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.