Nash speculation gaining steam but little clarity
The fluid and meandering stream of Steve Nash speculation rolled through some interesting ports of alleged interest in recent days.
It began with Nash’s seemingly polite confirmation that he’d listen if the New York Knicks showed interest when the 38-year-old point guard hustles into free agency next month — a Knicks insider confirmed that the speculated interest in Nash remains legitimate. A couple of days later, the NBA ruled that two key Knicks — including point guard Jeremy Lin — would be granted early Bird rights, making it easier for New York to retain its surprise phenom and still use the mid-level exception ($5 million) to woo Nash.
From there, Nash watchers were obliged to consider a couple of reports strongly suggesting that the two-time Most Valuable Player has winnowed his NBA employment options to three cities: Toronto, Portland and back here in Phoenix.
To believe that, one must toss out recent reports credited to supposed inside bean-spillers that Nash requires his next team to be on the cusp of an NBA championship. Although he never really said this, Nash did help stir such assumptions during a not-so-long-ago radio tour that included admitting his interest in listening to LeBron James if the officially crowned king gave him a call regarding work with the Miami Heat.
But now that has LeBron scored, passed and rebounded his way to a championship, there may be little teaming-up interest from either party. The Heat would seem more interested in using their limited resources — just the mid-level exception — to hire a big man with more productivity potential than Joel Anthony or Rony Turiaf.
The Knicks — with coach Mike Woodson looking more like a grind-it-out sort — may not satisfy a Nash shopping list that includes on-court fit, competitive potential of the team, money and family location issues.
With Deron Williams reportedly hoping the Nets can do enough to keep him in Brooklyn, the Dallas Mavericks — assuming the hiring of an aging point guard he once let get away is Mark Cuban’s idea of retooling — will be associated with Nash in more upcoming rumors.
Meanwhile, several NBA personnel executives have confirmed that the Nash-to-Toronto rumors may have real traction.
“I’ve been hearing that from people that would know,” said one Western Conference sharpie, sounding very much like the rest of us. “The Raptors may not be ready to win right away, but with (Andrea) Bargnani, (DeMar) DeRozan and maybe (Jonas) Valanciunas coming over next season, they could be pretty decent right away with Nash. And they could have enough cap space to get something done there.”
Valanciunas, the 7-footer chosen fifth overall by the Raptors in the 2011 draft, was the dominant player in last summer’s U-19 World Championships. According to reports earlier this month, there’s a strong chance he could buy out the last year of his European contract — the Raps are able to pony up roughly a quarter of that price — and play in the NBA next season.
The Raptors also have the eighth pick in this week’s draft, with which they’re expected to grab an attacking wing (such as Dion Waiters of Syracuse) or high-scoring, draft-board-climbing point guard Damian Lillard of Weber State.
The Portland Trail Blazers’ long-reported interest in acquiring Nash may have waned or expired entirely. The Blazers, who own the sixth and 11th picks, also have a new general manager. Neil Olshey, fresh from a pretty strong spin with the Los Angeles Clippers, may have enough new-guy latitude to prefer rebuilding.
“I want to make it clear … we’re not looking for quick fixes,” Olshey said recently. “We’re not looking for aging veterans.”
Meanwhile, fans in Phoenix are particularly interested in the plans of at least one aging veteran.
Philadelphia 76ers president Rod Thorn has a pretty simple philosophy regarding player acquisition.
Draft for talent. Trade for need.
Free agency presumably includes arguments for both of those player-acquisition methods. Unfortunately, the NBA’s draft/free-agency chronology makes drafting and trading seem a lot trickier than it would be if their dates were reversed.
For example, the Suns seem to like slick-passing North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall and several wing prospects with scoring potential. But with Nash’s free-agency decision delayed until July, choosing a player with Thursday’s 13th overall pick will require somewhat of a leap of faith.
The Suns may like Marshall enough to choose him and still pursue Nash because — or at least make an offer. It’s doubtful they’d take responsibility for a breakup and just wave bye-bye.
The timing isn’t doing the Houston Rockets any favors, either. With point guard Kyle Lowry having admitted he’s not exactly on the same page as coach Kevin McHale, the free-agent uncertainty attached to Goran Dragic makes moving Lowry and perhaps a draft pick (the Rockets have the 14th and 16th selections) a definite risk.
HAMMER TRADE STRENGTH?
If reports of the Suns’ interest in center Chris Kaman have any substance, would they also indicate an interest in moving Marcin Gortat?
Go ahead and exhale for now. Gortat represents the biggest personnel score for the Lon Babby-Lance Blanks front-office axis that’s trying to make its mark after inheriting a team that reached the conference finals. Gortat has been a double-double machine at a position of importance for a franchise with little history of center competence.
Yet, it’s hard to imagine Kaman signing on to be Gortat’s backup. Could they play together? Well, not if the Suns hope to defend any power forward who plays more than 10 feet from the rim or still have designs on spacing the floor when they have the ball.
It’s also is difficult to fathom Kaman coming to Phoenix on a contract longer than one year. Anything beyond that would represent a reduction in cap flexibility for the limited ability to help build an elite-level team.
By all accounts, the Suns are pretty fond of the hard-working, brutally candid Gortat, whose post-Orlando statistical jump has inspired more credit for Nash than the additionally obvious variable of increased playing time.
But how is Gortat perceived by other teams? A sample of six personnel executives suggests little indication that the Polish Hammer would land a 2012 lottery pick in a straight-up, player-for-draft choice deal. Unless the trading partner has cap room, the Suns would have to take back some salary. And they’ve all heard nothing that would suggest Gortat is being shopped.
“He’d help a lot of teams,” one general manager said of Gortat, “but there’s this perception that without Nash passing him the ball, he’d be very ordinary. He has really good speed and an above-average motor. He can rebound his area but rarely puts a body on anyone and gives up a lot of offensive-rebound chances. He’s gotten better on the post, but he’s still not someone you can throw the ball to on the block late in games and expect a bucket. At center, you’d prefer more of a rim protector than a guy who takes a lot of charges.”
NOT MUCH LOCAL DRAFT FLAVOR
If the mocks on NBADraft.net and draftexpress.com translate to draft-night accuracy, two Arizona products will likely have to take the undrafted-free-agent detour to the NBA through the summer league.
Maryland sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin (Tucson Santa Rita) was suspended by the Terrapins for code-of-conduct violations, and while his 21.6-point scoring average led the Atlantic Coast Conference, he’s not expected to be drafted.
Buffalo power forward Mitchell Watt (Goodyear Desert Edge) had a nice run in the Portsmouth Invitational camp that serves as a proving ground for a lot of prospects who’ll never get drafted.
“They both can play,” a Western Conference GM said, “and I really like Watt. They’ll probably get a shot on a summer league roster or two. They have pro talent. It just may not happen in the NBA … at least not right away.”