Although Steve Nash only described the recovery process surrounding nerve pain in his back as “a little bit better,” that hasn’t soured his determination in eventually returning to the floor. At least not enough to consider retirement.
“I don’t know where that came from. For me, I realize I have about 18 months of basketball,” said Nash, whose contract with the Lakers worth $19 million ends after the 2014-15 season. “I want the most out of this that I can possibly get. I don’t know if that’s going to be one game or the vast majority of what’s left. But I got a long life without basketball. I don’t want to give in too soon. I want to make the most of this opportunity to play if I can.”
Nash will sit out for at least the next five games, including home games this weekend against Golden State (tonight) and Sacramento (Sunday) at Staples Center. Nash will then travel to Vancouver, BC with his personal trainer Rick Celebrini during the Lakers’ trip next week to Washington (Nov. 26), Brooklyn (Nov. 27) and Detroit (Nov. 29). Both Nash and the Lakers will return to Los Angeles next weekend before hosting the Portland Trail Blazers Dec. 1 at Staples Center.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said he won’t require Nash to practice before returning, making it possible he could play against Portland. But in what D’Antoni called the “best case scenario,” the Lakers have four days before playing Dec. 6 in Sacramento. The Lakers will likely take off Dec. 2, giving Nash potentially three days of practice before returning.
“He’s frustrated. I’m sure he wants to play,” D’Antoni said. “But he’s got a process he has to go through. He just has to get well and be able to be effective. He wants to be effective, first and foremost. And he wants to play. That kind of goes hand in hand. He just has to bite his tongue a little bit, stay upbeat and hopefully the process works itself out.”
That hasn’t happened yet.
Nash left the second half of the Lakers’ loss Nov. 10 against Minnesota after experiencing additional pain in his back stemmed from nerve issues in his left hamstring and surgically repaired left leg. He’s battled other ailments all season, including neck stiffness and a sore left ankle. Nash has averaged only 6.7 points on 26.1 percent shooting in 22.5 minutes through six games and sat out twice on the second night of back-to-backs in hopes to stay healthy. He’s also only a season removed where he missed a combined 32 games because of a fractured left leg and persisting back and hamstring issues.
“The broken leg really set it back. That inflamed the nerve on the other end,” Nash said. “It was an irritated nerve in the back that was asymptomatic and then becomes very symptomatic because of the other nerve issues. It’s a lot of bad luck. The challenge to overcome both of those nerve situations takes an incredible amount of diligence and good amount of luck. It is what it is. There’s a ton of things going on in that lower back that’s making it very difficult for that nerve not to allow it to feel pressure or feel pinched.”
That’s why Nash reported only “some improvement” after having an epidural shot Nov. 12 and spending the last week improving his core strength. He also had three epidural shots during the Lakers’ first-round loss to San Antonio last season. But they made little impact and Nash still missed the Lakers’ last two playoff games.
Nash said he will focus with Celebrini in Vancouver improving his postural stability and movement patterns to avoid putting additional strain on his spine. Still, Nash spent the entire offseason focusing on those areas, only to see the issue crop up again.
“What helps me the most is getting balance and being aligned properly and moving properly,” Nash said. “When I’m in alignment and moving properly, it really takes a lot of pressure off the nerve. But as you take contact and you are pounding and changing directions and there is compressive contortion on your spine, then your body compensates. You get out of alignment and then you get unhealthy default patterns. That can play havoc with those nerve roots so it’s difficult to articulate for someone who’s never been through it. But it’s tricky.”
That’s why the 39-year-old guard sounded understanding of the general public believing he should retire.
“It’s inevitable,” said Nash, who will turn 40 in February. “People look at the success of my career and wonder if I still have the motivation just to get out on the court. But I do. The perspective is I only have a short window of basketball left and then the rest of my life. I want to get in as much hoops as I can before it’s time to do something else.”
What about his post-basketball career?
“It’s crossed my mind, but I don’t think it’s going to be that big of an issue when I’m not playing,” Nash said. “I still feel like if the NBA were kind enough for me to play once a week, I’d probably be pretty good. The fact we have to play 3 ½ times a week or whatever. It’s problematic at this point. Hopefully I can get over the hump where I can sustain two or three games and play at a high level. When I’m done playing, as long as my activities aren’t as strenuous as the NBA, then I think I’ll be okay.”
Sounds like a tall task indeed.
But Nash earned two NBA league most valuable player awards, a fourth-place standing on the NBA’s all-time assists leaders and a future Hall of Fame appearance by overcoming health issues. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban parted ways with Nash after the 2003-04 season because he had thought Nash’s deeply rooted back problems would eventually cause his body soon to break down.
“When we got him in Phoenix when he was 30 or 31, they said he was done,” said D’Antoni, who coached Nash with the Suns in four of his eight seasons there. “That was almost 10 years ago. He was doing something right. He’s tried every important avenue.”
That included lying on his back along the baseline anytime he wasn’t in the game.
“We laughed at him a little bit,” D’Antoni said, chuckling. “It was kind of odd. But he’s Canadian so that’s okay.”
Whether Nash becomes okay again remains to be seen.
“If you look back 10 years ago, I would’ve never thought I played this long because of that,” Nash said. “But then you forget about it as you keep playing and keep feeling good. You start to think, ‘I’m okay. I can get through this until I’ve had enough.’ I guess you take it from the perspective of having these issues for well over a decade. To think I’ve gotten this far without any major issues is pretty fortuitous. It’s kind of ironic in some ways that an unlucky play caused a domino affect to trigger all these things many would have thought would see the end of me a long time ago.”
That time might approach fairly soon. But Nash won’t concede defeat just yet.
“It’s a challenge. I don’t give in, but I look at it with more realism and try as hard as possible not to be in complete denial where there are things going on and I am different,” Nash said. “I have to find a way to get as close to my best physically and I also realize there is a really small window of error to get there.”
“Go back to the beginning of time. Nobody’s beaten age. You can fend and ward off age for longer periods of time, especially in this era. But in the end, you succumb to age and it makes you a different person physically. Everyone goes through it at some point unless they are lucky enough to play the game. You have to be good to stay on a roster to go through that.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers officially ruled Bryant out tonight against Golden State after missing morning shootaround to receive treatment on his left Achilles tendon. Lakers backup forward Chris Kaman is considered doubtful because of back soreness after also staying absent from shootaround.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org