During a season mired in uncertainty and diminished expectations, Nash, proof that fountains of youth existed not two years ago, has become the darkest spot of the Lakers' darkest hour.
Midway through L.A.'s Tuesday night loss to the Utah Jazz, Nash fell victim to a familiar villain, per Lakers.com's Mike Trudell:
Steve Nash is out for the second half with nerve root irritation, the same issue that's plagued him all season.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) February 12, 2014
It was just Nash's 10th appearance of the season, and he couldn't even get through it. He couldn't even get through the one before it.
In a loss to the Chicago Bulls, Nash was unsurprisingly forced to exit with nerve irritation in his left knee. For a brief second, sighs of utter disbelief were partially drowned out by Nash's never-waning optimism.
"I don't think it's going to be a long-term thing at all," Nash said afterward, via the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan. "It wasn't like I broke it again. I just kind of irritated the nerve...I think it's kind of transient and hopefully I'll wake up [Monday] and feel better."
So much for it being "transient." His body went from bad to worse in a matter of minutes—less than 17, in fact.
Not that his latest brush with injury is surprising. Before now, we knew. Even when Nash celebrated his 40th birthday with 19 points and five assists, we knew. Nash was done. Nash is done. Now, his future in Los Angeles must follow suit.
The loss to Utah hurt the Lakers in more ways than one. They not only lost Nash again, but as the Los Angeles Times' Eric Pincus reminds us, they crossed an important, unsavory threshold:
Because he played in his 10th game Tuesday, if Nash were forced to retire due to medical reasons, his salary wouldn't come off the Lakers' books for a full year from his final game played (February 2015).
At nine games (or fewer), Nash's salary would come off a full year after his final game played last season -- which might have opened up additional spending power for the Lakers in free agency in July. In either cash [sic] Nash would receive his full salary.
Unlike some teams, the Lakers aren't hurting for money. They have the ability to create $20 million-plus in cap space this summer, which means (almost) no free agent is out of their price range. But Nash is owed $9.7 million next season, and no team, however financially sound, wants to pay nearly eight figures for someone who cannot play.
That $9.7 million could be used elsewhere, handed to a player who addresses actual needs. Remove Nash's contract from the ledger and suddenly the Lakers are looking at under $30 million in salary commitments, not including cap and draft-pick holds.
Having even more flexibility is ideal for obvious reasons. For the Lakers, though, it's become a necessity.
Kobe Bryant's window is closing. The Lakers (likely) have two years to get him that sixth ring. In order to make the most of his remaining days, more stars—yes, plural—must be brought in. That becomes harder, nigh impossible to do with Nash collecting paychecks he's not earning.
Put it this way: Nash's $9.7 million salary would account for almost all the cash flow Los Angeles needs to sign a Luol Deng, potentially leaving the Lakers with enough money to pair him and Bryant with someone like Kevin Love in 2015. Or even Carmelo Anthony in 2014, provided he takes a slight pay cut.
Is this getting ahead of the game? Absolutely, but that's exactly what the Lakers need to do. They must think that far ahead. They need players who can play, not those being betrayed by their bodies nightly.
Now that they've crossed this particular juncture, waiving Nash becomes an option. It's their only option.
Unable to play, Nash holds little to no trade value, not even as an expiring contract next season. Waiving him using the stretch provision saves them some money and is something Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding told Adam Lefkoe the Lakers will consider:
None of this is an indictment of Nash, a future Hall of Famer and all-around good guy. But his reputation and likable personality aren't enough anymore. His resolve isn't enough anymore.
"I didn't think I was [sound enough] to play but we had so few guys," Nash told the Los Angeles Times' Ben Bolch after being yanked against Utah. "I think it's a minor setback."
There are no minor setbacks at this point. Nash's laundry list of injuries—which include neck, back, knee, hip and ankle issues since arriving in Los Angeles—is only growing. At his age, he won't suddenly become healthy. He's been suffering enough to where this is the new status quo, and it's one the Lakers cannot accept.
"Basically, I've worked out twice a day for 10 months just so I can try to get back on the floor," Nash told Bolch. "One, I love the game and want to be a part of this team, and two, it's my job."
Continued resilience is admirable and surefire proof Nash isn't prepared to retire, which, for the Lakers, is a bad thing. They need the money Nash is owed, the roster spot he's taking up.
What should the Lakers do with Steve Nash?
They need to move on from one of the game's greats, who while psychologically sound is approaching physically incapable.
"Some days it sucks," Nash admitted to Bolch.
Right now, it sucks. Nash's body will never catch up to his heart, reducing him to a liability Los Angeles can no longer afford.
Whatever hopes the Lakers placed on him last year quickly fell by the wayside. Any confidence placed in him this season perished just as swiftly. Ten unremarkable appearances into 2013-14, all faith and potential is gone, lost beneath the remains of plans and ambitions that Nash's abrupt, now slow and unforgiving demise helped destroy.
*Salary information via ShamSports.