Lakers fans let out a collective "Hallelujah!" when it was announced on July 4 that the team would acquire Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade. Some pundits have argued that this move places the Lakers back in contention for a title in 2013. Although considering the age of the Lakers stars, their window of opportunity to win appears to only be open for only about two years.
Nevertheless, they will be a force next season. Here are the pros and cons of the Steve Nash deal.
Pro: The Lakers finally have that point guard to play alongside Kobe: After the last few seasons of poor point guard play, the Lakers finally have plugged up a huge hole in their starting lineup. Derrick Fisher was getting a little long in the tooth and his production on both ends of the court caused many to question why he wouldn’t just retire already. Steve Blake made a few big shots for the Lakers, but he lacked the play-making and consistency to serve as a permanent replacement. Last season, the Lakers added Ramon Sessions from the Houston Rockets. Sessions’ defensive and offensive struggles in the playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets demonstrated that the Lakers still needed a true playmaker at the position. Steve Nash, even at 38, would be the best point guard Kobe Bryant has ever played with. Nash averaged 12.5 PPG and 10.7 APG last season, and has been remarkably consistent throughout his career.
Con: The system that the Lakers run may not best utilize Nash’s strengths: There no doubt that Nash is a great player. But it’s also no doubt that his effectiveness has been due in part to the type of system the Phoenix Suns ran. During Nash’s tenure with the team, the style it has utilized has been more of an open court, freewheeling brand of play, where there’s a lot of running, quick shots and bullet passes. Lakers coach Mike Brown will play a slower, more defensive oriented style that traditionally stands in contrast to Nash’s brand of basketball. One could make the case that either Brown or Nash can adapt to the other’s style of play, but considering how long both Brown and Nash have been excelling at their respective styles do you see either being willing to change now without a lengthy transitionally phase?
Pro: Multiple playmakers in the backcourt would give the Lakers more versatility in their offense: Let’s be frank about this: last season the Lakers offense was as ugly as a Steve Nash nosebleed. There was no fluidity and there were too many times where Kobe was forced to take tough shots from deep because the ball had stopped moving. With Steve Nash, the Lakers have one guy who knows how to keep the offense moving through the occasional lulls. He will pass the ball inside to the bigs to keep them involved. He will make open shots when the bigs and Kobe command more attention from opposing defenses and he will help spread the floor and provide better looks for the Lakers’ frontcourt players.
Con: Both Nash and Kobe have always played best with the ball in their hands. Both Kobe and Nash are at their best when they have the ball in their hands and can decide what play needs to be made at critical junctures of the game. Playing off the ball has never been a strength of either and as we saw in Miami with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, it takes time for players who are used to a lot of touches to stand around and while until another player handles the ball and still be effective. Both Kobe and Nash are going to have to make changes to their style of play to still have an impact when the ball is not in their hands.
Con: Steve Nash is a defensive liability: This will probably the most oft-cited criticism of the addition of Nash: Will he just be abused defensively by the likes of Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and Derrick Rose? In a league filled with many excellent point guards, having one that is hardly known as a defensive stopper seems like a tremendous issue for the Lakers going forward.
Pro: Yeah…but even defensive liabilities can thrive in a great defensive system. The NBA is filled with players who were not considered great defenders in the NBA until they became part of a great defensive system able to cover up their apparent liabilities. Look at the Chicago Bulls. Many have complained about the lack of defensive effort on the part of Carlos Boozer (and it is justified), but it hasn’t prevented the Bulls from becoming one of the premier defensive squads in the NBA courtesy of coach Tom Thibodeau’s system and players like Joakim Noah who can cover up his mistakes. Defense is a team concept, and while Nash’s individual defense has been questioned, the Lakers team defense can more than make up for it.
Pro: The Lakers have one of the best starting lineups in the West: There’s no getting around it: The Lakers currently boast a ready-made All-Star team in its starting lineup. Each player in the Lakers starting five has appeared in an All-Star game. Two of their starters are MVP Award winners and one was a defensive player of the year winner. If Metta World Piece can re-discover his perimeter shot and make defenses pay for double-teams on Kobe and Bynum, the Lakers could be a tough team to defend.
Con: But they still have nothing behind them. The biggest question marks for the Lakers right now are: Will they still acquire Dwight Hoard and how will their aged starting lineup get through a long 82-game regular season and lengthy playoff run with very little depth to count on? The latter of the two will say more about how far they go next season, even mores than picking up Howard, because they would still have depth issues even if Howard does become a Laker. The Lakers have, by all accounts, become the team that Miami Heat detractors accused them of being: A team of a few great players and nothing else. Outside of the Big Four, the rest of the roster—Robert Sacre, Josh McRoberts, Steve Blake—are not the kind of dependable backups the Lakers big guns need to stay fresh for the duration of the season and postseason. The San Antonio Spurs were masterful in keeping their veterans like Tim Duncan healthy by giving more playing time to the role-players and coaxing solid efforts out of their bench. The Lakers may not have that luxury and you wonder how it will effect them in the long term.