Now a marriage that produced three trips to the conference finals may be due for an annulment, with Nash set to become a free agent this summer. But if Wednesday night’s season finale at US Airways Arena was Nash’s last night in purple and orange, the fans in Phoenix sent him out the right way.
In the final minutes of Wednesday’s inconsequential loss to San Antonio, a chant of “We want Steve” built from a plea to a booming demand that Suns coach Alvin Gentry had no choice but to honor. (Watch the video here.) Moments later, Nash returned to the bench amid a rousing standing ovation.
“It was obviously amazing to get that type of reception and support,” Nash said. “It’s very special because it’s not something I asked for or imagined to get that type of spontaneous reaction. It means it’s authentic, the relationship that I thought we had.”
How else can you describe a relationship between player and city that began in 1996 when Phoenix selected a Canadian point guard from Santa Clara in the second round of the draft?
After earning sparse playing time in his first two seasons, Nash became a household name in Dallas where he teamed with Dirk Nowitzki to spark the Mavericks on a run of 12 straight playoff appearances, including this season. He returned to Phoenix before the 2004-05 season and led the Suns to consecutive Western Conference finals in his first two seasons back in the desert. Nash is fifth on the NBA’s all-time assist list with 9,916 and eighth in three-point field goal percentage (.4280). In February he broke the franchise record for career assists.
“I don’t know if there’s another guy out there who has done more for his team,” Gentry told the Arizona Republic after the game.
As a 38-year-old on the downside of an illustrious career, Nash may not fit into the plans for a Suns team in need of an overhaul. He’s acknowledged that fact and realizes the team is unlikely to offer the three-year contract he seeks this summer. But as Ball Don’t Lie notes, the Suns only have $31.6 million committed salary for next season, and the value of a veteran point guard and fan favorite could help usher in a new era of Suns basketball.
“I’m in no rush,” Nash said of his future plans. “I think it’s important to take my time and just gain some perspective on what’s happened in my career and what the future may hold. It’s just a lot of speculation at this point.”