Canadian hoops star Steve Nash recently told the Arizona Republic he’d “love to play overseas” if NBA players are locked out this fall. Sadly, that doesn’t include playing for Team Canada.
And I don’t get that. Nash has turned his back on the national team, yet the media and Canadian basketball fans seem to be okay with it.
Yes, he’s put in his time with the Team Canada in years past — at the 2000 Sydney Olympics he led Canada to a solid seventh-place finish.
And, yes, he was miffed when Jay Triano was let go as the national team coach in 2005.
But if there was ever a perfect time for Captain Canada, as he’s ironically still called, to rejoin the program, it’s now.
Think about it. Both his parents are British, and once lived in London, England. Nash adores soccer and his favourite team is Tottenham Hotspur, the English Premier side located in North London. And ... his NBA team, the Phoenix Suns, aren’t going to challenge for an NBA title anytime soon.
So wouldn’t competing at the 2012 London Olympics be the perfect swan song for the 37-year-old hoopster?
Of course, national team head coach Leo Rautins isn’t going to push the issue. The Road Warriors, as the national side is known, are currently training at Toronto’s Ryerson University in preparation for next month’s 2011 FIBA Americas Championship in Mar del Plata, Argentina — which acts as a qualifying tournament for the 2012 London Olympics. Rautins is taking the high road when it comes to Nash. He won’t say anything but good things about the two-time NBA MVP and, in fact, insists he completely respects Nash’s decision not to play international ball anymore.
But you know deep down, Rautins, and the entire national team hierarchy, are just dying for Nash to come back to the fold.
And why doesn’t he come back? Rautins didn’t fire Triano, Nash’s buddy. What’s done is done. Why hold a grudge?
Nash loves travelling. And with no end in sight to the lockout, playing international ball, against other NBAers, would be the perfect opportunity for the Victoria, B.C., point guard to stay sharp.
But Rautins isn’t holding his breath for Nash to return.
At least not for this year.
If Canada fails to finish in the top two at this summer’s Olympic qualifier, they’ve still got a chance to qualify for London next year — if they finish in the top five in Mar del Plata. Placing in the top two at the 10-team tournament in Argentina will be a huge challenge, with every other powerful Americas side (excluding the Americans, who have already qualified for London) in the fold, including host Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
“I think you’d have to say that,” said Rautins. “But at the same time, I think we’re better than we were before. You look at two summers ago when we qualified for the (2010) worlds, we were one of the top-scoring teams. And last year when we lost everybody, offensively our numbers were atrocious. There’s a reason for that. It’s not that you’re a bad team, but if your top five isn’t there ... we’re not Argentina.”
A banged-up Canadian side finished 0-5 at the 2010 worlds in Turkey.
Finishing in the top five at Mar del Plata and qualifying for next year’s final Olympic qualifying tournament is certainly within Canada’s grasp.
Right now, Rautins has at his disposal basically the same team that over-achieved in 2009 and qualified for the 2010 worlds. The difference is, the core players are older and better — including the two current NBAers on the roster, Joel Anthony of the Miami Heat and Andy Rautins of the New York Knicks, and European pro league war horses Jermaine Anderson, Carl English, Aaron Doornekamp, Denham Brown and Jesse Young.
“We’re way ahead of anywhere we’ve been before,” said Rautins. “Now it’s just a question of staying together and staying healthy. The big thing is health. We can’t afford to have guys go down, and that showed last summer (at the worlds).”
Besides Nash, there are three other key players missing from this summer’s roster. Toronto area players Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, first-round draft picks at this year’s NBA draft, are not with the team. Rautins is hoping Joseph, drafted 29th overall by the San Antonio Spurs, will show up for the second round of training in a few weeks, but he isn’t sure if Thompson, picked fourth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, will ask to come on board.
Apparently it’s not an insurance issue, nor a serious injury issue. Thompson and Joseph just have to want to play for Team Canada.
The final piece of the puzzle for Team Canada is former Toronto Raptor Matt Bonner, who has been trying for years to acquire his Canadian citizenship. Unfortunately, Bonner’s application is still tied up in Canadian government bureaucracy.
Without Nash, without Bonner, without Thompson and Joseph, all Rautins can do is prepare his troops for the FIBA tournament and hope for the best. At the very least, they’ll have a good time.
“This is by far the closest unit we’ve ever had,” said Rautins. “The guys really love being together. There aren’t any egos anymore.”