Steve Nash 'Not Worried About Trade Talk,' Just Wants to Win
It's a tradition on the Phoenix Suns that, whenever they win a road game, players all eat cookies. Well, everyone on the team except Nash.
"He won't even eat a cookie. He's that committed,'' teammate Jared Dudley said about the point guard, whose disciplined diet includes not eating sugar.
Still, Nash, being the ultimate team player, would love to see his teammates gobbling down lots of post-game treats this season. But it's not looking good.
After an embarrassing 138-133 loss Monday at Denver, where no cookies and only frowns were served up in the Suns' locker room, they dropped to 8-9. Consider that this is a team that averaged 55 wins a season in the six years after Nash signed as a free agent in the summer of 2004.
"It's disappointing, obviously, the losses,'' Nash said in an interview with FanHouse about how this season has begun. "We made so much change from a team that was close to the Finals last year. But, considering all the changes, it's not an awful situation. It's just not what we're used to.''
Nash hasn't been on a losing team since his 1999-2000 Dallas Mavericks went 40-42. But the Suns, who lost 4-2 in the Western Conference finals last spring to the eventual champion Lakers, lost a lot of firepower when star power forward Amar'e Stoudemire became a free agent and bolted to New York.
So the ageless Nash has had to do more scoring this season than he likes. He's averaging 18.9 points, which is on pace to be a career high and would result in an NBA record.
No player in league history has had a career-high scoring average as late as his 15th season. But don't think for a picosecond that Nash, 36, wants anything to do with this mark.
"Ideally, it would be great if my points came down and my assists came up and we had more balance,'' said Nash, whose scoring average is up from last season's 16.5 and assists are down from 11.0 to 9.6.
But the departure of Stoudemire, who averaged 23.1 points, was a big one. There's not a lot of scoring inside. On the perimeter, guard Jason Richardson is averaging a team-high 21.0 points and Phoenix's third-leading scorer at 13.9, small forward Grant Hill, 38, is even older than Nash.
Stoudemire, who got a five-year, $100 million maximum deal from the Knicks, told FanHouse last July he would have stayed in Phoenix, had he been offered a fully guaranteed deal. The Suns were willing to give Stoudemire three years at the maximum but the final two years wouldn't have been fully guaranteed if he didn't play a certain number of minutes.
"Well, of course,'' Nash said after being asked if he wished the Suns could have done more to retain Stoudemire. "We all wanted to keep him. But I understand. I thought Robert (Sarver, the team owner) did the best possible offer he could make. I know his system of ownership, and Amar'e made the decision to take a new opportunity and a more solidified deal.''
So Stoudemire has escaped to New York to join Mike D'Antoni, who coached both Stoudemire and Nash with the Suns from 2004-08. During that time, they were legitimate title contenders and Nash won MVPs in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Considering the D'Antoni-Stoudemire hookup and that the Suns have slipped, perhaps it's not a surprise Nash's name has come up in trade rumors, with the Knicks mentioned the most. But Nash scoffs at the rumors.
"It's a 24-hour news cycle so someone's got to make something up,'' Nash said. "I don't think there's any truth to any of it. So I've never even thought twice about it. I thought it was typical paper talk ... Management has told me (Nash is not being shopped). They're like, 'Not even close.' I trust them. It's never been a concern of mine. I'm just trying to get this team to come together and I'm not worried about trade talk.''
Suns coach Alvin Gentry concurred that Nash has been told there's nothing to the rumors.
"They're totally false,'' Gentry said. "It's like somebody saying that Peyton Manning is going to be traded.''
Nash, making $10.31 million this season and $11.69 million next season before he can become a free agent in the summer of 2012, was asked if he might want to be moved sometime before his deal expires if it's apparent the Suns don't have a championship-caliber team. Nash, who turns 37 Feb. 7, would be 38 when he can become a free agent.
"I don't even think about it,'' Nash said. "That's too far in advance. So I'm worried about this week and see how good we can be this week.''
The Suns haven't been very good lately. They've dropped five of seven, with Gentry saying after the loss to Denver he was "pissed off'' due to the lack of defense played.
Overall, Nash said Phoenix's main problem has been its lack of size. In addition to losing Stoudemire, the Suns are also without starting center Robin Lopez, lost Nov. 14 for a month with a knee problem after he already had been slow in returning from a back injury.
Lopez's replacement in the pivot, Channing Frye, is a skinny jump shooter. Hakim Warrick just replaced an ineffective Hedo Turkoglu as the starting power forward but neither is a true power forward.
"We need some size,'' Nash said. "We need Robin Lopez to come back healthy. We just need to keep building at both ends of the floor. Last year, we overcame a lot but, obviously, our roster is different. It takes a really efficient performance at both ends of the floor to be a playoff team as small as we are.''
The Suns closed last season on a 28-7 run to finish 54-28 after they had been 26-21 and Stoudemire was a candidate to be dispatched by the February trade deadline. Even after making the West finals, the team was rebuilt. Guard Leandro Barbosa was dealt to Toronto and scrappy power forward Louis Amundson left as a free agent to Golden State.
The departures by Stoudemire and Barbosa were notable because it left Nash as the last player remaining from Phoenix's 2006-07 team, when the Suns went 61-21, their second 60-win season in three years under D'Antoni's high-octane offense. But perhaps it's no surprise Nash is a last man standing.
No point guard in NBA history has played at such a high level as Nash in his late 30s. While Utah's John Stockton, who retired at 41 in 2003, has been regarded as the model for longevity, he never averaged more than 13.4 points or 8.7 assists in his final six seasons.
"I think I can play that long if I choose to,'' Nash said of lasting as long as Stockton did, which would mean being active through 2014-15. "It's just a matter of how I'm feeling and how much I'm enjoying it.
"I don't think age should be a factor right now. ... If you have a good attitude and you believe it, you can keep playing. That's I think more important than the physical age.''
Gentry believes Nash can play "three or four more years.'' He says Nash keeps in such great shape his "age is a non-factor.''
Nuggets coach George Karl is a huge fan of Nash, whom he says "makes his team figure out how to win games as much as any point guard who has ever played.'' Asked if Nash, though, has lost anything at 36, Karl said he won't make the same "stupid'' comment he did in the mid-1990s when he talked about the Jazz getting "a year older, not a year faster.''
"I think we're all hoping that will happen,'' Karl said about Nash dropping off. "But I remember saying something about John Stockton when he was 33. I think he played until he was 40. He was pretty good at 37 and 38 so I missed by five years on him.''
Just as Stockton did, Nash has made sure he never gets out of shape. He never wavers from his diet. The Suns' locker room has special energy bars for Nash as well as organic powders Amazing Meal and Green Super Food.
Not that Dudley has much green stuff with Nash in the locker room, but the two do eat out often away from the arena. He admires Nash's discipline.
"He takes care of his body, and it starts with his diet,'' Dudley said. "We're all amazed at how he takes pride in eating healthy ... He's really committed. He knows his body is his business, and he tries to take care of it as much as he can.
"If there's bad food on the (team) plane, he'll just have salad ... He's a huge fish guy. He doesn't want anything fried or pan seared ... He doesn't put himself in a bad position (on the road). If it's late at night (and no suitable food is available), he'll just have almonds and lettuce now, and he'll go to bed hungry.''
Nash definitely won't have a late-night cookie. But he's doing everything he can to make sure the sweets keep coming for his teammates.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson