Winning changes perception of Steve Nash extension


PHOENIX — When Steve Nash signed an extension with the Suns last summer, the national perception was that Nash didn’t care about winning.

It seemed to be a move made so that he could stay comfortable playing in a situation that he enjoyed with an  extension that would essentially end all hope of Nash winning a championship as the primary star.

Four wins away from his first career NBA Finals, that perception could not be further from reality. Not that Nash is too worried about what anyone else thinks.

“I made the decision for myself,” Nash said of the two-year, $22 million extension that kicks in next season. “I don’t need to validate anybody but myself and my family. I’m obviously thrilled with what’s transpired.”

If he had not signed the extension, Nash would have been an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season in the much-ballyhooed Class of 2010. He could have tried to get one more monster contract with one of the numerous teams with money to burn or he could have just found the team he feels would give him the best chance to win.

Instead, he re-hitched his wagon to the Phoenix Suns, guaranteeing himself three more years as this organization’s franchise player.

Nash signed the extension because he was happy with his situation, and you just don’t know what could happen (such as an injury) that could derail your value. It was seen as a gesture of loyalty to the organization, but the Suns were criticized in some circles just as much as Nash was for the extension.

The perception was that the Suns were a team lacking direction, as re-signing a pair of guys on the wrong side of 35 (Grant Hill as well) isn’t common practice for a team otherwise in the midst of a youth movement. To some it seemed like a desperate move to squeeze a couple more decent years out of the Nash Era with a team that wouldn’t be good enough to compete for a championship.

Instead, the loyalty paid by Nash and Hill has been rewarded tenfold. Along with Amare, who has matured into a nice leader, Nash and Hill have helped Alvin Gentry guide the ship of a group of youngsters eager to learn from them. The team has gelled and all of a sudden the Suns are in the Western Conference Finals.

“I didn’t expect necessarily for sure to make the Western Conference Finals, but I thought we could win 50-plus games, I thought we could beat somebody in the first round, and you never know how good your team becomes,” Nash said. “I’m obviously excited about what we’ve developed into and thrilled that we get a chance to play for the West.”

When Hill re-signed, he did so in part because he felt a responsibility to mentor the Suns’ young guns and also because he felt the team had some unfinished business to take care of after last season left a bitter taste in Hill’s mouth.

Some thought Hill ought to take Boston’s offer and the enhanced chance at a title, but in Boston he would just be backing up Paul Pierce. In Phoenix he is the defensive stopper and a vital veteran leader.

“It’s really been a lot of fun this year with these guys, see us kind of grow, see us gain confidence,” Hill said.

The Suns were chided for bringing back two older players to a young team that didn’t appear to be a title contender in the preseason. Nash and Hill were chided for not caring about winning by re-upping in Phoenix.

Suns GM Steve Kerr, Nash and Hill must be enjoying one hell of a last laugh these days.

The best trade is sometimes the one never made

The Suns explored trade talks in February that would have sent Amare Stoudemire to a title contender.

It turns out they did just that by staying put, while the team looking to acquire him will be nowhere to be found when the conference finals kick off this weekend.

It’s pretty amazing that the Suns were pondering dealing not just Amare Stoudemire but also Jason Richardson if the Cleveland Cavalier would have been willing to clear the Suns’ cap.

But they weren’t, the Suns stayed pat, and here they are in the Western Conference Finals with a team that was almost blown up in February.

Meanwhile, the Cavs acquired Antawn Jamison, who can’t even be found in the top 50 of playoff PER and flamed out with a 2-for-10 performance in the clinching Game 6 tonight, whereas J-Rich (No. 6 in PER) and Amare (No. 16) have been studs all postseason.

Going back further, the Suns dumped Shaq and his monster deal on the Cavs this summer because they were in “win now” mode, whereas the Suns theoretically just wanted to cut salary. Who could have known that taking a little of that money and replacing the Big Cactus with Channing Frye would have improved the Suns this much?

It would have been unfathomable to think the Suns would reach the conference finals but the Cavs would not both during the offseason when Phoenix dealt Shaq and at the deadline when they contemplated dealing Amare (and maybe J-Rich, too). Funny how things change in a matter of months.

Defending Kobe

When you’re talking about the Lakers, it all starts with defending Kobe Bryant, as important as their bigs have become to them this season.

Hill has emerged as the Suns’ stopper and will likely get the bulk of the time on KB24, but certainly Jared Dudley and possibly Jason Richardson will get some time on him as well. Here are their thoughts on defending the Black Mamba:

Dudley: “Double, try to trap his sweet spots. It’s going to be hard, you can’t stop a guy like that. When he gets going, give him different looks and hopefully he’s missing his shots and deferring to people. …

“In years past I’ve heard when he scores 50 points they’ve lost. You’d like to keep Kobe in the 20s range instead of the 30s. If you can keep him to four assists that would be a plus for us. With him it’s shooting percentage. If he scored 40 and shoots 40 shots, it’s OK.”

Richardson: “He’s definitely tough. He’s one of the toughest guys to guard because he has so many weapons. He can take you in the post if you’re smaller, he can take you to the wing, he can take you off the dribble if you’re slower. He’s a tough matchup. You know he’s going to get his points, you just want to make him work hard for them. There’s no stopping the guy from getting 30 points. We just want to do the best job of making him work for those 30 points. …

“When he’s in attack mode (he’s tougher). When he’s a facilitator, he knows how to pass the ball, he’s great at that, but when he’s in attack mode he can go off for 15 straight points, and you don’t want to get a guy going like that.”

WCF schedule released

We’ve known for a few days now that Games 1 and 2 would be Monday and Wednesday, respectively, at 6 p.m. on TNT, the network that will carry the entire series. Here’s how the rest of the series will shake out:

Game 3           Sun., May 23              L.A. Lakers at Phoenix          5:30PM           TNT/ESPN Radio

Game 4           Tue., May 25              L.A. Lakers at Phoenix          6:00PM           TNT/ESPN Radio

Game 5*          Thu., May 27              Phoenix at L.A. Lakers          6:00PM           TNT/ESPN Radio

Game 6*          Sat., May 29               L.A. Lakers at Phoenix          5:30PM           TNT/ESPN Radio

Game 7*          Mon., May 31             Phoenix at L.A. Lakers          6:00PM           TNT/ESPN Radio

*If Necessary