Is This the Beginning of the End of Steve Nash's Iconic NBA Career?

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Is This the Beginning of the End of Steve Nash's Iconic NBA Career?
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Perhaps Peter Vecsey was just trolling everyone—the Los Angeles Lakers included—when he tweeted out this panic-inducing nugget about Steve Nash the other night:

Now, Vecsey, a veteran of the New York sports media machine, didn't explicitly mention the "R" word. Nor did he share his hearsay about Nash surrendering to the pain in his back and leg at an hour at which the NBA-watching world would likely see it—just check the time stamp.

What's more, Vecsey has a reputation for spewing nonsense into the Twittersphere. Check out this gem about the New York Knicks from the day prior to his Nash "announcement":

 

(As if giving up Timofey Mozgov in the Carmelo Anthony trade were the root cause of the Knicks' current predicament, but I digress.)

Still, there's something undeniably "truthy" (if not downright believable) about Vecsey's Twitter bomb. The fact that sources, both named and anonymous, have since addressed it without dismissing it outright lends it a bit of credence, in some strange, reverse-psychological way.

Here's what one long-time Nash confidant—Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni—had to say about it (via Mark G. Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News and ESPN's Ramona Shelburne):

“He’s looking at, ‘What am I going to do when I’m 50?’ But no, he’s going to try and do everything he can to come back. Whether he can get over this, we’ll see. We think he can. We hope he can. But there’s no talk of him sitting over there eating bon bons the rest of the way.”

Kobe Bryant, who's been dealing with a career-threatening injury of his own, offered his two cents on the matter (via The LA Daily News):

Steve and I have been extremely close through this process. We’re just talking, and particularly the last few games, we’ve been talking and watching the game and talking about the game and other things. I understand the frustration that comes along with that.

That’s part of our job to pick each other up and to put him in positions where he can be extremely efficient and extremely successful. It’s about us covering for each other in that sense.

And if big names speaking plainly about Nash's status isn't enough of a reaction to Vecsey's 140 characters of chaos for you, here's Mark G. Medina passing along the thoughts of an unnamed source who (apparently) has a direct line into Nash's brain:

Truth be told, nobody should be surprised to hear that Nash is doing everything in his power to get back on the court. He's a great athlete who, like most great athletes, is driven by both a hyper-competitive streak and a deep love of and devotion to the game he plays. He's not going to give up playing pro hoops without a fight, not after more than 17 seasons in the NBA.

On top of all the time he spent learning and growing within the sport through his youth and into the high school and collegiate ranks.

Unfortunately, those same great ones are also the ones who tend to hang around too long, precisely because they're so competitive, so proud and so in love with the game. Moreover, their greatness often blinds them to the reality of their situations.

Nash, though, is far from blind. The shooting back pain that's kept him out of action since November 10th may be more severe than usual, but such discomfort isn't exactly foreign to Nash. He's been battling back problems since his days with the Dallas Mavericks.

As Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding recently noted, Mavs owner Mark Cuban allowed Nash to walk to the Suns during the summer of 2004 precisely because the red flags pertaining to the point guard's back were both many and menacing. All Nash did after that was prove Cuban (and everyone else) wrong—and stake his claim as one of the greatest floor generals of all time along the way.

But these latest bouts with back pain aren't run-of-the-mill for Nash. These ones can't be subdued by Steve's sideline routines of laying flat on the floor and stretching out, rather than sitting upright on the bench, when he's not in the game. It's not "routine" for Nash to need the same treatment that's more commonly used to quell labor pains (via ESPN's Dave McMenamin):

Though the fact that epidurals are quickly becoming the norm in Nash's world should tell you everything you need to know about how serious his situation really is—with or without first-hand accounts of the agony (and ecstasy) of child birth from someone who's been through it first-hand.

A short snippet of Nash's recent on-court performance should also suffice. 

