Will Steve Nash Be Los Angeles Lakers’ Biggest X-Factor in 2014-15?

Steve Nash still matters to the Los Angeles Lakers.

For the most part, this aging and fading 40-year-old star matters because of what he can’t do. He has played in only 65 games since 2012-13, including just 15 last season. The Nash Los Angeles thought it was getting in 2012 is gone, supplanted instead by this enfeebled, mortality-marred version of a point guard who can’t remain healthy enough to run pick-and-rolls, let alone triumph over Father Time.

And because of what Nash can’t do, he is but a number—9,701,000, to be exact. That’s what Nash will be earning next season ($9.7 million). That’s money the Lakers could have used to line their makeshift model with permanence. That’s what Nash, a future Hall of Famer and one-time logic-killer, has been reduced to: a cap-clogging, reputation-maiming number.

Only what if Nash matters because he becomes something more? What if there is some fight left in those timeworn legs and nerve-nuked back of his? 

What if Nash contributes to the Lakers’ 2014-15 campaign as a player—as an X-factor—and not as a mercifully expiring contract?

Months ago, when forcibly formed rumors left Nash to debunk imminent retirement, the thought seemed overly optimistic. After missing just 21 regular-season contests through the previous five seasons, Nash has been absent for 99 over the last two.

Returning from these tragic series of setbacks wasn’t possible. This regression would last. 

Slowly, surely, away from the typical spotlight, though, Nash has apparently steadied his course, strengthened his workload and positioned himself to play next season.

Said Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, via NBA.com: 

“All my conversations with (Nash) are that he has absolutely no neural issue at this point. He’s playing full-tilt, unrestricted soccer. He’s doing all the corrective injury and performance exercises he’s supposed to be doing, and right now he’s 100 percent healthy.”

To believe that “100 percent healthy” guarantees Nash’s return to prominence and dominance is to enable the absurd and weird. Forty-year-olds don’t make prolific contributions or embody durability.

Six players in NBA history have managed to appear in at least 50 single-season contests after their 40th birthday. Of those six, only three averaged 20-plus minutes per game. Nash is up against that, up against the undefeated time.

And yet it wasn’t long ago—two seasons, to be exact—that Nash was seemingly winning. He led the league in total assists for 2011-12 while flirting with another 50/40/90 season, missing only four games during a lockout-truncated crusade. That was also the year he piloted a top-10 offense and nearly pushed the talent-sapped Phoenix Suns into the playoffs.

Even 2012-13 saw glimpses of Nash being Nash. Appearing in only 50 games didn’t prevent him from falling less than half a percentage point short of his fifth 50/40/90 campaign. Only last year did he start showing signs of aging and see his shooting efficiency plummet, and he still managed to dish out nearly six assists a night.

When Nash plays—even during his failed stint in Los Angeles—he’s been mostly productive. All he has to do is take the court semi-consistently to have an actual chance at helping the Lakers. And, if healthy, he can help the Lakers.

Byron Scott will chirp about defense and the importance of accountability, but these Lakers, from top to bottom, are built to score.

Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer, Nick Young, Jeremy Lin and Julius Randle aren’t the material top-five, top-10 or even top-15 defenses are made of. The Lakers are going to rely heavily on their offense, hoping they boast enough firepower to surprise people.

Nash, and his lifetime 42.8 percent three-point clip, is firepower. Nash, and his penchant for double-digit assist totals, is playmaking depth. Nash, and his pick-and-roll intelligence, fits what the Lakers will try to do.

Pick-and-rolls are staples of Scott’s (admittedly simplistic) offensive systems. In Nash, the Lakers still have one of the best pick-and-roll point men ever. Not in recent memory, but ever.

Just once in the last five years has Nash ranked outside the top 50 of pick-and-roll ball-handling efficiency, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). That was last year, when he still qualified for a top-60 finish.

Shooting hasn’t ever been an issue for him, either. Not even last season when his efficiency flushed itself down the toilet. Spot-up shooting remains his forte, and it can help the Lakers—they of little floor spacing—drastically.

All of which brings us back to availability. 

Ability isn’t, nor has it ever been, the issue. Nash still has some dimes and treys left in that 40-year-old body. We saw it last season. We saw it the season before last season.

Minutes are the enemy. Setting realistic expectations is the task. Scott can curb Nash’s playing time or sit him on back-to-backs all he wants, but it won’t mean his point guard isn’t at the mercy of unpredictable limbs.

