FREE FOR ALL
The NBA's top 10 free agents include some all-time greats. I can't handle the truth.
Well, I'm referring to the truth as filtered through the laser-focused prism of Steve Nash.
"The truth is . . . I'm a bit old-school," Nash said during a recent interview and in response to an inquiring mind wanting to know whether the former sun, moon and stars of the Phoenix Suns could actually work for the hated Los Angeles Lakers.
Is he old-school? Sure, Nash is a throwback in several respects that have more to do with his approach than being 38 years old. But in terms of looking for the proper free-agent landing spot, the two-time MVP is riding a prevailing NBA wave. By reportedly agreeing to take his talents to Southern California and play for the Lakers (who massaged their trade exception earned by sending Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks a few months ago), Nash would be following a trendy course.
"For me," Nash said during the interview referenced above, "it would be hard to put on a Lakers jersey."
Well, just pull the biggest hole over your head and stick your arms through the other two. jersey
OK, is it Nash's right to go play wherever he wants? Did he work hard to earn that right? Does he still — in many ways — represent some of the things that are great about the NBA? Should he trust his instincts instead of the collective genius of the Suns' front office?
Yeah, yeah, yeah and yeah.
Do we have to like it? Heck no. But even the seeming betrayal affiliated with his choice of teams is not what irritates me.
In this business, our feet are held to the fires of objectivity. But it's nearly impossible to enter this profession without already having an emotional tie to the sport you're writing about. I'm not a Suns fan, but reporting or opining for an audience that bleeds orange can make you taste the bitterness associated with watching the local hero dribble off to perform for a rival.
Many Suns fans have been rooting for him to leave and take a big swing at a ring. Many others may boo him for joining the enemy.
But, for me, there's something worse about this story.
Having lived here for 10 years after spending 20 years in Southern California, I get the L.A.-Phoenix dynamic. And having covered the league to some extent for most of those 30 years, I can at least understand why players chase rings. And please don't attempt to define this as anything more than a ring chase.
So while we all can reconcile the motivation behind Nash feeling absolutely justified in gunning for the NBA's ultimate celebration, we also can grumble about a greater disappointment.
Considering what has become the casual nature of player movement in all sports, hearing about a star leaving to play for a rival shouldn't seem surprising or even ethically disappointing.
But for me, that's true only if we're talking about anyone else.
In Nash, we thought we had someone different. Based on a public checklist of issues that (in theory) would define his employment decision, we presumed a more atypical approach.
Finding the right on-court fit was important, he said. Considerable deliberation weight should be attached to the quality of the organization, the city and family-related geographical issues. Well, Nash will be close to his kids, while L.A. has far more celebrities and better weather than Phoenix in the summer (when he'll spend most of his time in New York).
But the Lakers franchise now is in the hands of Jim Buss. Nash's on-court playmates are to include Kobe Bryant, who — like Nash — is smart enough to figure out how to work with another Hall of Famer. There will be times (possibly many), however, when Steve is required to watch Kobe bleed the shot clock. True, Nash can be deadly in these spot-up situations, but he also will be running an offense that — unless more roster upheaval occurs — figures to do its share of walking.
Right, Nash can guide an offense operating at any pace. But he's choosing this one because it may provide the quickest route to the Finals. That's cool for LeBron James. Nash, on the other hand, told us that just having the chance to compete at a high level carried the same weight as the aforementioned variables.
Admitting that this reads like the caterwaul of a scornful fan denied an autograph, I don't mind repeating that we all probably were anticipating more.
And even though it's hard to imagine Steve Nash not making the Lakers better, I was expecting Nash to find a team that needed him to lift them more than he needed them to lift him.
Anywhere but there.
Well, anywhere but there or San Antonio.
Tags: nba, Kobe Bryant, Phoenix Suns, los angeles lakers, Steve Nash, trade