How Steve Nash went from traded after two seasons to Hall of Famer


How Steve Nash went from traded after two seasons to Hall of Famer

After four years as a college point guard and more than two decades coaching basketball at the high school and college levels, Philip Mathews in 1996 entered his second season as coach at USF with a simple request:

He wanted a point guard he could trust. Nothing more.

“I need somebody like Nash,” he concluded.

Mathews was referring to Steve Nash, who had just completed a stellar four-year career at rival Santa Clara and was preparing for his rookie season in the NBA.

After witnessing Nash lead the Broncos to two double-digit wins over his Dons the previous season, Mathews, like many coaches and scouts, was tricked into believing Nash was a good, solid point guard, the kind that might be seen running dozens of high school teams. You know, a coach on the floor.

No one could have known Nash would develop into an influential figure and all-time great, laying the blueprint Stephen Curry has modified and modernized.

“He was the first dude I remember seeing pull up from 3 on the break,” Warriors guard Shaun Livingston recalls of Nash. “Crazy.”

When Nash is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame this weekend -- he will be presented by Don Nelson, who coached him in Dallas -- he will enter as a two-time NBA MVP and eight-time All-Star whose 10,335 career assists rank behind only John Stockton and Jason Kidd.

Drafted by the Suns in 1996, Nash spent two seasons in Phoenix before being shipped to the Mavericks because Don Nelson, who had arrived as coach, believed Nash had the key attributes needed to maximize a fast-paced offense: Vision, anticipation, shooting ability and, above all, audacity.

“Nellie really was the guy who gave him the break that he needed when he signed him in Dallas to play that style, pairing him with Dirk (Nowitzki) and really getting him to unleash his offensive potential,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says.

Nelson traded for Nash on the night of the 1998 draft, maybe an hour or so after he had acquired the draft rights to Nowitzki. In their third season together the trio snapped a 10-year playoff drought in Dallas, and made the playoffs the next 12 seasons. The Mavs reached the Western Conference Finals in 2003.

“That was one of the better teams I’ve played against that didn’t win a championship,” Livingston says.

Nash, however, became a free agent after the 2003-04 season. When Phoenix presented an offer worth $65 million over six seasons, Nash gave Mavericks owner Mark Cuban a chance to match it. Cuban declined, and has since acknowledged it as his biggest mistake in 18 years as the team owner.

The Suns had hired Mike D’Antoni, another offensive-minded coach, and he saw in Nash the same qualities Nelson had seen: A bold and innovative passer, a fabulous shooter and someone who put teammates in position to thrive.

“He was my favorite player to watch when I first came into the NBA,” says Livingston, who was drafted in 2004. “Everybody knew about Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson. But when I matched up against Steve Nash, it was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ He was unbelievable, had the right hand and the left hand, hook shots, 3-point pull-ups, runners. It was like he was a Create-a-Player in a video game.”

Kerr has a unique perspective on Nash, having played against him in the NBA, been his general manager in Phoenix and now his supervisor with the Warriors, where Nash is a player-development consultant.

“He took it to another level in Phoenix, with another coach that really knew how to use him and had the talent around him to really bring out the best in him,” Kerr recalls. “It took time for him to get there, but he went from being somebody who was a really good point guard you’d love to have on your team to being a Hall of Famer.”

Back in ’96, Philip Mathews wasn’t asking for exceptional athleticism, someone that stood out at summer camps or dominated AAU games. He merely wanted someone with a mind for the game, making the right pass and hitting the occasional shot.

“Most coaches would have said the same thing about Steve,” Kerr says. “The average fan wouldn’t have been able to see it. But anybody who has coached would recognize his ability to run a team and set a tempo and create a culture.”

Yet neither Mathews nor Kerr nor Nelson nor D’Antoni could have imagined a skinny Canadian teenager, invisible on national recruiting radar, with an unimpressive first two seasons, eventually playing his way into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

All because Steve Nash never settled for being merely good.

Every coach on earth now wants “somebody like Nash.” But they also realize they’ll need massive luck to find someone with his internal drive, stretching his every asset as far as it can go.

Four biggest takeaways from Warriors media day

Four biggest takeaways from Warriors media day

OAKLAND -- The Warriors on Monday practically glided through media day. It was relatively tranquil, a welcome respite from the sensory assault of the last two years, and for that, they can thank LeBron James and the Lakers.

While national media descended upon Los Angeles, the Warriors still had plenty of issues that required addressing. Here are four takeaways from Warriors Media Day.

Is this the end?

The theme of the day seemed to underscore the possibility that the Warriors we’ve come to know are soon to part. From general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr and down to the players, there was a faint sense of finality.

The one thing we know for certain is that this is the final season at Oracle Arena.

“The goal is going to be to enjoy this journey this year -- all of it, the highs, the lows, the in between,” Myers said.

"We're not going to go this whole season talking about how much uncertainty it is as far as contracts,” said Draymond Green, who will be eligible for free agency in 2020. “We've got the team that we've got right now you've got to win with that team.

“When all that stuff comes up, it will get handled. But right now we're all together, and that's the most important thing is trying to be the best that this team can be.”

Kerr spent most of last season conveying the difficulties of winning back-to-back NBA titles, as well as chasing The Finals for a fourth consecutive season. His approach to this season is more, um, relaxed.

