Jump Ball

Jump Ball: Steve Nash’s place in history


VIDEO: Steve Nash had high hopes for this season during Lakers’ training camp

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Mention Steve Nash‘s name in the wrong way and you better get ready for a fight.

You either believe in Nash, the narrative and everything else that comes with it, or you don’t.

His supporters are passionate in defense of the two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer. They feel, perhaps rightly so, that he is often targeted unfairly by those who don’t believe he was the rightful MVP.

Now that his 2014-15 season is over because of a recurring back injury, the Los Angeles Lakers veteran will spend what could be his final season in Los Angeles and the league, at the center of yet another great debate.

Where does Nash rank all time?

His offensive numbers suggest that he belongs among the game’s titans, one of the best point guards to play the game and easily the most accomplished shooter to play the position. Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas and John Stockton , in whatever order you’d like, make up most people’s top four. When you get to the fifth spot is where things get tricky.

Does Nash rank ahead of guys from his own era, guys like Gary Payton and Jason Kidd, a Hall of Famer and a future Hall of Famer who have been to The Finals, and in both cases they played in multiple Finals and own rings?  And would Nash have been as effective in a different era, when the rules of the game didn’t allow offensive players, point guards in particular, the freedom of movement they enjoy now?

Nash’s offensive prowess cannot be disputed. But his defensive shortcomings and the fact that he never appeared in The Finals damage his case when you are talking about where he stacks up among the best of the very best.

Anytime there are more questions than answers my colleague and Hang Time California bureau chief Scott Howard Cooper, born and raised in Los Angeles and as knowledgeable about the Lakers and their lore as anyone in the business, finds me.

We’ve sparred about Nash before, but never in this context (with the end of his fantastic career clearly in sight). While I acknowledge he’s been one of the best of his era and a true Hall of Famer, I don’t know if I’m ready to slide him into my top 10 point guards of all time (I don’t even rank him ahead of Tony Parker, a Finals MVP and multiple time NBA champion who is destined for the Hall of Fame as well).. So we had no choice but to try to settle this debate in Jump Ball …

On Oct 24, 2014, at 2:42 PM, “Scott Howard-Cooper” wrote:

Jump Ball: Steve Nash’s place in history

Steve Nash hasn’t officially announced his retirement, but the Lakers have said he is done for the season after Nash had previously said this would be his final season. Maybe he decides he can’t go out this way and wants to make one last attempt. It sounds like he’s done, though.

Either way, it’s fair to consider his legacy, because even if he does come back in 2015-16, it won’t be for long. I have him as one of the great offensive point guards ever and in the upper-echelon at the position overall. He wasn’t a good defender, a hit when comparing Nash with star two-way PGs like John Stockton and Gary Payton. But an automatic as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I would also say he’s in the top five of international players.

No disagreement there, right?

On Oct 24, 2014, at 12:01 PM, Smith, Sekou  wrote:

Yeah! Right …

You have to remove those Nash-colored glasses, Sir. You mention defense as an afterthought. That’s a huge part of the game, a critical part of the game that is often foolishly overlooked.

I don’t want you to go there, Hyphen, but you are scaring me. Would You take Nash take in his prime over Gary Payton or Jason Kidd? I won’t even add Magic, Isiah, Oscar, or Stockton to that mix. What about Tony Parker? Shall I go on?

I love Nash and what he brought to the game. And the MVPs … well, I shouldn’t go there.

But throwing him in the mix with the greatest point guards of all-time, the top four or five international players. I say let him officially retire first.

And let’s think long and hard about who you’d want in his prime between Nash, perhaps the greatest shooting point guard of all-time, and the other elite point guards we’ve seen who were much more complete players than Nashty!

Sent from Sekou’s iPhone

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Date: October 24, 2014 at 3:20:41 PM EDT

I can’t take of my Nash-colored glasses. (Molson rules!)

I didn’t mention defense as an afterthought. I mentioned it front and center. He was not a good defender and it’s why he doesn’t rate with some others who played around the same time. But he was at a special level on offense. Nash could play fast or slow, distribute or shoot. He was smart and always showed up ready to play. No head games. There was a toughness.

