11:08 am Jul. 5, 20124
For one glorious day, the New York Knicks could close their eyes and imagine Steve Nash, the preeminent point guard of this era, taking the floor with Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler on opening night of the N.B.A. season.
Nash's perfect passes would find Anthony wherever he wanted them on the court. The pick-and-roll talents of Chandler, barely used last season, and Stoudemire, who succeeded most with Nash alongside him, would be exploited fully.
But it is not to be. Following a day of free agency more akin to chess than simple negotiation, Steve Nash is on his way to join the Lakers. And it doesn't seem like the Knicks ever had much of a chance.
The sequence of events went roughly this way. The Knicks could only, through free agency, offer Nash a deal worth about $3 million per season, far less than the nearly $12 million per year Toronto and other suitors were rumored to be offering. Thus, to make a competitive offer, the Knicks needed to engineer a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns, Nash's last team, who, under league rules, could sign him to a much larger contract and then ship him to the Knicks for some combination of players and draft picks.
For the Knicks, that meant putting together a package of free agents whose salaries combined to equal what Nash wanted. (In all N.B.A. trades, salaries must roughly match up.)
The primary candidate for this was Landry Fields, a restricted free agent who Phoenix liked, and who didn't really fit into New York's plans anyway. But the Toronto Raptors, desperate to add the Canadian Nash, saw this as well.
So the Raptors struck, signing Fields to a massive offer sheet. Suddenly, the Knicks didn't have the option of trading Fields. If they matched Toronto's offer, they'd have to pay Fields upwards of $19 million over three years, a contract too rich for Fields' talents. And a restricted free agent cannot be immediately traded anyway. Checkmate, right?
Well, not at this point. The Knicks and Suns re-started trade talks, with the more painful prospect that the Knicks would have to include Iman Shumpert instead.
Shumpert, unlike Fields, is a huge part of the Knicks' plans. Recovering from knee surgery, Shumpert is expected to be the starting shooting guard when he returns. And with other defense-deficient players in the lineup, having Shumpert to guard the perimeter and Tyson Chandler to guard the interior could mitigate many defensive flaws.
Still, with Nash's talent—he showed no signs of slowing down, performance-wise, last season, maintaining rates on par with his inner-circle Hall of Fame career—and Shumpert's status up in the air due to his knee, this was a trade the Knicks had to make if given the chance.
But then, Wednesday evening, Nash convinced the Suns to trade him to the Lakers instead.
Did the Knicks ever have a shot?
It's possible. Perhaps the Suns would have been reluctant to help a Western Conference rival. The Lakers ultimately traded two first-round picks and two second-round picks to Phoenix, a meager haul given the expected late-round nature of those picks. The Knicks, with a package centered around Shumpert, probably had the more enticing package.
And much was made of Nash's ties to New York, where he keeps a home in Manhattan and hosts an annual soccer game.
Nash's agent said, however, that Nash wanted to be close to his three kids in Phoenix, and Nash subsequently thanked the team for taking his family considerations into account, in a candid statement to ESPN. (Nash is divorced.) That makes it hard to understand what Nash was doing negotiating with the Knicks or the Raptors, other than simply leveraging his best deal from the Lakers.
The aftermath of Nash is far from crushing to the Knicks. They didn't, after all, have a gaping need at point guard, with Jeremy Lin performing at a rate comparable to Nash's early-career production. The Knicks may, in fact, have the new Nash hitting his prime, assuming they don't do something catastrophically stupid and fail to match any offers for Lin. And they get to keep pairing him with Shumpert, making for an exciting young backcourt.
But having the veteran Nash to mentor Lin and provide that production immediately, along with the far more accurate shooting that Nash provides now, would have made the Knicks significantly more dangerous heading into this coming season. The value of a player with Nash's pedigree helping to discern which players, and egos, should receive the ball would have gone a long way toward untangling the offensive puzzle of playing Stoudemire and Anthony together.
That dream is gone, and apparently, it was only a bargaining tool for Nash. But the Knicks were right to give it their best effort.
The only real loser here is Toronto, who tried to force Nash's hand with the Fields deal, and will only end up with an overpaid Fields for their efforts.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
In just a few pitches, the Phillies erased a 2-0 deficit, and took a 3-2 lead over the Mets. The Mets bullpen took it from there, and the Mets lost, 9-2.
In an effort to patch that bullpen, Jeremy Hefner was demoted, and Pedro Beato, performing well at Triple-A Buffalo, was promoted.
Jason Bay could be back as early as next week.
The Yankees finally won a game at Tropicana Field, beating Tampa Bay, 4-3, thanks to an eighth-inning triple by Robinson Cano.
The Nets unwittingly agreed to a contract with European import Mirza Teletovic that took them out of the running for Dwight Howard. So they've gone back and renegotiated it.