Point guard leaves Mavericks, agrees to multiyear deal with Suns

Friday, July 2nd 2004, 6:04 am
By: News On 6

PHOENIX (AP) _ Point guard Steve Nash agreed to a five-year, $65 million deal with the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, leaving the Dallas Mavericks to return to the team that drafted him eight years ago.

The deal includes a ``partial guarantee'' for a sixth year, Nash's agent Bill Duffy said.

Nash shook hands on the deal with new owner Robert Sarver and Suns chairman Jerry Colangelo at a meeting in Dallas, Duffy said.

NBA rules prohibit Nash from signing the contract until July 14. Teams were allowed to begin talks with free agents late Wednesday.

Nash averaged 14.5 points, 8.8 assists and three rebounds per game last season, when he also recorded his first career triple-double.

He will give Phoenix an experienced playmaker ahead of young Leandro Barbosa. The move almost certainly removes the Suns from the competition for Los Angeles Lakers free agent Kobe Bryant.

Phoenix is $16.3 million under the NBA salary cap, not counting the Nash deal.

Dallas officials said repeatedly since the season ended that they expected no problem keeping Nash, the spark plug behind their rise from one of the league's worst teams to one of the best. Along the way, the energetic, floppy haired guard became an All-Star and a fan favorite.

``I think it was his intention to stay with the Mavericks,'' Duffy said of the 30-year-old Nash. ``Everything just turned around so quickly.''

``I never dreamed we'd lose Nash, or any other player of his magnitude,'' Mavericks coach Don Nelson said Thursday night in Fort Worth.

``It's not like a trade where you get something back. There is no adjustment here. We lost a big part of our team and we don't have anything to fill it. It's a setback.''

The Suns sent a 12-person contingent to Dallas on Thursday morning, a group that included team president Bryan Colangelo, the Suns' Amare Stoudemire, Suns part-owner Steve Kerr and former player Rex Chapman.

``Phoenix came up to the plate and put together a very significant offer and we accepted it,'' Duffy said. ``The numbers were significant, but it was also the years. It was a five-year deal and that is very significant for someone Steve's age.''

Donnie Nelson, president of the basketball operations for the Mavericks, wouldn't discuss what Dallas offered, but he said the team's counter to Nash wasn't good enough.

``He was either going to retire a Maverick or get a heck of an opportunity to move on and the latter happened, he was never a (trade) chip.''

Nash was drafted by Phoenix in 1996 and spent two seasons backing up Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd. He was traded to Dallas on draft day in 1998, the same night the Mavs acquired Dirk Nowitzki. Those two plus holdover Michael Finley formed the heart of Dallas' turnaround.

Nash spoke to Finley and Nowitzki by telephone during Thursday's eight-hour negotiations.

``I think it was very difficult for him,'' Duffy said, but he added that the Suns' proposal was ``a very aggressive offer for this marketplace.''

Finley and Nowitzki were given maximum contracts two summers ago. Nash, who was never offered an extension, opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time but maintained that he wanted to remain in Dallas.

``I think everyone is optimistic that I can be a part of our building process,'' he said the day after the Mavericks were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. ``I certainly want to be part of that process. I don't think of this as the end of my time here.''

But the Suns lured Nash with money and a long-term deal. Nash will be teamed with Stoudemire, the NBA rookie of the year two seasons ago who also is a client of Duffy. The Suns also have two young high scorers in Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion.

The length of the contract was one of the attractions for Nash. The familiarity Nash had with the Suns franchise as well as Phoenix's aggressiveness in pursuing him also were factors, Duffy said.

After the meeting, the Suns' contingent returned to Phoenix by private jet. Nash went back to his home in Victoria, British Columbia.

Jerry Colangelo, also chairman of baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks, arrived late for Thursday night's game against San Diego. He said NBA rules prohibited him from talking about the Nash situation until signings are allowed on July 14.

Mavs owner Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson had discussed Nash's return as if it was inevitable _ even after they traded Antawn Jamison to Washington for No. 5 pick Devin Harris, a point guard from Wisconsin.

Harris was immediately tabbed as Nash's backup and long-term replacement.

The biggest knock on Nash is durability.

Coach Nelson always talked about limiting his minutes during the regular season to keep him fresher for the playoffs, but rarely did. Concerns that Nash's all-out style may wear him out by the end of a long-term deal may have been a factor in this move. Dallas likely wasn't willing to offer as many years as the Suns.