In the end Steve Nash wanted to change his team, but didn’t want to change his life, at least more than necessary.

Or that’s the story.

So when the Phoenix Suns proved willing to make a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers — getting draft picks and cash to sign and trade Nash to their arch rival — he was able to get almost everything he was looking for in his last chance at free agency and his last professional contract.

Those close to Nash swear that he swore that moving to a team and a city that would provide minimal disruption to his routine with his ex-wife and his three children was a priority, that having the chance to win was next on the list and money third.

The Lakers line up well with those priorities, and explain why his long-time agent, Bill Duffy, told Marc Spears that Nash was ecstatic, as happy as he’s ever seen him after getting $27 million to play on a championship-calibre team an hour’s flight from his kids.

It’s easy to get cynical about that stuff. Nash will have to battle the perception in some corners that listening politely while Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo and MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum tried to woo him north with talk of legacy and $36 million (or close to it) of guaranteed money was more about him using Toronto to set the market for the rest of the NBA, a signal to get their bids in, than him ever wanting to play here.

How sincere the former national team star ever was about trying to right the Raptors ship in Toronto after too many lean years he’ll have to answer for himself. He wasn’t returning messages Wednesday night. That his sincerity is even up for question is something new for Nash, who has been able to trade on it for most of his career.

The developments of this week and little wrinkles like him calculatingly choosing Tuesday to launch one of his patented cheeky ad campaigns this time with the tag line — “check out my new team” — will test that a bit. Would Chris Bosh have gotten away with toying with fan’s anxieties like that? LeBron?


That Nash heard the Raptors offer early on and then seemed to spend the next four days waiting — hoping — that some other team would figure out a way to make it easy for Nash to say thanks but no thanks to Toronto is going to be a hard one for a lot of Raptors fans to swallow.

Nash landing in Los Angeles, who came into the process late, will likely make it go down easier. Nash has shared custody of his three children with his ex-wife. The terms of their custody arrangement are shaped by the NBA season. When he’s at home the kids are with him, when he’s on the road they’re with his ex-wife; they split the summers.

Playing in Los Angeles means Nash is only an hour’s flight from his kids and they can continue living in Phoenix with minimal disruption. It’s hard to begrudge someone that. Moreover the Lakers are clearly an opportunity for Nash to win a championship, even if it does mean him joining forces with the former evil empire. And his willingness to leave about $9 million of the Raptors money on the table to sign with the Lakers can’t be scoffed at so easily.

The betting is that over time Raptors fans — who can hold a grudge — will get over it if or when Nash is helping the Lakers make a run at a championship ring.

It might not go so well for Colangelo, who has been subtly engineering this move for years, dating back to hiring and then gently firing Jay Triano, a close friend of Nash’s as well as adding sports science expert Alex McKecknie who has worked with Nash in the past before this week’s splash.

As is Colangelo’s tendency, he held nothing back. As a result the Raptors will now be paying Knicks swingman Landry Fields, an interesting role player coming off a poor sophomore season, $19 million over the next three years as Toronto tried to break up a potential sign-and-trade where New York would have sent Landry to the Suns to free up more money to sign Nash.

The word from inside the Raptors camp is that there is no buyer’s remorse regarding Fields; no consideration given to extracting themselves from the deal which will lock in on July 14. He’s seen as part of the plan. That might be a tough sell.

Colangelo has been quiet during the process, saying to me on Wednesday only that “we gave it our best shot,” with regard to chasing Nash.

Was it a wise move? Rationally perhaps not, but it’s hard to argue that the fans — hardcore and casual alike — weren’t energized at the prospect of adding Nash for reasons competitive and sentimental. And once you go down that path there’s no point going halfway down.

Does Colangelo deserve criticism for failing to properly calculate the Raptors’ chances to land Nash, given his criteria? Is ambition a flaw? Does Nash deserve criticism for even entertaining the Raptors offer if the only criteria they met, realistically, was financial?

These things tend to smooth out over time, but not always. Images can only sustain so many nicks and scratches before they begin to look distorted.

After four years out of the playoffs and more strikes than hits in his six years running the Raptors, Colangelo is running out of runway if he’s going to make the Raptors take flight with him at the controls.
Nash is not a Raptor and now never will be. His challenge will be fending off the perception that after 16 years in the NBA he’s not only mastered basketball, but the game itself.

Michael Grange is a columnist for and a senior writer at Sportsnet magazine.