What Will Los Angeles Lakers Do If Steve Nash Gets Injured?

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterOctober 4, 2012

Photo Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times
Photo Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

There's no replacing a point guard of Steve Nash's caliber. The Phoenix Suns will discover the hardships of life on the court sans Nash when they trot out the likes of Goran Dragic, Kendall Marshall and Sebastian Telfair to run the show during the 2012-13 NBA season.

The Los Angeles Lakers could certainly find themselves in an even tougher bind at some point. Nash, a two-time MVP, has played phenomenally well while avoiding injury in recent years, though at 38, his body will be at risk of a debilitating breakdown nearly every time he takes the floor. Any nagging ache or pain that Nash encounters during what's likely to be a long and grueling campaign is rendered all the more dangerous by the natural slowing of his body's recuperative processes.

Losing Nash for any significant length of time would be a massive blow to the Lakers' title hopes, not unlike how Karl Malone's knee injury sidetracked LA's chances during the 2003-04 season. The Lakers' corps of backups at the point—Steve Blake, Chris Duhon, Darius Morris and perhaps Andrew Goudelock and rookie Darius Johnson-Odom—would be hard-pressed to match Nash's competence and productivity collectively, much less individually.

No Nash would likely mean less pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard, the game's premiere finisher, and Pau Gasol, a fine partner in his own right. So too would Nash's absence put the ball back in Kobe Bryant's hands, potentially even to the extent that's nauseated so many in Lakerland in recent years.

In theory, Nash's mere presence is paramount to lifting the curtain on this new era of "Showtime." Tactically, the Lakers roster is set up in such a way as to accentuate, if not necessitate, a point guard who can lubricate an offense and keep everyone happy and involved, as few like Nash can.

The same goes for the locker room, wherein Nash would presumably play "good cop" to Kobe's "bad cop."

Still, while losing Nash would drop the Lakers out of title contention for whatever the length of his absence, the team would be far from needing to take shelter under a falling sky.

For one, Nash is new to the team. Prognostications about his importance to the new Lakers aside, he's yet to play a single meaningful minute while wearing Purple and Gold. As such, he can't yet be considered such an integral thread in the fabric of the team for purely temporal reasons.

Also, keep in mind that Nash arrives in LA as something of a luxury. The Lakers haven't employed a traditional and singularly competent point guard since Nick Van Exel left after the 1997-98 season and haven't enjoyed the services of an elite floor general since Magic Johnson's final retirement after a brief comeback in 1996-96.

Or, if we're going to be realistic about it, since the 1990-91 season, before Magic abruptly retired from the Lakers upon contracting HIV.

Or, if names are the only thing that matter, Gary Payton in 2003-04.

Here's a list of guys the Lakers have enlisted to start at the point since Nick the Quick, an All-Star in 1998, bolted for greener pastures with the Nuggets (not including The Glove): Derek Harper, Derek Fisher, Ron Harper, Brian Shaw, Chucky Atkins, Smush Parker, Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake and Ramon Sessions.

Not exactly a murderer's row of floor generals. And yet the Lakers have won five titles and missed the playoffs just once with all that mediocrity up top.

How've they done it? By teaming the NBA's best shooting guard (Kobe) with top-quality big men, as they did with Shaquille O'Neal in the early aughts and with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum more recently.

Wouldn't you know it? LA's gone and done it again, this time with Pau and Dwight lending the Black Mamba a helping hand.

And if Nash goes down, that means putting Kobe back in a position to make plays for himself and others more often than not. Kobe's body may be of concern (along with his "selfishness"), but at least Lakers fans can take comfort in knowing that their team has won championships in the past with the Mamba taking care of creative a la Don Draper.

The institution of (elements of) the Princeton offense should also help to mitigate any effect that an injury to Nash would have on the Lakers' success. Like the Triangle offense (with which the Lakers are eminently familiar), the Princeton de-emphasizes the importance of a single playmaker by encouraging spacing, ball movement and player movement among the entire team.

If anything, having former Kings, Wizards and 76ers head coach Eddie Jordan teach the Lakers how to run the Princeton would seem counterintuitive to playing Nash, who thrives in the pick-and-roll. Nash will still have his place in the Princeton, primarily as a passer and shooter.

And if Nash should go down, then the Lakers could ostensibly spend more time spreading out, setting screens and running backdoor cuts as Pete Carril intended and still hold their own in the Western Conference.

As for the other end of the floor, Nash has never been what anyone would call a defensive savant. He's smart enough to direct opposing point guards toward help, but lacks much in the way of lateral quickness, strength or foot speed to keep up with the likes of Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving. 

With all of this being said, Steve Nash shouldn't be seen as a frightening injury risk. Old though he may be, Nash hasn't missed more than eight games in a single season since the 2000-01 campaign, when he was with Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. Few players in the NBA pay such careful attention their bodies as does Nash, for whom those efforts have clearly paid off. 

Then again, basketball lends itself to plenty of freak injuries. Should one befall Steve Nash this season, the Lakers will inevitably be knocked down a few pegs in the league's hierarchy, but can hardly be counted out of the big picture.