To that we turn toward a higher power—one Bleacher Report’s David Murphy identifies as will: 

“Steve Nash will turn 41 in February and has delivered some of the game’s most memorable moments. The past two seasons won’t determine his ultimate legacy to the game. But he wants to leave more than a question mark behind in Los Angeles.”

Determined to make the most of his last season, Nash, if close to healthy, will be dangerous. He is the San Antonio Spurs of paling superstars. He has nothing left to prove, nothing left to lose, and that makes him dangerous.

“I think this is my last season,” Nash said during an interview with Sport TV in late July, via Jason Pratt of SB Nation. “But I still love to play, practice and work on my game.”

Actually play, and Nash stands to contribute, surprising even the most relentless critics, surprising even himself. He is Los Angeles’ biggest X-factor because he is their most marginalized unknown.

Bryant hasn’t been reduced to a number; Nash has.

Think of what the Lakers could be with a healthy Nash. Probably not a playoff team, but most definitely a watchable group that wins some games and turns some heads they shouldn’t. Nash can have that impact. He can transform the Lakers offensively, with or without Bryant.

For that, we cannot write him off. Not now.

There is no greater threat than a player who knows he has no tomorrow. This being Nash’s last chance to finish his storied career on a high note, he could be one of the Lakers’ most dangerous weapons, their biggest X-factor, if only because his production would represent contributions the team isn’t supposed to have.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.


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Can Steve Nash Erase Stigma of Last Two Seasons?

Steve Nash’s basketball world was just fine until he joined the Los Angeles Lakers.

Sure, he was getting older and wasn’t the player he had once been, but he still averaged a double-double during his last season with the Phoenix Suns.

But then came the summer of 2012 and the arrival of Nash and Dwight Howard in L.A., and the two became forever linked and identified by a doomed experiment.

When Mike D’Antoni was hired by the Lakers just five games into the season, it seemed as if some cosmic realignment was about to begin—Nash and his former coach would reunite and usher a post-centric team with stars like Howard, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol into a new Showtime era.

In a strange quirk of fate, however, Nash had fractured his leg during the second game of the regular season. It happened during a collision with Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and didn’t seem like such a big thing at the time.

As an upbeat D’Antoni said during his introductory press conference, per Lakers.com:

I can’t wait to get him (Nash) back there. I think he has another two or three years there. He didn’t have a whole lot of speed when he was in Phoenix and he hasn’t lost anything. But he’s smart, he’s smart and he can play. Nobody works harder than him. We just got to get his legs well and I think the people of Los Angeles will come to appreciate an unbelievable player.

But a series of unfortunate events had been set into motion and unbelievable playing did not take place.

The guy who had averaged 12.5 points in 31.6 minutes per game over 62 games the season before in Phoenix wound up averaging 12.7 points in 32.5 minutes over the course of 50 games in Los Angeles.

Hey, wait a minute—that didn’t happen! Actually, yes, it did.

Points and minutes averaged don’t tell the whole story, however. Nash had always succeeded by making those around him better, but in Los Angeles, his assists dropped to 6.7 per game compared to 10.7 the previous season.

The Lakers were clearly not playing in unison, and they were ultimately knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, losing in four straight games to the San Antonio Spurs.

By that point, a team packed with All-Stars was in shambles and the worst of it was Bryant’s ruptured Achilles tendon, suffered during game No. 80 of the regular season. 

Howard ultimately joined the Houston Rockets as a free agent, and the Lakers were left trying to sort through the broken pieces.

As for Nash, his fractured leg had never fully healed and triggered a slowly developing chain reaction of related structural issues. But more than anything, he had become part of a growing malaise that made it easy to associate his frailties with the failure of others—with Howard, with D’Antoni and with a rash of team injuries in general.

And when the following season ushered in an absolute and utter team collapse, it became even easier to point at Nash’s deteriorating body and the fact that he only played 15 games. Plus, what about that $9.7 million salary?

Two seasons became rolled into one giant unforgivable mistake—a future Hall of Famer had become a symbol for all that was wrong in Lakerland, and he even had the audacity to collect a paycheck!

But is it fair to stigmatize one player for the vagaries of age and injuries when the entire roster plus coaches and management share culpability for a 27-55 season? Doesn’t a guy who is arguably one of the best point guards to ever play the game deserve better than that?

At age 40, Nash is entering the final year of his contract and, in all likelihood, his last season of basketball. This isn’t how he wanted it to end. Not with a dark cloud as the closing refrain.

