Stein: How Steve Nash decided Los Angeles was a perfect fit

We all were shocked when the word spread. Steve Nash’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers came out of nowhere, and the chronology of how it occurred resembles how emotional of a roller coaster the free agent process can be.

And when all was said and done, Nash’s decision came down to family.

ESPN’s Marc Stein sat down with Nash to discuss his move to Los Angeles, and today Stein published his piece on how a wild four days ended with the Suns’ legend joining the Lakers.

The circus all began when the Suns made it clear they wouldn’t pursue a Nash signing, something that apparently caught Nash off guard. As Stein reports, Phoenix probably could have offered a three-year, $30 million salary that Nash would’ve agreed upon to remain a Sun. But even at that rate, Phoenix wanted to move on and believed any Nash signing would monetarily hamper its ability to bring in other big-name free agents.

More surprisingly, Stein writes that the move caused a “sting” that briefly prompted Nash to think about retiring.

As most media outlets reported, the two big names in the Nash-hunt following the Suns’ disinterest were the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks. Both made extremely creative and intense pitches to the two-time MVP, and those reports made it appear those two teams were the favorites. On July 1, Nash himself even thought they were the best fits.

Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo, who roped Nash to Phoenix in 2004, made perhaps an even stronger pitch this time around. With a contingent reminiscent of the one Phoenix sent to Dallas in 2004, Toronto pulled at Nash’s Canadian loyalties while meeting with the free agent in New York — Stein reports that Nash was fighting back tears during a video presentation put together by the Raptors.

The food was lavish and the contract offer rich, but the video compilation Colangelo ordered up for the occasion made an impression on Nash that moved him more than a three-year, $36 million pitch ever could — largely because Wayne Gretzky was the narrator.

Rumbles that Gretzky, one of Nash’s boyhood heroes, would be involved in the Raptors’ Nash pitch leaked out through the Toronto media before the two parties got together, but “involved” was understating it. The Great One’s unmistakable voice was the backdrop for a compilation of clips and interviews that traced Nash’s lifelong journey from young basketball dreamer on faraway Victoria Island in British Columbia to two-time MVP with the Suns, hitting all the stops (Santa Clara, Canada’s fairy-tale run at the 2000 Olympics and more) in between and promising a Gretzky-esque legacy if he’d join the Raptors now.

Immediately after meeting with Toronto, the Knicks took Nash and his company away to a helipad, where New York star Carmelo Anthony greeted them. They visited the Knicks’ practice facility and later went aboard owner James Dolan’s yacht.

That was all on the 1st of July, and while those pitches were the strongest, they weren’t the only ones. The Dallas Mavericks, New Jersey Nets, Miami Heat and Lakers all made phone calls to Nash’ agent, Bill Duffy, but by Day 2 of the free agency period, it didn’t appear any of those were strong options.

However, Nash’s wish to remain close to his kids in Phoenix remained as the greatest priority. On Day 2, he began to think about Los Angeles, and Duffy contacted Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak to tell him that despite Nash’s comments to Stephen A. Smith about it being hard to join a division rival, the point guard would consider the Lakers.

A call from Kobe Bryant helped, and again putting the Suns and Lakers’ playoff battles aside, each player said their two styles would mesh well. So would their competitiveness, and Stein writes that Bryant, when asked why the backcourt duo could work, simply said, “He’s a bad mother******.”

July 3 and 4 was all about convincing the Suns that they should make an exception for their former star and trade him to the rival Lakers considering all he’d done for Phoenix. Nash and Duffy got the help from Phoenix minority owners Dick Heckmann and Sam Garvin, according to Stein, and those two helped voice their opinion of a deal with Los Angeles to owner Robert Sarver.

Duffy phoned Sarver on the Fourth of July, and finally the Suns’ owner gave in. As Toronto and New York held out — the Knicks were ready to give Phoenix Iman Shumpert in a sign-and-trade, Stein reports — one important piece in the deal actually was Duffy’s other client, Goran Dragic, who was close to a deal with the Suns. Since Duffy could, in all likelihood, guarantee that Phoenix wouldn’t have to worry about finding a replacement for Nash should he be traded, there was a quick and known answer for who’d take the two-time MVP’s place in the starting lineup.

Now, Nash is taking heat in Phoenix for joining the rival Lakers all while receiving criticism over his patriotism in Canada.

But, as Duffy told Stein, it all came down to family, with a 1B priority of wanting to win.

“It really comes down to Steve wanting to be as close to his children as possible. It’s an absolute bonus that he can compete for a ring and the money he’ll be able to earn (roughly $27 million over the next three seasons) at his age. At the end of the day, if Phoenix would have offered him $10 million over three years, he would have stayed in Phoenix. One hundred percent. But we understand where the Suns are. They have to rebuild. They made it clear that they felt like they couldn’t pay Steve a large salary and then go out and get other players to build a team.”

Editor’s note: We originally ran that the Suns could have offered Nash a three-year, $10 million salary based on the quote from Duffy in Stein’s article. After checking on it, we determined it was really meant as a three-year salary at $10 million a season coming to a total of $30 million over three years.

Tags: Steve Nash

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