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Chisholm: Raptors preparing to make a play for Nash's services

Tim Chisholm
6/30/2012 4:43:43 PM
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You would have to be a pretty second-rate writer to concoct a story where Canada's lone NBA franchise convinces Canada's greatest basketball player to come home to finish his hall of fame career on Canada Day. It's sentimental, it's obvious and it's cheap.

It's also a few hours away from possibly happening in real life.

At midnight tonight, the Toronto Raptors will attempt to convince Steve Nash to sign away the last few years he has left in the NBA to an organization that hasn't secured a single top-tier free agent in their entire seventeen-year history. Amazingly, they are in a great position to do it, too.

Obviously that wouldn't be possible without money, and the Raptors are sitting on a ton of it. They have $12-million in cap space today (including Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross but excluding the waive-able cap holds of their free agents), but that number can balloon to as much as $22-million if they choose to use their amnesty provision this summer. A deal for Nash would probably require $10-$12-million per year over three years, and Bryan Colangelo may even be willing to exceed that threshold slightly (either in terms of dollars or years) to secure Nash's name on the dotted line. Compared to the $3-million cap that New York and Miami have to work with, Toronto's financial package will blow them out of the water.

To get Nash, though, the Raptors need to have more than just money to throw at him. The Phoenix Suns could trump any competing offer for Nash, but he has been explicit for months that he'd need more talent than Phoenix has to convince him to come back to the desert this summer. While Toronto is far from having a championship-calibre roster, they have some very Nash-ian type players that they will use to seduce him in their sales pitch.

First, they have the requisite stretch four in Andrea Bargnani that will help open the floor for Nash as he looks to create off the dribble. They have a stellar pick-and-roll centre in Valanciunas, another must for a Nash offense. They have athletes (DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Ross), shooters (Ross, Linas Kleiza) and they have the flexibility to add pieces via free agency and trades. That not only trumps what Phoenix or Brooklyn can offer but it's also an improving roster rather than a declining roster, like the one Dallas would surround Nash with if they could convince him to rejoin their ranks.

Beyond those considerations, though, are the intangibles. That's where Toronto's pitch really gains separation. At the top of the pyramid you have Colangelo, the man that drafted Nash in 1996 and wooed him from Dallas in 2004. No executive in the NBA has demonstrated more faith in Nash during his NBA career than Colangelo, and for a guy that values relationships like Nash does, that means something in this pursuit.

Below Colangelo are Jay Triano and Alex McKechnie. Triano famously coached Nash with the Canadian National Team at the Olympics in 2000, which Nash refers to as "the best experience of my career." After being relieved of his job as the head coach of the Raptors, Triano was savvily reassigned as the Raptors' vice president of pro scouting, a role that previously did not exist in Toronto's hierarchy and - conveniently - would make Triano the point man in any pursuit of Nash as a free agent.

McKechnie is the best shot Toronto has to offset Phoenix's legendary training staff. He has worked personally with Nash using his Core X System (which Nash endorses on the Core X System website) and his strengthening program is ideally suited to dealing with Nash's troublesome back. While it's hard to imagine that any team could surpass what Aaron Nelson has set up in Phoenix, McKechnie at least demonstrates Toronto's commitment to modern training techniques.

In terms of intangibles, though, perhaps none can quite compare to the experience of Nash coming back to Canada to finish his career. As welcome as he would be in other NBA towns, he would be deified in Toronto. His popularity would be off of the charts (as would his endorsement powers) and he would make watching the Toronto Raptors appointment viewing for the first time since Vince Carter was in his prime with the club. Outside of LeBron or Kobe, no player in the NBA could have as transformative an effect on the perception of the Raptors in the Canadian psyche as Nash.

That's the real meat of this story, too. It would mean something if Nash came to Toronto. It would mean something if a player of his stature eschewed winning titles in Miami to guide this young club into the next phase of their existence. It would mean something if he turned his back on the bright lights of New York represent the face of Canadian basketball in the NBA. He could really affect a fan base that has grown so cold and cynical over the years, a fan base that doesn't want to believe that good things can happen to their team, and make them enjoy supporting their team again. Sure, he would improve any team he chooses to sign on with, but he would fundamentally change the Raptors by joining them.

He would change them in ways you can't measure or quantify. For a guy like Nash, an insightful personality that sees more than just the X's and O's of basketball, that means something to him. At 38-years-old he sees more than just what is right in front of his face, and perhaps no recruiting team in the NBA understands that side of him better than Colangelo and Triano, the men appealing to Nash this summer.

Look, nothing is set in stone here. What makes sense on paper, what looks 'right' in theory, may have no impact on what Nash decides to do this summer. He has many options and he's earned the right to explore them all and choose the one that suits his needs best, and that may not be the Toronto Raptors.

However, with serendipity aligning the opening of free agency with Canada Day, it's hard not to start writing that cheesy narrative connecting Nash to Canada's NBA franchise. For all that it may not be right, it 'feels' right. This is about more than the Toronto Raptors, this is about basketball in Canada.

Now we just have to wait and see if Steve Nash agrees.



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