Steve Nash is at a transitional stage in his life.
At 41, and having recently retired from playing basketball, the two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer has to figure out what comes next.
The Los Angeles Lakers should reach out and offer the man his next official job—as an assistant coach for the 2015-16 season.
Nash thanked a lot of people in a retirement letter he wrote through The Players’ Tribune in March. The Lakers were among those he expressed gratitude toward for the support they gave him during a difficult three years—the point guard broke his leg in his second game with the organization “and nothing was the same.”
Nash didn’t play a single minute during the recently concluded regular season, but missing that experience still feels fresh. There’s also the desire to find new challenges.
“I already miss the game deeply,” Nash wrote, “but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else.”
One of the league’s great players left a lasting impact on how the game is played in the modern NBA, and he also influenced how the game is coached.
After being declared out for the season due to the inescapable ravages of time and injury, Nash initially stayed away from the team.
“I was in a really difficult position mentally and emotionally,” Nash said recently, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “It wasn’t easy for me. I think the best thing for everyone was for me to get away.”
But halfway through a skidding season that had become all about development, Nash was invited back to help mentor the next generation.
“They asked me if I would work with the guys,” Nash said, “and I immediately said, ‘Yeah.’”
Those players included rookies Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle.
Clarkson’s advancement proved to be an unexpected bright spot in the Lakers’ historically bad 21-61 season. The rangy second-round draft pick who played for Missouri and Tulsa spent the early months picking up garbage minutes as a shooting guard and also serving multiple assignments with the team’s D-League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
But in late January, the newbie was thrust into the lineup as the starting point guard, replacing Ronnie Price, who had replaced Jeremy Lin.
The 6’5” prospect never looked back, averaging 15.8 points, five assists and 4.2 rebounds in 38 starts. Nash was part of that progression, first advising Clarkson through text messages and phone conversations and then through a series of on-court workouts.
|Jordan Clarkson's Rookie Progression|
|Bench||12.2 MIN||1.5 REB||0.8 AST||4.9 PTS|
|Feb.||27.5 MIN||3.6 REB||4.0 AST||13.8 PTS|
|March||32.4 MIN||4.8 REB||5.2 AST||15.8 PTS|
|April||36.1 MIN||4.6 REB||6.8 AST||19.4 PTS|
“He’s got a lot of ingredients to be a terrific NBA player,” Nash said of the rookie, per Medina. “The sky’s the limit. He has great size and athleticism. He can score and hit big shots. He’s developing into a good playmaker.”
Clarkson was the NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month in March and joined the conversation for the All-Rookie First Team.
The regular season is now over, as is Nash’s three-year player contract. Nonetheless, the tutoring will continue.
Nash would be an obvious name for coaching even without his effective turn as a guidance counselor. And what's more, the Lakers desperately need help for an offense that averaged an anemic 98.5 points per game this season.
At issue has been Byron Scott’s grind-it-out preferences and his hybrid version of the Princeton offense. That Ivy League system dates back 80 years and isn’t favored by the modern NBA or by Nash, who evolved his game under uptempo gurus like Don Nelson and Mike D’Antoni.
In March 2014, while D’Antoni was still coaching the Lakers, Nash appeared on a Grantland podcast and recalled a brief and abortive Princeton experiment under Mike Brown in the fall of 2012.
“I just don’t know if it was the right thing,” said Nash. “I feel like the analytics movement has never been, like, ‘oh the Princeton, that would have suited analytics.’”
He could not have foreseen then that D’Antoni would soon resign, only to be replaced by Scott and the Princeton.
It also shouldn’t come as any surprise that Scott is not big on analytics—the data-based school of thought that, in many ways, was a next-generation offshoot of pace and spacing principles pioneered by D’Antoni during his Phoenix Suns “Seven Seconds or Less” days.
D’Antoni spoke with Sam Amick of USA Today Sports after Nash’s retirement, reflecting on how they were the “first in the water” as they pushed against old-school philosophies.
“It took a while to get to the deep end,” D’Antoni said. “But we could have been more, a little bit better approach at that if we had the analytic backing that they’re showing you today. … But being the first out, I’m proud of how it went.”
That’s a starkly different attitude than the one held by the present Lakers coach. In February, Scott was asked his opinion on this new business of numbers, per Bill Oram of the Orange County Register.
“I think we’ve got a few guys who believe in it,” Scott replied. “I’m not one of them.”
If Nash and Scott are on such opposite sides of the spectrum, why should the Lakers front office try to arrange a shotgun wedding?
Because differing views can bring a fresh perspective. Because the Lakers need help. And because Scott has consistently held Nash in such high regard.
“One of the best players and one of the best people that I’ve ever been around,” Scott said in March, per Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com. “Tremendous person. Extremely humble and grateful and just one of those guys that you love to be around.”
Going into the season, Scott hired Paul Pressey and Jim Eyen—assistants who place an emphasis on defense. The front office also retained Mark Madsen—the former Lakers power forward who worked the previous season as the team's player development coach.
And while Madsen works with the team's big men, he is also a liaison between the analytics and coaching staffs. Yes, the Lakers actually do have a data-centric department, even if Scott is still practicing the old-school ways.
Adding Nash to the bench would provide another fresh voice alongside Madsen’s—complementing the youth movement on the floor that is such an integral part of the team’s ongoing rebuild.
It would also add a jolt of offensive creativity for a team that struggled to put points on the board throughout the season, especially in crucial late-game situations when the Lakers lacked strategic play-calling from the sidelines.
Nash’s addition wouldn’t mean that Scott has to abandon all his long-held beliefs. But it might open up the head coach to other possibilities.
And it could also be an important first step for Nash toward becoming a head coach himself—perhaps even in L.A. someday.
But for now, such a role would allow the recently retired player some practical sideline experience with an organization that he already knows and in a town where he has chosen to live and raise his children.
It would also provide that necessary bridge between being a peer and someone in a position of authority.
“The biggest thing about a leader is being authentic, being yourself and having pure motives,” Nash said, per Medina. “If you are there every day, working hard and trying to get better and lay it on the line every night, that’s leadership.”
Those comments were made in reference to Clarkson. But the words also reflect back on the man who spoke them and who embodied those qualities for so many years in the league as a player.
Now it is time for Nash to continue giving to the sport he loves so much in a new sideline incarnation.
And the Lakers have to offer that opportunity before someone else does.