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Steve Nash Owes Los Angeles Lakers More Than What He's Giving Them

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2015

Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash stretches out during warmups for a preseason NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014, in Ontario, Calif. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

Steve Nash has always been known as a consummate professional, and everyone is sympathetic that he can no longer play the game he loves so much. But let’s be honest—the Los Angeles Lakers are paying the future Hall of Famer $9.7 million this season to do nothing.

Wouldn’t it be nice for Nash to actually show up at the office every now and then? 

NBA Memes @NBAMemes

Steve Nash will make $9.7 million this season...#Lakers http://t.co/TXdeYqQfSx

The veteran point guard came to Los Angeles via trade in the summer of 2012 and was soon joined by fellow new arrival Dwight Howard. There was great anticipation for the season ahead, along with hopes that Nash could still contribute at a meaningful level. Nobody was blind to the fact that he was long in the tooth with a history of back problems. And he certainly wasn’t expected to play 82 games per season.

He was, however, expected to make a difference. And perhaps help steer the team in a new direction.

After a disappointing 1-4 start to the regular season, head coach Mike Brown was fired. This was a team gunning for greatness. In a stunning twist to the story, Mike D’Antoni was hired over Phil Jackson who had led Los Angeles to five NBA titles during his two previous tenures with the team.

The reason for the surprising hire had much to do with Nash and the premise that he and D'Antoni could recreate their glory days with the Phoenix Suns and deliver an up-tempo, exciting brand of basketball.

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DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26: Head Coach Mike D'Antoni talks with Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the game against the Denver Nuggets on December 26, 2012 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and a
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Unfortunately, the glory days never returned, and even the most conservative of expectations weren’t met. Nash missed 32 games his first season in Los Angeles due to a fractured leg. He missed 67 games the second season due to a downward spiral of nerve root and back issues associated with the fractured leg.

And then he was declared out for all 82 games of the final season in his three-year contract.

In an official team statement, per Lakers.com, general manager Mitch Kupchak expressed appreciation for how hard the two-time league MVP worked to come back from injury, adding: “Steve has been a consummate professional, and we greatly appreciate his efforts.”

The sympathy and support was widespread at the time. Everyone knew how diligently Nash had persevered after each and every setback—putting himself through grueling workouts in order to strengthen his body.

And every time a comeback attempt would fall flat, Nash would doggedly get back up and try again. Until there was simply no getting past the obvious—his career as a professional athlete was over.

But the fact that Nash can no longer compete at an NBA level doesn't preclude contributing in other ways. After all, this is the master of the no-look pass—a player with incredible court vision and a leader of men. Nash also happens to possess one of the purest strokes in basketball.

He can teach other players so many things.

In fact, Nash considered exactly that before the season even began. Speaking with TWC SportsNet on media day (video below), Nash said: 

I can really encourage and advise and mentor some of these young guys, and watch them play extremely well for long periods. So I think the biggest thing is being open to what happens, not holding on too tight, being able to give to the team whatever I possibly can.

After the announcement that Nash was done for the season, Kupchak continued to express support for a difficult situation, saying, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: “I think he needs to get away. We talked about how welcome he’d be and how he wants to support his teammmates and how he’d like to come back. I’d like to see him out there working out their shooting.”

New Lakers coach Byron Scott was also hopeful in the immediate aftermath of the announcement, per Medina: “I have some things in mind already if he would like to do that. I would love to have him around. I think his expertise and experience could help a lot of our young guys.”

But time passed and Nash didn’t come around. Still, the sympathy and understanding continued—after all, a guy needed time to process his situation. He needed to find a way to deal with the disappointment of a career ending before he was ready for it to end. And he may still be dealing with that. 

SAN DIEGO, CA- OCTOBER 6: Byron Scott, Head Coach, and Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers speak during a game  against the Denver Nuggets as the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Denver Nuggets at the Valley View Sports Arena in San Diego, California o
Noah Graham/Getty Images

During a phone call to SiriusXM NBA Radio in mid-December, Kupchak downplayed Nash’s continued absence, saying they’d had breakfast together in November, and that he had also spoken to him recently on the phone: “I would not be surprised if he has more presence, whether it’s coming by and saying hello to the guys who are working out, or working out with the guys, I don’t know.”

And in fact, Nash did come to say hello to the guys—at an airport as they were flying to Chicago for a Christmas Day game.

Ross Pickering @RossPickering

Steve Nash met the Lakers at the airport on Christmas Eve. https://t.co/nrEeJIstxQ

The weeks on the calendar have continued to flip by since then, and still there's no meaningful presence from a guy who clearly has much to share.

Nash, who will turn 41 on Feb. 7, is one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game of basketball. The team has tried filling the gap he left behind with veteran journeyman Ronnie Price, one-time sensation Jeremy Lin and second-round rookie Jordan Clarkson.

Clarkson is a 6’5” combo guard with above-average speed and ball-handling skills who displays his inexperience through bursts of unbridled energy and neophyte mistakes. Lately, however, Scott has been giving his first-year player increased minutes at the point.

Sunday night, in his second start of the season against the Houston Rockets, Clarkson had eight points and two assists on 2-of-10 shooting, along with five turnovers, as L.A. dropped its eighth game in a row.

In Clarkson’s previous game, however, he scored 11 points with four assists and three boards, on 5-of-9 shootings. It’s an inconsistent learning process for a young, inexperienced player, accompanied by highs and lows and bumps and bruises. This is when mentorship really matters.

Recently, the Lakers coach expressed a continued desire for Nash’s involvement, per Medina: “I still haven’t given up hope on that. I would still like for him to come around. If for nothing else, to talk to Jordan Clarkson and help him and tutor him a little bit.”

Clarkson echoed the sentiment, saying: “I wish he was around to learn from and to watch as well even though I watched him play when I was young. I definitely would’ve been better if he was here.”

All is not lost, however—the Lakers’ No. 46 draft pick reported that Nash texted him tips about running the offense, as noted by Bill Oram of the Orange County Register:

Bill Oram @billoram

Steve Nash hasn’t physically been around Lakers, but does periodically text rookie combo guard Jordan Clarkson with advice.

But a 22-year-old who is still in his formative stages deserves more than a few words on an LED screen.

The Lakers have now played 45 games this season with a record of 12-33, and there’s still no sign of their $9.7 million man.

Certainly, he has a life outside of the basketball world, including charitable work with his Steve Nash Foundation assisting underserved children. He also recently traveled to Buenos Aires to visit with the Argentinian soccer team, Boca Juniors.

And nobody can argue the fact he has a guaranteed contract, and circumstances beyond his control prevented him from delivering services as a basketball player.

But that sizable contract should not be viewed as a golden parachute. It doesn’t take a huge commitment to shoot some hoops with the guys and dispense a few helpful pointers.

Especially when advice shared could make a difference, not only to the team in the here and now but also to the development of the next generation.

It’s called paying it forward.

And if a living legend can’t be bothered to help his teammates improve, then at least he could look at this in the most basic of employment terms—there are nearly 10 million reasons to show you care.

A guy in a Lakers uniform expressed the desire to “give to the team whatever I possibly can," on media day.

There are 37 games left for the Lakers this season. There is still time for Steve Nash to make a difference.

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