Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash was officially ruled out for the remainder of the season on Thursday, a move that will undoubtedly reignite the conversation surrounding the future Hall of Famer's future.
Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times provides a statement from Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni:
Mike D'Antoni officially closes the door on Steve Nash returning this season for the Lakers. "He's not going to play."— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) March 13, 2014
Nash, 40, played in only 10 games this season while dealing with numerous injuries tied to nerve damage suffered when he broke his leg in 2012-13. He has been dealing with issues with his back, leg and multiple other maladies since signing with the Lakers before last season, playing in just a total of 60 games with the team.
Nash most recently returned to the lineup for a four-game stretch in early February, but let the team's Feb. 11 loss to the Utah Jazz early and has not returned. D'Antoni indicated on Mar. 3 that he didn't expect Nash to return this season, but would not go as far as to rule him out entirely:
Mike D'Antoni says he "doubts" Steve Nash plays again this season, but wouldn't rule him out— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) March 3, 2014
The decision to pull the plug now is far from unexpected. The Lakers are competing more for pingpong balls in the lottery at this point than wins, and are working on developing multiple young pieces. Kendall Marshall has stepped into the starting lineup and provided a spark as a passer, while youngsters like Kent Bazemore have also gotten ample playing time.
With Kobe Bryant also on the sidelines, Nash's usefulness for the rest of the season was minimal from a team standpoint.
As for Nash, though, one has to wonder whether he'll ever step on an NBA floor again. He has one season remaining on his contract at $9.7 million and has indicated he would like to return if the Lakers will have him. However, it's unclear what the team's ultimate plan is for now.
The NBA's collective bargaining agreement allows for teams to release players and stretch their cap it over multiple seasons, the so-called stretch provision. If the Lakers release Nash between July 1 and Aug. 31, Nash's cap hold would be a third of that $9.7 million over each of the next three years. It's an obvious consideration for general manager Mitch Kupchak and the franchise, as Los Angeles is unlikely to want to go through a second straight downtrodden season.
Nash gets paid the $9.7 million regardless, and he would be free to sign with another team in free agency. But he's given no indication he plans on doing so. In an ongoing documentary series chronicling his season on Grantland, Nash indicated he would retire if the Lakers released him.
"If the Lakers release me this summer this is it," Nash said. "You know, I finally got my kids here in L.A., I'm not going to move them again, and I'm not going to be without them for another year. So, it's either back with the Lakers next year or I'm done."
Of course, one could easily point out there is another franchise that occupies the same building as the Lakers. It's unclear whether the Clippers would have interest in bringing Nash in as a role player behind Chris Paul (and vice versa), but he's an upgrade over Darren Collison—even in this dilapidated state. Assuming the Lakers use the stretch provision, the Clippers and Nash should at least explore the possibility.
For now, the future is entirely uncertain. Nash is one of the best offensive point guards in league history, so it would almost be a shame to see him go out like this. Too often we discuss the end of great players' careers with melancholy, wondering what could have been had they walked away at the right time. Willie Mays will always have his Mets seasons, and Michael Jordan his Wizards years (which weren't as bad as people make them out to be, but whatever).
Is Steve Nash, Lakers the next to join that list? We'll find out soon. But what's certain is that his season is over before it ever really got the chance to begin.
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