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Toronto Raptors guard Jose Calderon tries to strip the ball away from Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash during the first half of their NBA preseason basketball game in Toronto October 17, 2010. (Reuters)

Toronto Raptors guard Jose Calderon tries to strip the ball away from Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash during the first half of their NBA preseason basketball game in Toronto October 17, 2010.

(Reuters)

Jeff Blair

Nash inflicts more than just flesh wound on Colangelo Add to ...

It speaks to his currency with the Canadian sports fan and media that there is no middle ground with Steve Nash. Either you line up to protect him – he is Our Steve, after all – or bash him for using the weakness of the Toronto Raptors and Bryan Colangelo for leverage.

Either way, in orchestrating a sign-and-trade deal between the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers, the Victoria native dealt Canada’s only NBA franchise something deeper than a flesh wound. Colangelo’s backup plan – swapping a lottery-protected first-rounder and forward Gary Forbes to the Houston Rockets for point guard Kyle Lowry – won’t sell jerseys or drive up television ratings or bring people back to the Air Canada Centre. Oh, the diehards will buy in, but for the majority of fans in Toronto and across the country, the Raptors will remain something that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment uses to pay the bills between Maple Leafs games.

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Landing Nash wasn’t a shortcut to an NBA title, but it was a shortcut to relevancy. The Raptors’ theme song will be Landry Fields Forever and nobody will be listening.

Colangelo deserves credit for going all in on Nash, in a nothing ventured, nothing lost kind of way. Of course, he had no choice. The inherent promise offered by his relationship with Nash from their time together in Phoenix was one reason the Raptors gave Colangelo an extension on his general manager contract. As many of Nash’s defenders pointed out Thursday, it wasn’t Nash’s fault that the Raptors are so far away from offering him a shot at a title. That’s on Colangelo.

Has there been another summer where stewardship of one of Toronto’s professional sports teams means being on a hot seat to this degree?

Chris Rudge and Jim Barker of the Argonauts continue to do the Sisyphus thing.

Tom Anselmi, MLSE’s point man for Toronto FC, is a splendid chap and was the early favourite to replace Richard Peddie as MLSE chief executive officer, but TFC’s status hardly inspires confidence.

Paul Beeston of the Blue Jays might have the proverbial tiger by the tail if John Farrell’s team continues to battle through crippling injuries and stays within shouting distance of a wild-card berth, with all those new and returning fans waiting for a bold statement of intent from general manager Alex Anthopoulos and, by extension, Rogers Communications. Failure could mean lost momentum.

Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke believes it’s okay to overpay for miscellaneous forwards of limited skill, but for reasons some of which are his own contrivance, he doesn’t want to spend money on blue-chippers. Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils and Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings have bellied up to the bar, but none of those salary cap-circumventing deals for the last honest man in hockey, nosiree.

Not even Burke has enough blarney to convince fans that starting the season without another forward like, say, Bobby Ryan or at least a better goaltending option than James Reimer/Ben Scrivens is anything other than a massive flop. He never had a sniff at Zach Parise or Ryan Suter, and if potential free agents such as Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf or Shea Weber try to use Parise and Suter’s 13-year deals to squeeze out contract extensions ahead of a new collective agreement, there’s more opportunity lost.

Which brings us back to Nash. His friends among the chattering classes will challenge suggestions that Captain Canada needs to be busted down a rank for turning his back on the Raptors, and it’s true that Nash was within his rights in making the choice. Still, you’d think he’d be above the tired “I just wanna be close to the kids” line. Spare us.

Stay with the Suns, then. Or buy some first-class plane tickets or share of an executive jet. You’re on the road half the season, for pete’s sake. Better yet, if geography was an issue, why not tell the Raptors immediately instead of waiting four days? Was some seismic event going to shift Toronto closer to Phoenix during that time? And what about the recent interview where he said: “The truth is, I’m a bit old school. For me, it would be hard to put on a Lakers jersey.”

Nash is old school. He played the contractual bait and switch like a virtuoso. He knew the Raptors had no choice but to court him, and used that to establish the parameters for any serious suitor. Nobody was going to match the $36-million (U.S.) guaranteed by the Raptors. But somebody would, as it turned out, match the three-year guarantee.

Meanwhile, Brand Nash is taken care of in Canada through his charity work as general manager of Basketball Canada. This wasn’t LeBron James and The Decision, but the ramifications for the Raptors will cut just as deep. At least Nash didn’t hire Jim Gray to be his lapdog. My guess is Gray was probably busy.

 

How Toronto sports executives spent their summer

   

Paul Beeston - Blue Jays

Saw baseball team’s pitching staff disintegrate with injuries as the Jays fight it out with the Boston Red Sox for last place in the American League East. At least the offence is coming on.

Brian Burke - Maple Leafs

Traded defenceman Luke Schenn to the Philadelphia Flyers for winger James Van Riemsdyk. Made more noise when he marched with the PFLAG contingent in Toronto’s Pride parade on July 1 than with signings of NHL free agents.

Tom Anselmi - Toronto FC

Fired Aron Winter as coach and replaced him with Paul Mariner, whose squad is unbeaten (1-1-4) since he took over but the Reds are still in last place in the MLS Eastern Conference.

Bryan Colangelo - Raptors

Made a strong pitch for free agent point guard Steve Nash, which was rebuffed, but appears to have landed Kyle Lowry. Not Captain Canada, but not bad.

 

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