Steve Nash's Return Will Make Mike D'Antoni Look Like Right Coach for LA Lakers

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 21:  Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers waits on the court in the game with the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center on October 21, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Kings won 99-92.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Steve Nash means everything to the Mike D'Antoni-coached Los Angeles Lakers.

Yes, I'm referring to the same 38-year-old Nash who has appeared in just two games thus far and is still recovering from a fractured left fibula. That Nash. He means everything to this team. 

Which is why a collective sigh should be spreading like wildfire across Los Angeles at this very moment—because the point guard is on his way back, keys to success in hand.

According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Nash is merely days away from a return to lineup after spending nearly two months riding the bench:

The Lakers are finally on the mend.

They have lost 14 of the first 25 games of this season that was supposed to be so special, but a person close to Steve Nash confirmed the point guard is hoping to return on Saturday at the Golden State Warriors after being out with a left leg injury since Oct. 31. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Though the Lakers have shown some life over the past week or so, Nash's return could not have come at a better time. Not only is Los Angeles currently sitting outside the Western Conference playoff picture, but the team is 22nd in the league in assists (20.3) per game.

I myself have pondered how successful Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard can, and eventually will be in D'Antoni's system. That said, I'd be lying–we'd all be lying—if we didn't admit D'Antoni's arrival in Tinseltown had more to do with Nash than anyone else.

If it had been about Bryant, the Lakers wouldn't be 3-11 when he scores 30 or more points. And if it had been about Howard, the team wouldn't be struggling to get him to shoot more than 10 shots a game.

If this move had been about anyone else, D'Antoni's seat wouldn't still possess the heat it was emitting from the tragic days of Mike Brown.

No, this move was about Nash, what he is capable of doing in D'Antoni's system and how everything he does can save Los Angeles.

Nash shouldn't be expected to solve the Lakers' defensive woes, because he won't. Hell, not even Howard can. Los Angeles is allowing less points with him off the floor, after all. And that's exactly why Nash is so valuable to this team.

Until the Lakers either search outside the organization for someone who grasps the concept of defensive rotations or take it upon themselves to practice what Dwight keeps preaching, they're going to need to outscore their opponents frequently. Like all the time.

Enter Nash. 

The point guard piloted D'Antoni's offense for four seasons under Magic Mike himself with the Phoenix Suns—winning two league MVP awards in the process—and continued to serve as a vessel for the same institutional ideals well after the coach's departure.

More importantly, between the 2004-08—the time Nash spent under D'Antoni in Phoenix—only Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs had a higher net plus-rating (plus-2378) than Nash (plus-2290).

Are we supposed to believe this is some sort of coincidence?

To put it simply, no. To go into a bit more detail, absolutely, positively not.

Nash was orchestrating D'Antoni's offense for four years. Fortuitous happenstances don't last that long.

Understandably, plenty will be concerned about Nash's age. It's been nearly five years since he last played with D'Antoni.

But that doesn't matter. Not with Nash.

Just last season, the Suns were plus-177 with the point guard on the floor. That was just the 56th-best mark in the league, but it was a higher mark than the Lakers posted with Pau Gasol or Kobe himself on the floor.

And just last season, it was he who helped both compress defenses with his dribble penetration and stretch them with his efficient 53.2 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent clip from behind the rainbow.

Oh, and let's not neglect to mention that Nash had such an impact on a team that was not only void of superstars, but void of a single player who averaged more than 15.4 points per game.

So let's not downplay the gravity of Nash's return. He has directed D'Antoni's offense—or some version of it—for nearly a decade. He has proved that he can turn no-names like Marcin Gortat into household names. He has also proved he can take an athletic freak in Amar'e Stoudemire and transform him into an All-Star.

And he's going to prove to be the piece the Lakers have so sorely lacked for more than 20 games.

Because Nash is no stranger to the expectations he's about to face. He's no stranger to this system nor is he a stranger to succeeding alongside whomever plays within it.

He's no stranger to being the one who makes everything makes sense.

The one who will open up the floor with his outside touch. The one who can turn Gasol into a continuous high pick-and-roll threat. The one who is going to utilize Kobe's improved off-ball play to the fullest extent. The one who will save Howard from himself offensively.

The one who is ultimately going to make the Lakers run like a well-oiled Lamborghini.

And make D'Antoni look like the sideline-meandering version of a superstar.


All stats in this article are accurate as of December 18, 2012.


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