Warriors

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

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AP

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.

Attorney says deputy in alleged Masai Ujiri altercation has concussion

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USATSI

Attorney says deputy in alleged Masai Ujiri altercation has concussion

The deputy who the Alameda County Sheriff's Office said Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri struck in the face is on medical leave after suffering a concussion, attorney David Mastagni told The Associated Press on Tuesday. 

Mastagni told KPIX on Monday that the deputy, whose name has not been released, also has "a serious jaw injury" as a result of the alleged altercation.

“The officer is off work, disabled and wants to go back to work,” Mastagni told the AP.

KPIX reported Monday that Mastagni is representing the officer. 

Officials say that Ujiri pushed and struck the deputy in the face during the waning moments of Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday. With Ujiri's Raptors set to celebrate their first championship, the deputy prevented Ujiri from reaching the court because he didn't display the proper credentials, Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office told NBC Sports Washington on Friday morning.

KPIX reported Monday that Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern "personally reviewed" footage from Oracle Arena's security cameras and the deputy's body camera, and he said he will recommend the district attorney charge Ujiri with misdemeanor battery of a police officer. Mastagni told multiple outlets that the deputy is considering filing a lawsuit against Ujiri. 

The Raptors said in a statement to NBC Sports Washington last week that the encounter "is being looked at, and we are cooperating with authorities. We look forward to resolving the situation." Warriors season-ticket holder Greg Wiener said he saw the incident, and he told the AP on Friday that Ujiri shoved, but did not strike the deputy after he "put his hand on Ujiri's chest and pushed him."

Wiener initially told the AP that the deputy did not mention that Ujiri lacked proper credentials, but recounted Tuesday “after thinking about it all weekend" that the officer shouted, "No one gets on the court without credentials.”

The 48-year-old Ujiri has run the Raptors' front office since 2013. The Washington Wizards are preparing to offer Ujiri their top job, and NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig reported the offer could include an ownership stake in the team and be worth up to $10 million per year.

NBA rumors: Executives doubt DeMarcus Cousins will land contract he wants

NBA rumors: Executives doubt DeMarcus Cousins will land contract he wants

It's extremely difficult to get a read on what the Warriors' roster will look like next season, given all of the marquee players destined for free agency, some of whom will be recovering from serious injuries.

DeMarcus Cousins knows that existence all too well. He's set to become an unrestricted free agent on June 30, having spent a large portion of the past season working his way back from a torn Achilles and torn quadriceps.

The Achilles injury was a major factor in bringing Cousins to Golden State. As it turns out, the quadriceps injury, as well as the ruptured Achilles and torn ACL suffered by Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, respectively, could prove to be major factors in keeping him there for at least another season.

While Cousins flashed his pre-injury form sporadically throughout his first season with the Warriors, his consistency was severely lacking, and certain areas of his game were clearly diminished. His shortcomings were exposed in the Finals against the Raptors, and while there's a lot of money available to be spent in free agency, some believe that Cousins won't receive the kind of deal he's been hoping for.

"I doubt he gets what he wants," one anonymous NBA executive told Bleacher Report's Yaron Weitzman.

If that's the case, and Cousins doesn't get an offer that blows him away, could he return to the Warriors for the inaugural season at Chase Center?

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was asked about the potential of bringing Cousins back for another season last week, and was very open to the idea, but didn't expect it to be a realistic possibility.

"I would say the hope is, frankly, that he can do a lot better financially than what we could offer him. But who knows? Every year is different," Kerr said last Friday. "We have to figure out our own situation, particularly with Klay [Thompson] and Kevin [Durant] and how all that shakes out.

"But I could absolutely foresee a place for DeMarcus here if he wanted to come back," Kerr continued. "It's just a question of what are his goals? What's out there for him?"

If the anonymous executive is correct in their assumption, Cousins might not have a more appealing option than what the Warriors are able to offer. And, depending on what his goals are, a renewed partnership might be even more logical.

Let's say Cousins doesn't receive any offers in free agency to his liking. If he's then intent on proving his doubters wrong and putting himself in the best situation possible to showcase his resurgence, the Warriors would seem to make a ton of sense, just as they did a year ago.

With both Durant and Thompson expected to miss most or all of next season while recovering from their respective injuries, that's going to leave a massive void in the Warriors' scoring arsenal. Stephen Curry can't be expected to do it all on his own, and -- if healthy -- Cousins might be the perfect kind of complement to help carry the load.

[RELATED: Steph given fourth-best odds to win third MVP next year]

Of course, given how depleted Golden State's roster already is, the idea of placing a big bet on a big man still working his way back from a couple of major injuries is, well, a bit scary.

It's got to make sense for both sides. But it might work out that another year of Cousins in a Warriors uniform accomplishes exactly that.