The first thing that comes to mind for me when I hear the word comeback is "Don't call it a comeback because we never left."
It's a word association instantaneous reaction. Similar to what SBNation did recently with all of the NBA teams. The result of that exercise was that most people felt that Steve Nash was synonymous with the Phoenix Suns. Not surprisingly, that was the next name that I thought of in terms of comebacks associated with the Phoenix Suns.
This wasn't the traditional variety of a comeback. Not a team clawing back from a huge deficit in a single game like the Suns did at Houston in the 1994 playoffs when they outscored the Rockets 26-8 in the fourth quarter to overcome a 20 point deficit, eventually win in overtime and secure a 2-0 lead in the series (which they would later squander). Not a comeback in a playoff series like the Suns succeeded in doing twice against the Lakers (1993 down 2-0 and 2006 down 3-1). Not an individual coming back from a career threatening injury as Amar'e Stoudemire did in overcoming microfracture surgery.
This was a comeback of a different nature.
On June 26, 1996 the Phoenix Suns drafted a 6'3" 187 lb. point guard out of Santa Clara with the 15th pick in the first round. That player was Steve Nash. The fans booed the selection. As had previously occurred with a draft day bemoaning of Dan Majerle, the boos ended up being an ironic presage of great things to come.
Nash struggled to get consistent playing time in his first two seasons in Phoenix. He was buried on the depth chart behind two upstart, unheralded point guards named Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd. Nash's selection had actually occurred before the acquisition of Kidd from the Dallas Mavericks and it was apparent that the Suns had aspirations of grooming him to succeed KJ at the helm of the franchise. With Kidd's hands now firmly affixed to the wheel, Nash became expendable.
On June 24, 1998 the Suns traded Nash to Dallas (perhaps repaying the favor) for a group of nondescript players and a first round pick that propitiously manifested itself as Shawn Marion in the next year's draft. Nash flourished in Dallas with increased playing time and a starting role. The Mavericks won 50+ games four straight seasons (a streak that would run to 11 straight prior to last season's lockout) with Nash at the point. Nash was an all-star and all-NBA third team selection in consecutive seasons as he cemented himself as one of the better point guards in the league.
The Jason Kidd experiment didn't work out as fabulously for Phoenix. Although Kidd's on court performance was never lacking, a domestic violence issue in the summer of 2001 led to the front office ushering him out of the desert with celerity. Stephon Marbury returned in the deal from New Jersey, and put up respectable numbers during his stay, but always felt more like a placeholder than a permanent solution. The Suns dumped his salary on the Knicks during the 2003-04 season with the intent of clearing cap space to add to their young nucleus in free agency. As kismet would have it, Steve Nash was a free agent. Nash was a point guard. The Suns needed a point guard.
Mark Cuban felt that Nash was aging and would begin to deteriorate. His time playing at his current level would be short lived, at best, and his prime years were already in the rearview mirror. Enter ambitious new Suns' owner Robert Sarver. In what would later be perceived as
one of his only good decisions ever the epitome of a coup in free agency, Sarver took advantage of Cuban's moment of parsimony with a prodigal strike of his own (talk about a completely bizarre role reversal). It turned out that Cuban vastly underestimated Steve Nash. After the signing, I can remember thinking that the addition of Nash would at least make the Suns a playoff team. He was a solid point guard that would provide leadership for the prodigious neophytes, albeit at a rather steep price point. I vastly underestimated Steve Nash.
Despite being previously discarded by the Suns, shipped away to Dallas for mixed parts and a draft pick, Nash "came back" to the Suns on July 14, 2004. The return of Nash led to a palingenesis of Phoenix Suns basketball. Augmented by the emerging talents of the Matrix (Marion) and STAT (Stoudemire), Nash laid the foundation for the 7SOL (seven seconds or less) era, which made them a fan favorite and media darling for 3+ seasons. Nash managed to stumble upon a couple of MVP awards along the way and cemented himself as one the best players in the game, an international basketball icon and a sure fire first ballot hall of famer.
During Nash's first six seasons in Phoenix the Suns went to the Western Conference Finals three times. The Suns had prolific talents (Stoudemire, Marion), celebrity coaches and players (Mike D'Antoni, Shaq) and even role players that embedded their way into the annals of Phoenix Suns' history (Raja Bell, Jared Dudley). But Nash was the biggest star at the center of the Suns' universe.
Steve bled for Phoenix. He played through pain. He took the
cheapest best shots opponents had to offer and came back swinging. The fans empathized with him. They loved him. He was one of "us". The 7SOL era never culminated in a Suns' championship. Bad Luck, nefarious circumstances and coming up against teams that were just a little dirtier better stymied the Suns' aspirations.
Then Steve left again. The first time he had been thrown out of town like a boomerang, only to come back of his own volition (influenced by a windfall payday). This time the situation was a little more muddled and nebulous. Did Nash want out or was the team tossing him out the door again? Mixed reports surfaced and the truth became a scarce resource. Then the previously unimaginable became a stark reality. Steve Nash was going to Los Angeles. The same team that had apparently discarded him twice was apparently facilitating his exodus. Nash wasn't one of "us" after all. One of "us" would never even entertain the thought of playing for the Lakers. People felt jilted and betrayed by both Nash and the organization. A fairy tale story with a soap opera ending. Or is it really the end?
I have a sneaking suspicion that Steve Nash has another comeback in him. Despite what some perceive as a perfidious absquatulation, I can see time mending some of those wounds and Nash being received back into the good grace of the fanbase as a future induction into the Suns' Ring of Honor. I think he deserves it and I think the fans deserve it. I think Steve Nash needs to go into the Hall of Fame as a Sun because that's what he is.
Many predict turbulent times ahead for the Suns. The prevailing opinion seems to be that the rebuilding process will be arduous and plodding. I wouldn't count out the Suns quite so hastily. A new point guard returns from the Suns' Texas farm system. Goran Dragic provides new hope now that Houston has trained our dragon. The roster may not be as devoid of talent as the pundits profess. The Suns have never stayed down long, so don't be surprised if they rise from the ashes again before you expect it. But don't call it a comeback.
Because we never left.