Obviously, as you said, Magic, Oscar, Stockton and Payton are ahead in the rankings. I would say J-Kidd as well, although that’s a decent debate because Kidd was a poor shooter until late in his career and Nash was a great shooter, Kidd was a very good defender and Nash struggled, Kidd was too often accompanied by drama and Nash was the opposite.

But I don’t see Tony Parker over Nash as the easy call you seem to make it out to be. Parker is great and a Hall of Famer as well, so don’t try to turn this into me knocking Parker to get the French mad at me. (Oh, who cares. Get the French mad at me.) Nash on the Spurs instead of Parker results in championships as well. I just don’t see a single thing to knock about Nash on offense and Nash in the locker room.

On Oct 24, 2014, at 1:14 PM, Smith, Sekou  wrote:

Look at you, going all patriotic on me … Two times! Classic. Haha. I’m gonna stick to my roots and what I know.

I’d prefer we keep this debate in the realm of reality. And in what realm does a Finals MVP and four-time champion like Tony Parker take a backseat to a great player, no doubt, but one who never saw the inside of the NBA Finals?

This is not about disrespecting Nash or his legacy. We agree. He’s a Hall of Famer. A case could be made that he’s earned every bit of whatever hardware has come his way (a case you undoubtedly will try to make … haha).

I just refuse to buy into this syrup-soaked narrative of yours. I can’t do it. I won’t. “If Nash was on the Spurs” automatically squashes the whole thing.

If you have to employ the word “if” to make your case, you have no case!

Sent from Sekou’s iPhone

On Oct 25, 2014, at 4:48 PM, “Scott Howard-Cooper” wrote:

No question the lack of a Finals appearance, let alone a championship, is a big hole in the resumé. But look at what Nash did in the playoffs. Consecutive postseasons of 23.9 points/11.3 assists/52-percent shooting, 20.4/10.2/50.2 and 18.9/13.3/46.3. Another at 17.8/10.1/51.8. A career 40.9 behind the arc in the playoffs.

At some point you have to drop “Didn’t win a championship” as a tipping point. It’s obvious that shortcoming is not on Nash.

On Oct 25, 2014, at 2:25 PM, Smith, Sekou  wrote:

When discussing the best of the very best, winning a championship becomes the ultimate dividing line, or at least one of them.

You’re either a champion or not. Same rules apply for other great players at other positions.

Why would we drop it now? That’s crazy talk.

This is not about Nash’s shortcomings, the one or two you want to nit pick. This is about an age-old debate about how great players stack up in the history of the game. Nash can’t get a pass here because we loved the narrative that came with him or because he’s such a great guy (which he no doubt is and always has been).

This is about facts and not circumstances. Whatever the circumstance, Nash, as you conceded, has glaring holes I. His resume. The same holes that any all-time great and future Hall of Famer would have to own.

I can appreciate Nash’s career for what it has been, but I’m not going to elevate it to another level when the facts simply do not support such action.

Great player, great numbers and a truly great guy. We don’t need to inflate his impact or accomplishments. And there’s no shame in being a great player.

But a transcendent player … slow down buddy!

Sent from Sekou’s iPhone

On Oct 25, 2014, at 5:36 PM, “Scott Howard-Cooper” wrote:

Right. Facts and circumstances, as you say.

The only player in history to shoot at least 50 percent overall, 40 percent on threes and 90 percent from the line four different seasons. Larry Bird did it twice. No one else did it more than once.

Third in career assists.

Along with John Stockton the only players to average more than 11 assists beyond age 33. Nash did it three times.

One of five players to ever total more than 800 assists in four consecutive seasons.

First all-time in free-throw percentage.

Ninth all-time in three-point percentage (minimum 250 makes).

Along with Magic Johnson the only point guard to win multiple MVPs.

This has nothing to do with loving the narrative and respecting the person. It has everything to do with facts and circumstances.

I’m glad you agree with me. About time.

On Oct 25, 2014, at 3:09 PM, Smith, Sekou  wrote:

Yawn!

