All good things must come to an end.
Steve Nash has racked up one of the most impressive resumes of any point guard who ever laced up his sneakers. He's won multiple MVPs, emerged as one of the best passers in basketball history and entertained millions of fans. If he retired today, he'd be—without question—one of the 10 best floor generals in NBA history.
In fact, he'd be sitting pretty at No. 7, with only two current players (Chris Paul and Tony Parker, who isn't yet a top-10 1-guard) owning a realistic chance of passing him in the near future:
- Magic Johnson
- Oscar Robertson
- Isiah Thomas
- John Stockton
- Bob Cousy
- Walt Frazier
- Steve Nash
- Chris Paul
- Gary Payton
- Jason Kidd
Here's the thing. Nash should retire today.
Ever since he exited that fateful Nov. 10 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Canadian point guard's 2013-14 season has been filled with plenty of trial and tribulations. There have been multiple setbacks and delayed returns, leading to a striking absence of basketball.
Guaranteed to be out during the Los Angeles Lakers' extended road trip, Nash has a chance to return to action when the team comes back to the Staples Center in early February. He's already acknowledged that it's a crucial point for evaluation, and another setback could mean bad things for his chance to suit up again in 2014.
Personally, I don't think Nash should bother waiting that long before he pulls the plug. And I say "personally" simply because this is an opinion based on legacy and Nash's future, not a medical opinion.
It's always sad when a legend hangs around for far too long, treating a new generation of fans to images of them laboring up and down the court in a seriously compromised state.
How many young NBA supporters fail to recognize just how dominant Shaquille O'Neal was because they only remember the final years of his career when he bounced around from team to team, using the regular season to play himself back into shape?
That Nash, now the oldest player in the NBA, is no longer the same player he once was is an indisputable fact. All you have to do is look at the decline of his per-36-minute numbers over the past five years if you're seeking proof.
First, the scoring went. Then, the assists. All the while, the rebounds were undergoing a steady state of decline, and that's never a good sign for an aging player.
Nash just isn't a great point guard anymore, and there's no disrespect meant in that statement.
Shortly after he joined the Lakers, he was turned into a spot-up shooter by Mike D'Antoni, ceding the ball-handling duties to Kobe Bryant. If he returns, he'll probably be the backup to a healthy Steve Blake, and he'll still function as that off-ball guard when he's on the court.
This isn't the version of Nash that we want to remember. This isn't how he wants his last days in the NBA to go.
I'd much rather have the following video ingrained in my mind, not a highlight reel that's obscured by the all-too-recent memories of the point guard struggling to do anything positive for a lottery-bound team.
To be honest, I sometimes have trouble remembering that Nash is even a member of the Lakers.
It's so much easier to remember him wearing a Dallas Mavericks or Phoenix Suns jersey. After all, those were the threads he donned during his glory days—the years that he was actually effective. Nash's first season with the Lakers was completely overshadowed by the drama surrounding Dwight Howard, and the injuries to the Mamba have once more allowed him to fly under the radar.
Coming back only serves as a reminder that he's no longer the same player.
Nash himself acknowledged the difficulties in an interview with NBA.com, calling his time with the Lakers a "nightmare" but still being careful to thank the organization that is currently employing him:
It’s been a nightmare. Having said that, I couldn’t express how much I’ve been enjoyed being a part of the organization: the front office, the staff, the fans, everybody has treated me incredibly well, better than I could have asked for. In some ways, it’s been a phenomenal experience, but as far as basketball goes, it’s just been one disappointment after another.
The point guard wants to contribute; he said as much in that interview.
However, the best way for him to contribute isn't necessarily on the basketball court. As Bleacher Report's Ehran Khan wrote when making New Year's resolutions for the Lakers:
Removing that (Nash's) cap hit from the ledger would clear more space to go after prime free agents in the offseason. Even using the stretch provision to ensure Nash gets his money would free up a nice chunk of change for the team to fill some of its holes.
Retirement allows him to contribute and preserve his legacy, thereby killing two birds with one stone. Staying with the team might not allow him to do either.
Sometimes it's difficult to remember that NBA players are human beings, not commodities for owners to employ and fans to watch on their television screens. We have to think about their lives beyond their playing careers, which is awfully tough to consider when urging them to come back from a serious injury.
2013 allowed injuries and the aftermath of playing sports to jump to the forefront of national consciousness, especially when talking about the NFL. Concussions, other brain injuries and the result of physical play take a serious toll on athletes.
I know this firsthand, as I've had to watch my father undergo countless surgeries to repair rotator cuffs, elbow ligaments, knee problems and ankle injuries, all because he played multiple sports throughout his high school and collegiate career before staying active during his adult life.
Professional athletes are obviously different beasts, but they also undergo even more stress on their bodies. Although basketball players aren't football players, this still holds true.
Have you seen Charles Barkley limping around on the Inside the NBA set?
Given his back problems, it's already tough to foresee Nash enjoying a fully healthy post-NBA life. But he doesn't have to make it even worse on himself, especially because he's already experiencing setbacks. While trying to recover, he told ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin the following:
I know I can get healthy. It's a matter of, 'Can I sustain it?' And I'm just trying to get that health under my belt for an amount of time where we feel confident that it can be sustainable is the tricky part, and that's probably going to take a little while longer than I was hoping.
If the question of sustainability sounds bad, you won't be particularly pleased by what he said later on in the piece.
When asked about the setback he experienced in December after practicing with the team, he told McMenamin:
My left leg just like shut off. I remember just shooting and couldn't feel the muscles working, and it was like fatiguing in like 10 minutes of light shooting. That's classic neuropathy. Apparently I've become a bit of an expert.
That sounds awful, and there's no telling the type of damage that he could do to his body if he did more than engage in some light shooting.
Nash has been the consummate professional throughout his career, and it's tough to point to a single thing he's done wrong. He's even been so unselfish over the past decade and a half that he's racked up 10,278 assists, more than any player in NBA history not named John Stockton, Jason Kidd or Mark Jackson.
He's allowed to do something for himself, especially if it means not compromising his health just to complete a swan song with a team that isn't really going anywhere.
"I just want to get whatever I can out of my career at this point," Nash told McMenamin, "then walk away with a smile on my face and happy to leave the game."
I just want to see him able to walk.