NBA Free Agency 2012: Why Steve Nash Won't Make the Lakers the Best in the West
On paper, there's no reason why Los Angeles shouldn't be ecstatic today. Steve Nash, NBA point guard, is unarguably one of the greatest to ever play the position. The guy is a downright magician, and even at 38, he can do just about anything with the ball in his hands.
But Steve Nash, Los Angeles Laker? That's a whole different story. And that "ball in his hands" part? That's going to be the key.
Offensively, the Lakers aren't well-built to maximize Nash's potential. Pau Gasol is at his best when the offense runs through him—which is why he's seemed so misused at times in L.A. He's a tremendous interior passer with a shocking array of post moves. He doesn't have a consistent jump shot, though, and he won't be as effective when asked to be a pick-and-pop player.
Much of the same can be said for mercurial star Andrew Bynum. Playing in the pick-and-roll with Nash as he darts into the lane requires constant movement, effort and awareness, not exactly Bynum's calling cards. At times, he flashes great potential diving to the basket, but he's given us no reason to believe that he'll show a consistent motor this year. He's at heart a throwback big man, a guy who wants to establish position and the block and demand the ball. That would relegate Nash to the role of an off-ball shooter, a huge marginalization of his skills.
All of which won't even matter if a certain shooting guard doesn't want to play along. Put simply, Nash needs the ball in his hands to excel, and that doesn't seem likely as long as No. 24 roams the perimeter. Kobe is primarily a jump-shooter now, which could provide great spacing for Nash if everyone cooperates—but that is one gigantic "if."
Does Steve Nash make the Lakers the favorite to win the West this year?
L.A.'s point guards posted dreadful usage rates last season, with only Sessions managing to post a number near the league average. (Blake and Derek Fisher were near the bottom of the league at 13.5 and 13.2.)
Obviously none of those three are anywhere near Nash's level, but rarely has Kobe shown a willingness to adapt to those around him, regardless of talent. We've seen this show before with Shaq, and even at times with Bynum and Gasol. Bryant has been doing this a long time, and this sort of change will be a lot to ask of a guy his age with his resume—and we certainly know Mike Brown won't be willing to stand up to his superstar.
Also, this trade still won't solve what were arguably L.A.'s two biggest problems last season. The Thunder ran past the Lakers in five games, exploiting their lack of depth and athleticism on the perimeter. Despite Nash's greatness, he won't solve either of those problems.
The Lakers will still lack quality production off the bench—now that Ramon Sessions is heading out the door, the second unit will rely on the likes of Steve Blake and Andrew Goudelock to provide scoring—and they still won't have a perimeter defender capable of keeping athletic guards out of the paint.
Nash was a sub-par defender in his prime, and it's become a definite weakness as he pushes 40. The West will again run through OKC and San Antonio, and that means matchups with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Russell Westbrook. Unless Andrew Bynum ends his seeming indifference on that end of the floor, opposing teams will still be able penetrate and wreak havoc.
Don't get me wrong—Nash certainly makes the Lakers a better team, and there could be endless possibilities for this offense. But the weaknesses that were so glaring against Oklahoma City two months ago are still as prevalent as ever, and there are plenty of reasons to doubt that Steve Nash will put them over the top and back into the Finals.
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