The Purple and Gold acquired the two-time league MVP in the 2012 offseason and figured they would get something resembling a borderline-elite-level point guard. Instead, they had a player who missed 32 regular-season games and ceded the entire control of the offense over to Kobe Bryant.
Heading into the 2013-14 season, it was assumed that he would bounce back and look like an above-average floor general, but his health has betrayed him once again. Consequently, Mitch Kupchak must decide what path awaits the former Phoenix Sun.
Waiving Steve Nash
The Los Angeles Lakers can opt to cut Nash and potentially allow him to become a free agent if he clears waivers. The organization would still have to pay him his salary of $9.3 million for 2013-14 according to Sham Sports, but it would open up a roster spot for another player.
More importantly, this move creates an added benefit at the conclusion of the campaign. Waiving Nash gives the Lakers the possibility to use the stretch provision on his contract. For those unfamiliar with it, Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ outlines the specifics:
If the player is waived from September 1 to June 30, then the current season is paid per the normal payment schedule, and any remaining years are stretched over twice the number of years remaining plus one as described above. For example, if the player is waived on December 1 with two seasons remaining on his contract at $10.2 million and $10.5 million, respectively, then the current season (at $10.2 million) is paid normally, and the final season (at $10.5 million) is stretched over three years (one season times two, plus one) and paid in even amounts of $3.5 million per year.
Thus, the Lakers get the opportunity to compensate Nash with smaller payments over the course of a few years. This is not the case of the franchise being cheap, mind you.
This would be a means to increase the projected salary cap for a great 2014 free-agency class. Indeed, by extending the payment of the salary over a few years, the Lakers can elect to also stretch out the cap hit to match.
By cutting Nash, the Lakers would obtain roughly a total $30 million in cap relief provided they renounced all of their other free agents in 2014.
The Los Angeles Lakers obviously cannot force Nash to retire, but there is the possibility that they can sway him into doing so despite the thoughts he shared on the topic with Ben Bolch of the L.A. Times:
For me, I realize I have about 18 months left of basketball and I want the most out of this that I can possibly get and I don't know if that's going to be one game or the vast majority of what's left, but I have a long life without basketball, so I don't want to give in too soon. I want to try to make the most of this opportunity to play if I can.
Still, Nash’s physical state might not allow him to return, and as a result, convincing him to call it quits might not be the worst thing in the world for Los Angeles.
His salary will still count against the salary cap unless his injury is determined to be career-ending. Given his age, that is not exactly a huge leap. Eric Pincus of the L.A. Times suggested as such:
Should the Lakers' back specialist, Dr. Robert Watkins, determine that any additional effort by Nash to play would constitute a medically unacceptable risk, the veteran point guard may end his career via forced medical retirement.
A medical retirement could provide the Lakers with potentially around $33 million in salary-cap space to pursue a free agent at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. That would allow Bryant to compete for a championship in the twilight of his career.
Trade Steve Nash to Toronto
Toronto must be awful in order to secure as many ping pong balls as possible, but for the sake of fandom, the team must also be entertaining. The Raptors were nearly a top-10 team in terms of home attendance last season, but the exodus of talent might cause a decline in interest.
That’s where Nash comes in. He is the face of Canada Basketball as well as its general manager. Playing for the league’s lone Canadian franchise would certainly get fans to come out and support the Raptors.
The Lakers probably would take whatever they can get, but one has to assume they would try to trim the payroll. Therefore, they can trade for an expiring contract (Lowry) or a player with a non-guaranteed deal for 2014-2015 (John Salmons or Amir Johnson).
Wait It Out
The most sensible option for the Los Angeles Lakers is probably to wait it out. When Nash eventually rejoins the team, there is a possibility that he might be a productive player.
Hence, he might give the team some solid point guard play and even boost his trade value. The other side of the coin is that he returns and barely contributes because his body will not allow him to do so.
If such is the case, the medical retirement option will still be on the table. The majority of the choices have Nash leaving the City of Angels. Perhaps that is a telling sign of what the future holds for him.