Best-Case, Worst-Case Scenarios for Steve Nash in 2013-14 Season
His familiar No. 13 was already retired (Wilt Chamberlain), so Nash took the No. 10 purple and gold jersey. The new number was not so lucky for the two-time League MVP.
The future Hall of Famer had virtually every obstacle thrown his way, from injuries to three coaches in the same season. From Mike Brown to Mike D'Antoni, Nash was never given a clearly defined role, even though he'd spent his entire career perfecting the art of being the consummate pick-and-roll point guard.
The surprise announcement last July 4 that Nash was a Laker caught most fans by surprise. Just one week prior to that deal, Nash told ESPN Radio New York (via Sporting News) that he wouldn't be comfortable playing for his longtime rivals:
I'm a bit old school. I think for me, it'd be hard to put on a Lakers jersey. That's just the way it is. You play against them so many times in the playoffs, and I just use them as an example. I have the utmost respect for them and the organization, but I think it was Larry Bird (who said) he would never play for them.
That all changed when the Phoenix Suns agreed to a sign-and-trade with the Lakers, granting Nash his wish to be closer to his children and play for a championship contender.
But, just two games into the regular season, Nash was injured in a freak play when he bumped knees with Portland Trail Blazers rookie guard Damian Lillard.
Initial reports said Nash would be out for about one week. The injury, a fracture to his left leg, occurred on October 31. Nash didn't return to the lineup for almost seven weeks. He later missed the last eight games of the regular season with a hip injury which caused nerve damage in his right hamstring.
So what can the Lakers expect from Steve Nash heading into the 2013-14 season?
The obvious, best-case scenario has a healthy Nash at the point, directing a Lakers offense that features a healthy Kobe Bryant at his normal shooting guard position, a happy Dwight Howard in the low post, Pau Gasol as their skilled power forward and a small forward (Metta World Peace or possibly a free-agent signing) who can defend and hit perimeter shots with regularity.
If Nash is healthy and allowed to play his game—which involves directing the offense and executing a lot of pick-and-rolls—there is no reason for him not to average about 10 assists a game. And, as one of the game's best pure shooters, Nash should also be counted on for 12-14 points a night and a shooting percentage close to 50 percent from both long and medium range.
Steve Nash has been the model of consistency for most of his career. Even with a staccato season that saw him miss a third of it, Nash still posted pretty good numbers: 12.7 points on 50 percent shooting in 32.5 minutes of action per game.
Nash's recent history of averaging 10 dimes a game for seven of eight seasons in Phoenix did not transfer to the Lakers for a couple of reasons. Kobe Bryant became much more of a facilitator during the middle of the season, as he tried to will his slumping team to victories. In the process, head coach Mike D'Antoni asked Nash to play off the ball and be more of a spot-up shooter.
The Lakers improved significantly over the last half of the season, going 28-12 to finish 45-27 and squeaking into the playoffs on the final day. Nash played a key role until being forced to the sidelines with just eight games left to play, so he ended up as cheerleader rather than conductor.
The Lakers became one of only six teams in league history to make the Western Conference playoffs after starting 17-25. It was a minor victory to an otherwise forgettable season for Nash and the Lakers, who were then swept out of the first round by the San Antonio Spurs. Adding insult to injury, Nash went down and out for those final two playoff games with the strained right hamstring.
A worst-case scenario this coming season would be one in which Nash is not completely healthy. When you are about to turn 40 (next February) and are coming off an injury-riddled season, there will be conjuncture as to whether or not Nash has slowed down and if he can even handle the daily rigors of practice, travel and playing 30-33 minutes a game.
What role will Steve Nash play for the Lakers in 2013-14?
Upon taking the Lakers job last November, D'Antoni must have reminisced just a bit about what it would be like to coach Nash again after their glory days in Phoenix. Toward the end of the regular season, he was still reminiscing but realistic about his aging superstar.
D'Antoni told Dave McMenamin, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com:
In Phoenix, when we had it going, I don't know if there's many point guards in the history of the game that played that level as good as he played for a couple of years where he didn't make any mistakes and (he is) one of the best shooters, if not the best shooter, in all-time history, so it's hard to duplicate that.
As you get older, obviously, you have to have certain things go your way and you're not going to be able to be the MVP two times in a row like he was, but his level is still very high. We just got to get everything right, get him going again.
That was easier said than done. And the big question remains: Can Steve Nash get it going again?
The Lakers of today look more like a recovering M.A.S.H. unit than a healthy, hungry professional basketball team. There's Howard's continuing daily battle to come back from major back surgery, Bryant's uncharted waters of recovery from surgery to repair a torn Achilles and Nash's serious leg injuries that could send his career into a quick tailspin if he doesn't respond properly to treatment.
The uncertainties surrounding the immediate future of Nash are as varied as the opening-day lineup the Lakers can expect to see in five months. Nash could fully recover and be the consummate floor leader this team so desperately needs.
Or, he could be hobbled by an inability to get himself totally healthy, which may prompt an earlier-than-expected retirement from the game he obviously loves.
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