Thursday , Jul , 15 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Phoenix could be a contender in the West

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – The Phoenix Suns made some big noise
on the first day that teams were able to officially sign free agents to
contracts.

The Suns inked two-time All-Star Steve Nash, who was an unrestricted free
agent, to a lucrative, multi-year contract. Phoenix also signed Los Angeles
Clippers restricted free agent Quentin Richardson to an offer sheet. The
Clippers have 15 days to match the Suns offer.

The 30-year-old Nash, who began his career in Phoenix, averaged 14.5 points
and a career-high 8.8 assists per contest last season for the Dallas
Mavericks. He was originally selected out of Santa Clara by the Suns with the
15th overall in the 1996 draft and was later traded to the Mavericks prior to
the 1998-99 season for Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells, the draft rights to Pat
Garrity and a 1999 first-round pick.

An eight-year veteran, Nash has averaged 12.5 points and six assists per game
during his career. The Santa Clara product has also played in 51 playoff
contests during his career.

“I left here (in 1998) somewhat begrudgingly, only because I loved the
organization and the city,” said Nash. “To be able to come back under these
circumstances is just fantastic and I think it’s a perfect circle for me and
my family, so thank you very much. We’re all extremely excited and I can’t
wait to get with the guys.”

Nash is a great addition to a Phoenix squad that already consists of star
forwards Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. The 21-year-old Stoudemire, who
averaged 20.6 points and nine rebounds in 55 games for Phoenix last season,
gives the Suns an intimidating presence on the inside and should benefit
greatly from Nash’s playmaking ability. The 26-year-old Marion, who averaged
19 points and 9.3 boards in 79 contests for the Suns in 2003-04, is an
athletic forward who will also excel with Nash running the point.

“There are very few players in the league that make other players better and
make coaches smarter, and we’ve got one of them (Nash) right now,” said
Phoenix head coach Mike D’Antoni. “We’re obviously extremely happy to have
him and I’m looking forward to working with him to try to win a lot of
basketball games. So, if you see my hair grows longer and I start doing this
up there (fists his forehead like Richardson), things are going pretty good.”

The Suns, who seem to be building a similar type of roster to Nash’s former
squad, new starting point guard will be surrounded with young, talented,
athletic players. He is also going to a similar situation as the one he went
to in Dallas in 1998-99.

When Nash joined the Mavericks prior to the 1998-99 season, Dallas was coming
off a dismal 20-62 record in 1997-98. The Mavericks qualified for the
postseason in four of Nash’s six seasons with the club. Phoenix was a brutal
29-53 last season and missed the playoffs for the second time in the last
three years.

“It is a similar situation in some respect, but I think it’s different,” said
Nash. “When we were at the bottom in Dallas, we weren’t really sure where we
could get to. We didn’t know if we could climb out of the bottom or what our
potential was. We just hoped and went for it.

“There are pieces in place here that the potential is somewhat more foreseen.
At that time, we didn’t know if we were going to be a playoff team or a
contender or what. I think this team is definitely going to be a playoff team
and from there, the potential is limitless. The first step is sometimes the
most important one to get the team rolling and to get confidence. I think the
mindset is really the indicator of success in this league.”

Nash is not only an unselfish player on the court, be he has already showed
that he wants to contribute in any possible way that will help the Suns join
the elite in the Western Conference.

“I do want to say that prior to even putting on a uniform, Steve recorded his
first assist last night (Tuesday),” said Suns President Bryan Colangelo at the
press conference where Nash was introduced. “We were somewhat surprised
when the (salary) cap number came in at $43.87 million, which is slightly
greater than what it was last year. We were anticipating something, perhaps,
as high as $45 million, maybe as high as $46 million. But, the negotiations
between the union and the NBA obviously threw a curve at us once again.

“You can date this back to the lockout year, where we had anticipated an
amount of space and the number came in quite dramatically low. So, Steve did
in fact get a haircut last night, it was just a monetary haircut. He certainly
stepped up to the plate last night and provided us with an assist to enable us
to sign yet another free agent that we’re releasing information on now,
Quentin Richardson. Between the cooperation of Steve and Quentin, the
situation worked out in everyone’s favor. Once again, I just wanted to say
thank you to Steve for making this possible.”

Originally selected out of DePaul by the Clippers in the first round (18th
overall) of the 2000 NBA Draft, Richardson is coming off the best season of
his four-year career. He played in 65 games for LA in 2003-04 and averaged
career-highs in points (17.2 ppg) and rebounds (6.4 rpg).

A high-flying and athletic player, Richardson has participated in 281 games
during his career and owns averages of 12 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.4
assists. The 24-year-old has not yet played in the postseason during his NBA
career.

If the Clippers don’t match the Suns offer to Richardson, Phoenix will have
three athletic players (Marion, Richardson and Stoudemire) that will cause
fits for its opponents. Nash will be able to pile up the assists in the fast-
paced offense that the Suns will surely run.

The Suns had an aggressive plan for the offseason. If everything goes right
for Phoenix, there could be another serious contender in the West.