Steve Nash's final two Suns seasons, post-Amar'e, missing the playoffs and looking like a shell of their former "7 Seconds or Less" selves, were difficult for many fans to take after the thrills of the high-scoring, championship-contending teams of the mid and late '00s.
Personally, I found enjoyment in the 2011-12 team. After a slow start, a less than awe-inspiring starting lineup of Nash, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill, Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat proved to be extremely effective. Nash and Gortat executed a deadly pick and roll game, with Frye and Dudley providing floor spacing, and Hill wing defense. That five-man group produced +13.4 points per 100 possessions over opponents.
Unfortunately, the slow start, a weak bench and late injuries to Hill and Frye doomed the Suns to the lottery again.
That season was also my first as a front page writer here, and I posted on a regular basis, which may be a reason I hold fonder memories of it than most. I was fully engaged and invested in that team.
For those of you who weren't around then, or anyone who wants to take a walk down memory lane, here are a few of the Nash pieces I wrote then. They're all more meaningful than anything I could write about him now that he's been gone so long.
Members of the staff wrote tributes to Nash to celebrate his 38th birthday on February 7th, 2012. I used the occasion to stake my claim that Nash is the greatest ever Suns player.
When he returned to Phoenix from Dallas, the Suns were a 29-53 team, with the 21st rated offense in the league. In his first season back, 2004-2005, the Suns won 62 games with the NBA's best offense, making the Western Conference Finals only to lose to the eventual league champion San Antonio Spurs. Another 60-win season, two 50-win seasons and two more conference finals appearances followed as Nash won league MVP twice.
Then, like a boss, Nash went out and hit the game-winning shot that night.
The Suns dug themselves out of an early season hole to make a push for the #8 playoff seed with strong play in late February and March. On March 23rd, they exploded for 113 points against the vaunted Pacers defense (sound familiar?), as Nash dished 17 assists. Remember that Gortat led the Suns in scoring that season behind the effectiveness of Nash's pick and roll game with him.
The Suns and Pacers played a good old-fashioned shootout tonight, with the Suns prevailing 113-111. Steve Nash added another masterpiece to his ever-growing collection with 17 assists and 12 points, Grant Hill showed he loves playing in Indianapolis with a season-high 22 points, and Marcin Gortat came up strong in his duel with All-Star center Roy Hibbert, scoring 23.
One of the less pleasant parts of Nash's final season was the constant trade rumors, even though Nash and Babby both repeatedly stated he wouldn't be traded. I did not like this. I did not like it one bit, and got nice and ranty one Friday afternoon in March of that year.
Most importantly, Nash says he wants to honor his contract and fulfill his commitment in Phoenix. What the hell is it with so-called experts who pretend they know his situation and motivations better than he does? On last night's post-game, analyst Dennis Scott called Nash "too loyal" and that the Suns "owe him" a trade. Those sound like the words of a man who isn't loyal enough, or who has no clue what loyalty is.
And before anyone even thinks of telling me, "But Ray, he ended up on the Lakers, so you were wrong." No. Surely, we can all tell the difference between a player under contract requesting a trade, and a free agent leaving his previous team when they've already signed his replacement, right?
Hey, I'm not a doctor or trainer. Who knew a piece of luggage would do him in? Also, I think now is a fair time to debate Nash vs. Stockton.
All of which is to say that, while what Nash will attempt to do is rarely achieved, it's not unprecedented. Nobody can tell the future, especially with regards to injuries, but there are no obvious reasons he can't continue his current level of play for at least another couple of seasons.
I enjoyed watching Nash play more than nearly every athlete in my lifetime as a sports fan. It was watching a master craftsman at work.
When he left for the Lakers, it stunned and disappointed us all, but then I think we understood it was a.) for the best and b.) not his fault since the Suns clearly didn't want him any more after drafting Kendall Marshall and signing Goran Dragic as a free agent.
Now we have Archie Goodwin and another pick on the way, and we'll always have the great memories of Steve Nash as the brightest Sun of all.