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What Do LA Lakers Still Need from Steve Nash?

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIJanuary 24, 2014

What Do LA Lakers Still Need from Steve Nash?

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash hasn’t played in a game since Nov. 10 against the Minnesota Timberwolves due to nerve root irritation in his back.

    He’s missed 37 games (35 straight), but the veteran floor general may return to the court next Tuesday, according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times via Twitter.

    Although that’s good news for head coach Mike D’Antoni—who has used 21 different starting lineups to compensate for injuries—fans would be wise to temper any and all expectations relating to the two-time MVP.

    Simply put, Nash is no longer the player he was with the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks. The 39-year-old’s body has started to betray him since moving to Los Angeles. In just six games played before shutting things down to rehab his back, Nash averaged 6.7 points, 4.8 assists and 1.5 rebounds for a player efficiency rating of 6.58—league-average PER is about 15.

    Frankly, Nash looked like a shell of himself. There’s no reason to believe he’ll suddenly return to form, but the Lakers can still set expectations at an appropriate level prior to his return date.

    The pick-and-roll maestro should still be able to accomplish some goals during his comeback.

6. Provide Veteran Presence

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Without Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar suiting up, the only true veteran presence on this Lakers squad who receives regular court time is Pau Gasol.

    The seven-foot Spaniard has spent time quarreling with Coach D’Antoni over his role in the offense, so he hasn’t exactly been providing the youngsters with professionalism in that regard.

    Nash, on the other hand, can act as a coach on the court surrounded by young players like Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson and Jodie Meeks. He’s extremely familiar with D’Antoni’s coaching style from his days in Phoenix, so he should be able to bring a calm demeanor that will benefit the team’s offense.

    Even during his prime, Nash was always looking to set up teammates for scores rather than get buckets himself. His play style will allow for plenty of ball movement, which should get three-point shooters like Nick Young and Ryan Kelly even more open looks.

5. Secure Shoddy Point Guard Spot

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Injury woes for Nash, Blake and Farmar meant that the Lakers were poised to move forward without a healthy point guard. That led to signings of Kendall Marshall and Corperryale L’Adorable “Manny” Harris (yes, that’s his real name).

    While Marshall has revitalized his NBA career under Coach D’Antoni by averaging 9.8 points and 9.3 assists, adding another point guard to the rotation should help spell cold stretches for the offense.

    Now when Marshall heads to the bench, Nash will be able to take the reins and lead the charge in much the same way. Both are pass-first point guards who have the ability to knock down three-point shots.

    The Lakers still need Blake and Farmar to get healthy to provide any sort of depth in the backcourt, but adding at least one more body should aid an undoubtedly fatigued squad midway through the season.

4. Play 10-20 Minutes Per Game

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    It’s simply not realistic to think Nash can play 25-35 minutes per game after this most recent back issue kept him sidelined for more than two months.

    A far more accurate number for the aging point guard in terms of minutes per game would be somewhere in the 10-20 range. In other words, Nash should be placed on the Greg Oden plan.

    The former No. 1 overall pick—now a member of the Miami Heat—has played eight minutes, five minutes, six minutes and 10 minutes in four appearances. Head coach Erik Spoelstra is utilizing a very cautious approach, because the 26-year-old big man hadn’t played in the NBA since 2009-10 with the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Nash probably won’t be able to tolerate a big workload upon his return, so D’Antoni needs to make sure he monitors his minutes.

    In two- to five-minute stretches throughout games, Nash should be able to get comfortable physically.

3. Stay Healthy the Rest of the Way

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    “I know I can get healthy. It’s a matter of, ‘Can I sustain it?’”

    That’s what Nash said earlier this month, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, and it has become the million-dollar question. Or, in this case, the $9,300,500 question—which is Nash’s 2013-14 salary.

    It’s progress enough to see Nash set to return after months on the sidelines, but whether or not he can stay healthy throughout the remainder of the season remains to be seen.

    After rehabbing from a torn Achilles he suffered in April, Kobe Bryant returned to the court for six games but fractured the lateral tibial plateau in his left leg against the Memphis Grizzlies. He hasn’t been back since.

    Bryant suffered a huge setback with the broken leg, and Jordan Farmar suffered a setback of his own with a hamstring that has nagged him since December.

    The Lakers can ill afford another obstacle among players that are just trying to stay on the court.

    Nash is set to return to the hardwood. The question is, can he stay there?

2. Help Kendall Marshall Develop

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    After the sign-and-trade deal that sent Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Phoenix Suns were in need of a new point guard. Former general manager Lance Blanks drafted Kendall Marshall out of the University of North Carolina with the 13th overall pick in the 2012 draft.

    The rookie had some bright moments in Phoenix, but he was traded to the Washington Wizards a year later in the Marcin Gortat trade under new GM Ryan McDonough.

    The Wizards decided, for whatever reason, to waive him. Those circumstances led to his stint with the Lakers.

    Marshall never got the opportunity to learn under Nash in Phoenix because the two-time MVP was already gone. Now he has that chance.

    As Nash transitions into the quasi-coach portion of his NBA career, he can mold Marshall as if a Jedi would a Padawan.

1. Consider Calling It a Career

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    If Nash comes back and no longer has the capability to influence games in a positive way, it’s time for the NBA legend to consider calling it quits.

    Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal already pondered this scenario in a January article, and it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.

    If the Lakers point guard is playing through pain at this point of his career, what’s the point of sticking around? He came to L.A. to win a ring, and now the Lakers are closer to competing for the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014.

    His body has lost its resilience and faltered without the watchful eye of the Phoenix Suns legendary training staff. If he’s hurting himself, as well as the Lakers’ on-court product, it will be time for him to retire.

    However, he’s still under contract for the 2014-15 season to the tune of more than $9.7 million. As NBA analysts Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons would say, “Keep getting them checks, Steve.” But there’s no honor in that.

    To be fair, there are plenty of far more egregiously overpaid athletes in the world, and the Lakers are the only ones at fault for paying him so much money at the tail end of his career.

    With that said, Nash may not have anything to offer an NBA team anymore.

    He’s a Hall of Famer who will undoubtedly have his number retired by the Suns someday. He’s had a tremendous career, but it’s threatening to come to an end.

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