Is there a way to rewrite the ending? Yes, although it may not be an obvious hero moment. Nash—a two-time league MVP, five-time assists leader and eight-time All-Star—probably won’t capture that most important and elusive title—an NBA championship.

But redemption can show itself in different forms.

First, there is the matter of health. Nash is finally back to a state of physical well-being that has eluded him for nearly two years. Per NBA.com and team trainer Gary Vitti:

All my conversations with (Nash) are that he has absolutely no neural issue at this point. He’s playing full-tilt, unrestricted soccer. He’s doing all the corrective injury and performance exercises he’s supposed to be doing, and right now he’s 100 percent healthy.

If the 18-year veteran remains healthy and is able to play meaningful minutes, he’ll be doing so within a more measured, post-centric offense that will cater to Bryant—a member of the same draft class of 1996 and the only Laker to actually miss more games than Nash last season due to injury.

But regardless of playing time, there are other ways to leave an imprint. Like passing on all the tricks of the trade to Jeremy Lin and Jordan Clarkson—two of the newest Lakers and members of a new generation of NBA players.

Lin spoke about learning from Nash during his introductory press conference, per Lakers.com; “Now I have this opportunity. I can’t wait. I still remember him in Phoenix and he was 20 and 10 every night. I look forward to learning quite a few things from him.”

Like playing off the most effective angles, mastering flawless footwork and the art of the perfect pass. The third all-time assists leader behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd, Nash has always had uncanny court vision and the ability to hit the open man, seemingly without even looking.

Nash is also a deadly shooter with a .428 career percentage from behind the arc as well as owner of the best all-time free-throw success rate at .904.

Steve Nash will turn 41 in February and has delivered some of the game’s most memorable moments. The past two seasons won’t determine his ultimate legacy to the game. But he wants to leave more than a question mark behind in Los Angeles.  

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Steve Nash Describes Kobe as a “Motherf*cking A**hole”

I think everyone would agree with this assessment even Kobe Bryant. SI’s Chris Ballard did a long feature on Kobe and how he is coming to the end of this career. A documentary about Kobe was being filmed at the time and part of that was asking teammates and opponents what they thought of Kobe and Nash went the 100% honest route.
During filming, Chopra interviewed a number of Bryant’s teammates, current and former, and he asked them to describe Bryant in three words. After each interview Kobe would text Chopra, eager to hear what people said. Most answered with some variation of “the ultimate competitor” or “killer instinct.” But when Chopra asked Steve Nash, he said something different. After thinking for a moment, Nash answered, slowly, in three beats: “Mother .?.?. f—— .?.?. a——.”
Kobe thought this was awesome.
Of course, Kobe thought it was awesome. Love him or hate him, his greatest gift and curse is his obsessive nature toward winning.
Haters and stans are going to miss him when h

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Steve Nash Described Kobe Bryant in 3 Very NSFW Words, Black Mamba Approved

Many people have nothing but flattering things to say about Kobe Bryant, but Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash had some pretty strong words to describe his teammate. And the Black Mamba loved every bit of it.

This week’s issue of Sports Illustrated featured a very in-depth piece on Bryant by Chris Ballard. The article touched on quite a few things, but nothing stood out more than a story about how Nash described the Black Mamba to Gotham Chopra, the director of Bryant’s upcoming Showtime documentary.

During filming, Chopra interviewed a number of Bryant’s teammates, current and former, and he asked them to describe Bryant in three words. After each interview Kobe would text Chopra, eager to hear what people said. Most answered with some variation of ‘the ultimate competitor’ or ‘killer instinct.’ But when Chopra asked Steve Nash, he said something different. After thinking for a moment, Nash answered, slowly, in three beats: ‘Mother . . . f—— . . . a——.’

Those are some, um, interesting ways to describe a teammate. Words like that may offend some people, but not Bryant.

“Kobe thought this was awesome.”

That probably surprises nobody.

People around the league always say how intense Bryant is, even in practice. He may not always get along with everyone, but that’s only because he has a strong desire to win. Although that kind of personality may not make him the most likable person, it’s not a bad way to approach a career.

Rather than be politically correct with his answer, Nash was open and honest. His honesty just happened to create an awesome quote.

