NBA AM: Steve Nash Prepares for Free Agency
Steve Nash may have played his final game as a member of the Phoenix Suns. After eight years with the organization, Nash’s days in Phoenix may be numbered. This offseason, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent and decide where he wants to finish his career.
“I’m going to have to sit down and consider my options,” Nash said. “I’ll evaluate all of the possibilities. I’m in no rush. I think it’s important to take my time and get some perspective on what’s happened in my career and what the future may hold. There’s just a lot of speculation at this point.”
Nash said that he was flattered that his free agency has been a topic of conversation in recent weeks, but admitted that he hasn’t given it much thought. He has been focused on the Suns’ fight for a playoff berth and hasn’t had much time to relax and consider what will happen in the next chapter of his career.
“I honestly have no clue (what’s going to happen),” Nash said. “I couldn’t predict what the future holds at this point. I’m actually okay with that. I think now is the time to get some distance from it and try to find a clear perspective on where I am. Until I do that, I couldn’t put a number on it or take a guess at what the chances are that I’ll be back or not.”
After missing the playoffs for the second straight season, it’s clear that the Suns are rebuilding. Their roster is full of young talent that will develop in the coming years, but Nash wants to win now. At 38 years old, he can’t wait through a rebuilding period, which is why league sources expect him to leave Phoenix and sign with a contender this summer.
When asked what factors he’ll consider during free agency, Nash made his priorities clear.
“Winning, being competitive and being part of a good environment,” Nash said. “Those are on top.”
Even though Nash just completed his sixteenth season in the NBA, he wants to continue playing for several more years. He is still playing at an extremely high level, averaging 12.5 points and 10.7 assists while shooting 53.2 percent from the field. This summer, Nash hopes to sign a three-year deal.
“I’d like to play for three more years,” Nash said. “I want to see what the best situation is for me. We’ll see what happens.”
Bryant Expecting Sixth Ring: Kobe Bryant knows a thing or two about winning championships in the NBA. He has hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy on five different occasions, and he expects to do it again this year. Bryant, who never lacks confidence, believes the Los Angeles Lakers have what it takes to win the title this season.
“I expect to win it, absolutely,” Bryant told Max and Marcellus on 710 ESPN. “I think the thing that’s our biggest strength is our versatility and our size. (Ramon) Sessions has added another dimension to our team in terms of speed and point guard that can score the ball. Our bench has been playing extremely well. We’ve been shooting the ball extremely well. Our biggest keys are our perimeter shooting, limiting our turnovers and keeping the game at our pace. If we can do those things in the postseason, I like our chances.”
The Lakers currently sit at 41-24 and they’ve locked up the third seed in the Western Conference. Los Angeles will either face the Denver Nuggets or Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, depending on how both teams perform tonight. Bryant said that the Lakers will have their work cut out for them either way.
“You’re looking at us in the third slot, and we’ve got to deal with a Denver team that’s incredibly active and a great scoring team or we’ve got to play the defending champs,” Bryant said. “There’s no easy matchup.
“In the West, everybody’s a problem,” he continued. “Everybody’s a problem. The Western Conference has been tough from top to bottom now for years. There are no easy matchups. You can’t look at one particular matchup and say, ‘Ok, that’s going to be an easy series. That’s going to be a gimme series.’ That just doesn’t happen in the Western Conference.”
Bryant admitted that he’s playing this season with a chip on his shoulder. He’s motivated by people who think his best days are behind him.
“You hear everybody talking about, ‘This is it for him. He’s done. The newer generation is taking over, and this, that and the other,’” Bryant said. “That’s more of a driving factor.”
Throughout the season, many have wondered where things stand between Bryant and new head coach Mike Brown. They had their issues last month, when Brown questioned Bryant’s shot selection after losses to the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards and or when he benched his star player against the Memphis Grizzlies. However, despite the past drama, Bryant insists they’re on the same page now and their relationship is strong.
“It’s better than it’s ever been,” Bryant said. “At the start of the season, the relationship was all new. So we still were kind of trying to feel out each other, and see what he likes, what I like, what the team needs and so on and so forth. Midway through the season, you have struggles, you have bumps on the road where you have to figure things out. That’s true with any championship team. You look at the [New York] Giants last year, that was a dysfunctional crew. Not to say that we were dysfunctional, but you have ups and downs and that’s just part of working through it. I think teams that are standing at the end are teams that are able to figure things out, continue their open lines of communication and make themselves a better ball club at the end. Right now, we’re in a very good place.”
The Lakers will conclude their regular season tonight against the Sacramento Kings. Bryant needs 38 points to win the NBA’s scoring title, another title he likely expects to win.
