The gym quickly scattered, the product of too many players in the training room making a Lakers’ practice pretty impractical.
Yet, even with Steve Nash nursing nerve pain in his back and already en route to his Manhattan Beach residence, he drove back to the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo to speak with reporters about some fairly depressing topics.
Nash plans to sit out when the Lakers (18-34) host the Oklahoma City Thunder (42-12) Thursday at Staples Center because of what he called “a little irritation” and “flare up” surrounding a nerve permeating his back and hamstrings. He also expressed some cautious optimism the NBA All-Star break could give him enough time to correct the back issues that made him leave the second half for two consecutive games. Nash vowed he’ll continue fighting despite a full offseason and nearly three months of treatment during the season hasn’t controlled the nerves from inflaming again.
“Obviously after having a really good week in Minnesota and Philadelphia, to have a setback is frustrating,” said Nash, who had 19 points and five assists last week against the Sixers on his 40th birthday. “To get hit on the exact spot where I broke my leg is unlucky. It’s part of it. You have to fight through the frustration and do what you can to get back out there.”
Nash showcased his professionalism by engaging with reporters when he easily could’ve blown off such an obligation. Nash demonstrated the same quality as for his reason playing in the Lakers’ loss Tuesday to Utah after feeling pain when Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich bumped in his left knee two days earlier.
“I was looking around and seeing without me, there were only eight guys,” Nash said of the Lakers’ injury plagued roster. “I wanted to try and see if I can play and help a little bit because we had so few guys. I would’ve pulled myself if we had a full roster or even another guy or two. We just don’t have that luxury. I also felt bad for the guys to bail on them with a short bench.”
“I love to play the game. “I want to get out there and help my team. It’s simple. That’s about it. I love to play the game and I want to give more before I live a long life without it hopefully.”
Nash said Lakers trainer Gary Vitti advised him to sit the second half to avoid further damage. But the Lakers noticed and appreciated his efforts.
“You admire what he’s trying to go through,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s trying to be as professional as he can and doing everything he can to get ready and he loves to play. There’s no reason why he wouldn’t do his job. That’s what he’s trying to do.”
Segments of the Lakers fan base aren’t as sympathetic.
Nash’s two-point effort on 1-of-4 shooting and two assists in 17 minutes against Utah came at a hefty price. Because Nash played in his 10th game this season, his $9.7 million salary next season will remain on the Lakers’ books even if he is forced into medical retirement because of persistent back pain. 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. Nash also has made no indications he would retire.
“I don’t live in everyone else’s living room,” Nash said. “I really enjoy other things when I’m not in here. I’m with my kids and enjoy my family. I’m kind of oblivious to the noise. After 18 years, you don’t really get as affected by it anyways. I didn’t pound my chest when people told me I was great for a long time in my career. I’m not going to let it affect me when people think I should look at myself in the mirror.”
Nash’s presence with the Lakers has hardly matched the initial excitement when the Lakers acquired him in a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns. He has carved out a Hall of Fame resume with two most valuable player awards, a fourth place standing on the NBA’s all-time assists list and played a large part in spurring D’Antoni’s small-ball offense through the NBA. But Nash’s legacy with the Lakers entail more MRIs than highlight reels. He missed a combined 32 games last season because of a fractured left leg, which spurred nerve damage that soon affected the rest of his back and hamstrings. THis season, Nash has averaged 7.6 points on 36 percent shooting and 4.7 assists in 10 games.
“Life rarely goes as planned. I didn’t think it was a guarantee of anything happening here,” Nash said. “I just thought it was a great opportunity to play for a great franchise and a great city and be close to my kids, who were at Phoenix at the time. That was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I obviously broke my leg in the second game of my career and things have been difficult. But I’m not about difficult times. Everyone faces ups and downs in their life. You have to embrace the difficult times. That’s when you find out who are you and what you’re made of. I think that’s when you learn the most.”
Through those difficult moments, the Lakers are still supporting Nash, believing that he can still help a struggling team.
“Things haven’t necessarily panned out for him the way he’s expected and the way a lot of us expected,” Lakers guard Steve Blake said. “But at the same time, I would never come out him. There’s still time left.”
Such prospects seem slim considering the Lakers rank 14th place in the Western Conference. Regardless, the Lakers have marveled at Nash’s uncompromising will to recover instead of lamenting his weaknesses”Respect what he does.
Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t,” D’Antoni said. “I think sometimes we sit around and talk about what kind of legacy, he’s a great player and one of the best ever. He should be really proud of what he’s done. He keeps trying to do it and you have to admire that. One day it will be over. You don’t know when it is, but he keeps trying to battle. Celebrate what he has inside with his heart instead of images. It drives me crazy. I like being around him. He has guts and that’s the reason he’s here anyway. He’d be a different animal anyway. That’s why I admire him. His legacy is he’s one of the best players ever and two time MVP. My gosh, what he did is unbelievable.”
Nash did so by still having the same mindset with his injuries.
“He has passion and loves the game and likes his teammates,” D’Antoni said. “He likes to compete and slap hands with guys and do it collectively. Nothing gives him more joy than having teammates success and us win. That’s hard to lay down and turn the page. He’s terrific with what he’s doing.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org