It looked unnatural, like Adam Sandler in a Martin Scorsese flick. Steve Nash, the Suns' icon, the man who battled L.A. in 18 playoff games—on top of 28 regular-season meetings—over the last seven seasons, "a thorn in the Lakers' side most of this decade," as G.M. Mitch Kupchak put it, holding up a purple-and-gold jersey at a press conference last week. "It's a little surreal," said Nash, who signed a three-year, $27 million deal. "[But] it's a dream come true for a point guard."
Nash will instantly inject speed into a plodding Lakers attack; L.A. ranked 28th in the NBA in fast break points (9.3) last season. One of the best pick-and-roll players in the NBA, Nash will create easier scoring opportunities for All-Star center Andrew Bynum and power forward Pau Gasol in the paint.
As for any concern that Nash will get lost in an isolation-heavy offense—forget it. Nash's shooting is often obscured by his playmaking, but he is one of the most efficient shooters in NBA history, one of five players to shoot 50% from the floor, 40% from the three-point line and 90% from the free throw line in a season, and the only player to do it four times (most recently in 2009--10). "He is going to take so much pressure off of Kobe [Bryant]," says an NBA scout. "Watch Kobe late in the season and in the playoffs. His body will be much fresher because he won't have so much responsibility offensively."
Nash's switch is the most eye-popping transaction—so far, at least—of the off-season. Here's how the other major moves stack up.
July 23, 2012
DERON WILLIAMS, JOE JOHNSON AND REGGIE EVANS
Brooklyn re-signed point guard Williams—but only because it was able to acquire Johnson from the Hawks for a handful of expiring contracts and two draft picks. Now, the Nets will move into the $1 billion Barclays Center with one of the NBA's top backcourts. Johnson was miscast as a No. 1 option in Atlanta and his salary—he will make $89 million over the next four seasons—is exorbitant. But he is a versatile scorer who has averaged at least 18 points per game in each of the last seven seasons. Said Williams, "I've never played with a player of his caliber on the wing."
By improving its offense, Brooklyn (which also re-signed swingman Gerald Wallace) can safely give minutes to the offensively challenged Evans, acquired in a sign-and-trade from the Clippers. The Nets need a big man who can rebound: Before missing all but five games last year, center Brook Lopez averaged just 6.0 boards per game in 2010--11. Evans fits the bill. He was sixth in the league in rebounds per minute last season.
RAY ALLEN AND RASHARD LEWIS
The benefits of acquiring the two free-agent sharpshooters are twofold for the champs: Miami wants to play faster next season and envisions Allen and Lewis trailing fast breaks, knocking down threes. And in the halfcourt, the duo's presence will open up wider lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to penetrate. "It's pick your poison," says a scout. "Double, and they make threes. Don't, and you get dunked on."
DARREN COLLISON, CHRIS KAMAN AND ELTON BRAND
Williams was Dallas's top off-season target, but Collison (acquired in a trade with the Pacers), Kaman (a free agent from New Orleans) and Brand (amnestied by the 76ers) aren't bad consolation prizes. Collison and Kaman beef up a starting lineup that got limited scoring from the point guard and center positions last season (Jason Kidd and Brendan Haywood averaged a combined 11.4 points per game), while Brand should thrive on the second unit. More importantly, all three come off the books next summer, when Chris Paul and Dwight Howard could be free agents.
The Raptors whiffed on Nash but stole a younger, cheaper alternative in Lowry, whom they got from the Rockets for a future first-round pick. Lowry is a bulldog defender who averaged a career-high 14.3 points last season. With Lowry on board, Toronto, which jumped from 30th in defensive efficiency in 2010--11 to 12th last season under rookie coach Dwane Casey, should be even stingier next season.
Ray Allen's destination stung Boston more than his departure. That's because the 34-year-old Terry, a free-agent pickup from the Mavs, is a better fit. A reserve since 2007—and the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in '09—Terry will have no problem coming off the bench behind third-year guard Avery Bradley, whose emergence knocked Allen out of the starting lineup and prompted the Celtics to shop the veteran. And with 87 playoff games and an NBA title on his résumé, Terry will embrace Boston's championship-or-bust attitude.
Maintaining continuity is a big key for the Thunder, so locking up Brooks, who has coached every game since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, was essential. (He signed a four-year, $16 million deal last month.) Brooks has developed a strong bond with the players ("They would run through a wall for him," said a team source) and has grown with a group that has advanced from the first round to the conference finals to the NBA Finals over the last three seasons. Losing Brooks—Portland and Orlando were interested—would have been a major setback for the Thunder.
In their pursuit of Nash, the Raptors extended a three-year, $20 million offer to Fields, hoping to keep him out of a sign-and-trade deal for Nash between Phoenix and New York. The good news: There was no sign-and-trade. The bad news: Nash is in L.A., and Toronto will pay an average of $6.5 million a season to a shooting guard who shot 25.6% from three-point range last season. Oops.
The Magic deemed Brooklyn's package for Howard headlined by Lopez and three first-round picks insufficient, increasing the possibility that Orlando will start the season with one very disgruntled big man on its hands. Rival executives believe Orlando's best option is flipping Howard to L.A. for Andrew Bynum, if both centers commit to long-term extensions. (Howard has so far said he'll only sign with Brooklyn.) If not, the Magic may wait to test the market until Jan. 15, when teams can trade free agents they acquired this off-season. Could be a fun few months in Orlando.