In Trying to Build Lakers' Future, Steve Nash Has Paid High Cost to His Present

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In Trying to Build Lakers' Future, Steve Nash Has Paid High Cost to His Present
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LOS ANGELES — Steve Nash was offered one last opportunity to don an official NBA uniform Wednesday and join the 2014-15 Los Angeles Lakers team photo.

He declined.

Go ahead, haters. Wind up to hurl more venom at Nash for not even supporting the club that is paying him nearly $10 million this season after all the other disappointment he has brought.

I'd rather clear the air that has been so wrongly polluted.

The only reason Nash isn't retired from basketball already, having put it all behind him, is so he could try to help the Lakers.

Nash was ready to call it a career before the season. After deep soul-searching to accept his body does not belong in an official NBA uniform any longer, he wasn't just out for the season.

He was, and is, done.

The Lakers asked Nash not to announce anything, according to team sources. They hoped they could trade Nash's $9.7 million salary, not only an expiring contract but also a giant coupon for another club to take and immediately save real dollars via insurance, to get a building block for the Lakers' future.

Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

Fully aware how little he has given the Lakers since arriving in 2012, Nash agreed to do them a solid. He would put off his official retirement announcement and remain a member of the Lakers this season in name only.

He would, in the process, incur even more of the wrath of frustrated Lakers fans seeing the "greedy" Nash as the face of the Lakers' flops after Dwight Howard's departure.

Nash had no duty to be around the team this season, folks. He wasn't dodging or conning anyone. He was retired, as the Lakers brass knew, and he was trying to come to grips with that after having fought harder against it than just about anyone—certainly anyone who accomplished as much as he did in the NBA.

In reality, the Lakers and Nash went about this in the way mature people handle terrible breaks: Do the best you can with a bad hand.

Even though expiring contracts aren't worth nearly what they once were in the NBA marketplace, there was logic to think the Lakers could make a deal. The goal was a classic Lakers trade where some smaller-market team wants to save money and the Lakers don't care so much—or that a club such as the Philadelphia 76ers could use Nash's insurance-offset contract shrewdly to reach the salary-cap floor of minimum payroll—while bringing in an asset. (The Lakers don't have too many of those since their all-in deals to acquire Howard and Nash.)

Nash would get paid in any case, no matter the combination of medical insurance or actual Lakers money. He would've even gotten a little more from the Lakers if traded via a 15 percent trade kicker in his contract.

Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

What was missing, alas, was a public celebration of all that mature thinking because the Lakers weren't able to make a trade using Nash's contract by the Feb. 19 deadline. So there was no payoff, which makes it emblematic of Nash's Lakers tenure: logical, earnest steps taken with the best of hopes and intentions...and simply no results.

What Nash has accomplished is working recently with fast-improving Lakers rookie guard Jordan Clarkson. The film work, on-court tutelage and timely text messages have been priceless, Clarkson said.

Nash also intends to link up with Julius Randle, now on the practice court after breaking his leg on opening night, to tutor the current cornerstone of the Lakers' rebuild.

Given that Nash's actual affiliation to Clarkson and Randle is limited to spending a few weeks together in training camp, his lessons have come solely from a willingness to help out in building the Lakers' future. It's not his job or his responsibility, same as it won't be if NBA friends such as Goran Dragic or Kevin Durant give Nash the chance to sell the Lakers as a future free-agent destination.

Nash knows the Lakers tried with him, the Lakers know he tried for them, and both sides therefore are unwavering in their mutual respect.

Nash, 41, is committed to raising his family in Manhattan Beach, so Lakers fans will continue to see him around town as a retiree. All of them would be wise to join that circle of maturity and show the man some respect.

Nash would appreciate it. He is a connector in life with the third-most assists in NBA history and probably the highest percentage of high-fives with teammates in league history, too.

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He makes actual eye contact and conversation with NBA worker bees and offers a smile to anyone whose path crosses his. I'll never forget a Target Center locker-room attendant saying after Nash walked out one February night in Minnesota: "Who's a better guy than he is? The best."

Yet Nash's shame is not that he failed anyone in the community. What drove him into a dark period while missing most of last season was his own profound disappointment, not public humiliation.

Yes, he explained how hard he tried to come back in a Facebook post after he had posted an ill-advised Instagram video of himself hitting golf balls, but the whole reason he shared that video was because he's not the type to get caught up in what people might think of him.

He has been an easy target for frustrated fans because he kept putting himself out there over and over instead of taking the easy way out and giving up.

He has been willing to compromise wherever necessary to keep alive his desire to play, even if in retrospect he should've surrendered to the nerve damage suffered in just his second game as a Laker. Don't forget that he did get somewhat healthy to play under Mike D'Antoni with the Lakers, yet Nash then acquiesced to Kobe Bryant being D'Antoni's point guard because the team was doing better with the ball in Bryant's hands.

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Nash has allowed everyone to see his vulnerability. He has owned it. Knowing how half-speed he has looked, flailing more than ever on defense, putting the perception of his legend at such risk...whatever. He has tried to make it work.

That's who Nash has been in his career, though—diving in with complete commitment to extract everything from his talent. If he hadn't been daring enough to keep trying against the odds, he would've let the absence of major college recruiters long ago or his congenital back condition even longer ago stop him from accomplishing all he has.

The way it has ended for Nash has damaged the Lakers, no question. This might be the worst season in franchise history: The Lakers' victory Tuesday pushed their current winning percentage to .270, momentarily better than the Minneapolis Lakers' .264 in 1957-58.

It has ended for Nash, but he knows it hasn't for the Lakers—which is why he postponed his retirement to try to help. There's little he didn't try to make it work.

Because it hasn't, no one's ending has been sadder to see.

If you understand and respect honest effort, though, no one's ending has been braver, either.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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