Chisholm: Canadian basketball's estranged son is back

Tim Chisholm
5/8/2012 1:43:38 PM
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At a Noon press conference today, Canada Basketball brought Canadian basketball's estranged son back into the fold. As of today, Steve Nash will act as the general manager of the Canada Basketball, instantly bringing more credibility to the program than it's had, arguably, since Nash's Olympic run with the team in 2000.

Bringing Nash back to the program is widely seen as the first step in a two-step process (the other is reinstating Jay Triano as the team's head coach) for Team Canada as it looks to bounce back from a string of poor performances in international competition in recent years. The hope is that Nash will be able to seduce the next generation of Canadian stars (guys like Tristan Thompson, Myck Kabongo and Andrew Wiggins) to play for the team in a bid to bring the program at least to the level of second-tier international counterparts like Brazil, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. While they are a long way from being mentioned in the same breath as Argentina, Spain or the USA, there is no reason that Canada, given its emerging pool of talent, cannot become a relevant player on the international stage over the next half-dozen years, and Nash has been tasked, in part, to help attract the talent to make that happen.

That said, Nash has yet to prove that his NBA star power will act as a magnet to Canada's best players, especially in light of the fact that many of these up-and-coming players are too young to remember Nash's Olympic push with the team. However, Team Canada needed to do something to demonstrate its commitment to tapping the best in its meager well of 'name' talent and going after the most famous Canadian basketball player in NBA history is a pretty good place to start. Now it's up to Nash to take his new position and do something meaningful with it.

Of course, Nash's return to Canada has opened up the door to questions about whether or not this is just the first announcement he'll be making in Toronto this summer. While Nash as a de facto ambassador for Team Canada is a nice side gig, Nash is still very much a relevant force at his day job; being an NBA point guard. Despite turning 38 this season, Nash still finished in the top-10 in PER amongst point guards in the league, was second in the league in assists per game and had an utterly pedestrian Phoenix Suns roster within sniffing distance of the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. There is no doubt that the Raptors are going make like Canada Basketball and  push to acquire Nash this summer as a free agent and they are probably better poised to make it happen than most fans currently realize.

First of all, it sounds increasingly like Nash and the Suns are ready to part ways. The Suns need to take a step back and accept a full-on rebuilding mode, and they are sitting on a mountain of cap space this summer which could help them accelerate the process - but only if they choose to let veterans like Nash and Grant Hill walk away this summer while they focus on youth and development.

Second of all, the expectation that Nash would only leave Phoenix to pursue a title is based on faulty logic. Most contending and pseudo-contending teams (San Antonio, Chicago, Boston, Oklahoma City, Denver, Philadelphia, Memphis, the L.A. Clippers) are set at point guard, while Miami needs post-play more than playmaking and the Lakers are in the weeds with their cap and seem content skew younger while they transition to an Andrew Bynum-centric future. Sure, up-and-comers like Indiana and Utah have the flexibility to make a push for him, but it's unclear how attractive either of those cities are to a metropolitan guy like Nash.

The hitch in the Raptors' bid to lure Nash to Toronto was always supposed to be New York. It's Nash's offseason home, it's as vibrant a market as there is in the NBA and they have a desperate need for a playmaker to orchestrate their broken-down offense. However, the problems with the Knicks are threefold. One, they let Nash's guy Mike D'Antoni go, and Nash is fiercely loyal to those who've helped him succeed (remember Nash turning his back on Team Canada when they arbitrarily fired Jay Triano?). Two, Carmelo Anthony does not want to play in a democratic offense; he wants to be fed a steady diet of isolation plays, which would significantly limit the need for Nash's greatest talent. Three, the Knicks have zero cap flexibility going forward, and so not only would Nash have to sign for below market value to play in New York, he'd have to accept that whatever the team has now is what they are going to have moving forward, and that is not going to put them anywhere near an NBA title.

Which brings us back around to Toronto.

Let's make this clear right now: Nash won't win a ring in Toronto. At 38, he simply doesn't have enough years left in his body to make that journey. However, he could take a young and intriguing roster from his home country and bring them back to prominence, rapidly accelerating the growth of several players in the process, while also earning a salary at the high-end of his market value. The Raptors are one of the few teams that are both in a position to offer Nash the 3-year/$30-million deal that figures to be his asking price while also being motivated to offer it. Heck, the dollars he'd bring back to the team in terms of ticket and merchandise sales alone would almost be enough to justify such a contract for Toronto given Nash's popularity in Canada, leaving his tremendous on-court benefits as a nice added bonus. There is also no doubt that the Raptors would be motivated to offer him a lifeline to a career in management after the NBA, too, as his ties to Bryan Colangelo and now Canada Basketball would make such a transition an obvious addendum to any offer with the Raptors.

And not that this matters to Nash, but there is also the fact that while he would be welcomed in several other NBA markets, he would be adored in Toronto and Canada. While other teams would see him as a missing piece to put them over the top (coupled with all of the pressure that comes along with such a role), in Toronto he'd simply be revered for being exactly what he is: Canada's greatest basketball player suiting up for Canada's lone NBA franchise. Toronto can't offer him a path to a ring, but that doesn't mean they don't have anything to offer.

It also helps that his estimated asking price falls perfectly in line with what the Raptors could free-up if they amnestied Jose Calderon, their current starting point guard, so acquiring Nash would not demand a sacrifice in some other area of offseason roster improvement, like netting a starting-caliber small forward. If they nab Nash, they literally replace Calderon with him, if they don't they keep Calderon and the rest of their plans continue on unabated.

For today, though, Nash has merely returned to Canada in an international basketball capacity. His presence with the national team is a welcome addition and we'll see if it bears fruit down the road. However, for basketball fans in Canada they hope that he makes at least one more trip to Toronto this summer, one that more directly utilizes Nash's known skill set. Maybe it doesn't happen, but it's worth it for fans to realize that it happening is not as impossible as they perhaps thought it was. Stay tuned because the closer we get to July 1st and the start of free agency the hotter this story is going to get for both Nash and the Toronto Raptors.

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