Sanders Determined to Turn NBA Dream into Reality: Jesse Sanders knows that he has a lot to prove. The point guard from Liberty is preparing for the NBA’s pre-draft process, and he’s the first one to admit that his route to the NBA is an unconventional one.
“Being a 6’3 white kid from Houston, who was homeschooled, I’ve been told I can’t do a lot of things my entire life,” Sanders said. “It’s not something I shy away from. Going into this next stage of the NBA, there are going to be a lot of people who tell me I can’t do this or I can’t do that. I’m going to just try to use that as motivation to prove people wrong.”
At every level, Sanders has had doubters who he eventually silenced. During his senior year at Liberty, Sanders averaged 12.5 points, 8 assists and 7.5 rebounds. He became the first player in NCAA history to record a triple-double in four consecutive seasons. Every night, he filled the stat sheet and impacted games with his versatility. He believes he can contribute in the NBA if given the opportunity.
“I know I’ve excelled at the level I’ve been at and this is the next step,” Sander said. “I don’t want to be presumptuous or cocky in any way but, at the same time, I’m confident in the work that I’ve put in and all I’m asking for is the opportunity. Frankly, I don’t know how I measure up against an NBA point guard because I haven’t played an NBA point guard. A lot of that is to be seen and to be determined. I’m just asking for that opportunity to be compared to those guys, to be challenged against them, to play one-on-one, three-on-three and get out there and match up against them. I think I can do it if I put in the work and I’m willing to keep putting in work. One thing I’ve been talking to my dad about is how it only takes one GM, one coach, one guy to fall in love with me. I don’t have to be on everybody’s draft board.”
Sanders wants to be more of facilitator in the NBA, using his excellent playmaking ability to make his teammates better.
“I think my biggest strength is going to be creating shots for other players,” Sanders said. “I’ve always been able to get into the paint and create because that’s something that I work on all the time, my ball handling and being able to get by people and then passing out of the (handle) just because you have to draw the double team and kick it out to a shooter or someone in the post. The biggest ceiling for me will be my high assists, my low turnovers and court vision. That will be number one. I think number two will be my work ethic. That’s going to be shown in my rebounding, my steals and the energy that I provide. I’m never going to be taking away from a team. At practice every day, I’ll be the first guy there and the last guy to leave. I’m just going to bust my butt day in and day out. If I’m playing on a team like the Lakers or the Spurs or the Heat, I’m not going to be eating up any shots. I’m trying to get the ball to those guys who have proven themselves and then, if I’m on the practice squad, I’m just going to be working my butt off and challenging those guys to get better.”
During the pre-draft process, some teams have raised concerns about Sanders’ athleticism. However, he isn’t worried about any of that. He knows how he stacks up against top competition and says that the game film speaks for itself.
“If you’re testing my vertical and my 40 time, there are going to be guys who are going to test better than me,” Sanders said. “When they tested my standing vertical, it was like 30.25. If I get a running jump, it’s a little better. But I’m strong. I’m not the quickest, not the fastest. I can get by people but there are going to be guys who are quicker. What I would say is watch the game tape. If there’s a loose ball, who’s the first guy to get to it? Is there anybody beating me off the dribble? I think the game of basketball should be a better indicator of your athleticism than your mere tests. I think if people are watching tape, I think I will show out much better in game flow with my reaction to the ball, my tenacity to hustle for that ball, to get a rebound, knock a guy off of his line. I think I’ll show much better in that than I would in the combine test.”
For years, Sanders has dreamed of playing in the NBA and now he’ll have the opportunity to prove he belongs. He’s determined to prove he belongs in the league and follow in the footsteps of other overlooked point guards who are now making their presence felt in the NBA.
“George Hill, Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash, they are all examples of guys that have just worked hard and developed and that’s what I want to be,” Sanders said. “I want to be someone they bring in and get blown away by my skill set. The athleticism, the size, I’m not going to jump off the paper, but I want to be someone that is going to get the ball to the best players. I’m going to help win. I’m going to help facilitate the team. I’ll be the hardest worker. I want to be that guy that creates a difference between myself and other guys just based on the amount of time and work that I put in the gym. Steve Nash has been an inspiration to me since I was in sixth and seventh grade. He is my size, comparable athleticism and he has the skill set that is above and beyond those other players around him. He has made an incredible career out of that.”
Sanders is hoping to make an incredible career for himself, but first he needs a team to give him an opportunity.
NBA Chats: There are three NBA chats on the schedule today. Steve Kyler will kick things off at 10:30 a.m. EST. Next up, Joel Brigham will answer your questions at 1:30 p.m. EST. Finally, Mark Nugent will hold his weekly chat at 6:00 p.m. EST.