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|With a blockbuster trade complete, Steve Nash will be leading a new group of Suns on the floor soon.|
Steve Nash was smiling freely late Friday night, feeling as fortunate as he ever has with the Phoenix Suns, genuinely looking happier than he had ever been to be standing in a hallway surrounded by a pack of media pests.
"At least I can walk," Nash said.
He wasn't kidding, either.
Earlier in the evening, Nash endured the scariest episode of his athletic life, less than five minutes into the first quarter of his nationally televised reunion with the Dallas Mavericks and old friend Dirk Nowitzki. The face of the Suns ran head-first into Tyson Chandler's hip in a chase for a loose ball and was immediately floored by a football-type stinger that briefly robbed him of all feeling in his arms and legs.
"I had 10 seconds where I thought, 'Oh, s---,'" Nash said. "I couldn't feel anything and my head was stuck."
Moral of the story: After a no-joke scare like that -- quickly as it seemingly passed on TV -- Nash couldn't muster sustained outrage about the Suns' current plight or Saturday's trade surrender of a Jason Richardson to Orlando even if he wanted to.
Even a month from now, long after Nash's expected comeback Sunday or Monday and when the collision with Chandler has faded a little further into his memory, I wouldn't expect him to march upstairs and dish a trade-me demand.
Not his style. Not his way.
Is he frustrated by how far Phoenix has fallen since its Cinderella trip to the Western Conference finals last season? Deeply disappointed that the Suns give up the popular J-Rich in attempt to undo the mistake of acquiring Hedo Turkoglu in July? He won't say so publicly, but those are safe guesses.
Those closest to Nash say he's undeniably irked by some of the decision-making seen from the Suns since Steve Kerr left the franchise in June, when philosophical differences and prickly contract negotiations with owner Robert Sarver convinced Kerr to return to the broadcast realm with TNT.
In the weeks that followed -- and in an apparent attempt to prove to the world that he wasn't unwilling to spend his money -- Sarver reacted to the free-agent defection of Amare Stoudemire to New York by sanctioning the acquisitions of Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick after the pricy re-signing of Channing Frye. Nash actually said he understood when Sarver, given Stoudemire's injury history, didn't want to guarantee more than three max years of the five Amare eventually received from the New York Knicks worth a tidy $100 million ... but shock, confusion and derision were almost universal reactions leaguewide when Turkoglu and Childress were brought in as Stoudemire's primary replacements.
Doing nothing after Stoudemire left would have been better. That became clear when the Suns were forced to part with Richardson to help persuade the Magic to take back Turkoglu. And it's doubly clear given what we're seeing with (and hearing about) Childress, who can't get off Alvin Gentry's bench and, according to NBA front-office sources, is already being shopped by the Suns. Shopped without success.
One of Nash's gifts, though, is the ability to tune out all the chatter about his résumé, legacy, defensive deficiencies, etc. He chose security and comfort over ring-chasing when he agreed to a two-year extension with the Suns that just kicked in this season and has said countless times since -- long before he ever had an inkling of what last season's squad was capable of -- that playing where he's happy and working with teammates (Grant Hill) and coaches (Gentry) he loves is enough.
Asked in June during that epic Western Conference finals series with the Lakers how unfulfilled he'll feel if he never plays a single game in the NBA Finals, Nash said: "You know, I won't. I think people see when I take the court [that] I play as though I want nothing more. I go hard every night and I absolutely love to compete. I want nothing more than to get there, but life is full of a lot. And basketball is just one component of it.
"I happen to be a little bit obsessed with it, but I need to sometimes have a realistic approach to my career and say, 'Hey, if I don't win it all that doesn't mean I didn't give it every effort to do so.' I'll be disappointed, but I won't feel unfulfilled or incomplete. It'll just be the way I turned out."
Those same folks closest to Nash will swear to you he means what he says, no matter how hard critics slam him for settling whenever he talks about staying with the Suns instead of trying to force his way to a contender with legit championship credentials. You can't find anyone in Nash's circle who expects him to try to manufacture an exit anytime soon -- even when there are fans out there who say they'd understand -- given how secure he is with his place in the game and his deep bond with the likes of fellow thirtysomething Hill.
Back in June, when asked if he's unnerved by the claim that a two-time MVP has underachieved without a single NBA Finals appearance, Nash said: "I don't mind if that's what people think."
Then pointing to the well-chronicled fact he had only one Division I scholarship offer coming out of high school on a small island outpost off the west coast of Canada, Nash added: "I think I've probably exceeded everyone's expectations in my career."
The flip side to all that, of course, is that Sarver wouldn't consider trading Nash now whether or not he makes a formal request. Teams that call about him these days are always met with a stern and discouraging no . If that ever changes, figure that Sarver would only dare give in during the offseason, when the Suns' already on-edge fan base isn't quite as tuned in.
Sarver scoffed at the mere suggestion of trading Nash and starting over when reached Saturday by ESPN.com, insisting instead that the acquisitions of mobile big man Marcin Gortat and defensive specialist Mickael Pietrus were made largely to make the Suns bigger and better defensively and make his point guard's life easier.
Said Sarver: "This deal has nothing to do with [trading] Nash. We have no intention to trade him."
I tend to believe him, too. This is not Ted Leonsis spouting hollow platitudes about Gilbert Arenas' ability to mentor John Wall in a transparent attempt by the Wizards' new owner to try to build up Arenas' trade value. This is an owner who knows Nash is not only a deeply revered living legend in the desert but also his only ticket-seller.
As one team insider said: "It would be like the Colts trading Peyton Manning. Sarver doesn't want to be that guy."
So he's trying this. He's banking on the fragile/fading Carter to be rejuvenated by the Suns' vaunted athletic training staff and replicate what Richardson gave them, Gortat and Pietrus reaching new levels of productivity once they're exposed to the famed Nash Effect and perhaps a further upgrade to the roster if Phoenix can unexpectedly find a taker for Childress.
None of the above will stop very interested teams like the Blazers, Rockets and, yes, probably the Knicks from testing the Suns' resolve with renewed attempts to steal Nash away with trade offers. Yet you couldn't find anyone close to the pulse of Sarver's latest attempt (of many) at a shakeup trade who was prepared to predict that Nash will be next to depart.
Come April 10, when Nash and the rest of the Suns are due back in Dallas at the site of The Stinger, if he's not in Phoenix colors? It'd be an absolute shocker.