- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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In an unforeseen twist that could thrust the Los Angeles Lakers straight back into title contention, two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash has successfully negotiated a sign-and-trade deal from the Phoenix Suns to the Lakers that will team him up with Kobe Bryant.
Sources told ESPN.com that Nash, with the New York Knicks also pressing hard to complete a similar sign-and-trade deal, was swayed to join the Lakers after a determined push from Bryant and because the move keeps him in the title hunt and allows him to stay in close proximity to his three children in Phoenix.
Nash will receive a three-year deal for an estimated $27 million because the Suns ultimately agreed to sign-and-trade him to the Lakers, who can absorb Nash via the trade exception they created by dealing Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks in December.
In return, the Suns get four draft picks -- first rounders in 2013 and 2015 and second rounders in 2013 and 2014.
Nash's agent, Bill Duffy, said the deal was finalized about 6 p.m., PDT
"After talking with (owner) Robert (Sarver) and (president of basketball operations) Lon (Babby) we've agreed that it's time for both of us to move in new directions," Nash told ESPN.com. "I approached them and asked if they would be willing to do a sign-and-trade deal with L.A. because it is very important to me to stay near my children and family.
"They were very apprehensive and didn't want to do it. Fortunately for me, they reconsidered. They saw that they were able to get assets for their team that will make them better, assets they would not have otherwise had and it made sense for them to do a deal that helps their team get better."
The deal can't be officially completed until July 11, when a leaguewide moratorium on new business is lifted.
A source familiar with the Lakers' thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin the team intends to keep its core of Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum together next season now that Nash will be in the fold.
"It will be a huge honor to play alongside Steve," Gasol said in a video chat Wednesday night. "Obviously I know him for many years now, and he's been one of the elite point guards in the league for as long as I can remember, as long as I've played in the NBA. It will be a true pleasure to play with Steve. He's one of the best point guards that has ever played the game, and still has a lot of juice in him. So I look forward to that.
In addition, the Lakers are no longer trying to retain point guard Ramon Sessions, who opted out of the final year and $4.55 million of his contract to become a free agent, a source told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne.
Sessions was hoping for the security of a longer term contract, but while discussions with the Lakers were positive, they never progressed toward a multiyear deal, the source told Shelburne.
Difficult as it is on some levels for the Suns to help the face of the franchise get to the Lakers -- especially after years of playoff battles with them in the Nash era -- sources say Sarver finally agreed to the trade after yielding to a plea from Nash to send him to a destination where he could maintain the closest possible ties to his children and still chase the ring that has eluded him for 16 seasons.
"I couldn't be more grateful to the organization and Robert in particular," Nash told ESPN.com. "I know how hard this was for him and that fact that he was able to help me and my family in this way ... it means a lot and says a lot about his character. I will never forget this gesture. Above and beyond.
"The Phoenix Suns are an amazing organization and fans should be excited about their future. I hope the Suns win a championship some day soon for all the amazing fans and wonderful people in the organization."
The Lakers clinched the deal by surrendering the package of picks, but sources said that the Suns did decide to reward Nash, 38, for all the success he delivered over the past eight seasons.
Sending Nash to the team of his choosing ensures that the sides part on good terms after it became clear in recent days that the Suns left little doubt since free agency began Sunday that they were prepared to move in a different direction instead of trying to match the determined bids for Nash coming from the Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks, Knicks and Lakers.
The Knicks were equally high on Nash's list in a sign-and-trade scenario -- he's an offseason Manhattan resident -- and the Raptors were initially seen as the favorite for Nash's services after quickly registering a three-year, $36 million offer. The Brooklyn Nets and Mavericks also pursued Nash, Dallas in particular after the Nets won the Deron Williams sweepstakes Tuesday.
Yet, Nash ultimately decided that the chance to team with Bryant, Gasol and Bynum, the three-year deal he had been hoping for, and the ability to keep a West Coast base near his children could not be passed up.
Ironically, though, Nash said just last week in a radio interview with ESPN NewYork 98.7's Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco that it would be difficult on some levels to join Miami after the Heat just won the championship or sign with the Lakers after all their playoff battles the past eight years.
"The truth is I'm a bit old school," Nash said in the June 25 interview. "For me, it would be hard to put on a Lakers jersey. That's just the way it is. 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.
"I kind of have that tendency (to try to beat the best teams), so it is strange, but as a free agent you're free to go where you want, so I'd have to consider everything regardless of the past or the future."
It had been anticipated that Phoenix would offer Nash a new two-year deal worth at least $20 million, but the Arizona Republic reported Friday night that the Suns "do not appear willing to meet (Nash's) wish for a three-year deal." On draft night last week, Suns officials immediately began fighting the perception that they selected North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall with the 13th pick as the first step in dealing with Nash's eventual departure.
Nash earned nearly $12 million last season and averaged 12.5 points and 10.7 assists for a team that, with no 20-point scorer, nearly snagged the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The most difficult aspect of his decision, sources said, was turning down Toronto, which made the biggest financial offer to Nash in hopes of convincing Canada's best player ever to come north of the border and re-establish the Raptors as a playoff team in addition to serve his new role as general manager of the Canadian men's national team.
Sources told ESPN.com that Nash will try to convince longtime teammate Grant Hill, one of his closest friends in the game, to join him with the Lakers. ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher reported over the weekend the Lakers were one of four teams (along with Toronto, New York and Phoenix) in the running for Hill after the 39-year-old's recent trip to Germany to undergo the same platelet-enrichment treatment on his knee that Bryant credited for his rejuvenated knee last season.
Lakers guard Steve Blake, who will back up Nash at the point, was excited about the acquisition.
"I think it's great!" Blake told ESPNLosAngeles.com via text message on Wednesday. "I look forward to playing with him."
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne, ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin and The Associated Press was used in this report.