It’s funny to hear about Steve Nash retiring because he’s been irrelevant in terms of actually playing basketball for almost two seasons. He simply tried very hard to fight reality, time, age and his own broken down body, as the last chapter of his NBA career was as forgettable as his beginning.
Yes, Nash wasn’t very remarkable to start with. A 15th overall pick in the 1996 draft (one of the best of all-time), Nash averaged just 10.5 minutes per game during his rookie year. The Suns had a bit more sense in the second season but he still wound up with the Mavericks in 1998, teaming up with Dirk Nowitzki and establishing himself slowly as one of the best point guards in the league, retiring as one of the best shooters in the history of the NBA.
Nash had some very good seasons with the Mavericks, including two All-Stars, but he returned to Phoenix in 2004. This time he was the key cog in the machine, and together with Mike D’Antoni put on a show with some of the most fun-to-watch basketball in the NBA over the last 20-or-so years. Too bad it was never enough for more than a conference final.
Nash won the MVP award twice (2005, 2006). On both occasions it was very arguable. Many considered Shaquille O’Neal as the real MVP of the 2004-2005 season, also making a change that year and almost taking the Miami Heat to the NBA finals. In 2006, Kobe Bryant on a terrible team on an incredible scoring run had a very good case for the award.
But Nash, despite scoring “just” 18 points per game during the two years of his peak, was much more than just a scorer. He led the league in assists five times with the Suns, including his first three seasons. He was the reason the D’Antoni system worked; just look at the coach’s career with Nash as his point guard and without him. If it wasn’t for one impressive surge by Jeremy Lin in 2012, he’d be completely forgotten by now.
Nash made everyone better around him. That’s what being a point guard is about, isn’t it? In one of his seasons, everyone playing with him set career highs in scoring. Just think of Amare Stoudemire with and without Nash. Think of Shawn Marion. Nash could have put up more impressive numbers in terms of scoring, but at his best, he was about roaming free through defenses and threading the needle, or simply finding open players.
His move to the Los Angeles Lakers came as a surprise. Many thought he’d go to the Bulls or another team with title pretences, but Nash also wanted money in the twilight of his career, and the Lakers were able to offer him almost $10 million a season. The megalomaniac project of bringing over Dwight Howard so Kobe Bryant can run him out of town collapsed. Because of Bryant, because of their coach, and because Nash couldn’t stay healthy.
In the 2012-2013 season, Nash managed to last 50 games and play 32.5 minutes a night, but sharing the ball with Bryant and suddenly becoming almost like a shooting guard was obviously not bringing out the best of Nash. In the 2013-2014 season, the end wasn’t just near, it was here, lasting just 15 games and averaging 6.8 points per game.
Nash wanted another go. The Lakers brought Jeremy Lin via trade from the Rockets as a backup, even though he’s clearly the better player at this point. Nash couldn’t play. The moment it was announced he was out for another season, it was pretty much a ‘retired man walking’ scenario. Out of the NBA for good, without making it official.
And now it’s official. Eight-time All-Star, two-time MVP, 3-time All-NBA first team, 3rd all-time in assists, 9th all-time in 3-point percentage, best all-time in free throw percentage. A hall of famer in a few years, without having to wait past the minimum period. He made the NBA a bit more fun to watch, even if it was never for what truly mattered.