What if Steve Nash stayed in Dallas?


I can still remember how pissed off I was at Mark Cuban when I found out that my favorite NBA player would no longer be on my favorite NBA team. I’m sure we all remember the rationale, the excuses: Nash was 30. While still good, he would only decline from there. Cuban thought he would fall apart and wasn’t worth the risk of big money, long-term contract. Nevermind that he was Dirk’s best friend, a fan favorite, and, oh yeah,  one of the top point guards in the league.

In an appearance on Letterman, Cuban famously asked, “Steve’s a great guy and I love him to death, but why couldn’t he play like an MVP for us?” Well Mr. Cuban, I posit that he couldn’t play like an MVP for us because he was wearing a Phoenix Suns jersey when he won those MVPs. In my mind, the only reason that there aren’t three MVP trophies associated with the Mavericks franchise is because the Mavericks’ owner refused to poney up the contract necessary to keep the future MVP in Dallas.

Nash won the MVP in both of his first two seasons in Phoenix, and–other than a sudden jump in his assist numbers–his stats were not significantly different from his two all-star seasons in Dallas. And Cuban’s worry that Nash would break down was clearly misplaced, since Nash went on to make six more all-star teams, the last one nearly a decade after Cuban let him walk. 

I concede that, at the time, Cuban’s skepticism was justified. His view that Nash was likely to break down was probably the majority view in the basketball community at the time. But I was confident that Nash would prove the skeptics wrong, which he did almost immediately. And what if Cuban had shared the faith that I and many other MFFLs had in Nash? What if Cuban matched Phoenix’s offer?

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I can’t say for sure the extent to which Nash’s presence would or wouldn’t have led to markedly more success or another championship or two. There is a popular theory that Nash and Dirk acted as crutches for each other, that it took breaking up the band to force them both to become the MVPs they were both capable of becoming. If this is true, then Nash staying in Dallas probably wouldn’t change much for the team. They would’ve continued being borderline contenders each year, playing fun offensive basketball, but perhaps without the necessary push to take a team on his shoulders, neither Dirk nor Nash develops that requisite je ne sais quoi necessary to lead a team to a championship.

But I don’t think so. Because of my unflagging belief in those two guys, I think both would have continued to develop into the men we know them both to be. I believe they could’ve been better together than they were apart. Maybe neither wins an MVP, since both are so good that it could be hard to say who was Batman and who was Robin. I have trouble imaging a world where a team led by Nash and Dirk in their shared primes isn’t one of–if not THE–greatest offensive team in NBA history. At minimum, we know that it would have been an absolute joy to watch.

While I believe they would’ve given the Mavs a good shot at challenging the Spurs and Lakers for continued dominance over the 2000s, I will say that I have one pressing concern about Nash’s presence on the team. I worry that with Nash on board, the Mavs compete for championships every year. Probably the team avoids the first round flameouts that led to Cuban replacing Avery Johnson with Rick Carlisle. And thus, there’s a good chance that having Nash means the Mavericks never hire the greatest coach in team history.

And even though I love Nash, and loved him as a Maverick, there still would’ve a key difference between the Lakers/Spurs and the Mavericks: an all-time great coach. Even with two of the greatest offensive weapons in NBA history, I’m not convinced Avery Johnson out-coaches Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson. This alternate universe Mavs team probably has things fall just right once or twice, maybe in 2006 for example?  And who knows, maybe with Nash on board, the Mavs beat the Heat in 2006. Ultimately though, I’m not sure keeping Nash is worth not getting Carlisle.

In conclusion, I doubt whether keeping Nash buys the Mavs more than one more championship, if that. But I do guarantee that team would likely have had fewer heartbreaks, fewer letdowns, and would probably have been just a little bit more fun to watch. What do you think?