Maybe it was always going to end like this for Steve Nash. After years of having his back issues controlled and managed by the Suns training staff, maybe it was destiny that his career would end with him no longer able to manage physically and unable to stand the rigors of the game he gave so much to. Or maybe that collision with Damian Lillard really did change the course of these final moments of Steve Nash’s career, robbing him (and Lakers’ fans) of that last brilliance he had to offer. We’ll never really know, I guess. And that’s what makes today extra frustrating for everyone. For you, for me*, for the Lakers organization, and especially for Steve Nash.

I think it’s that last part that is often easiest to forget. While fans, many right here in the comments of this site, have blasted Steve Nash — cursing him for his injury, the draft picks the Lakers surrendered to acquire him, the fact he hung on trying to play rather than retiring after dealing with this issue for nearly two calendar years — it’s Nash who is probably most frustrated. For an entire career Nash was the player who took the limitations of his body and stretched them to seemingly impossible lengths to be one of the league’s best players. And now, for the past two seasons, he’s seen it all deteriorate; seen what he was always able to control and manipulate betray him in ways he probably never imagined. The amount of frustration that led to for us fans pales in comparison to what he experienced, I’m sure.

A great career is over now. And it ends not on the terms of the athlete, but on the terms of a bad back and malfunctioning nerve endings. Father time remains undefeated. I, for one, sympathize. Nash was always a player I loved to watch. What he brought to the floor offensively was poetry; it was art. His game was a derivative of Magic’s — it was cunning, passing, skill, and feel combined with an outward desire to simply win. It honestly makes me sad to discuss it all in the past tense.

But that is where we are now. We must all move on. In a way, this happening now, before the season, makes things easier for the Lakers. There will not be the “will he or won’t he play” question with Nash from night to night. There will be no waiting for him to return or relying on him to produce when he does. There is only adjusting to life without the player and slotting everyone into their roles under this new reality. The team has already gotten used to it this preseason so moving into the regular season it won’t be too much different.

We will see more Ronnie Price and Jordan Clarkson than expected a month ago. And Jeremy Lin will now move into the primary point guard role, even if (for now) he’s not the “starter”. Kobe will take up more ball handling responsibilities and will have to be both the “big” who posts and the wing who creates out of the pick and roll for himself and others. We will also (hopefully), over the course of the year, get to see more of Julius Randle the offensive creator who can operate as the fulcrum of an offense — even if only for limited stretches.

As for the other roster ramifications, unless Nash retires or the Lakers waive him he will retain a roster spot on the team. They currently have 15 players (not counting training camp roster invites who are strictly filler) and, thus, a full roster. Nash going down makes Ronnie Price a sure thing to make this team (if he wasn’t already), leaving only Wayne Ellington as a question mark**. The Lakers can file for an injured player exception which could net them up to $4.85 million to chase a player to help off-set their loss, but they will need a create a roster spot if they attempt to add a player with that newfound cash.

These are answers to be determined down the line, though. For now, this team will operate with what they have and determine what they need later.

*I know many fans will be bitter about Nash and I understand that perspective. The roots of the Nash acquisition were born from “the Veto” where Lamar Odom’s inclusion in the Chris Paul deal set off a domino effect that led to shoving him off to Dallas which created the trade exception used to absorb Nash’s salary. When losing Odom’s leadership is combined with draft picks the Lakers used to tempt the Suns to make the deal and the salary they paid him to only play 65 games over his 3 year contract, this trade will go down as one of the worst in Lakers’ history when judging it simply off of assets sent out versus the level of production Nash provided. I, however, will always look at the Nash trade as a perfect example of the process versus results argument. The results, of course, were awful. But the deal, at the time, was easily defensible and I was on board with it from the moment it was announced. Nash, though aged and with flaws defensively, was coming off an all-star campaign and another 20 PER and near 50/40/90 shooting season. He was not “prime” Steve Nash, but he was a productive player who would team with Kobe, Pau, and Dwight to form a short term super team that could compete for a title. Ten times out of ten any team in the Lakers’ situation makes that trade and I can’t use revisionist history to say they should not have done it. I wish it had gone differently, but I am not alone there.