All of these statistical qualifiers wouldn’t be necessary if you could give me just one trip to The Finals on his back. Just one.

What do your eyes tell you? You’re old enough to have seen the game evolve over the past 30 years or more. You know in your heart of hearts that even with all of the pretty numbers, there’s something missing.

Mark Cuban got smoked for letting Nash go to Phoenix and breaking Dirk Nowitzki and Nash up.

History, however, will be on his side.

The Mavs won it all after Nash departed and the Suns never got over the hump with him at the helm.

Like I said before, you’re either a champion or you’re not. Facts, not circumstances.

There is no qualifier needed.


VIDEO: Steve Nash is done for the season in Los Angeles, courtesy of a back injury

 

Jump ball!!!: the Phil Jackson debate

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: What does it take to make the transition from great coach to great GM and does Phil Jackson have it?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The debate will rage on for years, long after the results are in and a legitimate case can be made one way or the other about the job Phil Jackson will do as the boss of the New York Knicks.

The initial surge from the hire has subsided, just a bit, and as the Knicks’ last-gasp effort to unseat the Atlanta Hawks for the eighth and final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference plays out, it’s a good time to restart this conversation.

Plenty of experts have weighed in, most of them no more qualified to dish on the prospect of Front Office Phil than they claim Jackson is for a job in the front office after making his championship bones (11 times as a coach and twice as a player) on the other side of the line.

My colleague and Hang Time California bureau chief Scott Howard Cooper, born and raised in Los Angeles and as knowledgeable about the Lakers and their lore as anyone in the business, lit the flame this time, questioning Phil’s credentials (it’s blasphemy, and will get you banned from Original Tommy’s Hamburgers for life all over the Southland SHC!).

I had to come to the defense of the Zen master, anyone who has been the common thread in as many championship situations as he has shouldn’t really need defending … but I had to go there in Jump Ball!!!  …

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 3:00 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: JUMP BALL !!!

I get why Knicks fans and players are excited: because they need any reason to be excited. But all the organization did by hiring Phil Jackson was win the press conference. James Dolan did something popular for a change and brought in a superstar. But Phil is a coaching superstar, not a front-office success. He has a lot to prove to earn this attention in the new job.

On Mar 28, 2014, at 1:48 PM, Smith, Sekou

You get Knicks fans, huh? They’ll boo you at the Garden for even suggesting something like that. The Phil factor is much like the Bill Parcells factor was in the NFL, his mere presence alone signals bigger things to come for whatever franchise he is working with. Seriously, ask folks in Dallas and New England. The Knicks need someone who can be held accountable for the big picture vision of the franchise. It doesn’t take a genius to come up with a plan … but if you can get one, why not?

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 5:43 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

Would you like a straw or will you drink the Kool-Aid straight from the jug? His mere presence doesn’t signal anything other than the Knicks willing to spend a lot of money. “Bigger things to come” is a slogan, not based in fact. Phil is a brilliant basketball mind. I think, if anything, he is underrated as a coach. I am a fan. But they did not hire coach Phil Jackson. They put someone in charge of basketball operations who has not worked in a front office. And if it’s such a thin line from one job to the other, let’s see how people react when New York names R.C. Buford or Sam Presti or Masai Ujiri head coach. There will obviously be others handling the day-to-day work while Phil handles the big picture and deals in final rulings. But the Knicks are a tangled mess, from salary cap to the roster itself, and he has to get a lot of things right before the Knicks can say they’re at bigger things.

On Mar 28, 2014, at 2:56 PM, Smith, Sekou

Actually, I prefer one of those fancy Camelbak adult sippy cup/water bottles when drinking my Kool-Aid, Scott. You know how I do it. Seriously, though, you are selling Phil short and the job of a general manager in this league way long. I won’t run down the list of knuckle-draggers who have been general managers in this league the past 40 years or so, but there haven’t been a ton of Hall of Famers to speak of in that regard. And to suggest that anyone’s success in the NBA isn’t rooted in equal parts blind luck and superior personnel is a farce. You can’t mention R.C. Buford or Sam Presti without also mentioning Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant, the cornerstone/Hall of Fame(caliber in Durant’s case) talents that their organizations are built around. I’m not saying those guys aren’t good at what they do. I’m just saying their jobs are much more manageable because of the personnel in place. Presti was no one’s genius before Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden came into their own. And he’d be the first one to shoot down that label. Phil deserves some time and the benefit of anyone’s doubt right now based on his Lord of the Rings status alone.


