On May 25, Steve Nash(notes) led the Phoenix Suns to a 115-106 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers that knotted the Western Conference finals at 2-2, bringing the two-time Most Valuable Player within two victories of his first-ever trip to the NBA Finals. Just five months later, according to SB Nation Arizona's Seth Pollack, Nash feels like this year's team is a long, long way from enjoying such success.
"To be honest, if I was outside this picture and a betting man, I would probably pick us to be outside of the playoffs considering all the changes and the new guys," team leader Steve Nash said after Sunday's team practice.
Nash was particularly frustrated with the process of going from a team he felt was very close to winning an NBA Championship to essentially starting over again.
"I spent four months this summer and a month this training camp feeling like I'm trying to get to the top," Nash said.
"It's hard as a competitor to convince yourself every day all summer and then through the preseason that you're going to get back to where you were and hopefully take the next step, and then you realize that camp is starting all over again and it's not quite as linear as you made it out to yourself all summer."
It's important to note that Nash also said he expects his squad "to go out and give ourselves a chance to win every night," and that if "we play hard and we play smart and play together, there's no reason why we can't scrap our way to some wins." With a fighter like Nash running the show, it's hard to imagine the Suns just rolling over. It's also noteworthy that, y'know, the regular season hasn't even started yet, so it might be a bit premature to start writing the obituary for the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns.
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Even given those caveats, though, the sound-bite takeaway is obviously going to be that the Suns' All-Star point guard is frustrated with the team's progress to this point and wouldn't pick them to finish in the West's top eight at the moment. It's not that it's surprising to hear that kind of honesty from Nash; it's that it's surprising to hear that kind of honesty from any player on the eve of the new season, when hope springs eternal and everyone's tied for first.
That said, it's not hard to understand why Nash might be concerned — between free agency and a front-office overhaul, there's been a lot of turnover in Phoenix since last season's 54-win Suns bowed out to the Lakers.
Off the court, gone are general manager Steve Kerr and senior vice president of basketball operations David Griffin, with ex-Cleveland Cavaliers assistant GM Lance Blanks replacing Kerr and former player agent Lon Babby slotting in as the new president of basketball operations. On the court, leading scorer/longtime Nash pick-and-roll partner Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) and key second-unit pieces Louis Amundson(notes) and Leandro Barbosa(notes) (one of Nash's closest friends) exited the desert, while Hedo Turkoglu(notes), Josh Childress(notes), Hakim Warrick(notes) and 2010 draft pick Gani Lawal(notes) entered. Ch-ch-changes.
[Photos: More moments with Steve Nash]
All told, Phoenix has to replace 30 percent of its 2009 scoring output, integrate four new prospective rotation pieces, figure out how to be competitive on the glass with a smaller lineup and do it all in the crucible of the Western Conference. Plus, they went 2-6 in the preseason and their leader's not sure he'd pick them to make the playoffs. Not quite the fever pitch of intensity Suns fans were hoping for heading into the season opener. I'm betting they hope they see the return of Steve Nash: Ultimate Motivator pretty darn soon.