**I don’t have a very good feel for whether Ellington will make the team — injuries to Nick Young and Xavier Henry leave the team thin on the wing, but Jordan Clarkson may be seen as a viable option until those guys return — and a final decision on him may simply come down to whether the front office and coaching staff want the extra body or the flexibility that comes from an open roster spot. Since his contract is not guaranteed, he may end up making the opening night roster only to be cut down the line when Young and/or Henry are ready to play. 

Tuesday night’s game against the Suns really was a fun contest. The Lakers, as they did against the Jazz a couple of nights earlier, made a very nice push in the 2nd half to seize the lead. They looked as though they would even pull out the win. But then Wes Johnson missed two free throws, the Lakers couldn’t secure an offensive rebound, Isaiah Thomas hit a shot to send the game into overtime, and a loss ensued.

Even with that loss, though, there were some good things on display. Jeremy Lin made his return and was a key contributor to that second half run that turned a deficit into a lead. At one point he scored seven straight points and remained aggressive for the entirety of his stint, looking confident and effective throughout.

And then, of course, there was Kobe.

After starting out slowly, Kobe caught fire in the 2nd half and, along with Lin, was a key player in the turnaround and a monster in the closing minutes. Kobe hit tying and go ahead shots down the stretch, each more difficult than the last. He showed a nice bounce to his step and good lift on his shot even though he was approaching and surpassing the 30 minute mark on the evening. When he subbed out with a couple of minutes remaining in the overtime, he still looked fresh enough to close out the game, but that wasn’t in the coach’s plans.

All in all, then, not a bad showing for a loss. After the game Byron Scott told his players and the assembled media that they “are close” to being the team he wants, with only a need to cut out some of the little mistakes they are making to get even better. While Scott is right — this team is playing better — we must also remember that these performances have come against team’s resting players down the stretch and in preseason games where game plans are simplified. You could counter that the Lakers are down players too and you’d be right. The overall point remains, though. The Lakers are making strides but other teams are still out ahead of them. No shame in that; this team is competing.

Which brings us to tonight. The Blazers are on the docket and bring with them an up and coming team who is gearing to build on last season’s success. Those Blazers surprised the masses by coming out of the gate on fire and then countering a (slight) second half fade to knock off the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.

Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge anchor this team, but Nic Batum and Wes Matthews also bring strong production to help buoy their all-star duo. With Robin Lopez anchoring the the defensive paint, Thomas Robinson, Will Barton, and CJ McCollum bringing youth and energy, and former Lakers Chris Kaman and Steve Blake bringing some veteran reinforcements this team may have a deep run in them.

In other words, they will be a load for the Lakers tonight. Especially a Lakers’ team with tired legs playing in their first back to back this preseason. In saying that, here are a few things I will be interested in:

*How does Kobe do against Wes Matthews and Nic Batum? Matthews is a stout defender who does particularly well against post up guards. Batum is long, quick, and has good instincts and does well against nearly everyone. Kobe will have his hands full facing either of these two and it will be interesting to see if he can carry over his strong 2nd half versus the Suns to this game.

*How many minutes will Lin play? After the game, Byron Scott had some interesting comments to say about Lin’s playing time — notably that part of the reason he played so much down the stretch was to “give Ronnie (Price)” some rest while also stating that it would not be a given that Lin will close games. Tonight, Lin will once again start the game as the reserve point guard in favor of Price. At some point you’d have to imagine that Scott will play the better guy more minutes and actually let him start and finish games. Hopefully that point comes soon.

*More Beebop and Rocksteady, please. If you didn’t know, this is my nickname for the Randle/Davis frontcourt pairing. While it’s a small sample, these two seem to complement each other quite well on both sides of the floor. I also do not think it’s a coincidence that the team is making their 2nd half runs when this duo is on the court. I’d like to see them play more than they are. Tonight, against a very good front line would be a nice time to see if they can hold their own as the competition improves.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

With the real games coming in a week, the Lakers only have 3 games left in this preseason. This final stretch will bring shifts in the game plan and a start of some normalcy with the lineups and players getting back to the lineup. It begins tonight with Jeremy Lin returning from his sprained ankle and Kobe likely to see a bump in his minutes to something approximating a regular season load.

