In 1996, three point guards were selected among the top 15 picks in the NBA draft.
Back then, the buzz surrounding, and salary earned by, Steve Nash did not compare with those of the other two, Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury.
But as Iverson considers his best offer, $5.85 million from the Clippers, and Marbury considers playing overseas, Nash is the one with staying power.
Nash, a two-time NBA MVP, agreed Monday to a two-year, $22 million contract extension that reaffirms him as the face of the Suns.
Using contracts Reggie Miller and John Stockton signed in their mid-30s as benchmarks, Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver added $2 million to his offer Wednesday to lead to an agreement that could keep Nash with Phoenix until he is 38.
The deal makes the final year of his current contract - at $13,125,000 - fully guaranteed. The extension, which pays the same as Stockton's 1999 deal at age 37, was limited to two years and is uninsured by NBA rules because Nash will be 36 when it kicks in next year. Nash will count against the salary cap for about $10.35 million in 2010-11 and $11.65 million in 2011-12, and he deferred $3 million of each year's salary to the two years after the contract expires.
"I know there are some financial constraints," Nash's agent, Bill Duffy, said. "Given that, Robert Sarver remains steadfast in his commitment to Steve and his belief that Steve can lead this organization to the top of the NBA. Steve believes that as well. I think there was a hiccup in the last year and a half, but they feel that can be corrected."
Suns officials will not comment until the deal is signed, possibly Tuesday.
Nash had to weigh his prospects in 2010 free agency against the security of an extension with Phoenix. The Suns' style that suits him best was reinstituted, but they don't appear to be title contenders. However, Duffy said Nash believes the Suns can immediately return to the elite after the team re-signed his friend, Grant Hill; traded Shaquille O'Neal; added Channing Frye and Earl Clark; and did not trade Amaré Stoudemire.
The Suns believe Stoudemire, whose eye surgeon gave him another thumbs-up checkup Monday, can thrive as a focal point again with O'Neal gone.
The Suns, seeking a pecking order, were constructed to keep Nash and Hill as leaders of a team that is loaded with players in their 20s.
Nash can be traded during the new contract.
"There is always uncertainty with that," Duffy said of opting not to pursue free-agency interest from New York and others. "He's become more comfortable with the certainty and vision that Phoenix expressed to him moving forward."
Nash said he wanted and expected to remain with the Suns. Duffy pursued a raise but said Nash wanted to help the Suns be competitive in free agency next year.
Nash's contract tops what Dallas did for Jason Kidd, who is a year older and received a three-year, $25 million deal.
"Had he (Nash) been traded, I think there were other teams that would have had more of a capability," Duffy said. "But when you do a contract nowadays, you do it to maximize the player's earnings and also to comport with the team's financial structure, because one player can't do it alone."
Duffy said the Suns were "adamant" that they would not trade Nash. Scheduling an October preseason game in Vancouver, British Columbia, near Nash's hometown of Victoria, said as much about their intent to keep him. ESPN.com reported that Portland wanted to trade a package of young players for Nash. A league source confirmed that interest.
"At the end, it could've been that Steve wins and they lose," Duffy said. "But once he became convinced of (General Manager Steve) Kerr's plan and Steve's participation in that plan, I think that put Steve over the top. He sees them as being competitive."
The Suns payroll projects to be about $5 million over the NBA luxury-tax threshold.