It’s a question that has been asked by Vancouver sports fans for two decades.
What if the Vancouver Grizzlies got their hands on Steve Nash?
Now, as the skinny kid from Victoria goes into the Basketball Hall of Fame, you really have to wonder.
Because they had their chances.
Nash was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 1996, after the Grizzlies’ first NBA season. Vancouver had the third pick and chose Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Nash wasn’t selected until the 15th pick.
Given hindsight, of course the Grizzlies should have drafted Nash over Abdur-Rahim. But to criticize GM Stu Jackson for not reaching for him is unfair.
“At the time when that draft occurred, on our draft board as I recall, Steve Nash was probably in the 15 to 20 pick range on our draft board,” Jackson told Sportsnet 650 earlier this year.
“As much as we wanted to make Steve Nash a Vancouver Grizzly, and needing a point guard, at that time it didn’t seem like the best decision.”
Of all the things to criticize Jackson for – and that list is long – not drafting Nash with the No. 3 pick isn’t one of them. Nobody expected Nash to become the player that he became.
What the Grizzlies could have done though, is swing a deal for the BC boy.
The trade that never happened
Six months after Nash was drafted, the Suns pulled the trigger on six-player deal that brought Jason Kidd to Phoenix. Kidd, who coincidentally is also being inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend, was already a star and just 23 years old at the time.
It changed everything for Nash, who the Suns no longer needed, given he and Kidd were both pass-first point guards.
Phoenix traded Nash at the 1998 draft, but the Grizzlies were in discussions before then.
Beat writer Howard Tsumura reported that Vancouver could have had Nash for the No. 4 pick in the 1997 draft and an unnamed player.
“Phoenix called but they’re being unreasonable,” Jackson said at the time. “They called because they realize [Nash isn’t] going to play. But what they’re asking for we just can’t do. If we did what they were asking for Steve Nash, we’d have one happy day and then we’d spend the rest of the year saying: ‘What did we do?’”
That was Vancouver’s best chance.
Instead, the Grizzlies chose Antonio Daniels, who had a long but unspectacular career – mostly as a backup.
Nothing would have saved the Grizzlies in Vancouver more than winning more basketball games, but the thing is – Nash would have helped in that regard too.
Nash became a star not long after his move to Dallas and became a back-to-back MVP upon his return to Phoenix.
There’s no telling how he would have developed in the toxic environment that was the Vancouver Grizzlies, but he would have certainly altered history.
Had Jackson pulled the trigger on the 1997 offer and Nash showed promise, there would have been no need to draft Mike Bibby second overall in 1998. While there were some land mines available after Bibby, Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter were picked at No. 4 and 5, and would have filled a need.
Nash was the type of player that made everyone around him better. Imagine that type of player – a local product – with Vince Carter on the end of his passes? Forget merely saving the Grizzlies from extinction, that would have made them a playoff team.
Instead, the Grizzlies continued to struggle on the court and were relocated to Memphis after the 2000-2001 season.
Fans in Vancouver are left to wonder ‘what if.’