Amazingly, a 38-year-old with a bad back is being viewed as the talisman that can deliver another NBA championship to Los Angeles. The Lakers acquisition of eight-time all-star and two-time Most Valuable Player, Steve Nash, certainly adds some flair to the L.A. backcourt. The move may help Los Angeles relive the glory days of “Showtime,” reminding some of another wizard with the rock: Magic Johnson.
Kobe Bryant probably never imagined this scenario in his wildest dreams. Gone are the days of tried and true rivalries getting in the way of a star’s thirst and desire to win a championship. The Suns-Lakers rivalry games of the past decade were intense and fueled with emotion.
But for Bryant to get back to the basketball summit, as a champion, he needs much more help in the backcourt. At least more than Steve Blake and Andrew Goudelock can provide. That, of course, is where the Canadian maestro comes in.
Even at the age of 39, Nash still enjoyed a season that put him in nearly identical company with a player regarded as one of the best point guards in the league, Deron Williams. According to John Hollinger’s player efficiency rating metric, which quantifies a player's value based on per-minute productivity, Nash and Williams’ offensive value were virtually identical in the 2011-2012 season. Nash finished second in the NBA in assists per game and led the league in dimes for the sixth time in his career.
Nash may not be the player who won two straight MVPs in the middle of last decade, but he has also not regressed very much. Most importantly, he has remained free of any significant injuries, though this may be a tougher task as he approaches the age of 40. The Lakers would be wise to restrict Nash to between 25-30 minutes per game and play him advantageously, allowing him to rest at optimum moments in the game, to ensure his back condition does not act up.
Nash has the medical condition spondylolisthesis, which causes his back to tighten up and leads to severe muscle soreness. The condition ebbs and flows and while there’s no predictor of when it may act up, the seven-time All-NBA point guard has monitored the pain well and has missed very little time.
The future hall of famer has been forced to adjust his training regimen and his routine while not in the game, due to this condition. Last year, Nash racked up his lowest minutes per game tally (31.6) since the 1999-2000 season, which was his fourth in the league.
The Lake Show may be hard pressed to reach their former championship defensive heights with Nash, who was never a good defender and now lacks the lateral quickness necessary to keep up with the league’s elite point guards. Los Angeles may need to find a solid defensive point guard either internally (Darius Morris or Darius Johnson-Odom) or through a trade if it hopes to have an alter-ego at the 1 to complement the offensive-minded Nash.
Nash’s lack of defensive ability at this juncture in his career is what raises the most eyebrows about this acquisition. While you must be able to score, and have players like LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant to match buckets with the best in the league, the NBA is still a league where the mantra “Defense Wins Championships” is truer than ever.
Going back to the 2001-2002 NBA season, the team that has gone on to win the NBA title has finished in the top 10 in points-per-game allowed in every year but two. In five of those years, the champion has finished in the top five in total PPG allowed.
The Lakers no longer have the benefit of Shaquille O’Neal in the prime of his career, or even the guarantee of elite production from Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol. One of the latter two may be shipped out of town soon in a deal that could land Los Angeles the center they’ve coveted for quite a while—Dwight Howard.
Howard, one of the league’s best overall players—and defenders—would be a tangible upgrade over Gasol and give the Lakers the paint presence they’ve desired on both ends of the floor. The Lakers were a middle-of-the pack defensive squad this past season. Acquiring Howard could make them the favorites to win the Western conference, even with the continued ascent of the uber-talented Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Los Angeles Lakers acquired a future hall of famer in Nash, a player whose skills are still representative of an elite, offensive NBA point guard. The Lakers will need to carefully watch his minutes—and make sure there is plenty of defensive help in the L.A. backcourt, if they hope to battle in June next season.