Steve Nash's Absence May Irk Lakers Fans Now but Leave Them Smiling Later

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterNovember 24, 2014

Mark D. Smith/USA Today

LOS ANGELES  It's July 2016, and a smiling, comfortable and confident Kevin Durant appears at his introductory news conference. He holds up the purple-and-gold No. 35 jersey that he says would be an absolute honor someday to fall into the illustrious line of retired numbers after No. 32 Magic Johnson, No. 33 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and No. 34 Shaquille O'Neal.

Durant says, yes, he did consult with Kobe Bryant during the Los Angeles Lakers' free-agent recruiting pitch—and Bryant passionately delivered the company line that the Lakers treat their superstars in a special way.

But then Durant pauses and adds that he spoke to someone else who was even more persuasive to that end.

One of the absolute worst Lakers superstars of them all with regard to what he actually gave the organization, Steve Nash explained to his friend Durant how the Lakers treated him in a completely first-class way despite the crushing and repeated disappointments he brought to the franchise...and you can tell a lot more about how people treat you in tough times than in glorious ones.

There will be no happy ending to Nash's legendary career after he was ruled out for his 19th NBA season before the campaign could even begin.

Somewhere out there, though—even if it is somewhere over the rainbow given how it is such a dream scenario for the Lakers—it remains possible that a happier twist exists for Nash as a Laker.

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Ulterior motives are not why the Lakers are trying to do the right thing and let Nash skip team activities this season after he was sidelined with ongoing back issues, but that attitude does dovetail with larger benefit.

Lakers president Jeanie Buss believes in positive energy and karmic turns, and maybe, just maybe, the franchise will reap some reward down the line for the respect being accorded Nash, one of the game's all-time greats.

Nash is, make no mistake, going to be around. The one positive for him from orchestrating his arrival to the Lakers is he did find his physical paradise: Nash is putting down roots here. He'll be a Manhattan Beach resident for the rest of his life, determined to raise his three children in the sand and sun. Nash will be part of the Lakers' broader community.

Steve Nash has made no secret of his affection for the Lakers organization, including longtime trainer Gary Vitti.
Steve Nash has made no secret of his affection for the Lakers organization, including longtime trainer Gary Vitti.USA TODAY Sports

He had a breakfast meeting with general manager Mitch Kupchak last week, according to team spokesman John Black. The upshot is that Nash will be around the team at some point this season.

"He's planning to come around when he's ready," Black said.

That has been the Lakers' hope, although it was a clear secondary priority to giving Nash the time and space to come to grips with the undesirable end to his season—and almost certainly his career.

Nash obviously has the sort of experiential knowledge that few coaches ever could, yet he's also possessor of a real wisdom. He has a healthy positivity about him despite limited ego, with the depth to understand it takes more than platitudes to live a rewarding life.

It's easy and probably fair to wonder why Nash, when he is being paid $9.7 million this season, hasn't sucked it up and rejoined the team to share some of his advice.

In his locker at Staples Center on Sunday night were nine unused hangers and one other holding a team-issued jacket. There was nary a sign of life in there—while Jeremy Lin, the guy playing the position Nash mastered, was struggling two steps away to explain why the Lakers are 3-11.

Lin said his goal is to "create as many plays for my teammates and myself as possible"—and that's pretty much the title of the class that Nash would teach in graduate-level basketball coursework.

Of course, these Lakers could benefit from having Nash around as a mentor and advisor.

But is it really worth it to mandate that Nash clock in before he is ready?

"I've worked like a dog to not only overcome these setbacks but to find the form that could lift up and inspire the fans in L.A. as my last chapter," Nash wrote in his Nov. 7 Facebook post. "Obviously it's been a disaster on both fronts, but I've never worked harder, sacrificed more or faced such a difficult challenge mentally and emotionally. ... I wish desperately it was different. I want to play more than anything in the world."

The conclusion of the lengthy post was noteworthy for different reasons:

"Going forward I hope we all can refocus our energies on getting behind these Lakers," Nash wrote. "This team will be back and Staples will be rocking."

Nash also referred to trainer Gary Vitti as "a close friend." The whole thing was presented in the voice of someone who still feels like part of the Lakers family.

And as disliked as Nash might be by so many Lakers fans, he is revered by a lot of players around the league, some of whom grew up watching him. This is the kind of guy who could be awfully useful one day in the future making a phone call on the Lakers' behalf to a much-coveted free agent.    

Naturally, the marquee talents the Lakers will be pursuing in the coming years will only come if they feel it's right in their own minds. But every little bit helps, especially when the free-agent basket is where the Lakers are putting all their eggs.

Maybe it will first be Goran Dragic next summer. Dragic is a dear Nash friend and was his pupil during a most fruitful apprenticeship with the Phoenix Suns from 2008-11.

Dragic can opt out of his contract for $7.5 million next season in Phoenix—where there is a logjam of ball-handlers with Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. If Dragic wants to be a free agent when the salary cap skyrockets in 2016 but collect a much bigger one-year deal for 2015-16 to showcase all those shifty, crafty moves that made him All-NBA third team last season, what better place to try out than the Lakers?

Dragic, 28, might also fit as a piece to the puzzle that draws bigger fish such as Durant. Yet if you consider the guys who joined Dragic on that All-NBA third team (Damian Lillard, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge and Al Jefferson), Dragic is a pretty great catch in his own right.

With Kevin Durant set to become a free agent in 2016, the Lakers are likely preparing to pitch themselves to the reigning MVP.
With Kevin Durant set to become a free agent in 2016, the Lakers are likely preparing to pitch themselves to the reigning MVP.Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

Durant, though, is the NBA MVP, part of an exclusive fraternity that Nash has joined twice. Durant and Nash are also both members of the very small 50-40-90 club (shooting percentages in a season on field goals, three-pointers and free throws, respectively). Only Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller and Dirk Nowitzki also qualify.

Durant worked out with Nash at the Lakers' training facility in the offseason. Durant conducted a meaningful Vice Sports interview with Nash asking the questions—and Durant responding with telling, thoughtful answers conveying his complete respect for Nash.

It remains possible the Lakers could trade Nash's expiring contract for some youth or assets, presumably by taking on an unwanted future salary another club wants to jettison. But the Lakers' determination to keep cap space available limits those options—though maybe taking on a salary only until 2016 is possible.

For now, Nash and the Lakers sit, separately, in the same boat—tremendous success in the past, deeply disappointed by the present, uncertain how to build a different future.

All they ever really had together was hello.

It'd be pretty cool if they made magic with their goodbye.


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


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