Why Steve Nash Is Expected to Get One Last Chance to Salvage LA Lakers Career

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Why Steve Nash Is Expected to Get One Last Chance to Salvage LA Lakers Career
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — It’ll sound like a fairy tale to Los Angeles Lakers fans who’ve known only frustration as he nears his end, but once upon a time, Steve Nash was a young man.

Perhaps thinking of him that way instead of trying to explain all the tedious hours of workouts and treatments he’s doing in hopes of extending his career will help convey just how much Nash loves to play.

And the fact is, as of this time, Nash will get one last chance to play next season with the Lakers, who are not planning a free-agent spending spree this summer and are therefore thinking it does not make sense to use the stretch provision to waive Nash.

The Lakers would rather be done with the entirety of Nash’s $9.7 million salary next year if they’re not planning on spending much next season, as opposed to stretching that money across the next three seasons if they waive him and suffer future burdens.

That decision by the Lakers would give Nash one last season to get his body as right as possible, control the nerve-root irritation sapping his back and legs, and try to go out on something close to his terms.

“Yeah,” Nash said Tuesday night about the Lakers letting him play it out next season. “It sounds like it.”

If the Lakers change their mind and waive Nash, he intends to retire: “That would be it,” he said. “I’ll either be back here or I’ll be done.”

If he is granted this reprieve, though...

“It means that anything is still possible,” Nash said.

Right there, that’s him. That’s the little boy who still kicks and jumps and dreams deep inside this 40-year-old shell of an MVP.

No one gets to be 14 going on 40 or vice versa, but this pure spirit of perseverance—or simple hardheadedness—is nothing new for Nash.

When he was barely a teen, Nash decided on his own that it was time for him to play again. He got some contraband scissors to cut off the cast from his broken arm. He enlisted buddy Adam Miller to help pull the cast off, a scene that was akin to a wrestling title match: the two boys versus the cast.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

They got it off. And Nash played in his night-league basketball game that night.

If you Lakers fans are appalled at the lengths Nash is going to in order to keep playing now, you have no idea how Nash’s mom felt that night.

Nash is well beyond assuming anything with how his body heals now, and he was still cautious when discussing what he acknowledged looks to be one good tiding coming his way if the Lakers don’t cut him.

He did allow himself to smile about it.

“If I can get healthy and come back,” he said, “it’d be great.”

For the Lakers’ purposes, Nash being able to contribute next season would lessen the bust of his acquisition only slightly. The losing hedges with Dwight Howard and Nash are severely limiting the Lakers’ rebuilding options now, and as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said last month, the one thing the franchise cannot afford is to gamble again and lose.

To Kupchak, paying maximum dollars to star players who the Lakers are not certain can deliver championship performances would be bad business—and is, in fact, exactly what has happened in New York with the Knicks struggling despite having Carmelo Anthony.

So don’t expect to see Anthony or Chris Bosh—if he opts out of his Miami Heat contract—getting epic offers from the Lakers.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Everything goes out the window if LeBron James opts out of his Heat contract and is interested in the Lakers this summer, but otherwise the Lakers plan to piece a roster together again next season around Kobe Bryant and save their cap space for 2015 free agents such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and maybe James.

Next season’s Lakers roster could look a lot like this season’s—presumably with Bryant healthy and Pau Gasol gone. The Lakers appreciate they need to maintain some continuity to improve next season, and few of the current players have proved themselves conclusively to deserve big paydays from other clubs.

Noah Graham/Getty Images

The Lakers can, and look as if they should, lock up athletic newcomer Kent Bazemore by making him a qualifying offer of $1.1 million for next season, turning him into a restricted free agent. The only other players the Lakers already control and can keep for sure, if they so desire, are Bryant, Nash, Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre and Kendall Marshall.

Everyone else can be free, including Jordan Farmar.

Effective Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Farmar is likely to get the nod from Mike D’Antoni as the Lakers’ starting point guard the rest of the season. There’s a much greater chance Farmar does well and heads into next season as a Lakers lynchpin than Nash makes it back on the court this season.

There’s no way for the Lakers to count on Nash giving anyone anything. However, if Nash is staying on the roster next season, then at least he still has a chance.

“I’ll give it my best effort,” he said, “and hopefully put this behind me.”

If only because the alternative is so inglorious—the Lakers waiving him via that stretch provision this offseason, ending Nash’s career against his will—this might be the best break Nash has gotten since joining the Lakers in 2012.

Nash still wants to stay on, and now the Lakers want him to stay on—albeit for somewhat backward reasons. They’re on the same page. Sort of.

“We’ll see,” Nash said in conclusion. “We’ll see personally; we’ll see what happens with the club.”

And with those words, the little boy withdrew again.

He has valid reason to doubt he’ll be allowed to come out and play again. With or without a cast, he has learned he had better protect himself.

No, Nash isn’t going from 40 to a fearless 14 again.

No one ever does.

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