Despite feeling “a little irritated” surrounding the nerve issues in his back, Steve Nash will play when the Lakers (18-33) host the Utah Jazz (17-33) tonight at Staples Center.
“It’s felt really good other than taking the bump off that nerve,” said Nash, who felt additional damage in his left leg in the Lakers’ loss Sunday to Chicago. “It’s felt really good. The biggest thing is symptoms are minimal and if I’m moving well. If I move well, the symptoms are going to stay minimal. If I’m not moving well for whatever reason that day, then the symptoms are probably coming back because I wasn’t as efficient and effective. I’ll be irritated in the nerve with my movement.”
Because Nash will play in his 10th game this season, his $9.7 million salary next season will remain on the Lakers’ books even if he was forced into medical retirement because of persistent back pain. But the Lakers could still benefit financially by waiving Nash through the stretch provision after this season, ensuring only $3.2 million counts against the salary cap annually for the next three years.
Meanwhile, Nash admitted feeling motivated in providing some value in the three-year, $27 million contract he signed with the Lakers when they acquired him in a sign-and-trade from the Phoenix Suns in the 2012 offseason. But Nash missed a combined 32 games last season, first because of a fractured left leg and then because of persisting nerve damage in his back and hamstrings.
“You never want to feel like you’re not earning your keep,” Nash said. “That’s not the way I’m made up. I always want to feel like I want to fight and try to do what I can. That’s a big part of why I’ve worked so hard in the past 10 months and worked out twice a day for 10 months just to get back on the floor. You want to be a part of this team and it’s my job.”
That part’s been easier said than done.
“You’re going in two different directions,” Nash said. “I’m trying to get myself right and the team is trying to win games and it’s two different places. It’s hard to be that connected even if you are around every day and part of the group. You’re
not playing, you feel like an outcast.”
The Lakers don’t view him that way, though.
“I don’t think he wants anyone to feel sorry for him,” Lakers coach Mike D’ANtoni said. “I don’t feel sorry for him. What I do is I admire what he’s doing. He shows a passion and a joy of playing that rivals anybody and he’s also willing to put it on the line. People will criticize him or not criticize him or whatever. What he wants to do and love for the game has overwritten all that. You have to admire someone like that.”
That’s because Nash admitted the nerve irritation will affect him for the “rest of his life.”
“I’m not going to have to play in the NBA the rest of my life,” Nash said. “I probably will deal with some nerve irritation forever more. But I don’t have to play in the NBA forever. I don’t think its that big of a deal.”
He then joked he might need to have surgery after retirement so he can continue playing soccer in his charity events supporting his self-named foundation. Before that moment comes however, Nash remains convinced he can still provide value so long as he keeps the nerve issues at bay.
Nash went through a three-month absence this season before returning last week. Before his latest setback, Nash offered encouraging signs with a season-high 19 points performance last week in Philadelphia.
“I just want to be moving well,” Nash said. “If I move well like I did last week, I know I can be effective. If I’m moving well, the games will play well. That’s the goal. Good things will happen.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org