America loves a comeback story, even when it's a Canadian. Steve Nash tried to overcome back issues in 2014, but it was always a long shot. In my article just before his return, I detailed why it would be so problematic and unlikely.
Lower-back injuries that have gone chronic are seldom easy to conquer. When they involve nerves rather than just structural components, it's even harder. For a high-effort, older player like Nash, it's even tougher.
The Los Angeles Lakers medical staff has been able to get Nash on the court, but there's something of a wave pattern to the recovery. With each game, Nash's back is knocked down a few levels and it necessitates a lot of work to get him ready for the next game. Back-to-back games or even just a day or two in between outings means he's not returning to his previous level.
As the wave continues to lose capacity, with him unable to fully recover between starts, the nerve impingement just gets worse. Impact and even mere gravity work against any of the rehab, introducing new stresses on that area and in others due to compensation. Problems with his knees and legs have only further complicated matters.
There's not much more that can be done to offer Nash comfort and allow him to remain competitive. Down the line, Nash might need a surgical fix, but it's more likely that he'll be able to live a normal life once the physical demands from basketball aren't exacerbating the condition.
The latest news, via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, acknowledges the reality.
Will Steve Nash return this season? "I doubt it," D'Antoni said. Wants minutes to go to younger guards, plus Nash still not feeling right.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) March 3, 2014
The work that Nash and the Lakers staff have to put in has gone past that point where it's worth the expenditures of time and effort. With the team well out of playoff contention, winning doesn't have the same value to the franchise.
In addition, the team is closer to getting Kobe Bryant back. As expected, his return from a minor fracture to the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee has been conservatively managed. With Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid likely at the top of this upcoming draft class, every lottery ball counts, even if a team won't come out and say that's its ultimate goal.
Players like Nash and Bryant are ultracompetitive, and at times, matching that tendency with reality is difficult. Looking in the mirror or hearing a doctor tell them that they can't do something is likely to be heard as a challenge more than a diagnosis. With young players taking their playing time now, their reaction is going to be even stronger.
But there may be hope for Nash. Kurt Helin of NBC's Pro Basketball Talk explains:
Don’t be surprised if they bring him back, however. The fact is unless the Miami trio decide to break up — and that is highly unlikely — this is not a great free agent summer.
Still, time and injury sap even the greatest. If Nash isn't able to return this season or even in the future, there's not much that will take away from his Hall of Fame resume. What he's been able to do in a Lakers uniform didn't enhance it, but we tend to forgive the great for sticking around past their prime. Nash is no different.