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 specific steps to fix the struggling 12-6 Warriors

Four specific steps to fix the struggling 12-6 Warriors

SAN ANTONIO -- Losers of three straight games, the Warriors would like to think they have bottomed out, that returning to the warm bosom of Oracle Arena will be the panacea for all that has ailed them over the past eight days.

Coming home might make a difference, but they still have to play the games.

Here are four specific ways the Warriors can dig out of a place they’ve never under Steve Kerr:


Fix Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant is not only missing shots, he’s missing presence. He’s playing as if his mind is elsewhere, particularly on defense, where his indifferent closeouts indicate disengagement.

His offensive numbers over five games last week were poor by any standard but downright atrocious for his own. His field-goal percentage was 39.6, nearly 10 points below his career percentage. His 3-point shooting percentage was 14.3, a full 24 points below his career percentage.

He’s shooting 92.5 percent from the line, the one place where he looks like KD.

When fully engaged and enthusiastic, Durant is one of the NBA’s most ferocious weapons. When he’s not fully invested, he looks like this.

Durant has carried teams before and likely will do it again. The Warriors must find a way to unlock that dude. Nothing has worked so far. Time to call a psychologist?


Insert Cook as starting point guard

There may not be a guard in the NBA that Quinn Cook is able to lock down. Defense is not his thing and never will be his thing.

He earned a Warriors contract because he can shoot. And with Klay Thompson and Durant struggling to score, especially from beyond the arc, Cook is the man best suited to fill this gaping void.

Cook is shooting 52.6 percent from the field, 48 percent beyond the arc. He has been the most accurate deep shooter on the team not named Stephen Curry.

Cook started the first three games after Curry went down with a groin injury, with the Warriors going 2-1. With Kerr wanting a defensive presence, Andre Iguodala was inserted as starter for the last three, with the Warriors going 0-3.

It’s not Iguodala’s fault. He’s doing what he does -- but not what Cook does. The Warriors are 2-4 since Curry went down with a groin injury, the victories coming in the only two games in which Cook played at least 30 minutes.


Run some pick and roll

With Curry out, the floor shrinks on the offensive end. Even though the insertion of Jonas Jerebko into the starting lineup at power forward helps stretch the floor, Durant and Thompson aren’t getting anything close to their usual space.

Why not turn to pick-and-roll action featuring Durant and Cook? Or Cook and Damian Jones, whose shooting is iffy but his diving toward the rim is fantastic?

There are a few other combinations that have potential, and most them involve Durant. He likes pick-and-roll because it’s effective and he loves to make a defender look bad.

Kerr, of course, is not a fan of pick-and-roll as a staple. He feels it turns too many of his offensive weapons into spectators. He’s not wrong. But it’s a wrinkle that has worked in the past.

Durant has said that Curry is the Warriors system. Put another way, the Warriors can’t run their stuff nearly as well without him. So why not offer a different look?


Get Curry healthy

There is a belief among some within the organization that the Warriors won’t get their identity back until Curry returns. There is some truth to that.

One of the reasons Thompson has had such a wonderful career is that he plays alongside Curry. Curry on the court is its own gravitational pull. Opposing defenders have a way of falling toward him on every play.

This one is not an immediate fix; the Warriors have not issued a timeline for Curry’s return. But his return, whenever it is -- maybe sometime within the next 10 days -- will automatically unleash the best of the offense.

If Durant still can’t get himself going, the problem is even deeper than it appears.

For the struggling Warriors, their days of grind may be the new normal

For the struggling Warriors, their days of grind may be the new normal

The idea that the Golden State Warriors might not actually be inevitable is not only too new to embrace but maybe too weird as well. Too many people have invested too much in the theory that they have at least one more table to run before time expires on their time on Mount Olympus.

But after being Texas Punished for the first time in forever, and hearing the phrase “five losses in seven games” for the first time in half forever, the Warriors suddenly look . . . well, kind of angsty.

I mean, when Steve Kerr says in essence that the Warriors are now just another really good team, there’s a message in that.

That joy is on hold until further notice. There is grinding to be done.

“We’ve had such a charmed existence the last four seasons,” Kerr said. “So, yeah, of course, this is the toughest stretch we’ve been in. This is the real NBA. We haven’t been in the real NBA the last few years. We’ve been in this dream. Now we’re faced with real adversity and we have to get out of it ourselves.”

That means he is acknowledging that the team that always runs the table is now just sitting at it, and waiting for Stephen Curry’s groin muscle and Draymond Green’s toe isn’t a sufficiently comprehensive strategy.

True, without Curry and Green, the team has stopped dead in its tracks offensively; their current run of awful three-point shooting (18-of-77) is their second-worst three-game stretch in the championship era, and because teams don’t have to commit to Curry in civilian clothes, they can double-down on Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, and both end up shooting too early in the possession as a result.

In other words, they have done all these dire things in the past, so even tossing in the Green-Durant drama of the last week there is still the overarching sense that they will right the raft before they hit the rapids. The NBA is still nothing but a giant log flume for the kids, folks think, and nothing is more depressing than investing worry in something that doesn't warrant the emotional expense.

Still, losing to San Antonio Sunday night, 104-92, after the 112-109 defeat in Dallas and the 107-86 hammering in Houston before that is something to was one more reminder that Steve Kerr might have been more right last year when he talked about the grind than he is now emphasizing the joy.

And it makes old timers wonder how the Russell Celtics did this nine consecutive times.

But it will take more than this to see a bad end of this season for them, as much as the idea will fuel the chat shows between now and when they break out of their current malaise. At least that’s the way this reads now. Curry will return, Green will return, the offense will return, the haughty dominance will return. It has always worked this way, and too many plans have been constructed based on these tenets.

Thus, nobody really has the nerve to suggest that maybe it won’t. After all, this is not an unprecedented bad patch for the Warriors, and if we heed the words of David West from June, the Warriors have also been through these internal issues as well. In essence, we’ve also seen this movie before.

It is useful to remember this because recalibration will take some time. The days when the Warriors could turn their success on and off like a toggle switch may not be over, but the switch is harder to budge. The plan to take joy in the journey has been deferred as the journey gets more gravelly and jagged. The Warriors showed a year ago that they could grind, and now they have to prove that they still can. The short odds say they will.

But the short odds once said that the Warriors do joy better than any other team, and that does not seem to be the case now. In this past week, the Warriors have figured out that their days of grind are not yet over, and may well be the new normal for them.

They have regressed to full-fledged members of the NBA, and if that seems like an odd place for them to be, it’s because it is. It’s like the casino whose money they have been playing with all this time is finally getting some of its back, and if we know anything about casinos, eventually they win.

The question is whether “eventually” is finally here, or whether Kerr is just sending up a flare to remind them all that the grind is still important.