What Will Make Steve Nash's Final NBA Season with Los Angeles Lakers a Success?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 29, 2014

Feb 11, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash (10) dribbles the ball against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It's a rare player who gets to write the ending to his own NBA story, but if Steve Nash plays a few things right in this, his final season, there's a good chance his last chapter will be one he's happy with.

The days of assist titles and MVP trophies are done, but Nash is healthy now. Or, at least healthy enough to keep playing a little while longer.

"I think this is my last season," Nash told Sport TV.

Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News transcribed the rest: "But I still love to play, practice and work on my game. I'm going to spend hopefully many many years living this life without basketball. It'll be nice to play one more year."

The hope is that this season resembles Nash's earlier days more than it does his two most recent campaigns, when a fractured leg kicked off a chain reaction of back, hip and nerve issues that cost him a total of 99 games.

Hopes and expectations are vastly different things, though.

His 15-game sample from the 2013-14 season is simply too small to provide any real information, and we know Nash was physically rickety even in the games he played. The 50-game stint he provided in 2012-13 as part of a failed superteam isn't all that informative either. Those were some odd circumstances, marked by outsized expectations, competing agendas, coaching turmoil and miscalculated chemistry.

Because we haven't seen him perform in even remotely decent circumstances for two years, our ignorance regarding Nash is twofold. We can't know how his body will hold up, and even if it does, we have no idea how much the 40-year-old has left in the skill department.

Simply getting on the floor consistently will be a victory for Nash, but even he can't be sure that's possible.

As you can see, he's already building contingencies into his plans this year:

Realistically, that second part is more in line with what most fans expect—not just because Nash hasn't demonstrated an ability to stay on the floor but also because it makes far more sense for the Los Angeles Lakers organization if he functions as a groomer for L.A.'s younger talent.

That starts with Jeremy Lin, who, like Nash, is on the final year of his deal. Unlike the two-time MVP, though, Lin could have a future with the Lakers if he proves himself this season.

Known more as a marketing boon and object of semiobsessive fans than a pretty darn good NBA point guard, Lin has a real chance to become the Lakers' long-term answer at the 1. His career player efficiency rating of 15.5, per Basketball-Reference, is above the league average, and he has improved his three-point stroke for four years running.

At 25, and with the equivalent of just three NBA seasons under his belt, Lin could easily take another step forward. More than anything else, helping Lin take that step could make Nash's final season a success.

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 8: Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives against Jeremy Lin #7 of the Houston Rockets on January 8, 2013 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/
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Lin's offensive game has always been "attack first, think later." He routinely gets caught in the air with no place to go, and a high school coach could easily go insane watching the frequency with which Lin picks up his dribble under pressure.

There are rough edges to his game, most of which exist because Lin doesn't yet know how to slow down, probe, consider his options and then strike. There's real value in attacking at full speed all the time (ask Russell Westbrook how that's going for him), but when you're a sub-elite athlete like Lin, subtler methods of attack are often necessary.

And who's subtler than Nash?

Maybe it's not possible to impart otherworldly court vision, a soccer player's approach to manipulating defenders' positions or the inborn craftiness that has made Nash great. Maybe those are just gifts a player either has or lacks.

But if Nash can convey even the most basic elements of his mental approach (or a leaning, wrong-footed running hook shot), it'll help Lin add what his game needs most.

The Lakers haven't gotten their money's worth on the court from Nash, but if he fashions Lin into a player they can keep for years to come, perhaps that'll make up for it.

More broadly, this is a Lakers team defined by its impermanence. Players are on short-term deals, and with few exceptions (Julius Randle, Ed Davis and perhaps Lin), most know they're not in the organization's long-term plans. In circumstances like those, it's frighteningly easy for personal agendas to triumph over togetherness or collective team spirit.

Nash has always been consumed by a desire to unite his team.

He thrives on the challenge of pulling different people with vastly varied personalities together in support of a common cause. That's always been reflected in his unselfish play, but you can also see it in the way he embraces every player, offers high-fives and encouragement at each stoppage and generally exhibits real concern for the welfare of his teammates.

Apr 8, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash (10) is congratulated by teammates Jodie Meeks (10), Nick Young (0) and Jordan Farmar (1) after passing Mark Jackson (not pictured) to move into third on the all-time NBA assist list i

The Lakers will desperately need that this season. Because Nash was incapable of playing and so often set apart from his cohorts last year, L.A. devolved into a me-first morass of defensive indifference and shot-hunting. There was no hope of on-court success when so many players were out for their own stats (and contracts).

Physically, Nash may not be able to offer anything close to his past level of superstar play. But if he can inject his mental approach into a team that badly needs it, his final season will have real meaning.

For a player whose greatest gift was making others better, that feels like a fitting end.