Don't expect any certainty to swirl around Steve Nash when he eventually makes his return to the Los Angeles Lakers' rotation. Instead, we're going to continue wallowing in questions until the 39-year-old point guard provides some answers with his play.
According to the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina, Nash is practicing with the Lakers, but his official return date is still unknown. It's doubtful that he'll suit up against the Sacramento Kings on Dec. 6, and anything beyond that is still up in the air.
But there are more questions than when he'll return, especially after Pau Gasol's cryptic statement about his form in practice:
Thanks for nothing, Gasol.
I suppose we'll just have to tackle the big questions ourselves.
Can He Stay Healthy?
Unfortunately, this is perhaps the most troubling question of all.
There's no guarantee that he will remain in the lineup for the rest of the season, and the possibility of re-injury is strong. But don't take my word for it; see what the point guard had to say:
Believe it or not, this is the first response to the tweet:
Yea for reading comprehension?
It's important that we let Nash do what is best for Nash, even if that means taking a longer time to recover from the initial injury. There should be no pressure on him to make a premature return.
Nash has always been hampered by nagging injuries. While he has a knack for playing through minor ailments, this back injury isn't something new that surfaced this season. Instead, he's been playing through the malady for years.
If you can remember all the way back to 2004, you might recall that Nash was still a member of the Dallas Mavericks. While he would go on to play for the Phoenix Suns and win MVP multiple times, he only had an opportunity to run the "Seven Seconds or Less" offense in the desert because Mark Cuban was scared of his back issues.
The Dallas owner had been concerned that Nash would break down, as chronic pain had been already creeping into the daily scouting report. Well, that was just about a decade ago.
Nash is 39 years old, making him the oldest player in the NBA. He'll hit the dreaded 40-year milestone during the season, as will Derek Fisher, although Fish is a few months younger. That may be the first time "younger" has ever been used to describe the current Oklahoma City Thunder floor general.
It's not strange to think that Nash's body is breaking down. After all, it's common for normal 40-year-olds, much less guys with four decades under their belt who have spent the vast majority playing a physical sport.
Remember this play?
How about this one?
Contact like that tends to add up, and it's telling that Nash was originally knocked out of the lineup because leg injuries led to nerve problems in his back. This isn't something that can just go away, and it's more a question of "can he play through the pain" than "will the pain fully depart."
Those are also questions that can't be answered. It's luck of the draw whether he experiences a setback, and only he knows how much discomfort he can tolerate on a nightly basis.
We can all keep our fingers crossed and hope that the future Hall of Famer is able to remain on the court for the remainder of the 2013-14 campaign, but it would be foolish to bet on him doing so.
Will He Start?
It already sounds like Nash is readying himself for the inevitable role that he'll face upon his return to the lineup: coming off the bench.
As relayed by the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina, the 39-year-old floor general said, "I’ll do whatever I can to help the team” upon being asked whether or not he'd be OK coming off the bench. Nash continued, “But the first thing I have to do is try get myself in a position where I can sustain the demands of the game. Right now my back is susceptible to those things.”
Unfortunately for those who would like to hear the point guard's name echo through the rafters of the Staples Center as the starters are announced for the Lake Show, accepting a bench role is the best thing he can do to help the team.
Although half of his name is the same as Nash's, Steve Blake doesn't have as glamorous a name. It doesn't resonate with the basketball world like that of the future Hall of Famer, yet he has emerged as—by far—the better player.
Blake has started all 18 of his appearances, and he's averaging 10.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game while shooting 40.6 percent from the field, 42.9 percent behind the three-point arc and 81.8 percent at the charity stripe.
He's been a perfect fit for the Mike D'Antoni system, and he'll continue to be a great option when Kobe Bryant is back on the court. Blake is a solid spot-up shooter, and he's content to let the assists pile up without recording many points.
This isn't going to change when Nash is available.
In the interest of keeping the elder point guard as healthy and effective as possible, it's best if he plays a more limited role and lets Blake do the heavy lifting. Take it day by day, and if Nash is starting to show flashes of his old self off the pine, then it's time for the head coach to feed him more minutes.
Can He Be Effective?
If we're basing our answer on what Nash has done since joining the Lakers, the answer is a rather definitive "no."
Take a look at the progression of his per-game stats over the past three seasons, courtesy of Basketball Reference:
You can probably guess that those trends aren't positive, especially because they've gone down at a more extreme rate since he came to LA just prior to the 2012-13 campaign. He's become increasingly ineffective, and D'Antoni has been unable to figure out how he should use the point guard.
Does he use an uptempo pace like Nash ran in Phoenix? Does he turn Nash into a spot-up shooter? Does he sit back, stroke his mustache and just let Nash figure it out?
Something tells me that you and I have just as much a clue as MDA does.
It's difficult for him to adjust his thinking since Nash still looks like the MVP he once coached. Just...not when he steps onto the court. Now it'll be even more difficult, as he has to figure out what Nash has left in the tank.
Based on the way that his numbers have trended, the answer is that he's running on fumes. The Canadian floor general hasn't been highly effective for a few years now, and that doesn't bode well for his ability to recover from this latest injury and regain his former level of play.
Sad as it is to say, we've seen the last of prime Nash.
I don't want to leave you in a state of depression, so let's finish things off on a positive note with a highlight reel from Nash's best days, thanks to Bleacher Report's Joel Cordes. If you're offended by sporadic adult language, go ahead and mute your computer:
Just remember the good times, because the Eminem song playing in the background is far more applicable than anyone could have guessed when the video came out in May 2012.
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