So yesterday, Canada Day here in, well, Canada, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo and his band of minions will already have given free agent, odd commercial star and Canadian basketball saviour, Steve Nash, their $
46 36 million over 3 years offer. In fact, by the time you read this he may even be a Raptor. It’s created a stir among not only Raptors fans, but among sports fans in general, in Canada. Signing Nash would be a marketing coup for the Raptors. He would bring fans, money and attention to a franchise that has done little besides lose in the last few years. In many ways, it would be like giving water to a man dying in the desert.
The problem is it’s not a particularly good idea if you want the team to be anything more than mediocre in the foreseeable future.
Now, I have absolutely nothing against Steve Nash. I’m a big fan, and like most Canadian basketball fans, relished the success he’s had in the NBA. The fact that he achieved such success in a sport dominated by players much bigger, more athletic and faster than him makes my admiration of him that much more (I too suffer from some of the physical “challenges”, but unfortunately without a fraction of the skill).
The problem I have is not necessarily with Nash, himself, but rather his age and the long term effect he will have on the franchise.
You see, by this time next year, Steve Nash will be 39 years old. I’m not an agist, or anything. To me, 39 is an age I was at one point not all that long ago. An age when I was in slightly better shape, had slightly more hair and slightly fewer wrinkles. I know, all too well, the effect age can have on you.
In the history of the NBA, there has only been one other point guard that has played at such a high level at 39 years old, and that point guard was the legendary John Stockton, possibly one of the biggest freak of natures in professional sports. A guy who, in 19 seasons in the NBA, played every single game in 17 of them. He’s 3rd all tIme in games played and 6th all time in minutes played. He really is a freak of nature.
And he retired at age 40.
I don’t think it’s a shocking thing to say that signing Steve Nash would be a temporary solution and he would likely retire at the end of his three year contract with the Raptors. The majority opinion seems to be in favour of signing Nash, feeling that the short term effect he would have on the team would be worth it.
I respectfully disagree.
And the biggest reason is the last one, but you’ll have to read the rest of them to get to it.
WOULD NASH MAKE THE RAPTORS A CONTENDER?
There are some Raptor fans who actually feel that Nash would turn the Raptors into contenders. To paraphrase Rob Reiner’s mother, in When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what they’re having.”
First off, Steve Nash is 38 years old and is not the same player that won consecutive MVP Awards. That was 7 years ago. Most players don’t even play 7 years. It’s a lifetime in the NBA.
That’s not to say that Nash still doesn’t have a big effect on an team he’s on. Phoenix wouldn’t have won 23 games without Nash, let alone the 33 they did won, this past season. The fact that Phoenix was vying for a playoff spot until the last few games is a testament to his impact.
The problem is that Toronto doesn’t have much more talent than Phoenix does, and arguably has less.
Let’s look at Phoenix’s starting lineup last season. Marcin Gortat is better than anyone on the current Raptor team and most likely Valanciunas in his rookie season. Channing Frye doesn’t have Bargnani’s offensive arsenal, but is just as good a three point shooter and a much better rebounder and defensive player. Grant Hill is not nearly the player he used to be, but his veteran savvy gives him more of an effect on the win column than either DeMar DeRozan or James Johnson. And while Jared Dudley is never going to be an All Star, he’s a solid role player that can hit the three and play defense. To say that Toronto’s roster is that much better than Phoenix’s is nonsense.
So if Nash can’t even get Phoenix in the playoffs in the West, do you really expect him to help them contend against team’s like Indiana and Atlanta, let alone Miami and Chicago in the East? That’s bordering on delusional.
WILL THE “NASH EFFECT” MAKE RAPTOR PLAYERS BETTER?
The Nash effect is a well known phenomenon whereby players look better, statistically and in person, simply by playing with Nash. If you’ve never heard of or don’t know what the Nash effect is, then you really need to become more informed about things around the NBA.