If you've watched Nash at all as a Laker—particularly since he returned this past January from a fractured fibula suffered the previous Halloween—you've probably noticed the guy has looked anything like the two-time NBA MVP who so brilliantly captained those "Seven Seconds or Less" squads with the Phoenix Suns.

He's looked slower, older and less sure of himself, even on the offensive end, where he'd hit just 26.1 percent of his shots prior to his most recent setback.

(His defense has always been suspect, and his average of 22.5 minutes per game, while inordinately low, is hardly surprising because A) he's been on a semi-strict playing time diet for a while now, and B) he had/was able to check out early from three of the six games in which he's played thus far.)

Nash's failure to pinpoint his problem in the aftermath of his early exit from the Lakers' blowout loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves a week-and-a-half ago stands as further evidence that this world of his is all too brave and all too new (via Melissa Rohlin of The Los Angeles Times):

It gets really confusing. I have obviously back issues. It's nerves coming from my back. You could call it the back, you could call it the nerves, the pain in the hamstring, it's all the same thing. It gets a little convoluted.

This, coming from someone who's far more in-tune with the rhythms of his own body than is the average NBA player, who's coped with all manner of maladies in those parts of his body.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, Nash is no doctor, nor does he play one on TV. The one he did see—Dr. Robert Watkins, the same specialist who operated on Dwight Howard's back in April of 2012—was the one who diagnosed the nerve root irritation that's been hampering Nash and suggested that the eight-time All-Star take it easy for at least two weeks.

Nash may have a name for his condition now, but that doesn't mean he's any more familiar with what it is, how he should deal with it or whether it'll allow him to ever play at a high level again. Where once he appeared to have conquered Father Time, Nash now hobbles around like someone who's fast approaching the age of 40.

Which should put this whole situation in perspective. The vast majority of NBA veterans don't hang around long enough to so much as consider playing past their 40th birthdays, much less for $9 million a year. The anomaly here isn't that Nash is rapidly (and depressingly) decaying before our very eyes; it's that this didn't happen to him sooner.

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Maybe it's just another case of a reclamation project by the Suns' training staff struggling to stay healthy after leaving Arizona. Grant Hill's body broke down almost immediately after he ditched Phoenix for a peripheral role with the Los Angeles Clippers, to the extent that Hill hung up his cleats after the season so he could go about reviving Inside Stuff for NBA TV. Jermaine O'Neal is already day-to-day with the Golden State Warriors (but aren't we all?) after enjoying a mini-renaissance with the Suns in 2012-13.

Or, maybe Nash's most important parcel of common ground with Hill and O'Neal is that he, like those two, is way past his prime, with an injury rap sheet that's simply calling him to account. Maybe this is the end of the line for Steve Nash, Fun/Amazing Basketball Player, and the beginning of either Steve Nash, Sad Shell of Himself, or Steve Nash, Recent Retiree Moving on to the Next Stage of His Life.

Chances are, we won't know for sure until the end of the 2013-14 season. Realist though he may be, Nash is still too fierce a competitor to call it quits in the middle of a campaign, especially one in which his team could use his help. At 5-7, the Lakers aren't yet out of the mix for a spot in the Western Conference playoffs, but will need all they can squeeze out of their entire roster, Nash included, if they're to sneak into a field that's already crowded with quality clubs.

Kobe's impending return should give LA a boost, which, in turn, may well motivate Nash even more to get back in the action. You can certainly forgive an all-time great without a championship ring on his resume if he has some fear of missing out.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If he does, great. The Lakers could use him, and fans of all stripes who've appreciated Nash's contributions to the game should want to see the calculating Canadian finish his illustrious career in more flattering fashion, on his own terms.

But if that doesn't happen, if this really is the end of the line for Steve Nash, then perhaps Peter Vecsey wasn't trolling "Basketball Twitter" after all. Perhaps he was just publishing publicly what everyone else was already thinking.

 

Do you think Steve Nash is "done?" Let me know on Twitter!

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