“Last year, we made it through,” Kerr said. “It was a grind, and we won. And I think we should look at that as its own experience, and this year as a brand new one. And there's no doubt if we can get back to the Finals and it's another nine-month haul, we're going to have some bumps in the road and it's not going to be easy.

“But I do think there should be a slightly different theme this year. We are playing with some house money. We won three of the last four championships. Our place in the history of the league is pretty secure.”

Block out the noise

Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson will be asked about their futures. Green will be asked about his. The Warriors will have to contend with sideshows in every town.

Stephen Curry, the lone All-Star whose future is not up for discussion, would like to shut down the “future” questions that began Monday.

“That doesn't matter right now,” he said. “We have five preseason games, 82 regular-season games and hopefully 16 wins in the playoffs. And then you can ask all the questions you want.

“I think KD is going to have that perspective, DeMarcus [Cousins] had that perspective, even Draymond and Klay with their contract situations, you can nit-pick everything, and that's what's going to happen. It's part of what we do for a living.

“But the best teams and the best individuals are able to shut that out when it comes to playing basketball and enjoy the opportunity that we have as a team to do that.”

Thanks, LeBron

As mentioned earlier, much of the low-key atmosphere at Warriors Media Day can be traced back to the events in L.A., where James sat before a room of hundreds.

The Warriors were cool with that. They don’t mind the some of the attention being diverted from the Bay Area to Southern California.

“Everybody loves something new,” Durant said. “This is our third year together now, so you guys kind of know who we are and have shown things. Obviously us having DeMarcus, but I think him not playing early on is taking away a little bit of allure of us as a team from a media perspective, I guess.

“But it's the same ol' story with us, same ol' personalities, and we are who we are when you walk in here. Just having a whole new team down in Los Angeles, just gutting that whole team out and bringing in the biggest face in basketball and sports, obviously that's going to be a sexier story.”

Shaun Livingston, drafted by the Clippers in 2004, knows what it’s like when the SoCal media comes out in full force. He welcomes the relative quiet.

“Definitely takes some of that spotlight away,” he said. “But it's good, it's great for the league, it's great for the Lakers, even better for the Western Conference, with obviously L.A. being more competitive now with a guy like LeBron coming to play.

“So I think it's positive. It's only positives. Talked to my guy Luke [Walton, Lakers head coach and former Warriors assistant], wished him the best, incredible opportunity for all those guys down there. It should be fun. Definitely should be fun this year.”

Fun with in-laws

Curry’s sister, Sydel, got married in August. Her name now is Sydel Curry-Lee, as her husband is Damion Lee, who aspires to become Stephen Curry’s teammate with the Warriors.

Lee signed a two-way contract and will be present when training camp begins Tuesday.

“It's fun,” Stephen Curry said of being around Damion. “He's part of the family, obviously. We spent a lot of time the past two years especially working out. He's been out here in the Bay with Santa Cruz and whatnot, and I've been rooting him on when he was in Atlanta last year playing. To have him obviously in training camp as a two-way player back and forth, the opportunity he has to impact our team, it would be fun, and obviously I get to keep close eyes on him.”

Lee, a Drexel product, appeared in 15 games with the Atlanta Hawks last season, starting 11. The 6-foot-7 wing is hoping to impress the Warriors enough to at some point see his two-way deal converted to a standard NBA contract, as happened with Quinn Cook last season.


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Kevin Durant keeping his 'options open' with latest one-and-one contract

Kevin Durant keeping his 'options open' with latest one-and-one contract

OAKLAND -- Kevin Durant’s decision in July to sign another contract that allows him to leave the Warriors after one more season generated a stir of anxiety within the fan base, and he said nothing Monday to calm anyone’s nerves.

Ultimately, Durant said, the direction he chose was about self-belief and maximum flexibility.

“It was one of those things where you’re just confident in your skills, and you just kind of want to take it year by year,” he said at Warriors Media Day. “To keep my options open, it was the best thing for me.

“I could have easily signed a long-term [contract], but I just wanted to take it season-by-season and see where it takes me.”

Insofar as Durant is expected to opt out next summer, as he has in the previous two summers, Warriors CEO Joe Lacob acknowledged the team would have to “re-recruit” Durant throughout the season and again during free agency.

General manager Bob Myers, a former agent, reiterated that Monday.

“For any player -- and having had that history as an agent -- what players want, in my experience, is they want to get paid fairly," Myers said. "They want to win, and they want to like going to work, just like all of us. We want to be successful, make fair money and have fun. That’s our job, to create an environment for our players. And I think we do a pretty good job of that.”

Durant will be eligible next July to sign a super max deal worth $220 million with the Warriors, who will have his Bird rights.

“I hope Kevin’s here,” Myers said. “I hope he plays until he’s 50. He’s fantastic, obviously what he’s done for us, and what I hope he continues to do goes without saying.”

Durant clearly wants to keep his mind on the upcoming season, the only one he knows for certain will be spent with the Warriors.

“This whole year is going to be a fun, exciting year for us all, and I’m looking forward to just focusing on that,” he said. “We’ll see what happens after the year.

“If you take it a day at a time, just stay in the present as much as you can, that’s what I try to do.”


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