The one redeeming stroke of good luck

What would have happened to the Suns if the Mavericks weren't OK with signing Dampier over Nash in 2004? I'm glad I don't know. (Julio Jimenez/Tribune)

What would have happened to the Suns if the Mavericks weren't OK with signing Dampier over Nash in 2004? It's a good thing we'll never know. (Julio Jimenez/Tribune)

Suns followers often can’t help themselves from lamenting all the bad luck the team suffered during its run of greatness earlier in the decade.

If you regularly read this site, you know you can count on me mentioning Joe Johnson’s orbital injury in 2005, Raja Bell’s hamstring collapsing in 2006 and the Amare/Boris ludicrous suspension in 2007 at least every couple weeks like clockwork. (Damn it, I did it again!)

Although it sounds like whining to the rest of the world, you can’t deny that the Suns were robbed of a possible championship by a number of unfortunate breaks, as previously described ad nauseum.

But there’s one piece of ridiculously fortuitous luck that never gets brought up in that conversation, an occurrence that made the rest of the sickening mishaps even possible.

Let’s rewind back to the Summer of 2004. The Suns had just traded off Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway for essentially cap space during the previous season in a time before dumping long-term contracts for cash was en vogue. I remember disliking the trade at the time because it meant the Suns would be terrible in the interim, and dealing for cap space is always a tricky proposition.

In hindsight, it’s hilarious that the Knicks were STILL paying the final $20 mil of that contract last season. Could you imagine if that were the Suns, and they were held back by that headcase? All things considered, this might have ended up being the trade of the decade.

Entering that offseason, No. 1 on my offseason target list was none other than No. 8 (at the time): Kobe Bryant.

That was the summer Kobe infamously flirted with the Clippers before re-signing back with the Lakers for good. If he wanted to leave LA, the Suns had the cap space and the kind of roster to be very attractive to him.

Once they found out early in the summer this wasn’t an option, the Suns went hard after the only other MVP-caliber player on the market at the time, even if nobody knew he had that kind of potential back then.

The Suns brought their entire entourage, from owner Robert Sarver to rising star Amare Stoudemire and everybody in between, to give the hard sell to a certain Dallas point guard the moment free agency commenced.

We all know the end of the story: Steve Nash signed with the Suns, revolutionized basketball, won two MVP awards and a ton of games, became “the face of the franchise” and is beloved in all the land.

But how exactly did we get from Point A to Point B? That’s where the luck came in.

First off, the Suns would have been Screwed with a capital S without Nash. Earlier in the offseason they started their tradition of trading draft picks by dealing the rights to the seventh-overall pick in the draft, Luol Deng, when they thought Andre Iguodala would never be available.

It was later rationalized as a deal made to clear money for Quentin Richardson (a fortuitous signing in itself because the Clippers only let him hit the market when they wanted to sign an over the hill Kerry Kittles of all people), but at the time of the draft how could the Suns have known they would have signed Nash and Q? Imagine our reaction if they traded the pick without making those signings.

Back to Dallas, I understand the Mavs would have had to foot a huge luxury tax bill to keep Nash, but how can you low ball Nash like that?

The Mavs offered him a deal in the neighborhood of four years, $40 million, according to a Mark Cuban hearing excerpt, but were beaten out by the Suns when they offered “Mike Bibby money,” in the words of Nash, later to be known as approximately six years, $65 million.

I understand Cuban’s concerns about Nash’s defense and his ability to hold up down the stretch. This Sports Illustrated analysis even tabbed Nash as the most overvalued signing of the summer, but then again when you see Marquis Daniels, Stromile Swift, Rodney White and Brian Cardinal on the undervalued list, that should about put the list into context.

Anyway, what I don’t get is why the Mavs would throw seven years and $73 million at a stiff like Erick Dampier when they wouldn’t give Nash much more than half those years and dollars.

The Mavs have been regretting the Dampier contract pretty much since the day it was signed, a deal that still has two years left on it, whereas the Suns have already signed Nash to a two-year extension because the original deal wasn’t a long enough time for MVSteve to stay in Phoenix. Dampier will be paid more than $13 million during the final year of his contract in 2010-11, when Nash’s $11 mil extension will be kicking in.

These days Cuban almost throws more money at scrubby backup centers than he did at Nash. Hell, he even paid a 36-year-old Jason Kidd three years, $25 mil when he wouldn’t give more than four years to a 30-year-old Steve Nash with a pair of MVPs in him.

Crazy stuff.

Now here’s where it gets really good. Don Nelson coached those high-octane Mavericks teams. Steve Nash is the perfect Don Nelson player, as Nelson has even spoken of Stephen Curry as his new Nash.

I would believe that Don Nelson would keep two players on offense to perpetually cherry pick before I would believe he would sign off on a summer involving losing Nash and gaining Dampier.

And that’s because he never did sign off on such a summer.

Cuban and Nelson were in the heart of their clash and weren’t even talking at the time, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Nelson testified that he lamented this decision for much of Nash’s inaugural MVP season of 2004-05 and that Cuban spoke with future head coach Avery Johnson about the Dampier signing instead of Nelson although the Little General was a free agent player himself that offseason.

“I think Dampier signed for more than we were even talking about [for] Steve Nash,” Nelson testified. “And I considered him to be a very doggy player that they totally overpaid.”

The Mavericks’ front office was a mess. Don Nelson had to go so far as to play the father card to prevent his son Donn, the VP of basketball operations, from selecting Pavel Podkolzin over Devin Harris with the No. 5 pick.

If the members of the 2004 Dallas Mavericks’ front office were on speaking terms, there’s no way in hell they would ever let Steve Nash flee to the Phoenix Suns, only to sign Erick Dampier in his place.

