Steve Nash is going to the Lakers. This is going to hurt the Suns and help his new team.
I know that’s stunning analysis but seeing this deal just shows how different the two franchises are. Their paths are headed in opposite directions, not because one is rebuilding and the other is reloading, but because they’re operating on two entirely different planes of existence.
The Los Angeles Lakers are vultures. I mean that as a compliment. The Lakers know their market and know their strengths as a destination. You can talk about the market and claim that’s the reason for their success, and to a degree I can’t disagree. But when you look at the Clippers in the same market and without the same success, you have to look deeper into what the Lakers are good at doing.
The Lakers know how to sell tradition – a tradition they set up decades ago when they decided to be aggressive in going after great players. They made deals for Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Gail Goodrich, Bob McAdoo, Shaquille O’Neal, and Pau Gasol. Sure, a couple of those names are hold much greater prestige than others, but the point remains that this franchise knows how to go get really good-to-great players and show them how to thrive within an organization. They build an environment that expects championships and any season that doesn’t end with one is a complete waste of time – even if they’re raking in truckloads of revenue.
In a recent radio interview, Nash said this about possibly joining the Lakers:
“The truth is I’m a bit old school. For me, it would be hard to put on a Lakers jersey. That’s just the way it is,” Nash said. “You play against them so many times in the playoffs, and I just use them as an example, and I have the utmost respect for them and their organization.
“I kind of have that tendency (to try to beat the best teams), so it is strange, but as a free agent you’re free to go where you want, so I’d have to consider everything regardless of the past or the future.”
So how did the Lakers sell him on the idea of playing for them? Kobe Bryant apparently made a convincing push to get Nash to done the Forum Blue and Gold jerseys, but you can’t dismiss just how much tradition plays into this. The Lakers prove time and time again that they’re one of the best teams at recognizing when it’s time to approach struggling franchises. They did it when they acquired Pau Gasol. They do it whenever they seem to need a key addition to the roster.
They rarely just go out and sign big free agents. That’s not really their deal (although Shaq was obviously the biggest of free agency splashes for them). They’re poachers. They sense weakness in a market, presumably lowball the owner and end up flipping the product for extended playoff runs. Sometimes the trades end up working out (Marc Gasol got good); sometimes they look incredibly lopsided.
The Suns accepted four draft picks from the Lakers in exchange for Steve Nash. That could be viewed as selling high on a 36-year old point guard with a creaky back. The two first round picks will be in 2013 and 2015. It’s safe to assume those won’t be any better than mid-20 picks. The two second round picks (2013 and 2014) will most likely be in the mid-50s as well.
It’s moves like this that make you think the Suns are confident in their scouting department to turn these presumably mediocre draft picks into gems from a scrapheap. I’d love to be able to say one way or another they will actually do this, but their history shows that we just have no way of knowing.
Who is the last successful second round pick the Suns have drafted? They drafted Malik Hairston in 2008 with the 48th pick and then shipped him out for Goran Dragic. They drafted Marcin Gortat in 2005 with the 57th pick and sold him to Orlando that night. They drafted Stephen Jackson with the 42nd pick in 1997 and waived him a few months later.
As for the first round picks…
- They drafted Luol Deng with the seventh pick in 2004 (right after Sarver purchased the team) and traded him to the Bulls for a 2005 first round pick and something called a “Jackson Vroman.”
- They drafted Nate Robinson with that 2005 first round pick and traded him with Quentin Richardson to the Knicks for Kurt Thomas and some Dijon Thompson mustard.
- The next year, they drafted Rajon Rondo with the 21st pick, only to send him to Boston with Brian Grant for a 2007 first round pick.
- With that 2007 first round pick, they selected Rudy Fernandez and traded him with James Jones to the Portland Trailblazers for cash.
- Also in 2007, they dealt Kurt Thomas with a 2008 first rounder (ended up being Serge Ibaka but don’t worry, they had just drafted Robin Lopez) and their 2010 first round pick (Quincy Pondexter) to the Sonics for a 2009 second round pick (Emir Preldzic, who hasn’t played in the NBA).
- In 2009, 2011 and 2012, they’ve drafted Earl Clark, Markieff Morris and Kendall Marshall, respectively. Clark is long gone and Morris looks like he can be a really nice player for them. Marshall will be the backup to Goran Dragic (they just re-signed him after trading him in 2011 with a first rounder that ended up being Nikola Mirotic, who will be a fantastic player for Chicago when he makes his way to the NBA).
To say I have a lack of faith in the Suns turning those future first round picks into contributing members of the Phoenix Suns society is to say Kobe Bryant thinks he should probably take a shot at the end of a close game.
The Suns have gone from wasting the potential of Mike D’Antoni’s Suns by not bolstering the roster when they could to wasting Steve Nash’s years in the desert to pretending an unexpected Western Conference Finals run with a mediocre roster was good enough for the status quo to sending Steve Nash to a division rival for assets they seem incapable of maximizing to a team that will allow Michael Beasley to be the second option next to Goran Dragic as the Suns try to convince their fans that cyanide pills are less entertaining than season ticket packages.
Steve Nash is going to head to the Lakers and revive a pick-and-roll game that hasn’t been there in decades. Los Angeles was able to score during pick-and-rolls last year with the ball handler (11th in the league with 0.81 points per possession). However, their PnR roll men were extremely mediocre-at-best ranking 27th in the league with 0.85 points per possession. Considering Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum accounted for nearly 70% of those possessions as the roll man, it seems pretty improbable that they’d be so bad.
One of the reasons the Lakers couldn’t score with their roll men was they didn’t have the passers to get it done. Derek Fisher, Ramon Sessions, and even Kobe Bryant didn’t excel at finding the seam on those pick-and-rolls. It often left the ball handler with much more pressure to create a shot on his own while the defense was able to recover into their positions. Last season, the Suns ranked second in the NBA with 1.17 points per possession from their roll men. Nash’s ability to score from any angle and on any spot on the floor coupled with his insane passing vision and touch allowed Phoenix to destroy defenses with their pick-and-roll.
That alone will turn the Lakers’ big men from huge threats to huge problems. Running a pick-and-roll at times with Kobe Bryant on the strong side corner/wing and Pau Gasol picking for Nash will not only give those three players a huge advantage in the halfcourt, but it will also allow Andrew Bynum to be a wrecking ball cutting from the weakside baseline if the defense swarms Pau. To say the Lakers could have a devastating play on offense is a bit of an understatement. Los Angeles still has to find players to contribute from the bench, but it could be much easier, knowing Steve Nash will be moving the ball around.
On the other end of the Pacific Division standings, the Suns will be in a free-for-all, with Gortat praying Dragic can find him and Michael Beasley trying to prove he was a commodity missed out on during this free agency period. The Suns will take their thrifty ways into the lottery and rebuild with a scouting department that we really don’t have a hold on at all.
This trade hurts the Suns and it bolsters the Lakers. This isn’t a lazy analytical statement, as much as it tells you exactly where the Buss family keeps the Lakers and where the Sarver regime cheapens the Suns.