No matter that the Suns are a shell of a team that reached the Western Conference finals in consecutive seasons. In January, Bryant said the vitriol was still flowing ahead of an inconsequential regular season contest.
“I don’t like them,” he said. “Plain and simple, I do not like them. They used to whip us pretty good and used to let us know about it, and I. Will. Not. Forget. That.”
Only one player from those Suns teams remained on the Phoenix roster this season: point guard Steve Nash. So it didn’t take much extrapolation to determine the subject of Bryant’s ire.
On Wednesday night Bryant’s Lakers fully vanquished the 2006-07 Suns — off the court — when they traded for the 38-year-old point guard and the face of the Phoenix franchise. Funny how things work out.
With an assist from the team he led for 10 of his 16 NBA seasons, Nash finds himself back on a title contender and paired with another aging veteran looking for a shot at a championship.
Nash, who was a free agent, agreed to a three-year, $27 million contract with the Suns who then sent him to Los Angeles for four draft picks — first-rounders in 2013 and 2015 and second-rounders in 2013 and 2014. The Lakers used the trade exception they received when they dealt Lamar Odom to Dallas ahead of last season to bring in Nash.
“They were very apprehensive and didn’t want to do it,” Nash said of the Suns. “Fortunately for me, they reconsidered. They saw that they were able to get assets for their team that will make them better, assets they would not have otherwise had, and it made sense for them to do a deal that helps their team get better.”
The Toronto Raptors made the two-time MVP a hefty offer and the Knicks had also expressed interest in a sign-and-trade. But in Los Angeles, Nash will give Bryant the floor general he has sorely lacked.
This season, Bryant led the Lakers in both scoring (30 points per game) and assists (4.3) while point guards Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake struggled to facilitate the offense. Together, Sessions and Blake averaged 16 points and 5.9 assists. Nash, playing on team devoid of an elite scorer, averaged 12.5 points and 10.7 assists. And while his scoring output dropped to its lowest point since 1999-2000, his efficiency was up. Nash matched a career high by shooting .532 percent from the field.
Beyond helping Kobe get his shots, Nash could be a boon to young center Andrew Bynum — assuming the Lakers hold on to him — just as he helped mold Amare Stoudemire into a star in Phoenix.
And if the Lakers somehow manage to pry Dwight Howard away from the Magic? Look out.