Archives For Steve Nash

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. 

Steve Nash really is the forgotten man. Mostly because fans simply want to forget him.

The bounty the Lakers surrendered to acquire Nash was scrutinized at the time, but was mostly justified considering the level of play he had exhibited the season before and the prospect of teaming him with Dwight Howard. But after missing the better parts of his two seasons in Los Angeles and limping through many of the games he did appear in, Nash has become a symbol of what has gone wrong with the team. The picks surrendered and his high salary now hang like an iron noose around the franchise’s neck, hurting their ability to rebuild via the draft (if the Lakers’ 2015 pick falls outside the top 5, it goes to the Suns) while also soaking up some of that precious salary cap space needed to chase free agents.

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I cannot get enough of these videos.

Now that the season is over it is a bit easier to reflect on the games, the individual performances, and the storylines that go with them. Nash’s attempts to play, experiencing some successes and some failures, at least for me, resonate even more now. Seeing those clips of him against the Wizards and the Blazers brought a sincere smile to my face. Seeing the fans respond to him so positively did as well. I do not know what next year holds for Nash, but watching him put on those point guard clinics, even if they were only in short spurts, never gets old.

The meat of the video, however, is the dinner with Dirk (and a mutual long time friend). Their friendship, and the genuine nature of it, shines through and you can tell that they serious contemplate what could have been had they stayed together. Remember, when the Mavs let Nash go to Phoenix they used the money they could have spent on him to sign Erik Dampier. Of course, Dampier would later be used as the bait that nabbed them Tyson Chandler and the point guard slot vacated by Nash was eventually filled by Jason Kidd. Those two players were, along with Dirk and Shaun Marion, the backbone of that 2011 Mavs title team and it’s difficult to imagine what that team becomes if Nash stays on and his development continues on its upward trajectory.

Sadly, we will never know. Though, as Dirk says, it’s not like their careers ended up too shabby. Dirk has a league MVP, a Finals’ MVP, and a championship to his name. He will go down as one of the best (if not the best) European player ever whenever he hangs up his sneakers. Nash, meanwhile, has not won a championship but won two league MVP awards and is a top 5 assist man all-time. No slouches, these two.

ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave McMenamin first tweeted out the news that has seemed growingly inevitable as the season wears on- more likely than not, Steve Nash has played his last game this season.

There’s no other way to describe this news other than plain old sad. Nash has worked his tail off to get back to form this season and make due on that increasingly unexplainable contract that pays him upwards of $9 million per season. But when you’re body simply won’t cooperate, there’s nothing you can do.

I was one of the millions of Laker fans who was ecstatic when the news broke on July 4th, 2012 that the team had acquired the two-time MVP. Never in a million years did I expect Nash to function more as a cap-clogger than anything productive on the floor. It’s now a legitimate possibility that the Lakers use the stretch provision on Nash, would could end the future hall-of famers career. By exercising this provision, the Lakers would release Nash and his cap figure would be spread across three years, allowing the Lakers added flexibility to chase free agents.

If Nash has indeed played his last game in purple and gold, his final game tally in two years would be 60. Not what the Lakers had in mind.

Kobe’s in a similar position in the sense of not knowing whether he’ll suit up for another game this year. He’s still weeks away from an evaluation, and if he’s cleared to play then, he’d likely have to have at least a bit of practice time to get him back into game shape. And judging from the 4 games he played in his return from the achilles injury, he wouldn’t be his usual self- at least not at first- when he does make it back onto the court.

All of this injury news bodes well for those Laker fans aboard Team Tank. The Lakers enjoyed probably their best win of the season last night in snapping Portland’s five-game win streak. In Portland. The win was so surprising that it prompted this headline from the LA Times: “Lakers beat Trail Blazers…in Portland…really!” But despite this, and the win over Sacramento where the Lakers caught fiiiiire from three, the upcoming schedule remains brutal- six out of the next eight games are against teams above .500, including two each against the Thunder and Spurs (who are absolutely incredible. Nothing less. Each and every year I count them out, figuring Father Time will eventually prevail. Those who believe the age-old adage that Father Time is undefeated doesn’t know that Gregg Popovich exists. Okay, Spurs rant over).

Without Kobe and Nash for the foreseeable future, the Lakers should return to their losing ways in the next couple weeks. Of the remaining 22 games, 15 come against teams above .500. If you’re rooting for losses, things are working out quite nicely for you- the Lakers’ remaining schedule is brutal and they will be without the production of both Kobe and Nash, however limited that production might be, when they go toe-to-toe with these superior teams.

This has, undoubtedly, been the most difficult season of Steve Nash’s hall of fame career. The nerve root irritation stemming from the broken leg he suffered last season has dragged into this season, making him unavailable for all but 10 games this season. He’s tried multiple treatments, taken leave from the team to train with his personal trainer in his native Vancouver, and has worked as hard as he ever has to try and return this year and be a part of this team.

Grantland gives us an inside, behind the scenes look at what very well could be Nash’s last season with their documentary series “The Finish Line”. The first episode premiered two weeks ago while episode two just came out yesterday. Both videos are below.

One thing that instantly stands out to me is Nash’s love for the game, his dedication to try and return, and his frustration at what his body is allowing him to do as he tries to work through his physical limitations. He is constantly battling the reality of what he wants to be able to do and what he can actually do. The love is there, the drive is there, and the work ethic — legendary in a way that is similar to what we’ve seen from Kobe — is certainly there too. What’s also there is the genuine good feelings between him and his teammates and the general feeling that everyone simply wants Nash to be able to do finish up his career on his own terms.

For me, these clips simply reinforce that Nash truly is one of the good guys and a guy that you want to root for. Fandom can often be complicated. It can be hard to balance personal rooting interests for individual players you want to see do well against what is best for the team and do it all against the backdrop of what is, in essence, grown men being paid a lot of money to play a child’s game. We see this in these videos about Nash and it makes for great theatre.

Enjoy episodes one and two of Grantland’s The Finish Line. They’re well worth your time.