Suns' Nash one of the greats

Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash and Los Angeles' Lakers guard Kobe Bryant catch their breath....

Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash and Los Angeles' Lakers guard Kobe Bryant catch their breath. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:18 PM ET

TORONTO - Perhaps now all those trade rumours that had Steve Nash bolting the Arizona desert will finally be put to rest.

And perhaps now people will finally believe what Lon Babby, Phoenix’s president of basketball operations, has been insisting all along amid the rampant speculation.

When asked earlier this season about Nash’s presence and importance, Babby, the one-time agent who helped orchestrate both Hedo Turkoglu’s arrival and departure as a Raptor, provided arguably the quote of the season.

“He’s the sun, the moon and the stars,’’ Babby would say of Nash.

At 37 years old, Nash shows no signs of becoming less relevant in a game that has become more guard-oriented than at any time in hoops history.

The numbers speak to a legacy that remains untarnished, the only blemish on Nash being that he’s yet to win a championship, denied by fate and by playing in a Western Conference dominated by the Lakes and Spurs, a team Nash exacted some revenge last spring in a memorable upset.

Had Nash demanded a trade, there would have been no shortage of suitors and no telling how much closer Nash would have been in winning that elusive title.

No player since John Stockton runs a pick and roll quite like Nash and there’s no peer when it comes to Nash’s creativity and ability to keep his dribble alive.

The true measuring stick of Nash’s stature in the game was on display at all-star weekend in Los Angeles, where the game’s elite point guards were effusive in their praise of a unique player who continues to defy the odds.

“I grew up watching him,’’ Deron Williams said of Nash, a seven-time all-star who figures to play in his eighth next year in Orlando, assuming, of course, there is a season.

“It seems like he’s gotten better with age. He does so many things well.”

Derrick Rose has clearly elevated to the top of the point guard pecking order, producing an MVP season that gets better with each passing game.

As good as Rose has played, he doesn’t have Nash’s vision and creativity.

Like Williams, Rose is a physical point guard who has developed a three-point shot that makes him virtually unstoppable.

Rajon Rondo has evolved, but he still has an inconsistent jumper.

Russell Westbrook has emerged as an all-star, a quick floor general who figures to get better as he gets older.

Chris Paul, regardless of how long he stays in New Orleans, remains an elite point guard, followed by Tony Parker, a member of San Antonio’s Big Three who will at times look to get his own shot off at the expense of others.

And then there’s Nash, no longer an MVP candidate but he’s better than an ageing Jason Kidd and can go off for a 40-point game.

But as Nash tries to get the Suns into a playoff position, his team-first approach is what separates him from every other point guard.

With Nash, Grant Hill has been revitalized.

With Nash, Channing Frye has been legitimized.

The odds of Phoenix rising from the depths of inconsistency are long, but as long as Nash stays healthy it’s now a possibility.

The Suns aren’t as good as they were when Amare Stoudemire ran shot gun with Nash.

The team tried to turn Turkoglu, a point forward, into a power forward, but soon realized a change was necessary and a blockbuster deal was orchestrated with the Magic.

All three pieces acquired from the Magic, be it Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat or Michael Pietrus, have been marginal at best, which means Nash has been asked to shoulder an additional load.

As a result, his turnovers are up, but most of his season averages are better than his career totals.

Remarkably, no player in league history had averaged 10 assists at age 35 or older until Nash last season. He’ll repeat the feat and is averaging slightly more than last year’s 11.0 number.

In the history of the NBA, only Nash, Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Mark Price and one-time Dallas teammate Dirk Nowitzki have averaged 50% shooting from the field, 40% shooting from beyond the three-point arc and 90% from the charity stripe.

If he maintains his current clip, Nash will post his fifth 50-40-90 season, an accomplishment that’s unprecedented.

“I’m loyal to the Suns, the franchise, the fans,’’ Nash told the Arizona Republic. “I was given a contract and I want to honour it. That’s all I’m concerned with. When they tell me it’s time to go, it’s time to go. But until then, I’m just going to play my hardest and try to get better.”

In a week that has seen the worst the NBA has to offer in terms of me-first players, Nash continues to show what it means to be a pro.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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