VIDEO: WRick Fox discusses the nuances of Phil Jackson’s system and how it will work in New York

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 6:10 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

Then let’s do it this way: What has Phil done to win you over? Are you basing his success as a GM on what he did as a coach? (And, again, I’m the last guy who sells him short. I’m the one who said he was underrated as a coach. He is an all-timer. But that’s a different job.)

On Mar 28, 2014, at 4:37 PM, Smith, Sekou

Seriously! We’re haggling over Phil’s credentials to do a job that has been bequeathed to the children of owners, former agents, guys who have graduated from the video room and folks whose credentials pale in comparison to what the Zen master has accomplished in his storied career. Coach or GM, it doesn’t make much difference to me when we’re talking about management style. Phil’s style has produced unmatched success everywhere he’s been. So he didn’t take the GM training course. Folks have to get over that and let’s see what he can do.

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Saturday, March 29, 2014 1:08 AM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

So your argument that Phil Jackson is a good hire is centered on “There have been plenty of bad hires before”? And we’re not haggling. We’re having a discussion in the loftiest of all debate societies: the sports media.

On Mar 29, 2014, at 12:06 AM, Smith, Sekou <Sekou.Smith@turner.com> wrote:

Don’t put words in my mouth … er, on my email, or whatever. What I’m saying is this, for you or anyone else to doubt Phil Jackson’s ability to do this job is shortsighted. You clearly have not embraced the Zen! I’m simply a believer in the power of experience. And no one interested in running a franchise has more championship experience than PJax!

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Saturday, March 29, 2014 4:19 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

Experience is great. And Larry Bird successfully made the transition to head of basketball operations without previously working in a front office, so it can be done. But Larry Legend had two advantages. He was very familiar with the personnel after coaching the Pacers. And, Indiana was a good team. Bird had to make adjustments to a stable situation. Jackson doesn’t need to make adjustments. He needs to marshal an overhaul. The Knicks are a mess of salaries and personnel. He will be relying heavily on others for scouting and for cap management. I don’t think I’m being shortsighted. I’m being practical. Phil was a winner like few others, but that was Zen and this is now. He has to prove he can deliver in a new job. Don’t swoon over a GM because of his coaching record.

From: Smith, Sekou
Sent: Sunday, March 29, 2014 6:51 PM
To: Scott Howard-Cooper
Subject: RE: JUMP BALL !!!

You’re making this about all of these other guys and not about Phil. Does he have to prove himself as a GM? Sure. Just as all of those other guys did. But you’re acting like all of the work he’s done in the game hasn’t prepared him for this next step and I think that’s ridiculous. I’m not saying Phil is perfect and can wave his magic Zen wand and fix all of the problems facing the Knicks. But whatever issues arise, they won’t be foreign to Phil. He’s worked in championship situations and has the benefit of that vast experience to use in his new role with the Knicks. Don’t knock a guy as a GM before we give him some time to dig in on the job.

From: Scott Howard-Cooper

Date: March 29, 2014 at 11:35:28 PM EDT
To: Sekou SMITH
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

I hope he does well. I just think it’s fair to be skeptical. If he proves it, if he delivers big results, great. But let’s let him prove it.

From: Smith, Sekou
Sent: Sunday, March 30, 2014 7:38 AM
To: Scott Howard-Cooper
Subject: RE: JUMP BALL !!!

I knew I’d get you to come around to my side. And I agree, it’s fair to be skeptical. Just as it’s fair to assume, based on his lengthy history, to give Phil the benefit of the doubt we might not give someone else who doesn’t own more championship rings than fingers!


VIDEO: Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas talks Phil, the Knicks and the fit