Forty-year-old Steve Nash is heading into what will presumably be his 19th season in the NBA. He is still trying to get back to good health after dealing with persistent nerve root irritation and hamstring problems stemming from a broken leg, compounded by years of degenerative spinal disc issues.
The Los Angeles Lakers would dearly love to have Nash back and playing at a functional level. But what’s Plan B if that doesn’t come to pass?
Twice the league’s Most Valuable Player and an eight-time All-Star to boot, Nash appeared in just 15 games this past season, averaging 6.8 points and 5.7 assists.
During a recent conference call to promote his annual charity soccer showdown in New York City, Nash spoke optimistically about his recovery, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
I feel great right now. I’ve been able to pretty much go without limitations. I’m obviously not trying to overdo it so I can allow that nerve to settle down perhaps and be less irritating. It has worked so far, but I would hate to say this is where it will be like once I join the rigors of an NBA schedule.
Therein lies the problem—the rigors of an 82-game schedule, plus playoffs if you make it that far, all while dealing with chronic back pain?
Nash is one of the few Lakers on the roster for next season. That doesn’t mean he’s the only point guard, however. Rookie Jordan Clarkson, selected by the Lakers at No. 46, will have a non-guaranteed contract. Kendall Marshall, who played 54 games for the Lakers this season after being plucked out of the D-League, also has an unguaranteed deal.
Both Clarkson and Marshall will be playing for the Lakers’ Summer League squad in Las Vegas. The team’s first game will be Friday against the Toronto Raptors.
Clarkson, a 6’5” slasher, has blow-by speed as well as the size to create mismatches on both ends of the floor. What he doesn’t yet have is a reliable jump shot. Marshall has tremendous court vision and remarkable passing skills but also needs to develop a more consistent outside shot.
Another name that has come up lately is Isaiah Thomas of the Sacramento Kings—a scoring dervish who averaged 20.3 points this season and is currently a restricted free agent. The Kings have the right to match any offers, but it’s unclear just how high they’ll go—if at all.
According to Ailene Voisin for The Sacramento Bee, the Kings were initially willing to offer Thomas $5 million to $6 million but balked at the $8 million to $9 million he is reportedly seeking. Now that Sacramento has signed Darren Collison—a cheaper, more pass-willing option—Thomas may be a goner.
And while it’s easy to imagine the Lakers’ interest in Thomas as a reasonably priced offensive spark plug, the 5’9” over-dribbling guard could be a questionable fit as a starter alongside Kobe Bryant in a half-court system.
One player who does have the Bryant stamp of approval is free agent Steve Blake, who was traded from the Lakers to the Golden State Warriors in February for young shooting guards Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks.
Blake was hampered by an elbow injury this season, but during 27 games with the Lakers, he averaged 9.5 points, 7.6 assists and 1.3 steals. He also shot 40 percent from behind the arc. Now, there are signs that he could be coming back, with Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA noting that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak recently reached out to the point guard’s representatives.
Meanwhile, the Lakers chose not to make a qualifying offer to Bazemore in order to preserve as much salary flexibility as possible during free agency. The second-year swingman averaged 13.1 points through 23 games along with 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals. Los Angeles isn’t shutting the door on bringing him back.
Another interesting possibility is DeAndre Kane, a versatile and fiery 6’4” point guard out of Iowa State who went unchosen on draft night. Kane, who is part of the Lakers’ Summer League roster, has good size, strength and athleticism. One of the major knocks on him leading up to the draft was his age at 25 years old—the idea being that he might have less potential upside. Nonetheless, scouts will be taking a long, hard look in Vegas.
And finally, there’s Rodrigue Beaubois, the French point guard who showed so much potential for the Dallas Mavericks during his rookie season in 2009, only to break his foot the following summer during international play. After rehabbing from two foot surgeries, Beaubois broke his hand and eventually wound up back overseas. He, too, is on the Lakers’ Vegas roster.
The Lakers’ first choice for now remains Nash—he’s under contract for one more year and is, after all, a point guard legend. Given his well-chronicled frailties, however, Plan B will be not dissimilar to last season—a platoon of modestly priced options from rookie to veteran and the hopes that last year’s injury bug doesn’t return to decimate the ranks once again.