Tonight’s opponent is the Suns, a team the Lakers should be looking at closely as a model of sorts. Last year the Suns were targeted by nearly every analyst to be a bottom feeder in the West only to play well above that mark, barely missing the playoffs in the final week of the season. Their success in the face of dreary predictions shows how analysis can go awry, even when it is as informed as the Vegas oddsmakers or experts at one of the established networks.

The Lakers, of course, have a long way to go when trying to duplicate what the Suns did as their roster construction is not anywhere near what the Suns have on deck. And, in a way, this serves as the perfect lead-in to tonight’s game.

The Suns are a team on the rise, possessing several young quality players and veterans coming into their own. Their already vaunted back court of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe only got stronger with the addition of former King Isaiah Thomas. Those three will form a wonderfully talented three guard rotation who can play in any combination imaginable (don’t discount all of them playing together, either) to wreak havoc on defenses. Add to them the Morris twins, Gerald Green, and Miles Plumlee and the Suns have a nice group of skilled athletes who will push the pace, shoot threes, and get up in you defensively.

This is stark contrast to what the Lakers will try to do, which makes this game an interesting contrast in styles. The Lakers will try to slow down the pace and keep those explosive guards under wraps while trying to pummel the Suns inside with Kobe post ups, Hill and Davis board work, and Randle bully drives to the rim. With Lin back in the lineup, the Lakers can (hopefully) get more dribble penetration and open the floor up for more shots behind the arc and slashers cutting in the wake of the ball handler to get easy baskets from dump-off passes or offensive rebounds.

Of course, all this is easier said than done. The Suns use a combination of “pace and space” and standard pick and roll on offense, and dare teams to leave shooters behind the rim while helping on dribble penetration. The Suns losing Channing Frye to the Magic will hurt them some in this approach, but they hope a combo of the Morris twins and Anthony Tolliver can make up for that. The Lakers, then, must try to control the dribbler and recover back to the arc to not give up open threes. Against the Warriors they were not successful at this. We will see if they do any better against the Suns. Maybe the 2nd half of the most recent Jazz game will give them some confidence on that side of the ball.

Where you can watch: 7pm start time on TWC Sportsnet.

After winning their preseason opener against the Nuggets, the Lakers have dropped their last three games by a total of 89 points. That’s not a misprint. The Warriors followed up a 15 point win with a 41 point drubbing and then the Jazz piled on with a 33 point win of their own this past Thursday.

Injuries have played a key role in the losses as the Lakers have had six players — Nash, Lin, Young, Henry, Kelly, and Clarkson — miss at least two games each. Four of those players would be key parts of the opening night rotation were they healthy while the other two (Clarkson and Kelly) would scrap for minutes as well. Needless to say, with this much talent out the Lakers are not in a position to compete even with Kobe showing good health and an ability to score relatively efficiently.

This trend of having players out will not get any better in this game, though. All six players mentioned will miss this game as well, leaving the coach (and Kobe) frustrated as the team hasn’t had a lot of time to jell on the court or find the chemistry and combinations can be effective over the course of the game. All of this matters, especially for a team that would be considered an overachiever should they even compete for the 8th seed.

Even in saying that, however, the Lakers have not looked like a particularly engaging team. Their offense has lacked creativity while also showing several layers of complexity that some of the guys simply are not catching onto. On several possessions Carlos Boozer has looked especially lost, often standing completely still while cutters move into his area to effectively gum up any spacing the team would hope to generate. The team is also running a lot of post isolations and pin down screens to bring guards to the shallow wing to set up mid-range jumpers. This has led to, expectedly, low efficient shooting and struggles to score enough points to stay competitive.

