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Steve Nash, Leadership and Chemistry

Like John Stockton, Steve Nash is a model of point guard consistency who has quietly improved with age. Nash was always more than a run-n-gun marshmallow because he flashed grit and finesse. His teams won going back to Santa Clara. So why does this two-time MVP continue to cast his teams in the underdog mold? The dominance of Duncan and Kobe over the last decade have had much to do with it, as well as what we can call the luck deficit. The FO needs a Gasol moment to win it all this year. Nonetheless, the Suns are remarkably close to a championship. Nash could be the Finals MVP at 37 or 38.


Former GM Steve Kerr had this to say about Nash a few months back:

Steve Kerr: Steve always makes the best of whatever's there…I do feel bad that more than likely Steve will never win a championship because there's not a player or an athlete on Earth who deserves it more than him because of just…the work ethic, the constant commitment to excellence. The guy is probably the most amazing athlete I've ever seen in my life, just with his preparation every day.
Bill Simmons: Over Jordan?
SK: Yeah, I think Michael was maniacal in his work ethic. Steve is that but he's also very intellectual about the approach. He's constantly searching for ways to get better through diet, through training exercises, through his mental approach. He's also as humble of a human being as you're ever going to find. He brings his teammates along with him as he goes, which is pretty remarkable.

1. “more than likely Steve will never win a championship”

There are powerhouses emerging out East, Nash is 36 and Phil has returned to the ward.  

2. “He brings his teammates along with him as he goes…”

Fans had grave doubts a year ago. Gentry had earned the players’ trust and established himself as the anti-Terry Porter. Shaq left, Amare was quoting Eastern philosophers on Twitter and “fashioning his brand.” We had young energy guys like Dudley and Lou but, let's not pretend, also “Tragic” and “the lesser Lopez.”

Fast forward to the second half of the season and just about everything clicked into place. The Amare-Lopez frontcourt looked unstoppable, Frye was renaissancing and Steve was enjoying a career year. "It started in training camp," Gentry said. "He (Nash) was just determined. He said, 'We're going to get back to where we were and I'm going to see to that.' (It's) true to form with what he's been able to do [with] our team. I've said all along I thought he had a better year this year than any of the two years he won the MVP." Nash’s leadership by example rallied the team, especially throughout the Spurs series. The Suns’ chemistry was off the charts and the banged-up, aging Spurs seemed awestruck at times. “Any team that sweeps the Spurs is the real deal," Grant Hill said.

Yet prior to the Lakers series it’s as if the Suns’ collective faith began to waver. Amare faced immediate setback and chose to ridicule a “lucky” Odom; Lamar promptly went on to have his best all-around series. The others, even Grant Hill, had never made a deep playoff run. Yet we
held home court. The game 5 loss stung because Nash willed the team in the 4th and JRich did his best Robert Horry impersonation in LA. The Suns lost the chance to host a close-out game 6.

***

Seth wrote earlier in the week, “Nothing he's done has been at all introspective. Unlike the greatest artists he's yet to put himself into his work. Humility and selflessness on the court makes Steve Nash one of the best distributors to ever run a basketball team but at times he's displayed a darker, edgier side to his game as well.” Leave aside whether or not an edgier Nash would have helped the Suns in previous seasons, let’s look to the one coming up. Nash should be thinking less about his game, which is essentially on cruise control, and more about leadership.

Steve became the undisputed team leader once he arrived back from Dallas. He led by example and rarely breathed fire because Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire would have tuned him out. Raja was so important chemistry-wise because he had swagger and said what Nash would not. Our current veterans don’t take to that role naturally. Luckily, last year’s squad was so eager to prove itself Nash seemed to stand back and watch players develop.

I hope that changes this year. So many free agent moves and so much trade talk later the league appears rather different compared to early June. The Lakers win it all and can claim to be the favorites once again. The Suns finished 2nd out West and then neutralized the offseason loss of an overrated All-Star…and are projected as a 5-9 seed? Even Matt Janning should take that as an insult! JRich, Hedo, Lopez, Dudley, Frye and Goran all play better off emotion. Nash? He conserves for the playoffs, transforming into his darker self after some collision injury. Returning players should be steamed at the suggestion postseason success hinged on Amare. He was a key piece but not the linchpin.

After the chemistry sets Nash needs to channel his inner Raja and play up to contenders. There are quite a few. If the Suns gain momentum once more in the spring, throw all expectations out the window. Nash is the most competitive player on the team and he needs to stir the emotion up in everyone. On a team ignoring the stat sheet a point guard should be asked to do far more than distribute. Nash will have to build up Hedo’s game (a Turkish Dirk? a Dirkish Turk? a whirling Dirkish Turk?) then call out Frye if he doesn’t hard foul on a lay-up attempt. Those regular-season chemistry points will likely determine the course of next postseason.
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