January 12, 2011
NBA TV's weekly Fan Night broadcast got stuck with something of a clunker on Tuesday, as a matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns didn't quite turn out to be the entertaining, 48-minute sustained sprint the voting public envisioned. (On the plus side, though, the network didn't get the worst clunker of the night. Always a silver lining.)
Rather than a hotly contested rematch of the 138-133 barn-burner the two teams staged on Nov. 28, 2010, this faceoff between two high-octane, star-powered offenses was basically over by halftime, when the Nuggets held a 66-55 lead after posting a 44-point second stanza. It was completely over by the start of the fourth quarter, when Denver found itself up 30 after outscoring the Suns 38-17 in the third. Star Phoenix point guard Steve Nash(notes) came out of the game for good with 2:44 left in that blowout third frame, his 15 points and seven assists having done little to staunch the bleeding.
After discussing the Suns' putrid defensive effort with NBA TV studio cohorts Rick Kamla and Kevin McHale, analyst Chris Webber argued that the 36-year-old Nash, a two-time league MVP who has grown increasingly frustrated with the Suns' poor play but has not publicly demanded a trade out of Phoenix, deserves better. Namely, an exit from the desert:
"I'm getting a 'Free Nash' T-shirt. You know how when people go to jail, you get a 'Free Tyson' T-shirt? A 'Free Nash' T-shirt, because I want him out of Phoenix. He has 15 points, seven assists — he cannot do any more than what he's doing. He's a hard worker, he plays hard. Free Steve Nash."
And then, Webber repeated himself. "Free Steve Nash. Free Steve Nash." Then Kamla, NBA TV's studio host, joined in. It sounded like one of them started banging his hand on the desk. "Free Steve Nash. Free Steve Nash."
International readers ("Int'l read'rs"): If the clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to peruse the chanting courtesy of tensor17.
The odd chant ended as quickly as it began, with laughter, McHale clarifying for any eventual angry letter-writers in the greater Phoenix area that he wasn't taking part in the chanting, and Kamla tossing it back to the on-site announcers at the Pepsi Center. End scene.
Webber isn't the only one who feels this way. (I'm going to choose to separate Webber and Kamla for the moment, because it feels far more likely that Kamla just kind of wanted to join in a fun chant.) "Free Steve Nash" is a pretty popular sentiment among NBA followers — no one wants to see such a singular talent, a team-first winner whose career-long contributions to the game have been so focused on unselfishness, joy, whimsy, speed and entertainment, spend the waning period of his NBA tenure languishing on a going-nowhere team that gives up 100 points through three quarters. Except fans in Phoenix, maybe, and it's hard to fault them for that — when you love someone, the prospect of letting him or her go, even if parting might ultimately be the best move for both of you, is daunting.
Unfortunately, the primary fan motivation for seeing Nash moved out of Phoenix — letting him return to the heat of the playoff chase and finish his career on a title contender — seems to clash with the reality of most contenders' situations right now.
The Miami Heat don't seem to have anywhere near the assets you'd assume the Suns would want in exchange for the face of their franchise. The Los Angeles Lakers' vaunted Triangle offense would seem like a poor fit for Nash's ball-dominating style. The Orlando Magic have already made their big moves. The Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls are all pretty set at the one, as are the Utah Jazz. And while reuniting Nash with Dirk Nowitzki(notes) would probably make Dallas Mavericks fans swoon, that seems like an unlikely destination.
One interesting landing spot would be the Oklahoma City Thunder, as the excellent Tom Haberstroh noted in a recent ESPN Insider piece — the thought of moving the explosive Russell Westbrook(notes) off the ball, which would allow Nash to orchestrate for Kevin Durant(notes) and wreak havoc with Serge Ibaka(notes), is pretty enticing. But given Sam Presti's stated preference for allowing his young Thunder to grow organically and improve from within, sending a wealth of assets west doesn't seem to fit with the organization's M.O., making it hard to see any clear match among squads with legitimate present and near-future title aspirations.
Whether Nash stays in Phoenix or gets shipped out to new pastures, whether green or not, one thing is certain: Seeing Chris Webber compare Nash to a dude in prison, then chant for him to be freed, was pretty weird.