LAS VEGAS — The partnership seemed unlikely given how they spent so many years competing against each other in heated playoff battles. But both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash rightfully gushed about the possibilities once they became teammates two years ago, knowing the NBA’s best scorer and passer of this past generation would give defenses fits every single night.
That dream scenario never happened, though. Nash played in only a combined 65 games in the past two years before the Lakers ruled him out for the 2014-15 season because of recurring nerve damage in his back. Meanwhile, Bryant tore his left Achilles tendon shortly before the 2013 playoffs, only to appear in six games the following season because of a left knee injury.
So even if Bryant reported Nash feeling in good spirits after the two touched base on Thursday night, how much can Bryant relate to any frustration Nash may currently experience? After all, both have earned universal praise regarding their methodical approach toward training, rehabbing and dieting.
“You can control what you can control, so he did everything possible to get back to playing at a high level so from that standpoint he should be able to sleep at night,” Bryant said. “I know I would. I could only think about that in my situation and I just tried to do everything possible to be ready, and it wasn’t in the cards, if I couldn’t get back to being at that level then you just have to accept it. But you have to know that when you put your head down at night that you did everything possible.”
Nash impressed Bryant so much with his recovery during the first two weeks of training camp that the Lakers’ star stayed optimistic about his 40-year-old teammate. Bryant had said he felt “very concerned” about Nash staying sidelined for the past two weeks after experiencing more back pain. But Bryant maintains he believed Nash would eventually recover after proving he could for the large part of his 19-year career.
“He struggled with his back even when he was in his prime, I really don’t think it’s an age thing, I think it’s an injury thing,” Nash said. “He’s had to deal with it his entire career, and it’s just caught up to him now.”
But before that happened, Nash compiled an extensive resume that entailed two NBA MVPs, a third place standing on the league’s all-time assists list and an eventual nod into the Hall of Fame. Where would Kobe rank Nash among the NBA’s point guards?
“That’s ESPN’s job to rank people,” said Bryant, an obvious dig at the cable network ranking him this season as the NBA’s 40th best player.
With Nash’s absence permanent, Bryant exuded confidence Ronnie Price, Jeremy Lin and rookie Jordan Clarkson enhance their roles. Bryant said he and veteran Carlos Boozer will have to increase their leadership roles. And Bryant supported Nash becoming a de facto assistant coach to mentor their young backcourt.
“He’s been great as a teammate, he’s so smart, he sees things on the court,” Bryant said. “He communicates things very well so he’s more than welcome obviously.”
And with a distinguished member of his 1996 NBA Draft class likely ending his career, Bryant shook his head in amazement that both he and Nash lasted this long.
“We’re both playing, have been playing years that we probably should not have been,” Bryant said. “Nineteen years is a very, very long time. It’s tough to look around in any industry, anybody that’s been doing anything for 19 years, it won’t be at a high level.”