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Lakers get Steve Nash from Suns

By Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers added their point guard of the future by taking one of the best ever, plucking Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns for a slew of draft picks.

Nash brings instant life to a Lakers offense that was moribund last season, possibly pushing them into the upper reaches of the Western Conference, if not the entire NBA, yet again.

It took the Lakers almost 20 years to find a point guard as dynamic as Magic Johnson, but they did it.

And it took eight months for the Lakers to finally use the $9 million traded-player exception they acquired from Dallas for Lamar Odom. Did they ever.

It was just enough to sign the future Hall of Famer for $9 million in the first year of a three-year contract worth about $27 million. The Lakers cannot officially acknowledge the deal until the free-agency moratorium ends July 11.

It’s a deal that presumably makes the Lakers more attractive to Orlando center Dwight Howard, primarily because the ball will move more on offense. Kobe Bryant won’t have the ball in his hands as often with Nash in the fold.

Howard has one year remaining on his contract with Orlando, but he has asked to be traded. Andrew Bynum would be the centerpiece in such a trade.

The Lakers gave up four draft picks to get Nash; first- and second-rounders next year, a second-round pick in 2014 and another first-round pick in 2015. The Lakers also included an unspecified amount of cash believed to be about $3 million.

Nash, 38, is fifth on the NBA’s all-time list with 9,616 assists. Right above him is Johnson (10,141). Second all-time in free-throw percentage (90.4 percent), Nash won the league most-valuable-player award in 2005 and 2006 and finished second in 2007.

He averaged 12.5 points last season and his 10.7 assists a game trailed only Boston’s Rajon Rondo. The Suns, however, finished 10th in the West and failed to make the playoffs, continuing their quiet existence since advancing to the conference finals in 2006.

Nash was a free agent after spending the last eight seasons in Phoenix and was offered a three-year deal with the Toronto Raptors for about $36 million. The New York Knicks were also chasing the services of the creative pass-first point guard who has excellent touch from three-point range (career 42.8 percent).

While most Lakers followers held their breath for a Howard trade, the team pushed for Nash on Tuesday, quietly preparing their offer for the perennial All-Star. It was accepted less than 24 hours later.

Nash helped consummate the deal by appealing to Suns executives to take the Lakers’ offer. Had he gone to Toronto or New York as a free agent, the Suns would have received nothing in return.

“I approached them and asked if they would be willing to do a sign-and-trade deal with L.A. because it is very important to me to stay near my children and family,” Nash said in a statement. “They were very apprehensive and didn’t want to do it. Fortunately for me, they reconsidered. They saw that they were able to get assets for their team that will make them better, assets they would not have otherwise had and it made sense for them to do a deal that helps their team get better.”

The Lakers were so far over the luxury-tax threshold that the most they could offer Nash as a free agent was $3 million, the “mini” mid-level exception. The only way they could have met his salary request was to absorb him into the Odom traded-player exception, allowing them to acquire a player making $9 million or less next season. The Lakers had until December to use it.

In essence, Nash signed the three-year deal with Phoenix and was immediately traded to the Lakers. He made $11.7 million last season, his 16th in the league.

The Lakers struggled immensely on offense last season, going 13 consecutive games in January without breaking 100 points as “Slowtime” replaced Showtime. They broke 100 only three times in 12 playoff games.

Nash should help change that.

He’s durable despite his age, missing an average of 4.3 games a season since 2005. He missed four games last season, seven the year before that and one in 2009-10.

Nash isn’t an accomplished defender, making coach Mike Brown’s job more intriguing on that end of the court. Known as a defensive coach, Brown will need to come up with a plan to incorporate Nash’s shortcomings.

In many other ways, though, Nash will be a contributor. He has a reputation as a classy individual and fan favorite. Suns followers probably will be irritated they lost one of their best players ever, not to mention to a Pacific Division rival.

Lakers point guard Steve Blake has two more years on his contract and is penciled in as Nash’s backup. Ramon Sessions will not be re-signed after declining a one-year player option for $4.55 million last month.

The Lakers had also been in contact with representatives for Chauncey Billups but will not pursue him any longer.

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