Steve Nash joining the Toronto Raptors has always made sense in a “two plus two equals four” kind of way, much as the idea of Justin Morneau or Joey Votto playing for the Toronto Blue Jays has made sense for baseball fans.
All three are Canadian-raised players competing in a U.S.-based sport where there is just one Canadian franchise. Two were once marquee guys who might have sold tickets and helped a team win meaningful games at the height of their career, although now only Votto remains in that category.
Nash and Morneau? Like BlackBerry, great Canadian brands that have seen better days.
So timing is the only reason there would be surprise at last weekend’s rumours that Toronto might be – in the words of Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld.com – “a possible landing spot” for Nash. The Victoria native is at the age (39) and stage of his career where his $19-million (U.S.) contract ($9,701,000 of which is for 2014-15) makes him an expendable commodity for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nash and L.A. went all-in last season; as a free agent, the point guard chose the Lakers over several teams – including the Raptors, in the process greasing the skids for then-general manager Bryan Colangelo’s exit – looking to Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant to help him win his first NBA title.
But that didn’t work and the Lakers must surely be shopping Nash – right? Meanwhile, several of Kennedy’s peers reported last week Raptors GM Masai Ujiri was working the phones feverishly, although some felt he was doing so to tank for a lottery pick while others had Ujiri trying to get his team into the playoffs.
“It’s the NBA, there are going to be rumours, there are going to be trades,” Raptors forward Rudy Gay said Monday. “But right now, we’re just focused on this team and getting better.”
It’s hard to see how a Nash-Raptors marriage would make sense.
For Nash, it would effectively end his title ambitions.
For the Raptors, landing Nash would probably help Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. president and chief executive Tim Leiweke expand the brand across the country, give the team a “face” and maybe buttress television ratings. But the on-court impact at point guard might not be as much as what the Raptors already have going into Tuesday’s game against the Miami Heat: Kyle Lowry, 27, already on his third NBA team and playing for his next contract as well as a new reputation.
Next season? Now, that’s a different situation.
Ujiri has said he will be evaluating the Raptors through the first six weeks of 2013-14 and then see what “adjustments” are necessary – in other words, decide whether he has anything other than a playoff bubble team.
That evaluation will not strictly be on a won-lost basis. It won’t be as knee-jerk, it’s suspected, as the “White Flag Trade” that Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf famously forced upon his fans in 1997 (three major-leaguers were traded to the San Francisco Giants for six minor-leaguers with the Sox 3 1/2 games out of first place in the American League Central) but there could very well be an element of it in Ujiri’s decision.
He has already said he’s of no mind to have a team that’s life or death to finish seventh or eighth in the conference each season. Good: The savvy basketball fan is of no mind to watch a team like that, either.
It makes sense Nash might want to take a victory lap with the Raptors at some point. Perhaps that would best be next season, either with a Raptors team replete with new blood from a lottery pick or with a Raptors team that had a nice little run into the playoffs and has some salary cap room.
Nash, in other words, is no longer the guy to help turn the page on his own. There was a time where that was the case, but not any more.
And wishing it was won’t help matters.
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Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story indicated Steve Nash was born in Canada. He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. This online version has been corrected.