Long after he kept hoisting pull-up jumpers without any certainty when he’ll actually return to the court, Lakers guard Steve Nash showed visibly how that at least hasn’t affected the pleasant personality and positive attitude that’s made him considered one of the NBA’s greatest teammates.
The women’s basketball team representing Nash’s alma mater, Santa Clara, watched and snapped photos of both Nash and Kobe Bryant taking part in light shooting drills following the Lakers’ morning shootaround. Nash then engaged them with plenty of small talk, laughs and team pictures. Then an innocent albeit awkward question came up.
“They were like ‘How’s the season going,’ Nash said with a smirk. “There was a moment of pause.”
Oh, if only they knew.
Nash has sat out in all but six games because of persisting nerve issues in his back. So much that Nash will make his fourth trip this season to Vancouver with his personal trainer Rick Celebrini during the Lakers’ seven-game, 11-day trip with stops in Phoenix (Jan. 15), Boston (Jan. 17), Toronto (Jan. 19), Chicago (Jan. 20), Miami (Jan. 23), Orlando (Jan. 24) and New York (Jan. 26).
“Originally I was hoping to get on that trip and start playing,” Nash said. “Maybe I was a little hasty with that goal. Nothing’s guaranteed for me. I get these ideas in my head and at some point, I have to also realize I have to do the safest thing to give myself the best possible opportunity to play again.”
Nash said Lakers trainer Gary Vitti advised him to take that route, outlining his trip to Vancouver essentially as a training camp that could help Nash repair the persisting nerve issues that surround his back, left hamstring and left leg. The Lakers also determined the grind of a heavy-travel schedule could prove too overwhelming for Nash. He then estimated that a week of practice could mean he may return as early as the first week of February.
“It’s all super speculative at this point,” Nash said, “because it’s a weird tricky dimension when you’re talking about this nerve issue.”
That’s because that problem has made Nash’s struggles go beyond only averaging 6.7 points on 26.1 percent shooting and 4.8 assists in 22.5 minutes through six games.
Nash has reported improvement each time he’s gone to Vancouver during the Lakers’ recent trips. During that time, Nash has continuously worked on his postural stability and movement patterns to ensure anything he does doesn’t put any additional pressure on his sensitive spine. But Nash also revealed that during some light shooting drills after practicing for three consecutive days, the 39-year-old guard felt nerve pain in his left leg, which was fractured last season and sidelined him for 24 games.
That illustrated the never-ending uncertainty not only when Nash will return, but to what degree his aging body won’t deteriorate.
“If it doesn’t work this time, I really put the season in jeopardy. I’m really back to square one with three months left in the season,” Nash said. “That leaves me with very little opportunity. I know I can get healthy. It’s a matter of if I can sustain it.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers (13-19) enter tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz (11-24) losing six consecutive games and falling to 13th place in the Western Conference. They’re also handling numerous other injuries beyond Nash, including Bryant (left knee), Steve Blake (right elbow), Xavier Henry (right knee) and Jordan Farmar (left hamstring).
With the Lakers so far below the standings, it’s plausible Nash’s return would hardly make the same amount of difference to Mike D’Antoni’s offense that once earned him two MVP awards with the Phoenix Suns. But Nash’s said the Laker’s failure wouldn’t dictate his return.
“I don’t think in those terms,” Nash said. “I really love the game and I know that I’ve got a really short window of basketball in my life so I just want to get out there. I want to go out here and play and try to build a little bit of health and confidence and ability to finish out my career. Whether we’re way down or way up, we might factor that. But I’m fighting anyway I can.”
Nash’s basketball life is technically slated for this season and the 2014-15 season. But the Lakers could waive Nash this offseason via the so-called “stretch provision,” which would allow them to pay the nearly $10 million owed to Nash through three season. That would clear up some of the Lakers’ payroll and ensure only $3 million of that salary is counted against their salary cap annually.
“I don’t know all the technical possibilities, but I obviously know nothing is guaranteed,” Nash said. “Obviously right now, the future is in flux and anything is possible. Frankly with my health, I haven’t proven anyone and myself that my body still has what I think it has in the tank. I walk around feeling optimistic I can do it. But I tell my mind daily that I have to prove it.”
Nash hasn’t done that, prompting him to call these past two seasons with the Lakes as a “nightmare.” But he still showed appreciation for everything else.
“I couldn’t express or show much I enjoyed being part of the organization, staff, front office, fans. Everyone has treated me incredibly well and better than I could ever ask for,” Nash said. “In some ways, it’s been a phenomenal experience. But as far as basketball goes, it’s been one disappointment after another. The only thing I’ll ask for at this point is to get my health and be able to contribute. After that, depending on what happens in the future and how this team rounds out, we’ll figure out how we can salvage it. It’s been a nightmare in one respect. But it’s been a phenomenal experience to be part of another. I hesitate to throw it all out. It’s a special place and fantastic experience in a lot of ways. But its’ really aged me a lot of 20 years.”
Could anything salvage this?
“I’ll take whatever I can get,” Nash said. “Maybe there is a freaky picture where I get really well and play well beyond that. That puts me in a place where I just want to play and get anything I can with my career at this point and walk away with a smile on my face and happy to leave the game.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org