So Nash shows up in Vancouver and an NBA exhibition game packs the joint. Makes a guy wonder . . what if? As Matt Sekeres wrote in today's Globe, with a crystal ball and some better decision making there's no reason the NBA shouldn't have remained on the West Coast. If they had known the Canadian dollar would have rebounded to par, would they have left? If they had somehow, someway managed to pick up a second first-round pick in the middle of the 1996 draft to use on Nash, would they have needed to? What if the NBA hadn't written such an onerous expansion agreement, in particular locking the Raptors and Grizzlies out of the top pick in the first couple of seasons? As Nash has said before, what if another general manager, not Stu Jackson, had been running the show, maybe things might have been different.
But looking back, one element that can't be overlooked is this: During the years they were picking the highest and needed stars the most, the NBA draft was incredibly weak. Even when you go back and dissect who should have been picked where, Vancouver's draft prospects weren't that good.
Picking No. 6 in 1995 they got Bryant Reeves. Were they unwise to pick him there? I don't think so. Were they unwise to sign him to a $65-million extension? Yes. Was it his fault he ate himself out of the NBA? Yes.
They got Shareef Abdur-Rahim No. 3 in 1996, and while he's not a Hall-of-Famer, he was a productive NBA player. The problem was he was miscast as a franchise player.
1997: Antonio Daniels? A nice role player at No. 4, and when you look at what else was available - Tony Battie, Ron Mercer, Tim Thomas and Adonal Foyle were the next four picks - not a bad choice. Revisionist history would suggest Tracy McGrady at No. 9 was the right call here, but that would have been a huge stretch then.
1998: Mike Bibby at No. 2? Well, Raef Lafrentz went No. 3, and the Golden State Warriors thought so little of Vince Carter (taken No. 5) they traded him to Toronto for Antawn Jamison (taken No. 4) and paid money to grease the deal. Bibby has gone on to a really nice career, the problem is he's just not the impact player you want picking No. 2.
1999: A huge blunder taking Steve Francis at No. 2; his teary pout was a pox on the franchise. But look at the alternatives: Baron Davis? Underachieving flake. LaMar Odom? Flake. Jonathan Bender? High school kid, always hurt. Wally SZzzzz? Rip Hamilton went No. 7, but no one was projecting him as a No. 2 pick at the time. Before he got hurt Francis was a huge talent. Unfortunately for Grizzlies fans he was an immature weirdo.
2000: Yes, Stro Swift was a waste of a No. 2 pick. Total underachiever. But remember that Darius Miles went No. 3. Marcus Fizer went fourth, Mike Miller went No. 5 and DeMar Johnson went No. 6 and then came Chris Mihm. Seriously, what could any GM do with that?
These were horrible draft classes.
The Raptors made it in part because they play in a bigger market and in a better building and in no small part because of the shared ownership with the Leafs, which meant corporate box-holders got Raptors suites along with their Leaf suites, they couldn't pick and choose. And also they caught a break when they got Carter, who got better faster than anyone imagined. When they got McGrady; same thing.
I think the NBA should be in Vancouver and wish it was. If the team had been launched in 2002 with a better expansion agreement they might still be, given the strength of the dollar and the possibility of drafting the likes of LeBron, Carmelo, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or Kevin Durant. That's a lot of true franchise players to pick from; the Vancouver Grizzlies never got a shot at anything remotely close to that, though with their luck, picking No. 2 in 2003, they would have taken Darko.
But you see what I mean.
Nash and the Maple Leaf
Also, we can put this to bed right now, Sekeres asked Nash about playing for Canada next summer, here's his answer, for the last time:
"I'm probably not going to play. I just can't do it. I'm 35 - 36 in the middle of the season - and I gave it everything I had just to handle my responsibility to this team. For me to live up to my standards for the national team, I'd probably have to train for two months before we play. I'm not the type of player or athlete who can just take a few weeks and live up to my standards. We're talking about, in some ways, an expiration date on what I can handle.
"I also think that those guys have done an amazing job qualifying and those guys deserve to go. They should go and build a program with those guys who went out there and qualified - I would say against the odds - and they should go down and build a team and build a reputation for themselves. I'll be supporting them all the way, but I'd say the chances of me playing are very slim."
Kudos to Canada Basketball.
The national governing body for hoops in our home and native land has secured the rights to the Canadian premiere of the new LeBron James flick, More Than a Game, next Tuesday night in downtown Toronto. There are lots of details at the Canada Basketball website but the great thing is a portion of the ticket sales will go to support Canada Basketball's four - count-em four - entries at the various World Basketball Championships next summer. There is also a silent auction for the same cause, so take a look. I've heard the film is very, very good. Look for an interview I did with director Kris Belman way back in this space early next week.