So the next time you want to recite the Johnson-Bell-Amare-Diaw lamentations, just remember things could be worse. Much worse.

The Nash glory years from 2004-07 could been played out without the two-time MVP himself.

  • Scott

    I’m enjoying this Valley of the Suns-led “bright side of things” talk. First the offensive silver lining post, then Dudley’s playoff tweet and then this. It’s really working for me much better than TheBigLead calling the Suns one of the 7 worst teams in the league and HOOPSWORLD saying there is no way the Suns will be as good as last year.

  • Anjoe

    I can't believe it's only been 2 years since the Amare/Diaw suspensions, seems like forever ago

  • CassavaLeaf

    The Raja Bell signing was under rated also!

    No one had him pegged as such a difference maker, but

    I would say that after the Nash, Amar'e & Marion trio he was THE most important Sun

  • benway37

    Hate to break it to you, but this is flawed reasoning.

    First off, it is funny that you mentioned the Suns were willing to give him "Mike Bibby money", because Nash covering Bibby throughout a couple playoff series for Dallas definitely helped Bibby make "Mike Bibby money."

    That whole defensive liability thing is not just a throw away. Covering yr man on D and preventing him from scoring is actually half the game, especially if he's not even one of his team's "go-to" options.

    As for Cuban overspending on Dampier vs. not paying Nash:

    Yes, Dampier is grossly overpaid, but it's apples to oranges. Not overpaying for Nash and overpaying for Dampier are mutually exclusive, but if you want to lump them together, then tell the story: Overpaid Damp has played in the Finals, Nash hasn't. Overpaid Damp played on a team that went through Nash's team in 06. The Mavs have been a better team with overpaid Damp then they were with Nash.

    They have been a more successful team than the Suns since Nash departed one and joined the other.

    Clearly Damp is not the reason for any of this, and clearly Nash has made PHX much much better, but a comparison of the contracts without a look at the result is irresponsible.

    Secondly, yr contract info is wrong. Dampier is not guaranteed beyond this season, which means that while he has been overpaid throughout the length of his contract, that contract now has immense value b/c it can be used as an expiring trade chip this year, OR it can be used as an immediate expiring after the season (A sign and trade which the other team can take back his $13m and cut him immediately, never paying a dime.) Painting Dampier's contract as a sort of albatross is only half-accurate- it has been an albatross, but it is now a very good asset to have since half the teams (including PHX) are cash strapped franchises. Dampier's contract is now exactly the kind of chip that Cuban can use to send financial relief to a team who has a superstar but is middling in the 9 seed and below region. Maybe a team with a disgruntled big man who plays for an owner notoriously prone to making cash first decisions (yeah, PHX and Amare fit that description- be very afraid).

    Cuban actually has several of these contracts at his disposal right now, so the notion that he is mindlessly throwing money at problems is inaccurate. Even Drew Gooden's newly signed deal is guaranteed for $2m but worth over $5m of salary to a potential trade partner.

    Lastly, the whole Kidd vs. Nash thing:

    Both PGs are in their mid-30s and both have games that are obviously in decline. I would say on paper Nash is better, but again, Kidd can guard the 2 and his recent team has gone further than Nash's.

    Both were rumored to be courted by the Knicks, suggesting that D'Antoni would be happy for either one of them to run his offense.

    Having said that, consider that Dallas signed Kidd to 3 yrs/25 million and PHX signed Nash to 2 yrs/22 million.

    I'm not trying to rain on the PHX parade. I'm not sure what the Suns are doing the last couple of years and so it is hard to project where they fit. I don' t think they are better than they were a few years ago, and the whole Shaq thing has thrown off any notion that there is a plan. I don't follow the Suns closely, so you guys tell me, is most of the sentiment here for new owenrship, a new gm, or both?

  • Matt

    Agreed… I definitely appreciate a positive outlook as a nice change of pace from the doomsayers running around saying it’s the End of Days for the Suns. I think the roster is certainly good enough with the right style to win a good number of games in the regular season and make the playoffs as long as Stoudemire or Nash do not get seriously hurt.

  • jt

    I winder if we bring back Finley would he average 30 and be league MVP..hahah..I wonder if we're gonna trade Pavlovic and Richardson..I hope so cant wait til the 26

  • Stephen

    Don't forget that was also the Summer Phoenix tried to trade for McGrady.

    Would Phoenix have tried to sign Nash if it had successfully traded for T-Mac?

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  • Michael Schwartz

    Yeah, I thought I’d heard that about Damp’s deal when the short-lived Shaq rumors were going down. But I remember it originally being 7 years, $73 mil and Hoopshype doesn’t have 2010-11 as an option, they have it as a straight contract year, so that’s why I reported that that way. It seems like the fans here certainly are none to pleased with Sarver and Kerr. Kerr has certainly made some misguided moves (like the Shaq trade) and Sarver has paid a bit too much attention to his wallet, to say it lightly. The dealt draft picks are what get me most, but you also have to remember that Suns fans were spoiled with decades of Jerry Colangelo.

  • Sean


    Other than the Dampier contract for next year (which I’m not sure about), Michael has painted an accurate picture. It is flawed reasoning to say that signing Dampier was better than signing Nash just because Dallas made it to the Finals and Phoenix didn’t. That’s apples and oranges.

    From a basketball standpoint, would the investment in Nash or in Dampier have been a better choice? That’s a subjective decision that each person would need to decide for themselves. I would easily choose Nash, even for that Dallas team. Others might decide differently. But team success is not the deciding factor in whether one player is better than another.

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