Love it or Hate it, Pursuit of Free Agent Nash May be Only Option for Raptors

It isn't ideal, but going after Nash might be the club's best option.


The Toronto Raptors are set to make a big run at free agent Steve Nash. Good idea? Bad idea? The HQ argues there simply may not be another choice...

As I noted yesterday, it's hard to dwell too long on any one NBA subject right now as we've moved from the NBA Finals to the NBA Draft to NBA Free Agency, all within about a week. We've got more to say on the draft but that will have to wait as the topic du jour is the Toronto Raptors' intentions of luring Steve Nash away from Phoenix, back north of the border.

This is no secret of course. It's a situation that's been discussed for some time now, and the speculation really began to heat up when Nash was named GM of the Canadian National Men's Program.

But as the draft was unfolding and people were expressing a litany of emotions regarding the selection of Terrence Ross, the bigger story was always what Toronto had planned for July 1. The draft was part of the big picture but most believed the choices made last Thursday night were partially done with the idea of starting the 2012-13 season with Captain Canada in tow.

Honestly I'm not sure how I feel about this.

Obviously I get it from a PR and marketing perspective. It's essentially like Wayne Gretzky deciding to return to play for the Edmonton Oilers in his twilight years. And even from a basketball perspective I understand that having a player of Nash's ilk running the show would go a long ways towards seeing this club return to the playoffs. He's not Chris Paul, but provided he stays healthy then we might suddenly see a rise in productivity from folks like DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani, simply because of the addition of Nash. That goes double for guys like Ross and Valanciunas, learning under his tutelage. (Sidebar - hard not to get excited about the P&R combo of Nash and Big Val.)

But there are some big caveats too and the first is indeed, Nash's health. He seems fine to play another three seasons by all accounts but many Raptor fans have already expressed fear of another Hakeem Olajuwon situation unfolding. The Raptors can throw boatloads of cash at Steve but to do that and then have him earn that money via the sidelines in a suit would be a mighty tough pill for the club's tortured fans to swallow.

Especially since Nash will be 39 a few weeks into the 2012-13 season and the rest of the roster's key pieces are about 14 years younger than that on average.

Ideally the Raptors would have brought Jonas Valanciunas over this season, added a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Bradley Beal, gone after a top small forward option in free agency, and kept the rebuilding process going into next season and beyond.

But we all know that things didn't exactly unfold in that manner and frankly, Colangelo is now in a bit of a bind. If he doesn't go after Nash, he's looking at another 30ish win team in all likelihood, one that barring huge jumps in play from the aforementioned youngsters, will miss the playoffs again, something I'm not sure contractually he can afford.

And look at this year's free agent list. If not Nash then...

...Jamal Crawford? Chris Kaman? OJ Mayo?

There aren't many realistic top options for the Dinos so in many ways, Nash represents the club's best chance at improving via free agency. The cost? If the current talk of Kevin Garnett's getting three years and $34M to stay with the Celtics is accurate, that's probably the reference point for Nash.

Of course this is all fine and dandy if Toronto indeed succeeds in putting Nash in Dino-garb. But how likely is this?

As of now, things sound pretty good for Colangelo and co. as it seems the Raptors are in group of select finalists including themselves, Phoenix, Dallas and Brooklyn in terms of front-runners. Nash wouldn't tip his hand in terms of which club is in the lead, but did offer up this interesting quote to ESPN.com's Marc Stein:

"I couldn't list a favourite...But I do know that for the first time I realize that it might not be Phoenix. I would have said even in the middle of (last) season or last year that I would have thought I probably would have stayed in Phoenix forever. But it's come to a point now where I'm facing the reality that's not (the case)."

Many in the media have weighed in on which team Nash most likely will "take his talents to," with ESPN.com's John Hollinger listing Brooklyn as the favourite with Toronto just behind.

SI.com's Zack Lowe lays out the case for Toronto in a most compelling fashion, echoing my earlier statements in this piece; if not Nash then what?

And to me that's what this really comes down to. Toronto has to make a play for Nash because it's their only means of adding some elite talent. They haven't done it through the draft, and normally free agents aren't in a hurry to flock to TO. So this represents a bit of a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for BC and crew. (Who are reportedly preparing a welcome to Toronto posse to camp outside of Steve's doorstep tomorrow morning.) Colangelo's contract is set to expire at the end of the season if ownership does not pick up his option, so to think he wouldn't look to make a big splash this off-season is insane.

Yes, it's premature. Usually a team adds a talent like Nash as the icing on the cake for a playoff run but right now, it's hard to see the team as presently composed getting much higher than an eighth seed. Arguably Nash will have a bit more talent to work with in Toronto than he had last year in Phoenix, but can you see the team beating out a club like Philadelphia, last year's eighth seed? If Dwight Howard leaves Orlando via trade or Josh Smith gets moved than maybe a hole in last year's top eight opens up where the Magic and Hawks used to be, but other clubs like Washington and Cleveland have taken some sizable steps back towards the Dance too.

And again, what's the alternative? For the sake of argument, even if BC resisted the Nash temptation does that really make this club better long-term? Because the anti-Nash side of things is "adding Nash now cripples the club financially long-term." However having that cap space is really only useful if you think you can add a superior piece to Nash and as mentioned above, realistically the top options aren't coming to Toronto in droves. More likely, the money is used to sign multiple mediocre players, and we've seen how that story has turned out in the past. (Cough - Jason Kapono.)

So I'll sum it up like this. You add Nash and worst case scenario is he can't stay healthy and the club goes back to the mid lottery. Remember, this team isn't bad enough to get premium draft talent as is so the idea of driving the tank for another year hardly makes sense. We saw that movie too recently and the end result Thursday night. (Not to mention the fact that next year's draft class hardly screams "bumper crop.") Yes, financially you're tied up in terms of making improvements but again, I can't see superior free agent options to use said cash on, nor do I feel there's current talent on the roster that warrants saving cap space for.

Best case?

Nash finishes his career off in style, leading the club to some exciting playoff runs, puts the Raptors back on the NBA, and more importantly, free agent, map, and brings out the best in some frankly non-productive youngsters.

It's hardly a win-win, but with the way Bryan Colangelo's constructed this club, I'm not sure there's another option at this point.

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