[h/t Yahoo Finance/Business Insider]

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Los Angeles Lakers: Time for Steve Nash to step up

Steve Nash is one of the best point guards I’ve ever had the privilege of watching in his prime. On the court he was a conductor with the basketball, orchestrating the pace of the game, and elevating his teammate’s play. Injuries have cost him the last two seasons with the Lakers and, although he is clearly past his prime, the Lakers need more than someone playing out his contract ($9.7 million) year. Steve Nash needs to step up in his final season utilizing his experience and on-the-court leadership to give a lift off the bench to help turnaround a 27-55 season.
When the Lakers traded for Steve Nash during the 2012 offseason, the initial thought was that the Suns had lost out on their franchise cornerstone. Little did anyone know that an injury in his first season with the Lakers would reduce Nash’s ability to play with the explosive speed like the younger point guards that are creating havoc around the league (e.g. Chris Paul, Stephen Curry). Giving up 2013 and 2015 first round picks along with two 2

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Jamal Crawford Makes Clippers History, Passes Steve Nash on 3-Pointers List

It’s been a feel-good year for the Los Angeles Clippers, awash as they are in legitimate championship aspirations.

Sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford added a dab more icing to the cake Wednesday night.

In doing so, Crawford matched…some guy named Jamal Crawford in 2013.

Strange. I wonder if they’re related.

He would finish with seven treys on the night, the lone silver lining to a dispiriting 98-96 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Crawford also passed Steve Nash for No. 11 on the NBA’s all-time list with 1,685 career treys. Next up: Dale Ellis, who canned 1,719 between 1984 and 2000 (per Basketball-Reference.com).

Assuming Crawford continues to hit 107 three-pointers per season—his average to date—he’ll pass Ray Allen’s career mark of 2,957 (and counting)… never. He’s never going to pass Ray Allen.

Anyone who’s watched Crawford play five minutes of basketball knows this guy can light it up in less time than it takes to scratch an itch.

His form is so pure, the flick of the wrist such pure preternatural poetry, the mind boggles at how many countless hours Crawford must’ve spent honing his—what’s that, Adi Joseph of USA Today? Crawford never practiced before last season?

I’ve never actually been drilled before. Seriously. I told Blake (Griffin) that, and he couldn’t believe it. This summer was actually the first summer I worked on my game. I usually just play off of raw talent. But I just wanted to work on something and be in great shape coming into camp. I came here right after Labor Day, which is the earliest I’ve ever gone to any team in the summer, and all the guys were here, committed to getting better.

I don’t even know what to do with that information. It goes against pretty much everything we’ve ever been taught about the Horatio Alger ethic Americans are supposed to have about their crafts. It’s just…not fair. It’s not fair.

With 10 games to play after Wednesday’s date with the New Orleans Pelicans, Crawford will inevitably put even more of a cushion between him and his future usurper.

And you know what? I hope he doesn’t practice once from here on out. Like, not even during warm-ups.

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Steve Nash ‘Wouldn’t Disagree’ Kobe Bryant and Mike D’Antoni Don’t Work Together

Allow Steve Nash to show you the door, Mr. Mike D’Antoni.

Magic Mike has long seemed like a soon-to-be-unemployed coach walking, what with the Los Angeles Lakers chasing the Western Conference’s worst record and Kobe Bryant‘s patience wearing half-a-spaghetti-noodle thin.

Now, the always candid, usually polite, Nash has entered the players-eat-coach fray, pointing out what many will consider obvious: Bryant and D’Antoni go together like motor oil and apple pie.

“I wouldn’t disagree,” Nash told ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd when asked if D’Antoni and Bryant were a bad fit, via the Los Angeles Daily NewsMark Medina. “We’ve seen that. People have deduced and read between the lines and felt that way, they’re not wrong. It’s not the perfect marriage.”

Should D’Antoni just clean out his office now or wait for Bryant to do it for him on April 17, one day after Los Angeles’ regular season mercifully ends?

Though Nash added a lack of time together has driven a wedge between the couple’s potential, the Kobe-Magic Mike merger is one destined for a Black Mamba-backed dissolution.

Speaking on The Dan Patrick Show, Bryant didn’t express much faith in his head coach when asked if he’s earned another year at Los Angeles’ helm.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “It’s been tough on him. He’s been dealing with so many injuries. I don’t know if he’s gotten a fair shake.”

Before that, Sporting News’ Sean Deveney alleged that Bryant has “no interest” in playing for D’Antoni next season. Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher also revealed multiple players have been assured he won’t be coaching the Lakers beyond 2013-14.

At this point, it doesn’t matter whether or not D’Antoni and Bryant can coexist. The writing isn’t on the wall, it’s etched in crystallized stone: D’Antoni is done in Los Angeles, cooked like Mike Brown before him.

Pin yours truly to the minority. The embattled Lakers coach hasn’t been given a real chance.

