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Ball Don't Lie

2004-era Mark Cuban didn’t think Steve Nash would still be walking at this point

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Steve Nash and Mark Cuban in bangs-ier days (Getty Images)

The league churns along, people tend to forget, and rumor turns into legend turns into "fact." I'm sounding like inarticulate grandpa again, wobbling as he gives the Thanksgiving toast, but we needed to be reminded of long-ago lost context from time to time. Which is why it was nice of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to remind us of why, exactly, he declined to spend his usual Mark Cuban-money on point guard Steve Nash in 2004, prior to his back-to-back MVP seasons.

Cuban, fresh off a Mavericks championship last June, doesn't need to defend anything to any critic at this point for his decision, but it does bear repeating that Cuban would have been looked upon as an absolute nutter for matching or eclipsing the Phoenix Suns' contact offer to Nash in the summer of 2004. Chalk it up to revisionist history or Mark saving his own hide 7 1/2 years later, but even if he is making excuses, Cuban isn't wrong. Here's his defense, from the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph (via PBT):

"I'll say it now, if you would have told me Steve would have been playing eight years later I would have bet any amount of money you'd be wrong.

"The thing about Steve is his discipline. I knew he was disciplined, but I thought he would fall apart before it mattered,'' Cuban said. "All the advice I got from everybody we had was that he was going to fall apart. He proved us wrong -- and more power to him.

"I give him a lot of credit. He proved me definitely wrong.''

The problem with killing Cuban here is that Nash proved everyone wrong. And anyone who tells you differently is lying. The Internet existed in 2004, young men in derby hats still churned out periodicals and newspapers on the reg, and plenty of people had a chance to destroy Mark Cuban for letting Steve Nash go to a terrible Suns team as a free agent following Dallas' misguided 2003-04 season. Nobody raised their voice when the Mavs passed, strange for an analytical community that too often values what happened three months prior way more than what will happen to a player 13 months later.

Nash, if you recall, needed until his third season as a Maverick to work out his various back, Achilles and ankle issues, and put together a fully healthy season in 2000-01. His game was so creaky at times that Cuban signed Utah Jazz reserve Howard Eisley in the summer of 2000, not to spell Nash, but to possibly beat him out in training camp for the starting gig. Again, not revisionist history, and a quick stroll through some of that fall's NBA preview mags will reveal some bylines as suggesting that a Mavs outfit with Eisley starting would lead Dallas to their first playoff berth in over a decade.

Instead, Nash was that guy. He made All-Star teams and ran one of the prettier offenses in memory, with the only mitigating factors coming in the fact that Dallas could not make it out of the Western Conference bracket, and that Steve Nash wasn't STEVE NASH even through all the All-Star appearances and 120-point games.

Why? Don Nelson.

We shouldn't criticize the man too much, he had the instinct to trade for both Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash on the same night back in 1998, but he also ran that mismatch-heavy offense that often took the ball out of Nash's hands. It took Mike D'Antoni in Phoenix to ramp up the possession count even further and let Nash essentially have a say in every score with either a shot, assist, or hockey assist for the mainstream media to fall over itself whilst fawning and hand Nash two MVPs. Nash, in Dallas, was never going to dominate in that way. Not that this was a bad thing, considering Dallas nearly toppled Phoenix in 2005, took down the Suns in 2006, and tossed out some epic offensive seasons with Nash running the show on Nellie's teams in the years prior.

And for Cuban to match Phoenix's contract offer in 2004, handing the 30-year-old heaps of money despite just four full healthy seasons as a Maverick behind him? It wouldn't have been regarded as a James Posey/Hedo Turkoglu-esque move, but we have to point out that most at the time thought the six-year deal to be worth every penny for the next two seasons before completely falling apart once Nash hit the age of 33 or so. History, the guy's injury past, and (we're guessing) the Maverick doctors screamed as much.

For Nash to be churning along this season (14.3 points and over 10 assists in just under 32 minutes a night, a sterling 22.3 Player Efficiency Rating) a few weeks before turning 38 is, as Cuban points out, the result of Nash's own impressive dedication and perhaps the vaunted Phoenix Suns training staff. Cuban's most infamous "misstep" was an intelligent and calculated risk that didn't go according to script. And just as long as he doesn't twist things so as to take advantage of dodgy memories and writers looking for an easy angle, we're OK with making what might appear to sound like excuses to some.

We're also more than OK with the Phoenix and Dallas offenses in the eight years following Nash's jump back to Arizona. Seems like just about everyone made out just fine in this transaction.

Save for Howard Eisley. SMH.

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