Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash isn't ignorant to what his future holds. He knows the Lakers need someone who can play close to everyday, he knows his body is failing him, and at 40 years old, he knows that bouncing back from injuries and nerve damage isn't going to be easy.
Nash is at a point every player reaches in their career. He has to decide if it's worth all the pain and all the work going forward to fight a decidedly uphill battle.
In Grantland's documentary series "The Finish Line", Nash has been open and honest about his intentions. He wants to leave on his own terms, and he wants to keep playing because of the money.
Nash is due $9.7 million next year. Unless he retires, he'll receive the salary he's due. Nash knows this.
He also knows that the Lakers may use the stretch provision on him, which would allow the Lakers to pay him $3.23 million over the next three seasons instead of in one lump sum.
In Grantland's series, Nash acknowledged what seems like the most likely end to his career.
"I'd imagine that's the outcome," Nash told his agent, Bill Duffy.
"If the Lakers release me this summer this is it. 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."
Essentially, Nash has placed the future of his career with the Lakers. He's planning on playing next year, but if the Lakers do use the stretch provision on him, he'll call it quits.
Nash is making the best financial decision by doing that, and the Lakers might have to follow suit. Here's what Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com about Nash's situation.
"We have to see where we are next summer," Kupchak said when asked about the possibility of using the stretch provision. "A lot of is going to be based on what Steve says and what we see. If he's out there playing at a high level and he's working during the summer at a high level, that'll be a factor in what we do."
Even if Nash looks good in workouts, it's going to be tough for the Lakers to justify hanging on to him at the price point of $9.7 million.
Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni has shown plenty of times in the past that he can take unheralded point guards like Jeremy Lin and Kendall Marshall and turn them into productive players in his system. With that in mind, it's not clear how much of an upgrade Nash would be over Marshall or another pickup, even if he were to enjoy consistent health at his advanced age.
Basically, point guard is the one position the Lakers really can't afford to pay a major salary to at this stage.
That being said, Nash would have at least some value as an expiring contract next year if the Lakers chose to keep him on board. While it's highly doubtful a team would be acquiring him for his play, the Lakers could use Nash as a salary match or relief for a team looking to get rid of a long-term deal.
The main issue with that, however, is that the Lakers would then have about $6 million less in free agency to play with. Because of the size of Kobe Bryant's two-year contract extension worth $48.5 million, every bit of available cap space is important if the Lakers want to attract premium talent this offseason.
With Nash's full salary on the books, that becomes more difficult, particularly if the goal is a veteran max player like Carmelo Anthony.
According to Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding, however, signing a max free agent this offseason may not be the priority.
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.
Even if the Lakers don't have plans of going after max players, it makes sense to leave the door open. Besides, cap space provides flexibility, even if it's not going to be used on a free agent. For example, the Utah Jazz were able to land two future first-round picks last season from the Golden State Warriors just for taking on a few big expiring deals.
Simply put, the best case scenario with Nash just isn't good enough. Even if he and Bryant magically return to the level they were playing at three years ago, then what? Will the Lakers have enough to contend for a title in a stacked Western Conference? Probably not.
It's hard to say it, but the $6 million in cap space gained by stretching Nash offers a higher ceiling than Nash does, even if eats into the 2015 offseason cap room a bit. The Lakers need to find ways to restock the cupboard and play for the future, and stretching Nash can present opportunities to accomplish that.
Effectively ending the career of a legend like Nash won't be fun or easy, but it's what's best for business.
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