Last season, he was gifted a shallow team rife with egos and tasked with implementing a system unbecoming of his personnel. This season, he has an injury-addled roster brimming with no-names and stopgaps, sans Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, and has been expected to—well, we don’t really know.

If and when D’Antoni is shown the door, it’s impossible to chalk his departure up to failed expectations. Phil Jackson himself couldn’t win with this injury-plagued, star-deprived team. 

Coaching the Lakers to 23 victories in a powerhouse-teeming Western Conference is an accomplishment worthy of faint applause. If nothing else, the Lakers have been largely fun to watch. Incredibly bad, but fun nonetheless.

“But it’s one of those situations where they haven’t had the time to decide how they feel about each other, I don’t think,” Nash explained to Cowherd, via Medina.

Time is something D’Antoni doesn’t have, something Bryant isn’t prepared to give. The clock is ticking, the Mamba is angry and D’Antoni, imperfect as ever, has been handed a one-way ticket to Scapegoatsville for failing to rescue a team beyond saving. 

 

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Steve Nash receives standing ovation in Lakers return

The future Hall of Famer had missed several weeks with back and leg injuries.

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Steve Nash Will Return to Lakers Lineup for First Time Since Back Injury

Steve Nash may be 40 years old and fighting through injuries, but he is refusing to give up on his NBA career despite all he’s accomplished. Even with the Los Angeles Lakers enduring a down season, Nash is opting to return to the floor on Friday against the Washington Wizards.

The Lakers announced the development, which bolsters a thin Lakers rotation that doesn’t have much left to play for in the 2013-14 campaign as it is:

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski initially reported Thursday that Nash would return to the lineup—five weeks after being knocked out of action with a back injury. Wojnarowski noted that Nash would back up Kendall Marshall, who is the only other healthy point guard on the roster.

It was initially thought that Nash would be lost for the season, yet he’s still gutting it out and trying to helped the storied franchise salvage some semblance of respectability as the Lakers lurk toward the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Grantland has been documenting Nash’s road to recovery amid the twilight of his playing days, and Nash generated controversy by saying he would play out the last year of his contract through next season for financial reasons, per SI.com’s Ben Golliver:

It’s just a reality. I’m not going to retire because I want the money. It’s honest. We want honest athletes, but at the same time, you’re going to have people out there saying “He’s so greedy. He’s made x amount of money and he has to take this last little bit.” Yes, I do, have to take that last little bit. I’m sorry if that is frustrating to some but if they were in my shoes they would do exactly the same thing. I wouldn’t believe for a minute that they wouldn’t.

One has to admire Nash’s authenticity and transparency despite the blowback he’d inevitably receive for such remarks. ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi expressed respect for Nash but felt he may have taken those comments a bit too far:

Some have even been calling for Nash to retire so that the Lakers don’t have to pay him another $9.7 million in 2014-15 and be more flexible in pursuing marquee free agents this summer and next.

Meanwhile, Lakers legend Kobe Bryant will be making $48.5 million over the next two years, and his body is beginning to break down after a myriad of health issues. The same argument can be made there, because there’s no guarantee Bryant will be anywhere near the player he’s proven capable of being. LA’s front office could be handcuffed by his exorbitant salary as well.

It seemed as though Nash would be the perfect candidate to put the Lakers back into championship contention when he arrived with coach Mike D’Antoni. Nash ran D’Antoni‘s uptempo offense as a member of the Phoenix Suns and won two league MVP awards in that span.

Things have not gone according to plan in the City of Angels, and D’Antoni will be fortunate to hold his job beyond this season despite dealing with injuries to so many key players.

Plenty of uncertainty looms in Laker Nation. Nash clearly doesn’t have much left in the tank in addition to Bryant, and whether or not they even stay together remains to be seen. In any event, Nash’s return on Friday shows his relentless competitiveness, and that he’s adamant about making the situation in LA work out.

There is still plenty of incentive for Nash to keep plugging away. This was supposed to be his chance to win that elusive first Larry O’Brien Trophy. Everything appears to be in shambles now, but if general manager Mitch Kupchak can lure a marquee player or two into the fold and somehow retain Pau Gasol, perhaps the aging Lakers nucleus has one more good run left.

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Report: Steve Nash expected to return to Lakers on Friday

The Los Angeles Lakers have had a nightmare season. They are last in the Western Conference, their star player Kobe Bryant is out for the season, and has called them out over and over, Steve Nash said he won’t retire because he wants the money, and now Nash has defied the injury report. After being […]

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