So the question is will Raptor fans benefit from having Steve Nash around?
Yes and no.
While he’s 38 years old, he’s still one of the best PGs in the game and can make marginal players look good and good players look great. The only time Boris Diaw ever looked like anything remotely like a decent NBA player was when he was playing with Steve Nash. And Shawn Marion made four All-Star games, the last of which being his last full season playing with Nash.
That’s not to say that makes everyone he plays with look better. Josh Childress has been a bit of a disastrous signing in Phoenix, producing nowhere close to what he did in Atlanta. And Hedo Turkoglu was as much of a failure in Phoenix as he was in Toronto. Possibly even more.
The types of players that seem to excel playing alongside Nash either are excellent catch and shoot players, are great at cutting to the basket at opportune times and have good, soft hands. Linus Kleiza is a guy who should benefit from playing with Nash. So too, should Amir Johnson. It’s hard to say whether a guy like DeMar DeRozan will, though, who has more in common with Josh Childress than Shawn Marion. And while Andrea Bargnani is a good outside shooter, and does benefit from others creating shots for him, one wonders whether making him more of a catch and shoot player might actually decrease his productivity. When Bargnani settles for outside jumpers, it usually means he’s not working as hard as he should be on the court.
Either way, though, it doesn’t matter. Even if all the Raptor players benefit from playing with Steve Nash, the effect is only temporary. Once Nash retires, his impact is gone.
WILL NASH HELP ATTRACT BETTER PLAYERS?
One of the mantras I’ve heard from fans is that Nash will help attract players to Toronto, something the Raptors have had difficulty doing in the past. Players love playing with guys like Nash, because he makes them look good. True. but there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that Phoenix was not able to attract one great free agent to play with Nash. A 35 year old Grant Hill being the highlight.
More importantly, though, I’m pretty sure the rest of the NBA knows that Nash is 38 years old. And most know that Nash will most likely retire when his contract is finished. So not only do they have to have faith that the 38 year old Nash will remain healthy but not decline very much in those three years.
Think of how many decent free agents Cleveland was able to attract during LeBron’s last years there. Anthony Parker was probably the highlight. And that’s to play with probably the best player in the game and a guy who could make just about any team into a contender just by playing on it.
Players who sign with teams are generally looking long term. They would know that Nash won’t be long for the Toronto Raptors, and looking at the rest of the talent, one has to figure they won’t be a whole lot without him.
Players want to play on contenders, not for mediocre teams with MVPs at the end of their career.
WILL NASH BE THE SAME PLAYER IN TORONTO AS HE WAS IN PHOENIX?
An argument I’ve yet to hear brought up is how Nash will actually fair playing in Toronto. This is a two-time MVP who has helped make two different teams contenders, so you might think it doesn’t matter WHO he plays for, he’ll still be great.
Unfortunately, one just has to look at the season when Terry Porter, a decent coach who stresses defense over offense, coached Phoenix and Nash, to give you pause. It was Steve Nash‘ worst season since his early, injury-ridden days in Dallas, and Phoenix ended up winning nearly ten games fewer than the season before.
What helped return Nash to his former self was Alvin Gentry going back to the same offense that helped propel Nash to the stratosphere in the first place, Mike D’Antoni’s fast paced one.
Dwane Casey has proven to be an excellent coach and, something I am thankful for, one that stresses defense. Under Casey, Toronto’s defense went from last to middle of the pack, but their offense went from middle of the pack to near the bottom. Will Casey focus more on offense in order to help Nash be successful in Toronto?
So the question is, is a 38 year old Steve Nash worth a 3 year, $46 million contract when he a)won’t make the Raptors contenders, b) won’t attract talent c) will only have a temporary effect on the current talent and most importantly, d) might not even be the same player we all saw in Phoenix?
Is the temporary bump Nash will give the Raptors enough to offset the young talent they would get in the draft by finishing lower in the standings?
To me, the answer is a resounding and unequivocal no.