NEW YORK — Steve Nash could be the Knicks point guard after he becomes a free agent this summer, but by then his old coach could be long gone.
“Of course, it’s no secret,” Nash said of his passion for New York City after he put up 26 points and 11 assists in the Phoenix Suns’ 91-88 victory over the Knicks at MSG.
“[New York] is the basketball capital of the world. I live here in the summer, I have a lot of friends here and my former coach and teammate play here, so it’s a homecoming in some ways for me and it’s always fun to play here.”
In 2009, Nash also told David Letterman, “I’d love to (play for the Knicks). Can you work it out?”
Mike D’Antoni, who coached Nash and current Knick Amar’e Stoudemire to two Western Conference finals, is in the final year of a four-year, $24 million contract, but could be headed out the door if he can’t turn things around and at least win a round in the playoffs.
The Knicks (6-8) have dropped four straight, with their latest loss coming to a Suns team that had lost five in a row, including Tuesday night’s game in Chicago.
Phil Jackson would be the Knicks’ ultimate prize as D’Antoni’s replacement, but there’s no guarantee he’ll ever coach again.
“He’s in a tough position,” Nash, a two-time NBA MVP who entered averaging 14 points and an NBA-best 10.0 assists, said of D’Antoni. “They’ve constantly changed and brought in new people and now that he’s got all these new pieces he hasn’t really had the point guard he’s wanted…so for me it’s been a constant transition and a constant waiting game.
“Waiting for the Melo trade to happen and free agency they gave away their point guard [Chauncey Billups] to get Tyson [Chandler] and fill up their frontcourt and they have a guy to guard the interior. Now they’re waiting for Baron [Davis] to get healthy, so you know that’s tough. It’s tough not to have that balance full of roster, so I do feel for him.”
The Knicks could get Davis back next week and D’Antoni is basically ready to hand him the starting point guard job as soon as he debuts.
“If Baron’s healthy he can be the answer for sure,” Nash said. “He’s a terrific player. Very skilled. Can facilitate and score. When he’s healthy, he can play at as high a level as anybody. That’s the big key, if Baron can get healthy he’ll be great here.”
Of course, by next season the Knicks will be in the market for a point guard and Nash, who turns 38 next month, believes he can play at a high level for a few more years.
“I bet I can play a long time, depending on what role,” Nash said. “I physically feel about as good as I’ve ever felt, so I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t play at this level for a couple more years.
“It just becomes harder work. It’s a full-time job to stay at this level physically and to recover but as far as just playing in the league, I think I can play for a long time.”
D’Antoni, who clearly longs for the days when Nash, and not rookie Iman Shumpert or past-his-prime Mike Bibby, was his point guard, agrees.
“He’s one of the best players ever to play the game,” D’Antoni said of Nash. “He works exceptionally hard at what he does. He knows the game exceptionally well. Just everything you would want in a playmaker. … He still loves the game, that’s the key. … He’s probably not even close to the end yet.”
Whether that end comes in New York, and whether D’Antoni ever coaches Nash again, remains to be seen.
“In the summer we’ll deal with free agency,” Nash said, “but at this point I’m 100 percent committed to the Suns and I’m not looking forward.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.