Nash To Mavs: Fun Boomerang? Tacit Mea Culpa?
What if Dallas Signs Steve Nash?
If the Mavericks sign Steve Nash this summer, would that constitute a tacit ‘mea culpa' by the Dallas front office? How ironic would it be to affirm the durability of a 37-year-old point guard via a contract eight full seasons after deciding that concerns about his durability prevented keeping him from bolting for Phoenix?
This idea has been bouncing around the Mavericks lobe of my sports brain the past few days and here's are my thought on the matter: Kinda, but not really.
If the Dallas Mavericks did not think Steve Nash worthy of a six-year, high-dollar investment back in 2004, would inking him to say, a two-year deal, eight years later force an admission of a mistake? Certainly if he's lasted at least three years and counting beyond Cuban's and Nelson's projections, then those projections were made in error, no? A guy who won two MVP's and has become one of the greatest point guards of his generation would certainly be worth retaining, even at the risk of overspending, right?
To a degree, yes. However, there are a few big "buts" to consider.
But No. 1: It is known that Steve got more serious about basketball, and his conditioning after signing that 6-year/$63 million contract with Phoenix. That's not to say that he wasn't a professional during his Dallas tenure and meticulous in his preparation, but he took things to a whole new level in Phoenix to justify ownership's financial faith. In fact, last season Nash continued to justify Robert Sarver's investment by refusing to ask for a trade from a going-nowhere Suns team to go and chase a ring with a contender.
But No. 2: The Phoenix training staff is legendary for their ability to resurrect or stall the decline of aging players. (See: O'Neal, Shaquille and Hill, Grant) One of the primary concerns with Nash in 2004 was his durability, and penchant for late-season breakdowns in health. He has had very few injuries since resigning with Phoenix, never playing fewer than 74 games a season (aside from this year of course).
But No. 3: He likely never becomes an MVP without moving to the desert. While he was a bona-fide All-Star in Dallas, he stepped into a nearly perfect situation in Phoenix, surrounded by running finishers Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire and a pure-shooting Joe Johnson in a Mike D'Antoni offense that was tailor-made for Nash's strengths. These allowed Nash to shine in ways that likely wouldn't have been possible in Dallas, especially after the defensive-minded Avery Johnson was brought on board.
These aren't a justification of letting a player as talented as Nash leave for nothing; such a move normally constitutes poor asset management. On the other hand, neither does winning the franchise's first championship last June absolve all of its old sins.
However, Nash's departure did have a profoundly positive impact on the 2011 Championship in three primary ways.
Impact No. 1: Dirk Nowitzki's development. Without his old running buddy Nash, Dirk likely never faces the selective pressure as the lone superstar to elevate his game, and his team. Indeed, in the years since Nash left, only once was Nowitzki's usage rate (a measure of how many Mavericks possessions he used) outside of the top 15 in the NBA. Ironically that season was his 2006-07 MVP campaign. The culmination of Dirk's development was on display last spring when he was the best basketball player on the planet for two months.
Impact No. 2: The Acquisition of Jason Kidd. With Nash in place, presumably signed to a multi-year deal, there is no need to find a high BBIQ point guard to ease the burden on Dirk. Therefore, the Kidd acquisition likely never happens. Kidd, a superior defender and rebounder to Nash, was a vital part of the core of last season's title. With all due respect to Nash, it's difficult to envision him defending Kobe, Durant, and LeBron to the degree that Kidd was able to in recent seasons.
Impact No. 3: The Tyson Chandler Acquisition. You don't need to be reminded how important Chandler was. His presence is roundly viewed as ‘the missing piece' that put the Mavericks over the top last season. As a Knick, he has instilled a culture that raised a once-pitiful Knick defense to one of the top five in the league. You don't need to be reminded how he became the ‘heart-and-soul' of the team in just one season. You don't need to be reminded how much he is missed (though his impact still lingers as Dallas was once-again an elite defensive unit).
You may need to be reminded of how Nash's departure paved the way for Chandler's arrival. To wit: the money that would have been spent on Nash was used to acquire Erik Dampier (via sign-and-trade) from Golden State. The Mavs' front office cleverly structured the final year of that deal to be non-guaranteed (the famous DUST chip). With Dampier's instant-expiring contract as bait, Dallas traded for Tyson Chandler and the rest is Maverick history.
So yes, Nash's departure was painful, and probably a debit in Mark and Donnie's otherwise excellent ledger full of credits. However, history has lessened the egregiousness of that sin and Nash and the Mavericks have benefitted from their parting of ways, so it's difficult to hold onto hard feelings.
We've got other times and places to discuss Deron's value, Nash's value, Plan A through Plan F and the like. For now, let's just consider the entertainment value. ... the storyline value.
Should Dallas fail in its pursuit of Deron Williams this summer and Nash return to the Metroplex, instead of bemoaning what could have been, relish what was, and what could be again. It would be entertaining, to say the least, to watch Dirk and Nash team up again in pursuit of NBA immortality. Their chemistry together will likely pick right back up where it left off. Meanwhile, Nash's arrival (and a full training camp) has the potential to reverse the free-fall the Dallas offense endured last season. (Nash's difficulties on the other end of the court will not do wonders for the Dallas defense however).
It is interesting in noting that Nash's original departure paved the way for Chandler's arrival and now the inverse of this situation could be close to fruition. Indeed, by not resigning Chandler, the front office went all-in on cap space and the potential to make free agent acquisitions. With Chandler's contract on board, the Mavericks' ability to bring Nash back would've be limited. However, just as Nash's departure helped Dallas acquire Chandler, now Chandler's departure may just help Dallas re-acquire Nash.
Isn't that ironic?
And, assuming Mark Cuban isn't troubled by the tacit "mea culpa,'' wouldn't it be kinda fun?
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