Below is the second in a series previewing the story lines surrounding each player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2014-15 season. This post focuses on Lakers guard Steve Nash.
1. Can Steve Nash stay healthy during the 2014-15 season? Only two years ago, the Lakers believed they secured their best point guard since Magic Johnson once graced the hardwood. But instead of frustrating opponents with dazzling no-look passes, Nash has frustrated a restless fan base with persisting injuries. No one can blame Nash for countless ailments that entailed a fractured left leg two years ago that sidelined him for 24 games only the second game into the season. Or the continuous nerve irritation in his hamstrings and back last season that kept him out for all but 15 games. Yet, the 40-year-old Nash has not offered the Lakers much hope that he can step on the floor without experiencing more setbacks.
So why should Nash feel any more encouraged entering his final year on his contract with the Lakers? Well, he progressed through his rehab relatively faster than last season just by virtue that he could barely run during the 2013 offseason and that he entered training camp pretty rusty. Nash also spent this offseason actually training instead of mostly rehabbing. This has not convinced the Lakers enough that Nash will stay healthy. Hence, why they acquired Jeremy Lin. But Nash could show more flashes of rare brilliance, such as a 19-point effort on his 40th birthday against Philadelphia or other countless sequences where he set up teammates beautifully. This will not necessarily translate into Nash replicating one of his two MVP-caliber seasons. But should he manage to stay on the court, Nash could offer some feel-good moments on a team that will need plenty of them.
Beyond his health, the only other question mark for Nash entails how he will run Byron Scott’s offense. Point guards, such as Jason Kidd, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving, thrived under Scott. But his system will also face some elements of the Princeton offense, something that clearly put Nash out of his comfort zone when former Lakers coach Mike Brown tried to run it two seasons ago. Scott stressed in a recent interview that his system will be different and show more similarities to Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. Still, there will have to be some give-and-take given Nash has shown he thrives most when he runs pick-and-roll sets in a faster-paced offense.
2. How will the Lakers manage Nash’s minutes? Scott strongly suggested that the Lakers will limit Nash’s playing time far stricter than they will handle Kobe Bryant’s. The reasons are obvious. Nash’s recent injury history seems more tenuous despite the Lakers’ insistence last season to stay conservative with his minutes. That explains why it seems highly likely Nash will play at least under 30 minutes per game and sit out on the second night of back-to-backs. He may even lose his starting position both so Nash can keep his body fresh and so that Lin can fully develop.
Scott is currently favoring Nash in the starting lineup both because of his experience and want for Lin to compete for the spot. But the starting spot should go to Nash anyway because it will become easier to establish a rhythm and stay warm after going through his pre-game routine. In the end, that might become a moot point if Nash’s health worsens.
3. Nash’s mentor role for Jeremy Lin will prove critical. The Lakers declined to waive Nash through the stretch provision for reasons beyond wanting to pay his remaining $9.8 million salary in full instead of through three seasons, something that would enhance the team’s spending ability during future offseasons. The Lakers are also aware that Nash’s leadership could vastly help Lin.
This dynamic should work considering Nash’s public openness toward this role, as well as Lin’s want to improve. It also helps the two have a close enough of a relationship that Nash made a cameo appearance in one of Lin’s satirical Youtube videos. Nash cannot impart that much wisdom on Lin for one-on-one defense. But Nash can provide plenty of advice on how to train, recover, mentally prepare and run the pick-and-roll with near perfection.
4. How will Nash play with Bryant? It seems weird to wonder about the chemistry between how the best scorer and passer of this past generation. But it remains a legitimate question. Bryant and Nash last played together on March 30, 2013, a season in which both of their roles turned upside down. Bryant played out of his mind, averaging 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting amid a flurry of roles that included scoring, ball handling and facilitating. But when the Lakers failed to establish consistent chemistry even upon Nash’s return from a 24-game absence, Nash soon became a spot-up shooter. Despite his dependable accuracy, Nash hardly looked comfortable in his new role that entailed diminished ball handling duties.
Will Bryant and Nash have to play this way again? Perhaps. But it would be a good idea for both players to revert to their traditional roles. For one, Nash looked more comfortable handling the ball. Two, even if Bryant can facilitate, he will become much more effective this season moving off the ball. That would free up Bryant for open looks and reduce his workload on what could become a physically taxing season.
5. Will Nash go through a retirement tour? Nash confirmed the obvious this summer that he will hang up the laces following this season. This revelation is hardly surprising. The 40-year-old Nash is on the last year of his contract and has spent the past two years more occupied in the trainer’s room than on the basketball court. But Nash’s official announcement could make his last year more ceremonial.
Lakers fans might appreciate Nash more despite his injury-plagued seasons. As much as he embraces the positive out of any small moments, Nash might find himself even more reflective and appreciative of any team and personal victories he accomplishes. Opposing teams might also greet him with parting gifts the same way New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter experienced this past year. Either way, it will be a fun experience to watch whether Nash can officially end a chapter the way he’d like, or at least the best in which the circumstances allow.