Steve Nash, at 38, playing great for mediocre Suns

The Phoenix Suns are a shadow of the frenetic scoring machine

they were a few years ago. Maybe that makes the season Steve Nash

is having all the more impressive.

Not surrounded by an abundance of talent, on a team that stood

12-18 going into Friday night’s game against the Lakers in Los

Angeles, Nash leads the league in assists at 10.7 and is the top

shooter among guards at 56 percent. That’s third overall among

players at any position and would be his career best if it holds up

for the season.

On his 38th birthday, Feb. 7, Nash had 18 points and 11 assist,

including the game-winning layup with 5 seconds to go in a 107-105

win at Milwaukee. For the eighth time in his 16-year NBA career, he

made the All-Star Game roster.

There has been one concession to his age. Coach Alvin Gentry

held him out of Tuesday’s loss at Denver so he wouldn’t have to

play three consecutive nights. The next night he had 22 points and

16 assists but his team faded down the stretch in a home loss to

Atlanta.

”People are saying `Hey, you’re playing great for 38,”’ said

Lon Babby, the Suns’ president for basketball operations. ”My

answer to that is `No, he’s just playing great – period.”

Nash is in the final year of his contract, and his future in

Phoenix is an open question.

Babby has said all along that the team has no plans to trade

Nash. Given his age and contract status, the return probably

wouldn’t come close to matching his value to the franchise anyway.

But Babby said he would be obliged to listen when approached.

”You can lock your door, you can pull down the shade, but that

doesn’t mean you can keep people from ringing your door bell,” he

said.

Nash, of course, has been through all this before.

”I’m happy to honor my contract to play for the Suns,” he

said. ”Along with my teammates, I’ll try to make this as positive

and successful a situation as we possibly can. That’s all I should

concern myself with right now. If the Suns decide to trade me, I’ll

take that same attitude where ever I’m sent. But my attitude is to

do the best I can with the Suns and see what happens at the end of

the season.”

A two-time league MVP, the point guard prides himself on his

physical conditioning. He believes he can play in the NBA for

several more years.

”I feel great,” he said. ”When people ask me, I just say I

can play a couple more years. I could say three more years. Who

knows? Maybe five. I think I could play a long time if I want

to.”

Babby says the Suns want him to retire as a member of the

team.

”What I’ve said to him is that he’s earned the right to stay

here as long as he wants provided that he believes in what we’re

doing and believes in the direction that we’re going and is all

in,” Babby said.

Nash is open to coming back.

”I definitely want to see the team improve and try to get us

back in contention,” he said, ”but I definitely would re-sign

with the Suns.”

But the team, with its eye to free agent additions, might not

want to invest as much as Nash believes he is worth.

The Suns would do that, Nash said, ”at their own peril.”

Babby said he believes Nash understands that ”we’re a team in

transition.”

”Our expectation and goal is to strive to be an elite team and

return to elite status,” he said. ”That’s the catch phrase and

what I really mean by that is the ability to compete at the highest

level. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win a championship but

that’s our aspiration.”

It could be a slow climb, and Nash already acknowledges that

playing for a losing team is a chore.

”Obviously everyone wants to be on a contender,” he said.

”When you’re not it’s not as much fun. At the same time, I have

had a lot of years when I was at the other end of the spectrum,

when I was winning almost every night, contending, going to the

conference finals. What can I say? In some ways, everyone’s going

to go through tough years. I think you’ve got to keep your head

down and work hard and try to turn it around and do the best you

can to overcome it.”

This year’s Suns simply lack the personnel to go against the big

boys of the NBA.

”Look at our roster,” Nash said. ”We don’t have like a go-to

scorer. We don’t have the talent level. We don’t have a max

contract guy, let alone two or three that some teams have. In most

areas, we struggle a little bit. We have good guys. We’ve shown

some glimpses. We’ve just got to find a way to collective find that

little something extra that can get us over the hump.”

Babby insists that changes are coming, but perhaps not as fast

as some would like.

”We’re going to have the ability to spend the money next

summer,” Babby said. ”We’ve got to make sure we spend it wisely

or don’t spend it, keep our powder dry for another day, or use it

for a lopsided trade. I don’t think there’s a quick-term fix here.

We want to build this brick by brick and make sure that we can

build to last.”

And he says having Nash around would ease the process.

”But we also have to be realistic that there’s going to have to

come a time when this franchise is going to have to live without

him, at least on the court,” Babby said. ”My attitude is we ought

to be savoring every day that we have him, not looking past and

into the future when we won’t have him. Obviously we have to

prepare for that day in some fashion, but he can help us get

there.”