- LZ Granderson, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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Next month the Summer of Possibilities begins. No, that's not a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and whatever new guy she is dating. I'm talking about a different sort of pairing, the kind NBA fans have been fantasizing about for two years.
LeBron and Wade.
Kobe and Bosh.
New York and all of the above.
With the most talented group of free agents in recent memory finally able to explore the market, one can't help but get excited over how this is all going to play out. But I have to tell you, when I close my eyes and think about a dream pairing, I keep coming back to a different duo:
Dirk and Nash.
Yes, I know we've seen that one before. Yes, I know, it doesn't appear as if Dirk Nowitzki is going to opt out of his contract, and if he does, it's unlikely he'll leave the Mavs. But a guy can dream, can't he? Nothing against Dallas, but for a while there, Dirk and Steve Nash were the most exciting tandem in the NBA. And they were winning. Free agency split them too soon. I can't help but wonder whether free agency could bring them back together.
I spoke with a handful of NBA execs, and to a man, they said that if those two had stayed together, they likely would've won a ring. The execs also said that if the players were reunited, provided they had a good supporting cast in Phoenix, they still could.
Hindsight is 20/20, and obviously Dirk and Nash are not the players now they were in Dallas from 1998 through 2004. I can't blame Mark Cuban for thinking it was best to let Nash walk. He was good, not great, and $10 million to $12 million a year is a lot for 30-year-old point guard who can't play D.
Here's what we know today: Cuban blew it. Especially when you consider Jason Kidd. Since he and his $20 million-a-year contract arrived in Dallas midway through the 2007-08 season, Cuban has paid the declining and offensively limited point guard a heck of a lot more money to run the team than he would've spent on keeping one of the greatest shooters of all time to do the same job.
As for the defensive differences between the two: The 37-year-old Kidd hasn't locked up anyone born after 1980 since he arrived from New Jersey. Nash might not keep continual defensive pressure on his man, but his scoring and penetration do, which partially explains why Spurs guard George Hill has 10 fouls in two games against the Suns so far this series after fouling only six times in as many games in the first-round series against the Mavs.
Cuban gambled, and he was wrong. If Amare Stoudemire opts out of his contract and walks away from the Suns, I'd love to see Dirk walk into Phoenix, where he and Nash would have a shot at correcting that wrong.
Yes, we've seen those names on the same team before, but we have not seen these two mature players together. The first time around, they were still developing and trying to adjust to the wrong roles. Three MVPs and a bucket full of playoff heartbreak later, they are two all-time greats desperate to win a championship and still talented enough to be the focal point of a team that can do it.
In Dallas, Dirk and Cuban, who reportedly have spent time together since the team's third first-round ouster in four years, will tinker with the roster and once again try to figure out how Dirk can use his No. 2 mentality to fill the team's No. 1 space. Ah, but in Phoenix, Dirk would finally be in the complementary role because of Nash's development.
That's no slam at Dirk -- he is a beautiful player to watch -- but he's not the natural leader Nash is, or at least has become these past six seasons. Many of Dallas' postseason shortcomings -- losing in the 2006 Finals, the playoff series loss to No. 8 Golden State in 2007 -- can be attributed to Dirk being miscast. Nash knows exactly who Dirk is. Cuban is still trying to find the right formula to turn Dirk into someone he is not.
Sometimes a team's best player isn't "the man," and that's OK. It was difficult to see who was what when Dirk and Nash were together in Dallas. Now that they've had some time apart, the roles are clear.
The summer after the 2007 season -- the one in which Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended for leaving the bench during the Suns' bloody battle with the Spurs -- I asked Nash whether he felt his window to win a championship in Phoenix was closing. At the time, he said in Zen-like fashion, "The only window that exists is this year."
When I think about a do-over with Nash and Dirk, I feel the same way: The only window that exists for them to reunite is this year. I hope Dirk doesn't let it close because Dallas is all he's known or because of his friendship with Cuban. I hope he sees this as a chance to rejoin his buddy and complete some unfinished business.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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