Below is the third in a series previewing the storylines surrounding each player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2013-14 season.
1. How healthy can Steve Nash stay? The moment the Lakers spiraled downward last season started when Steve Nash collided into Portland’s Damian Lillard in only the second game. The Lakers first considered Nash to stay sidelined for a week because of an injured left leg. That soon morphed into a 24-game absence that spanned for about 1 1/2 months. So many problems and overlapping injuries contributed to the Lakers’ underachieving season. But Nash’s injury played a huge part in two areas – the Lakers’ failure to adjust to Mike D’Antoni’s system and D’Antoni’s wrongful belief that everything will sort itself once Nash returns.
Nash enters this season with a fresh slate eager to prove he can become the same point guard that earned him two NBA MVP’s during his time under D’Antoni with the Phoenix Suns. But is it realistic for Nash to stay healthy? He’s currently rehabbing from a right hamstring injury, something that sidelined him for the last three weeks of the regular season and the Lakers’ Games 3 and 4 losses to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Nash progressed enough this offseason to play in a handful of charity soccer events for his foundation as well as appear at Inter Milan’s tryout. The Lakers also expect Nash to report 100 percent for the season opener Oct. 29 against the Clippers.
But will Nash’s nightmarish time last season mark a preview of Father Time catching up to the 39-year-old guard? Or will Nash’s offseason training and treatment on his back and hamstring ensure such freaky injuries are so last season? No one knows that answer for sure, leaving Nash’s outlook for this season both encouraging and unsettling.
2. Nash should jumpstart D’Antoni’s offense Assuming Nash stays healthy, expect him to mark a significant reason why D’Antoni’s offense will look better in his second season. Nash ran D’Antoni’s offense to near perfection during his four seasons in Phoenix, and a full training camp should give his star point guard the time to develop chemistry and authority to set the offensive tone. The Lakers also acquired pieces this offseason more fit for D’Antoni’s system, including Chris Kaman, Nick Young and Jordan Farmar. So it’s likely Nash will be able to work his magic again in making D’Antoni’s offense look beautiful.
That wasn’t the case last season. Even when Nash returned from injury last season, he never had a firm hold on the offense for various reasons. Dwight Howard didn’t run pick-and-roll sets as much as Nash liked. The Lakers struggled running at the initial pace D’Antoni wanted. Bryant’s high-efficient scoring became a necessity, but only delayed the Lakers’ chemistry issues even more. The Lakers also weren’t used to Nash’s constant roaming around the court before finding the open man.
The Lakers should become more accustomed to such tendencies, something they didn’t have last year namely because of Nash’s injury.
3. Will the Lakers limit his minutes? Nash’s age, his health and the Lakers depthful backcourt (Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar) are all factors that explain why the Lakers’ starting point guard should receive proper rest. That ranges from sitting out practices and receiving treatment on his back during stoppage time. It also should include keeping Nash’s minutes in the low 30’s to ensure he looks sharp late in the season.
Nash averaged 32.5 minutes last season, which mirrors his career average through 17 NBA seasons (31.4). But Nash’s minute limitations only came in spurts. His minutes per game in December (34) and January (34.2) contrasted his playing time in February (31.8) and March (32.1) because of Blake’s persisting abdominal injury. The Lakers’ backcourt will presumably stay more healthy this season, but D’Antoni can’t afford to lean on Nash too heavily in case Bryant’s recovery from a torn left Achilles lasts longer than expected. Nash and others may have an increased load, but his minutes should still be kept to the same standard as it would if Bryant were playing.
4. Will the Lakers provide enough of a supporting cast around Nash? Of course, part of D’Antoni’s willingness to limit Nash’s minutes could depend on how well his backups play. Barring health concerns, don’t forsee this as a problem. Blake displayed his best season in three years with the Lakers under D’Antoni because of the freedom he had to run the floor and run pick-and-roll. Farmar’s aggressiveness and speed should also make it easier for the Lakers not to lean on Nash, an unrealistic scenario when the team’s backups after Blake were Chris Duhon and Darius Morris.
5. What leadership will Nash bring? He’s known as the world’s greatest teammate, thanks to his positive attitude, team mindset and encouragement. But he hardly became the leader last season the Lakers hoped he’d become. Plenty of that attributes to Nash’s injury since the time spent away from the court reduced his comfort level and influence. That then carried over into Nash never having much chemistry with Howard and having an identity crisis.
As much as the Lakers loved Nash’s willingness to adjust his role into a scorer, he didn’t quite have the same influence Derek Fisher once did in ensuring a positive locker room environment. Meanwhile, Nash appeared tentative in his shooting despite pleas from his teammates to become more selfish. Nash had all the right intentions, but moving on from last season’s turmoil should make him more comfortable in exerting his influence.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org