Every basketball fan knows what a disaster Steve Nash has been for the Los Angeles Lakers—one injury after another and limited playing time. Next season will be the third and final year in the future Hall of Famer’s current contract.
Experts can argue his place in history, but the two-time MVP certainly changed the way the point guard position is viewed, combining creative pinpoint passing with deadly accuracy as a shooter.
His best days are of course behind him now. What will next season bring? More games missed and a continued drop-off in effectiveness?
Leading up to the NBA draft, Nash acknowledged that the Lakers might try packaging him with the No. 7 pick for a trade, per Chris Branch for HuffPost Live: "If the opportunity came for them to package where they could get something for the future, that makes a lot of sense for them.”
That didn’t happen—the Lakers instead drafted power forward Julius Randle at No. 7 and also bought a second-round pick from the Washington Wizards, selecting Jordan Clarkson, a rangy point guard out of Missouri.
Now, the front office has moved past the draft into the summer’s free-agency period and is in hot pursuit of the two biggest stars on the market—LeBron James of the Miami Heat and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks.
According to Dave McMenamin and Ramona Shelburne for ESPN LA, Lakers top brass met with Anthony in Los Angeles on Thursday. Management made it clear it was prepared to offer the maximum four-year, $95 million contract. The two sides also discussed what would be involved in lesser deals in order to sign James as well.
An integral part of pitching both James and Anthony is the idea of pairing either or both of them with not only Kobe Bryant, but ultra-skilled center Pau Gasol as well. And of course, Gasol is the Lakers' top free agent this summer and currently the subject of league-wide interest.
According to Bill Simmons of Grantland, the Lakers made a major impression on Anthony.
And, according to Shelburne and Chris Broussard for ESPN, James is “giving similar consideration to what the Lakers have to offer.”
But what does all of this have to do with Nash?
It has plenty to do with him. The reforming of a roster is not just isolated circumstances—it’s an interconnected series of moving parts.
First, there are certain financial realities. The Lakers could sign either James or Anthony to a max contract and Gasol at a reduced rate. Signing all three, however, would take serious sacrifices from everyone involved.
One way to free up extra salary space would be waiving Nash and using the league’s stretch provision to spread out his $9.7 million salary over three years, thus giving the team around $6 million per year to divvy up between incoming stars.
But then, who plays point guard?
If Nash is waived and the team uses all its available resources to sign any combination of the above-referenced free agents, then only one option remains when it comes to filling out the rest of the roster: the league-mandated minimum veteran’s salary.
At the point guard position, the Lakers would have Clarkson—their second-round draft pick—and perhaps Kendall Marshall if they exercise their option on him. Any other guard help would have to come from minimum-salary players.
Is that what the team really wants as it contends for a championship—an essentially minor talent as the floor general, directing a squad of All-Stars?
Or, might all involved sacrifice just a little more in order to retain Nash—one of the best point guards to ever play the game—directing traffic and spreading the wealth with his legendary passing ability?
The risk, of course, is that Nash would simply be the same player he has been for the past two seasons—injured and ineffective.
And what if none of the superstar free agents sign with Los Angeles? Then it becomes a simpler situation—management simply hangs onto him in hopes he can contribute, and if not, looks to trade him as an expiring contract later in the season.
There would also be ample money available to sign second-tier free agents under the fewer-superstars scenario.
Per Mark Medina for the Los Angeles Daily News, the 18-year veteran recently spoke about the recovery from persistent nerve damage that limited him to 15 games last season: “I feel great right now. I’ve been able to pretty much go without limitations.”
But for how long?
The Steve Nash question doesn’t have just one answer or one ending at the moment, although there will be a definitive ending at some point in the near future.
There are too many scenarios at present to predict an accurate outcome. There are too many parts involved, and the circumstances are intrinsically interwoven.
It’s like the lyrics to the old spiritual song: “The shin bone is connected to the knee bone, and the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone.”
Except Nash’s bones are old and brittle, and for that matter, Bryant and Gasol’s bones are also aging rapidly.
The Lakers could put together what would seem to be a powerful amalgamation of stars and find themselves right back in the same situation as two years ago, when the arrival of Nash and Dwight Howard was assumed to bring great things. Instead, a series of injuries, mishaps and events began, ultimately leading to where we are now—a stripped-down roster and a fork in the road.
Management can either forge ahead with a slow, youth-driven rebuild or roll the dice with veteran stars.
Ultimately, elite talents are too rarefied to ignore. If the Lakers can land one or more major pieces during this summer’s free-agency period, they will bite the financial bullet and go for greatness.
Nash could be nothing more than a way to free up the last necessary dollar signs. But for those who love to watch good basketball, it is tantalizing to imagine his career coming to a more fitting close as he uses his talent and experience to feed other legends of the game, all working toward a goal that is every bit as elusive as the fading of heath and time—an NBA championship.