HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Surely, this news won’t make anyone in Canada feel better about it now. And there is nothing worse in free agency than “almost” nabbing the huge star that could change the fate of a franchise. But if it makes you feel any better Toronto, Steve Nash was almost … a Raptor.
That homecoming dance would have been off the charts, of course — Canada’s beloved two-time MVP returning to his roots and carrying the banner for a Raptors team trying to navigate its way back to postseason relevance.
How close was it to happening? Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun made the trip to Los Angeles to find out:
In an interview with QMI Agency last week, Nash confirmed he was on the verge of signing a deal with the Raptors. GM Bryan Colangelo reportedly offered the Victoria, B.C., product a three-year, $36-million contract — close to $10 million more than he received from the Lakers.
“I was very close, you know,” Nash said. “Because it appeared that they were going to be an option long before free agency started. So I got my head around that and I was comfortable with that and happy with the opportunity to play in Toronto. But when this opportunity (with the Lakers) became a reality, I couldn’t pass it up.”
The pros and cons between joining the Lakers or the Raptors would obviously contrast sharply for a player in Nash’s position, a guy who in the twilight of Hall of Fame career with chasing a championship (or two) at the top of his list of priorities.
That said, the idea of going home to Canada and being the face of basketball for an entire nation in the flesh as well as symbolically, must have meant something to Nash, too.
Nash’s final decision, of course, was much more complicated than just where he wanted to play basketball. There were family concerns involved, including the needs of his children and how he could best address those while also continuing to play in the best situation possible.
Ultimately, the proximity to his children (in Phoenix) made the Lakers, with all of the other things they had to offer (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and later Dwight Howard, as teammates, just for starters), and their winning tradition the more attractive destination:
It’s all about winning. Even with Nash in the fold, the Raptors weren’t going to win anything this season, and probably not next season, either. Still, that didn’t stop a great many Raptors fan from pounding on Nash for turning his back on the only Canadian team in the NBA. Captain Canada, as Nash was called when he still played for the national team, was branded a traitor, and worse.
Nash heard and read the criticisms and it hurt. But he was eager on this day to make the point that he didn’t use the Raptors in some diabolical way to garner a better deal in New York or L.A., and was sincerely excited about the prospect of playing on home soil.
“It wasn’t in any way like, ‘Oh well, I gotta go to Toronto.’ I was thrilled,” Nash said.
“Unfortunately it wasn’t a team contending for a championship. But I love Toronto, it’s home in many senses. And I think it’s a first-class organization and a first-class city and I would have been extremely proud to play for them and represent the city, and play for those fans and hopefully help get that team into the playoffs.”
Raptors fans have their own business to tend to now. Nash has his fair share of challenges awaiting him this season with the Lakers.
How that marriage might have worked had Nash returned to Canada instead of making Hollywood home will remain a mystery that haunts Raptors fans for at last the foreseeable future, or at least until they claw their way back to the playoffs.