By Randy Hill
The fluid and meandering stream of Steve Nash speculation rolled through some interesting ports of alleged interest in recent days.
It began with Nash's seemingly polite confirmation that he'd listen if the New York Knicks showed interest when the 38-year-old point guard hustles into free agency next month — a Knicks insider confirmed that the speculated interest in Nash remains legitimate. A couple of days later, the NBA ruled that two key Knicks — including point guard Jeremy Lin — would be granted early Bird rights, making it easier for New York to retain its surprise phenom and still use the mid-level exception ($5 million) to woo Nash.
From there, Nash watchers were obliged to consider a couple of reports strongly suggesting that the two-time Most Valuable Player has winnowed his NBA employment options to three cities: Toronto, Portland and back here in Phoenix.
To believe that, one must toss out recent reports credited to supposed inside bean-spillers that Nash requires his next team to be on the cusp of an NBA championship. Although he never really said this, Nash did help stir such assumptions during a not-so-long-ago radio tour that included admitting his interest in listening to LeBron James if the officially crowned king gave him a call regarding work with the Miami Heat.
But now that has LeBron scored, passed and rebounded his way to a championship, there may be little teaming-up interest from either party. The Heat would seem more interested in using their limited resources — just the mid-level exception — to hire a big man with more productivity potential than Joel Anthony or Rony Turiaf.
The Knicks — with coach Mike Woodson looking more like a grind-it-out sort — may not satisfy a Nash shopping list that includes on-court fit, competitive potential of the team, money and family location issues.
With Deron Williams reportedly hoping the Nets can do enough to keep him in Brooklyn, the Dallas Mavericks — assuming the hiring of an aging point guard he once let get away is Mark Cuban's idea of retooling — will be associated with Nash in more upcoming rumors.
Meanwhile, several NBA personnel executives have confirmed that the Nash-to-Toronto rumors may have real traction.
"I've been hearing that from people that would know," said one Western Conference sharpie, sounding very much like the rest of us. "The Raptors may not be ready to win right away, but with (Andrea) Bargnani, (DeMar) DeRozan and maybe (Jonas) Valanciunas coming over next season, they could be pretty decent right away with Nash. And they could have enough cap space to get something done there."
Valanciunas, the 7-footer chosen fifth overall by the Raptors in the 2011 draft, was the dominant player in last summer's U-19 World Championships. According to reports earlier this month, there's a strong chance he could buy out the last year of his European contract — the Raps are able to pony up roughly a quarter of that price — and play in the NBA next season.
The Raptors also have the eighth pick in this week's draft, with which they're expected to grab an attacking wing (such as Dion Waiters of Syracuse) or high-scoring, draft-board-climbing point guard Damian Lillard of Weber State.
The Portland Trail Blazers' long-reported interest in acquiring Nash may have waned or expired entirely. The Blazers, who own the sixth and 11th picks, also have a new general manager. Neil Olshey, fresh from a pretty strong spin with the Los Angeles Clippers, may have enough new-guy latitude to prefer rebuilding.
"I want to make it clear ... we're not looking for quick fixes," Olshey said recently. "We're not looking for aging veterans."
Meanwhile, fans in Phoenix are particularly interested in the plans of at least one aging veteran.