It’s taken seven months for Steve Nash to prepare for this moment. But once it finally comes, the swirl of emotions will still hit him.
The Lakers (19-25) may insist they’re strictly focused on tonight’s game against the New Orleans Hornets (15-29), despite remaining the Western Conference’s worst team. But Nash has reason to look ahead to the Lakers’ game at Phoenix (15-30) Wednesday for reasons beyond seeing how the team measures on an 11-day, seven-game trip.
That game will also mark the first team he faced his the Suns after their mutual breakup led to Nash joining the Lakers this offseason.
“It’s one of those days that’s not easy,” Nash said. “But it’s very welcoming to go back and see all those familiar faces. It’s a very special place for me.”
There’s plenty of reasons for Nash to consider this game special.
He will see his children, including his eight-year-old twin daughters Lola and Bella and two-year-old son Matteo, that still live in Phoenix. Nash will see former teammates, such as Jared Dudley, that he still talks to regularly through text messages. It will also bring back plenty of memories on how Nash won two NBA MVPS and led the Suns to five playoff appearances, including two in the Western Conference Finals.
“He was our leader and superstar there,” said Lakers forward Earl Clark, who played in Phoenix from 2009-2011. “He was the reason why a lot of people got paid and a lot of people were happy. He won us a lot of games. Steve is a great team player and great individual.”
Still, Nash sounded unsure how the fans will greet him after joining a hated division rival. Those on the Lakers, however, believe Phoenix fans will greet him with a reception as warm as the Arizona desert sun.
“Great. Couldn’t be anything but great,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached Nash in Phoenix from 2004-2008. “I’m sure he’s looking forward to it.”
Nash has made it clear since signing with the Lakers to a three-year, $27 million deal that he didn’t actively seek an exit strategy. He only did so after the Suns detailed their desire to begin the rebuilding phase without Nash. He then found the Lakers championship chances and proximity to his children in Phoenix too tantalizing to resists.
Still, the 39-year-old guard has largely credited Phoenix for becoming amenable to trading him to the Lakers. Because of the Lakers season-wide struggles, the Suns have actually benefited from the trade. That’s because they received the Lakers’ 2013 first-round pick, a 2015 first-round pick, two second-round picks (in 2013 and 2014) and cash. Should the Lakers miss the playoffs and end up in the lottery, the pick would go to Phoenix.
Nash believes most Suns fans respect both parties’ respective business interests that resulted in the breakup.
“You do hear from fans that are upset, but the overwhelming majority of the people have been supportive,” Nash said. “You’re talking about a lot of fans that asked me to ask for a trade for two years. You get a mixed bag. But it was a great eight years for me there and the fans have been overwhelmingly supportive.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org