and away the most influential voice in this situation. If Nash says he wants out, Babby has said, then a deal will be done. If not, then he stays. Coach Alvin Gentry has even offered to be the one delivering that message should Nash decide to send it.
"I know, as of right now, he has not said one thing to me about not wanting to be here or anything like that," Gentry said. "I know there are a lot of teams that would like for him to say [that] so they can try to get him, but unfortunately [for them] that's not anything that we've had to deal with or anything that he's even remotely said to me."
Yet while Nash seems to be the one making the ultimate decision, even he acknowledged that he's unsure what will happen in the immediate future.
"I have no idea what the club will eventually do if a bunch of offers are thrown in their face," Nash said, "but I feel like I'm not nervous about [the trade deadline] and I'm not thinking about -- what's the word? -- I'm not anticipating anything to happen. I feel like I made a commitment and I feel like I owe it to my teammates -- the city, the fans, the club -- to play it out and to play as hard as I can."
Gentry is right that the hope remains among rival teams. One executive whose team has had serious interest in Nash in the past told SI.com that the Suns are "as close as they've ever been" to realizing that they need to seriously consider pulling the trigger on a trade if a young star is offered in return. Still, it appears the greater likelihood is that he remains.
"Our position has been the same all along, which is I've told him that he has earned the right to stay with our franchise as long as he wants provided that he believes in what we're doing, and provided that he's all in and wants to do that," Babby told SI.com.
It's that last part that offers the slightest bit of wiggle room. For as much as Nash reveres his intimate relationship with the Suns' fan base, it's not as if he didn't notice the departure of players like forward Amar'e Stoudemire en route to Phoenix's decline from Western Conference finals participant in 2010 to a 40-42 record and playoff-less existence last season. He has an interesting habit in that regard, too, a frequent comment he makes that is his attempt to state the obvious: He needs more help.
"We're not a very talented group," he said Saturday, in his familiar refrain.
Suns swingman Jared Dudley believes Nash will re-sign as a free agent only if the roster is vastly improved between now and the summer.
"I see him as potentially wanting to be here for a long time, but I also see someone where he wants the right pieces to be able to want to be here, you know?" Dudley said. "He wants to be with an organization -- and I don't want to put words in his mouth -- where he wants to win. I know Steve and I know the competitor that he is, and I guarantee you that if they put a couple pieces here that he liked, I guarantee you he would stay.
"His kids are here in Arizona. He loves the team and loves the city. But sometimes it's a business. You know how it gets cutthroat, with [Colts quarterback] Peyton Manning getting ready to get cut. And if he can get cut, then Steve Nash can get cut or traded."
Nash clearly isn't as consumed with the topic as the rest of us. He has officially entered the happy-to-still-be-here stage of his career, and he's thrilled to be doing much more than simply filling a roster spot. He admitted that the All-Star selection, which was announced two days after his 38th birthday, came with added significance this season.
"I didn't think I'd ever play this long, let alone feel as well," Nash said. "I sacrifice a lot, and I work hard to try to stay at a high level, and to be rewarded that way was actually kind of special.
"I feel a sense of pride in it, and am flattered by the nod. I think when I was 26 or 27, I thought I'd be done [playing] by the time I was 32, 33, 34. I never thought I'd play forever. I always thought time would catch up with me."
Instead, he's as good as ever. And, he made clear, the end will keep being delayed as long as he continues to play like this.
"I want to play another couple years," Nash said. "I just want to play well. I want to enjoy it, and that means playing well, so we'll see how it goes.
"I feel great physically, which is a blessing. I don't feel like anything's really changed in my game."
And that, as Babby said, is the most remarkable part.
"I look at him as a once-in-a-generation player where you should savor every day you have an opportunity to watch him play," Babby said. "It's an honor to have him on our team. Everybody is saying he's playing great for 38, and I say he's just playing great."