Free agency can get awfully personal, when in reality it is nothing more, nothing less than the business of professional sports thrust awkwardly into the spotlight normally reserved for highlights and victories.
When a coveted athlete chooses one team over another, it typically means he sees better a earning potential and championship path (which often translate into dollars, too) with the former rather than the latter. Sometimes sunshine or nightlife plays a role, but most of the time, for most of the guys, the factors that matter most are money and rings.
That doesn’t stop it from hurting, of course, for fans of a spurned team — “spurned” is a very personal word, by the way — when a player they like heads elsewhere. That certainly didn’t stop it from hurting for Toronto Raptors fans when Steve Nash, the best NBA player Canada ever has produced, declined their team’s more lucrative offer to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers.
It wasn’t about money for Nash, but it was about the pursuit of a title. That figures to be more legit in L.A. than Toronto over what probably will be the final three seasons of the 38-year-old point guard’s career. That truth wasn’t what Raptors fans reacted to initially, when the disappointment hit Thursday, but it’s where they need to be now and it’s where a lot of their media insiders already are. Such as Doug Smith, dean of the Raptors’ beat for the Toronto Star:
It’s not a repudiation of Canada — that’s so trite it should be dismissed out of hand; it’s not a repudiation of Toronto — 100 NBA free agents given the choice of the Lakers team and this Raptors team would take this Lakers team 100 times; if anything, it’s a repudiation of a team that’s been out of the playoffs for four years and needs to get closer to respectability before it can make a bold move like this.
No, you can’t blame a GM for trying; perhaps the only thing you can do is think, ‘okay, what’s next?’ And seeing how little has worked out of late, that’s fair comment. The pressure’s on him to do something to make the team better, a big trade most likely since the free agent market’s really limited right now but that’s to discuss here later today because I have to have something to do with my day.
And such as Damien Cox of the Star:
It would have been great to see Nash in Toronto. Certainly entertaining. But not getting him doesn’t materially change what has to happen with the Raps. They’ve got to develop good young players and a reputation that makes players want to come.
Whether [GM Bryan] Colangelo is the right guy to do that is open for debate. But Colangelo’s success, or failure, will have a lot more to do with whether Lithuanian youngster Jonas Valanciunas can become an NBA star than what Nash could’ve done for the team.
Fortunately, the Toronto organization and fan base can move on. Colangelo did manage a nice recovery by acquiring guard Kyle Lowry in a trade with Houston, giving up only a conditional first-round pick and reserve Gary Forbes. Lowry averaged 14.3 points and 6.6 assists for the Rockets last season. In Memphis, he was considered by many to be better than the teammate, Mike Conley, the Grizzlies actually paid and retained. And Lowry might be better than anyone who ends up playing the point for Houston next season.
Here’s Smith again on why Lowry might have been available in the musical chairs of point guards that has played out this week:
He publicly said after the season that he didn’t think he could co-exist with Rockets coach Kevin McHale after one season of trying to work together, a move that have hastened the Rockets’ pursuit of a trade.
But league sources say Lowry has matured greatly over the course of his career and that sometimes his competitive nature causes him to lash out.
A dogged defender with the ability to get to the rim on offence, he would seemingly fit into what coach [Dwane] Casey is trying to instill in the Raptors lineup.
That’s what Raptors fans should focus on most. Nash would have been a defensive liability. His offensive style wouldn’t naturally mesh with the way Casey and the team wants to play. And the fact is, Colangelo has to show he’s up to the job after six years and four straight lottery finishes.
A rumored deal with Philadelphia — swingman DeMar DeRozan and guard Jose Calderon to the Sixers for forward Andre Iguodala and 6-10 forward Nikola Vucevic — might be nothing more than that, a rumor. But the fact remains, the Raptors with Nash weren’t going to win any NBA championships. The club, as it readies for its 18th season, needs to develop from within, seed its own talent, regardless of where they grew up, and surgically add via trade. This is business, not personal.