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Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash (13) gestures to teammates against the Houston Rockets during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, in Phoenix. (Matt York/The Associated Press)
Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash (13) gestures to teammates against the Houston Rockets during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, in Phoenix. (Matt York/The Associated Press)

JEFF BLAIR

Steve Nash a no-lose proposition for Raptors Add to ...

If the Raptors can’t entice Steve Nash to come play for them in his twilight years by overpaying both in terms of money and length of contract, what’s the point of having an NBA franchise in Toronto?

For all practical purposes, that is what is at stake in the Raptors’ all-in approach to the best Canadian basketball player in history.

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They wouldn’t tell you that in the offices of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., of course, and Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo wouldn’t be so brazen as to make that pronouncement, but that is how failure to land Nash will be perceived everywhere.

Colangelo, head coach Dwane Casey and MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum travelled to New York City over the weekend to formally present the team’s offer to the free-agent point guard. Apparently, they included a video pitch from Wayne Gretzky.

And if you think having a pimply-faced kid defenceman such as Justin Schultz deciding he’d rather go to Edmonton than play for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the centre of the hockey universe was a slap in your civic face, try contemplating a rejection by Nash. Nobody has heard of Schultz outside the hockey world; everybody’s heard of Nash. One way or another, the Raptors franchise will be altered by Nash. It has always been destined to be thus.

This much we know: teams can only reach verbal agreements with players until the signing moratorium ends on July 11, and the Raptors are said to have offered Nash a three-year contract that sources have pegged as being worth $10-million to $12-million a year. It was not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition; if somebody matches, the Raptors will go higher. Nash, in other words, will leave money on the table to forsake his homeland.

There are other players for the free-agent’s services, including the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks, who have said they’d reunite Nash with former teammate and close friend Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks’ interest was said to hinge on whether Deron Williams re-signed with the New Jersey Nets, and those two sides were negotiating Monday night. The Nets were also said to be talking to Nash.

Nash, who grew up in Victoria, is a no-lose proposition for the Raptors. Off the court, the returns would be obvious, in terms of merchandise and television and a pre-eminent place in the national sports discussion. For Colangelo, this is a chance to regain his reputation as Master of the NBA Universe™ and justify his contract extension, let alone make life even more miserable for his Maple Leafs’ counterpart, Brian Burke. Hoops 1, Pucks 0.

Nash isn’t a charity case on the court. Despite being 38, he is coming off a season where he averaged 12.5 points and 10.7 assists and played 31.6 minutes a game. The two-time most valuable player had a .532 shooting percentage that was best among NBA guards and tied his career best set in 2006-07, and his true shooting percentage (field goals plus three pointers plus free throws) was .625, the best among all point guards. That’s with a Phoenix Suns team that missed the layoffs.

Nash’s shooting has aged well, as has his decision-making. He can make the Raptors better and, with the addition of perhaps another player to go into head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation, could set the team up for a playoff run in the Eastern Conference.

But are the Raptors a no-lose proposition for Nash? Depends on how set he is on that championship ring, although the simple fact is there are only a few teams that can guarantee Nash a chance at a title, fewer still apparently willing to offer three years. But Nash will make his money both in terms of salary and off-court business and is a short flight to New York, which has become his home base in recent years, and could do worse than having MLSE’s ownership pairing of Bell Media and Rogers close at hand for his various media and charitable interests.

Only one of these parties has a Plan B. The Raptors might be able to take their cap space and trade their way into something meaningful, but there is little to suggest there’s an Oklahoma City Thunder waiting to break out in these parts.

Throughout the NBA and across this country, if Nash doesn’t sign it will mean the best player in Canadian basketball history will have stiffed his homeland. If he wouldn’t want to play in Toronto, why would you?

The Raptors can try to spin it another way, but only the zealots will be listening. This is about relevancy, pure and simple.

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