Playing on a team battling for its playoff life is a strange experience for Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash.
The Suns currently sit ninth in the NBA's Western Conference and are chasing Dallas for the final playoff spot.
"It's been a long time since I've been in this position," the Victoria native told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview Monday from Phoenix. "It's unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
"We've had a lot of changes and a lot of adversity."
Phoenix fired head coach Terry Porter after the all-star break and replaced him with long-time assistant Alvin Gentry. The Suns have returned to their run-and-gun style and Nash is confident the team will make the playoffs.
"We find ourselves very optimistic we can find a way to get in there in the last 23 games," said the two-time league MVP who last missed the playoffs while playing for Dallas in the 1999-2000 season. "That's our No. 1 goal, to fight, find a way to overcome all those things we have gone through this year and salvage the season with an opportunity to beat somebody in the playoffs.
"It's not going to be easy. It's a really tight Western Conference. I feel like we are playing a lot better and we have a better spirit about our team."
While the playoffs remain Nash's immediate goal, he also is focused on a new agreement he's signed with IMG. The deal gives the sports and entertainment company exclusive marketing rights for Nash in Canada.
For Nash, it's a way to reconnect with his Canadian roots.
"The concept is for me to get in touch with all the fans in Canada," he said. "I've had a ton of support from Canadians, but at the same time haven't been able to have as close a proximity or a plan to stay in touch."
Brad Pelletier, IMG Canada's senior vice-president and managing director, said it's an opportunity to raise Nash's profile beyond being an athlete.
"For someone like Steve Nash, it's not even about the sport he plays, but who he is in the minds of Canadians," Pelletier said. "They know a lot about him in B.C. They know a lot less about him in Toronto.
"There is really an opportunity to educate the market about who he is."
Nash said he's open to discussions about pursuing a possible clothing line and other corporate ventures. But what he's most pleased about is IMG assisting him in his charity work.
"They have the resources and connections to the Canadian marketplace to really make events like the ones we have done in the past thrive," he said.
Nash plans to host a charity soccer game in Vancouver Sept. 19. The idea is to bring together NBA stars and some of Europe's best soccer players for an eight-on-eight game against a Vancouver Whitecaps development team.
Last year Nash joined fellow NBA guard Baron Davis and Claudio Reyna, the former captain of the U.S. national soccer team, to host an event in New York called Showdown in Chinatown. The game included both athletes and celebrities.
"We're trying to bring the world's best athletes to the street, a really grassroots level, where the fans can reach out and touch them," said Nash, who is part of a group trying to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Vancouver.
Nash isn't sure if raising his Canadian profile includes playing for the Toronto Raptors. He has one year remaining on his contract with the Suns and would like to end his career playing in Phoenix.
"You never know what the future brings and that decision isn't in front of me now," said Nash. "I would love it if things worked here in Phoenix for the rest of my career.
"If they didn't, and the team wanted to go in a new direction, and for whatever reason it came to an end here, Toronto would be one of the top choices for sure."
The struggling Raptors are currently second last in the NBA's Eastern Conference. Canadian-born Jay Triano was named the team's interim coach in December after Sam Mitchell was fired.
Nash hopes Triano, the former Canadian national team head coach, is given a chance to turn the Raptors around next season.
"I think Jay has all the tools to be a great NBA coach," said Nash. "One ingredient you have to have to be successful is great players and a good roster.
"I think they have some work to do with their roster to get more toughness, depth and size. If that happens, then I think Jay can really turn that franchise into a winning team."
One disappointment for Nash is his basketball commitment will prevent him from attending next year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
"It's devastating to think I won't be able to experience it first hand," he said.
Nash appeared in a video promoting the Games motto With Glowing Hearts. Officials with the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee say they are considering including Nash in future promotions, which are still in the developmental stages.
"I'd love to further my involvement with VANOC and the Games, do whatever I can to help the Games be a great experience," Nash said.