During a recent interview with Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, Steve Nash spoke candidly on everything from soccer and retirement to his expectations for the 2013-14 NBA season. While every word offered some form of intrigue, the key topic of conversation was health.
That's the perfect segue into the following truth: In order for the Los Angeles Lakers to thrive in 2013-14, they'll need Nash to make a full recovery.
Nash has long been revered as one of the NBA's greatest warriors, fighting through any injury he faced to help his team win. Even as he was body checked and bloodied, Nash got up, kept on fighting and carved out a legacy as an NBA legend.
Now that he's 39, however, Nash must do something different—rest when necessary and play when he's ready. It appears as if Nash understands that, now.
"It's coming along nicely," Nash said of his health. "I'm not 100 percent, but it's getting close. In the next two months for sure, but I imagine in the next 2-3 weeks I'll be 100 percent and that gives me another month [before training camp] to get even better. The fortunate thing about it is it's been mostly a nerve situation I'm dealing with and nerves take time, but I've been able to work around it and work to strengthen different areas. So, it's not like I've been waiting and waiting for something to heal. I've been waiting in one respect for the nerves to settle down, but I've also been strengthening in other areas and I've been on the court, too. So, I had a really good summer."
"We tried the two epidurals during the playoffs and there was some release, but not completely," Nash said. "We're hoping to get to a point where we don't need to try that again because it's a little bit of a hit and hope with the epidural. There is release, so I shouldn't say hit and hope -- the doctors will be pissed at me -- there is release but it's not the cure. So, I think they'd like to settle it completely down and then work with my bio mechanics to keep that nerve from being compromised again."
It took a brutal injury for Nash to learn the hard way.
Two games into his tenure with the Lakers, Nash suffered what appeared to be a tweak in his leg. That tweak ended up being a fractured fibula. Even as Nash returned and the Lakers prospered, lingering nerve damage ended his season.
As much as we may love to call the Lakers Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol's team, Nash is the player who will determine just how far they go.
Explaining 2012-13 Struggles
During the 2013 NBA regular season, Nash was often referred to as a player that had seen a steep decline in terms of his quality of play. Countless analysts pointed to statistics, both basic and advanced, claiming that Nash's glory days were no more.
They all seemed to ignore one critical factor—style of play.
The most important statistic of all is that Nash posted a usage rate of 18.3 percent. For those curious, that number ranked 53rd—53rd!—amongst NBA point guards.
You know, one season after Nash posted averages of 12.5 points and 10.7 assists on a slash line of .532/.390/.894—because, clearly, something was wrong with Nash's approach.
Not only was Nash elite individually, posting a 20.29 player efficiency rating, but he was arguably the most valuable player in the NBA. With a supporting cast of Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley, Shannon Brown and Channing Frye, Nash led the Phoenix Suns to a 33-33 season.
Had they defeated the Utah Jazz in the second-to-last game of the year, they would've been in position to make the playoffs. That sort of sounds like what happened with the star-studded Lakers—the Lakers team that took the ball out of Nash's hands, albeit after drastic injuries.
Let Nash Run the Show
I've trusted Kobe Bryant to lead the Lakers for roughly a decade, basing my support solely on the fact that he's the ultimate game-changer. Whether he's scoring 40 points or dishing out 10 assists, Bryant does it all, and that was on full display in 2012-13, as he led a miraculous run to the postseason.
Can Steve Nash still contribute at an elite level?
With that being said, Bryant also tore his Achilles tendon in a game that we tend to forget saw him fall to the floor due to leg-related injuries on two other occasions. The result was the training staff telling Mike D'Antoni to pull him out and Bryant remaining on the floor.
It's time Nash, the 39-year-old veteran who makes a living by creating easy scoring opportunities for his teammates, takes control.
Bryant can still go isolation, and when the game is on the line, there's no question who will have the ball in his hands. With that being said, it's absolutely critical to know that Nash posted a usage rate of 18.3 percent.
With a big three of Kobe, Nash and Gasol, it's now time that number increases by a significant measure.
The Lakers must capitalize on the fact that they have two of the most dynamic facilitators in the world, Nash and Gasol, on the same roster. Not only can they run the pick-and-roll, but they can pick the perfect times to work out of the post and help Bryant to get his rhythm going early with open looks.
There's no question who needs the ball come the fourth quarter, but in terms of pacing the Lakers through games—something an aging core needs to do—Nash is the master.
No Nash, No Dreams
The Lakers are entering a season in which the only thing for them to do is to have title dreams. No matter how much rationale there is in writing them off, a core of Bryant, Gasol and Nash is too good to miss the playoffs.
As for the 2012-13 debacle, let's get our facts straight. The Lakers won 28 of their final 40 games and ranked in the top six in terms of scoring, rebounds, assists, efficiency and defensive efficiency from their starting lineup.
With or without Dwight Howard, this team will not begin their season at 17-25.
With Bryant and Gasol both entering free agency in 2014, this may be the last chance for L.A. to compete for a title with its original core. Uncertainty will follow both players into the following offseason, thus leaving the Lakers in virtual disarray.
Without Nash, that duo simply won't have enough supporting fire to pick up the win.
There's no question that Bryant elevates the level of play of the players around him, but Nash makes average players look like standouts. For a Lakers team that has a coach who preaches ball movement, it's time to let the greatest facilitator of our generation go to work.
If he's unable to do so, specifically if he battles injuries, there will be no title dreams—just a season stuck in neutral.