Steve Nash soon became the savior for the Phoenix Suns franchise, racking up two league MVP awards and making Mike D’Antoni’s offense look beautiful. The Lakers instantly envisioned that magic happening after reuniting them together last season in what could become a worthy sequel to Showtime.
But significant injuries to his left leg and later to his back and hamstring prevented Nash from providing another encore. Such issues popped up again with persisting nerve pain in his back keeping Nash sidelined for at least the next two weeks, giving frustrated Laker fans to ammunition that the 39-year-old Nash should retire.
D’Antoni rolled his eyes and scoffed at it.
“We’re not going to debate it or talk about it,” D’Antoni said. “He’s going to try to get ready and try to play. That’s about it. It’s simple for us.”
“If anybody has followed basketball the last 10 years, you would know he is one of the best in the game and the best ambassador of the game,” D’Antoni said. “If that doesn’t build you equity, so be it. Then you don’t follow sports.”
In a brief interview with this newspaper, Nash said said the epidural shot he received Tuesday to reduce inflammation in his nerves was “standard.” Nash will won’t travel with the team Wednesday when the Lakers visit Denver and will rest for what he described as “a couple days” before beginning his rehab. Nash said that process will initially focus on improving his core strength, considering his various nerve ailments in his left hamstring and surgically repaired left leg contributed to his increasing back pain.
Nash, who will turn 40 in February, is owed $9.3 million this season and $9.7 million next season, though the Lakers could waive him via the so-called “stretch provision” to spread out his remaining salary over the next three years to reduce the team’s salary cap. Nash indicated before the injury he had no plans to retire, and hasn’t suggested those sentiments will change.
Still, D’Antoni acknowledged the possibility Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak will try to bolster the team’s ailing backcourt, which already lacks Kobe Bryant as he continuously rehabs his left Achilles tendon. The Lakers will feature Jodie Meeks at shooting guard and Steve Blake at point guard, while Jordan Farmara comes off the bench.
“I’m sure he’s looking. That’s what he does every day,” D’Antoni said of Kupchak. “They’re in there looking at every scenario possible. If something makes sense, I’m sure they’ll do it. But I haven’t heard anything.”
The Lakers acquired Nash two years ago by trading away two first-round picks (2013, 2015) and two second round picks (2013, 2014), amove Kupchak originally termed a “home run.” But so far, the Lakers have struck out with Nash. After staying sidelined for 32 games last season, Nash has handled a variety of ailments this season, including a sore left ankle, a stiff neck and pain in his quads. AFter spending all of the offseason rehabbing his back and hamstrings, Nash said he felt increased pain recently.
But that didn’t stop D’Antoni from raving about Nash, and it went beyond his crisp passing that has ensured him a fourth place spot on the NBA’s all-time leaders in assists.
“He’s only 6’3 and one of the best screen setters in the league,” D’Antoni said. “He battles every second. He gets hit, knocked around and he’s always battling something. His back has never been good. He’s in the middle of a remarkable career. You can’t doubt what he’s done. There will always be questions in should he do this or do that. That’s normal. But I’m just happy I’ve been able to coach him.”
Well, except for the past two seasons when persisting injuries have prevented Nash from making dazzling passes and shots on the court.
“It’s been a challenge, but I’m not going to sit here and cry,” D’Antoni said. “Steve is the one that’s frustrated. He wants to contribute and hasn’t been able to. It was a freak injury when he broke his leg and it stemmed from that. He comes back and keeps doing things I don’t know if I would have the mental toughness to do. He gets ready. You see the passion he has and hopes it works out for him.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org