That last point, of course, is predicated on this team’s defense not being very good. They have struggled on the perimeter to contain shooters while also not doing a good job of bottling up dribble penetration. They often over help into the paint when teams move the ball and that leads to either late closeouts against capable shooters or frantic rushes to the perimeter that lead to blow-by’s which threaten the rim. Without a true shot blocker defending the paint to challenge and deter shots inside, the Lakers are giving up easy shots inside all too often.

If counting at home, then, this team hasn’t been good at defending jump shooters, dribble penetration, or shots in the paint. And it’s not like their post defense has been anything to write home about either. Combine this with how misses from long two pointers generate open court chances for the opposition and this team isn’t doing anything well enough on D.

This is how you lose games by an average of 30 points over the last week.

In this game, then, I honestly don’t have much good to tell you. The only bright spots have been Kobe Bryant and Ed Davis with Jordan Hill doing enough Jordan Hill things to remind you that he is a good player. You would hope that Julius Randle would join this group, but he’s become somewhat of a whipping boy for head coach Byron Scott, typically being the only player mentioned by name after games for not doing something right or for what he could improve on. Randle seems to be taking all this in stride, but I’d be lying if I didn’t have my concerns about Randle being singled out when the entire team is playing poorly. After all, you don’t lose games by 30 points because Randle, in his short stints, isn’t in the condition the coach wants him to be in or that he “looked lost”. But I digress.

In any event, what this team really needs is to get some players back healthy who can help them. Especially point guard, Jeremy Lin. With Nash looking like he will have another season of frustrating health and Nick Young out for another month and a half, Lin is the only other perimeter player who can pose a threat to defenses and create offense for himself or others. This team desperately needs some playmaking and Lin can offer it. Hopefully Tuesday will be that day.

For now, then, we just wait and watch the team struggle. But hey, did I mention that Kobe is looking healthy? At least we have that.

The Lakers play their first of two games against the Jazz on Thursday, a team that many think the Lakers will be battling with for one of the 10 through 12 seeds in the West this year. The Jazz offer a team of young veterans, a team that inside their franchise, hopes takes a big step forward as their young talent matures and starts to learn how to win.

Part of that growth will surely be due to new head coach Quin Snyder, the former Lakers’ assistant on Mike Brown’s staff who spent the last two seasons as an assistant in Russia (under Ettore Messina) and Atlanta with the Hawks. Snyder is the type of young, energetic, and up and coming candidate I wish the Lakers would have looked to hire, but he instead brings his coaching acumen to the Jazz where he will look to grow with this developing roster and turn them into a playoff team in the stacked West. But I digress.

The Lakers come into this game banged up and offering little of substance besides Kobe on the wing. Steve Nash was ruled out of this game after reinjuring his back after lifting luggage while Lin (sprained ankle), Young (thumb), Xavier Henry (several ailments), and Ryan Kelly are all missing as well. This will leave Ronnie Price at point guard and Wes at small forward to deal with the assortment of Jazz wing-men. I am very interested in seeing how these guys match up with Gordan Hayward, Trey Burke, rookie Dante Exum, and third year pro Alec Burks. All four of these players are intriguing talents and offer nice skill sets.

Add to these players the Jazz bigs — Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and the emerging Rudy Gobert — and this Utah outfit should give the Lakers a good challenge a nice measuring stick of where they are at this stage of the preseason. Even with all the injuries the Lakers have, they have some size to match up with Utah’s front line while having Kobe on the wing to do battle against the Hayward, Burks, and Exum trio.

It’s Exum who I am particularly interested in seeing. While many (including me) were high on the Australian guard heading into the draft, a lot of that buzz has diminished after the youngster struggled in the Vegas Summer League and could not get off the bench for his native country in the World Championships. Tonight he will get to face off with Kobe in what is a fun match up, even if only in name at this point.

As for the Lakers in general, they are coming off a couple of really bad losses against a Warriors team that severely outclassed them. They face a lesser team than that in this game, but, as noted above, will still be challenged. My hope, however, is that the team continues to jell and show some growth, especially offensively where they have looked out of sync and over-reliant on inefficient shots to try and get buckets.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and on NBA TV.