Griffin: Steve Nash’s growth began in ‘fight or flight’ mode vs. Jason Kidd
Former Suns front office executive David Griffin witnessed a lot of history in Phoenix.
He began as a Suns intern in the early 1990s and in the next 17 years rose to the position of senior vice president of basketball operations. Over that time, Griffin, who most recently was general manager for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2014-17, oversaw the two shockingly different portions of 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Steve Nash’s Phoenix career.
Taken 15th overall by the Suns in 1996, Nash spent his first two years playing behind Jason Kidd, a fellow 2018 hall of fame inductee, and Griffin believes that played an integral part in Nash developing into an All-Star and more.
“Part of that period of time we had Kevin Johnson as well, so we had three of them, and it was truly remarkable to watch that,” Griffin told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi on The Woj Pod. “From a physical standpoint, you really saw the sheer power and speed that Jason had as an enormous advantage over Steve, and Steve was just so skilled. I think Jason forced Steve to become more skilled, to grow and evolve in ways that he was going to need to to be successful.
“If you’re not highly skilled and creative and crafty, Jason can maul you. And because he’s such a naturally competitive guy, he was certainly of the mindset to do it. And Kevin Johnson, very similar.”
Nash averaged 3.3 points and 2.1 assists per game as a rookie, then fought himself into 22 minutes per game the next season, where he averaged 9.1 points and 3.4 assists despite splitting time with Kidd and Johnson.
“I think it was almost a fight or flight situation for Steve, and he really did get exposed to true greatness at a very early time in his career and understood if he was going to find a greatness of his own, it was going to look a certain way,” Griffin said.
A highly-evolved Nash would return to the Suns, but not after he grew into an All-Star.
Following the 1997-98 season, Phoenix traded Nash to the Dallas Mavericks for a package of three players, including Pat Garrity, and a future first-round pick.
The pick turned out to be Shawn Marion, who the Suns selected ninth overall in 1999 and was a key piece to Nash’s success when he returned to Phoenix as a free agent in 2004.
With interim coach Mike D’Antoni hired full-time by then-general manager Bryan Colangelo thanks to what Griffin described as the best coach-GM relationship he’s seen in the NBA, the Suns deployed a league-refining system that fit both the coach and Nash.
The Seven Seconds or less era was born that season with Nash pushing the pace and finishing Marion and Amare Stoudemire in transition as Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson pulled defenders out to the three-point line.
“I do think it was the marriage of Mike’s system and Steve’s gifts. To a huge degree, our system was Steve Nash and what it really was designed around was putting as much shooting on the floor as you could, putting as many long athletic athletes out there with him as you could to create triggers in and offense and let Steve’s incredible ability to lead the floor dictate what those triggers yielded,” Griffin told Wojanrowski.
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