Why It's Finally Time for Steve Nash to Walk Away from the NBA

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 10, 2014

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It's painful to even consider telling Steve Nash he should walk away from basketball.

He's been around too long and played too well for anyone from the outside to have that right. Athletes have ridiculously short careers compared to the rest of us anyway, and it's not fair to force them out if they still have the desire to work.

So consider this more of a request than a demand: Mr. Nash, it's time to think about hanging it up.

You recently moved into third place on the NBA's all-time assists list on April 8, fighting through yet another tweaked nerve and playing with a leg you described to Mike D'Antoni as "on fire," per Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles.

That's a remarkable achievement. One that provided historical context for your greatness and showed you're still beloved by fans who've had almost no reason to cheer this season:

And it provoked an outpouring of support from your younger teammates, each of whose comments made specific mention of your quality as a person and player:

After the game, you expressed doubt about playing again this season. But as usual, you couldn't do it without stating a desire to continue, per McMenamin: "Since I had a pretty good setback today, I probably won't play again [this season]. But if I get a good recovery over the next week, I'd love to play again."

Again, it's not for any of us to say you should see the latest setback for what it probably is: more proof your body simply won't allow you to play at the level you (and we) remember. Everyone wants to leave the game on their own terms, and you're fully within your rights to try.

But nobody ever goes out that way.

Your body has been shouting at you for two years, dictating its terms in the form of nerve damage, an unstable back and ongoing lower-body issues. Were it not for a close-enough-to-touch assist record, there's a good chance you would have packed in this season long ago. Per McMenamin, D'Antoni described the surreal conversation before your final assist:

"He came to me during a timeout and said he tweaked it and his hamstring's on fire. And then I go, 'Well, you want out?' And he goes, 'If I come out, I might never go back in.' So, I go, 'Well, OK, so it's either the record or we'll carry you off the floor.' And that's kind of the way it went."

That record isn't a high point by any stretch. Not compared to the MVP awards and 50-40-90 seasons you amassed. But it's becoming increasingly difficult to envision a future in which there'll be a better moment.

As the Los Angeles Lakers strive to carve out a new era, there might not be a place for nostalgia like we all enjoyed when you threw that lead pass to Jodie Meeks for the record. And after two full seasons of nothing but distractions, there might not be room for yet another year of "will he, won't he" drama surrounding your health, return to the floor and contract.

Chris Carlson

The Lakers can utilize the stretch provision this summer, effectively spreading the final year and $9.7 million of your contract over the next three seasons. In doing so, they'll have a chance to use that savings to populate the roster with younger players.

Perhaps they won't make that decision out of respect for you and the way you've soldiered on for two seasons amid never-ending injury woes. But don't make them do that. Don't make them treat you with something as unbefitting as mercyor worse, pity.

If you retire now, conventional thinking says you'll forfeit that $9.7 million, something you've said explicitly is a motivation for continuing your career. But Yahoo! Sports' Kelly Dwyer isn't so sure you'll lose out on that money if you walk away voluntarily:

The checks come no matter what, and even if Steve Nash were to call it quits this July, the Lakers would still be able to finagle their insurers and find language that would let Nash receive the full amount of the $9.7 million that is left on his contract following this season. Those who call into radio shows to profess the opposite of this just don’t understand how NBA finances work.

You've earned your money, and it seems you might get it whether you play again or not.

There's some ambiguity there, and if it's true you won't be paid upon retirement, nobody can begrudge you for collecting the cash the Lakers promised to pay you. But do you really want to take that money if it means watching the already divided Los Angeles fanbase turn on you completely?

If it happens, it won't be reasonable or fair. Mob mentalities never are.

But there's something in Lakers fans' DNA that prevents a majority of them from taking out their frustration on Kobe Bryant, no matter how much worse his contract is for the team's future than your own. So they'll look to you as a scapegoat. They'll bury you for being "greedy" and "selfish."

Rich Pedroncelli

Moments like the one you had after notching that assist record won't happen next year. Not with a fanbase that sees you as an obstacle to progress.

Even if you somehow slow your body's decline and return to play a meaningful role next year, you still won't be the kind of player you once were. You won't be the kind of player you want to be.

So take the events of April 8 for what they were: a sentimental sendoff that happened to coincide with yet another signal from your body that it was time to call it quits.

Per McMenamin, D'Antoni said:

"It's too bad everything comes to an end, and he's had a great career," D'Antoni said after the game, adding several times he felt "lucky" to have coached the eight-time All-Star in both Phoenix and L.A.

"It was great he got that tonight. You hate that he has to do it on one leg. He was literally playing on one leg tonight."

In a perfect world, you'd play forever, and we'd all be lucky to watch. It's too late for this story to have a perfect ending, but it can still have a happy one—if you're willing to write it.