Martin Luther King once said that “if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Following the trials and tribulations of Steve Nash this season has been something of an irritation for Lakers fans, but it’s been even harder for the broken man who, after eighteen seasons in the league, may finally be facing the end of the road. Nash knows who he is, what he represents and what he lives for, and all of the above are slipping beyond his once graceful control.
What can we say about Steve Nash that hasn’t already been said? Just three years ago, the 6-foot-three guard was enjoying reasonable health and averaging a double-double in points and assists. The fact of the matter is that after his move to LA, nothing went right. Instead of pursuing his goals of reaching for his first championship ring, Nash’s first foe was father time, a battle which he began to lose. Although it had been far from clear sailing for him since his sign-and-trade move in 2012, you could bet your bottom buck that he wasn’t about to step aside gracefully. There was always that final goal to chase. That was, and remains, the goal of glory.
Right from opening night, something wasn’t right for Nash. Despite collecting 3 points and 5 assists, the (then) thirty nine year-old’s movements were not as fluid as they once were. Despite having almost an entire off-season to recover and recuperate, Steve looked fatigued, worn and a shadow of his former self. Although there was no question that the team’s offence flowed more efficiently with him on court, the majesty that traditionally accompanied him was gone. After sitting out the second game in Oakland, he returned at the beginning of November to face the Spurs at the Staples Center. Again, 5 points and 5 assists formed a moderately respectable stat line, but not for him. Not for the two-time MVP, eight-time All-Star and all-time leader of the 50-40-90 club. Not for him. Not for Steve Nash.
Over the next nine days, Nash contributed to four Lakers games, although his health and form was rapidly deteriorating. He was able to notch 4.8apg in this period, as well as 8ppg in 23mpg. However, his shooting touch was off (.286 FG%), his legs were worn and his dependability was quickly fading. On November 11th, Nash was diagnosed with nerve root irritation following damage sustained during the 113-90 blowout loss to the Timberwolves the night before. Many claimed that he was done. Especially at his age, nerve issues are incredibly difficult to treat and “heal”, but despite all reason and sense telling him to call it a day, the rehab was scheduled to begin as soon as possible.
After almost three months out, Nash was ready to return in the Lakers’ first visit to Minnesota of the season. He delivered a season-high 9 assists in what was a comfortable return for him. However, the next few days would present him with some true gifts to behold. On his 40th birthday, Steve was able to deliver a performance that touched him greatly.
“At this point, I don’t take anything for granted. It’s a grind for me to get ready to play every day. I’m just thrilled I can move out there without restriction and help my team.”
19 points, 5 assists and at least two highlight reel moments gave Steve and fans alike a distraction from the horrors of the regular season. For a moment, it was like Nash was thirty again, rolling off screens and dishing out passes inconceivably fast and precise.
After another two games, Nash was down once again. It took him over a month to return fully to the roster and in his final five games of the season, he averaged 5.2 ppg and 7.8apg off of a strong .474 FG%. Whilst his contributions were minimal, the end marked more than that for him. The closing games of the season almost acted as Nash’s means to convince himself that he could still perform at a reasonably high level, or at least at a level that still made him a somewhat valuable asset. Could he? Yes, in bites. Was bites what Nash wanted at the start of the year? No, but beggars can’t be choosers and despite his best intentions, Nash no longer holds his destiny within his own hands.
Whilst almost all of the Lakers’ roster will be making decisions regarding their futures this off-season, Steve Nash won’t be. Despite probably being the player in the most need of some thinking time, Steve’s mind is already made up. He’ll keep fighting, he’ll stay in his rehabilitation programme and he’ll give it one more go. The idea of his bumper paycheque next season is too tempting to walk away from, and can you even blame him?
That being said, it’s all about more than just the money for him. To quote Grantland.com, he really does face “The Finish Line”. Although sense and reason are telling him to toss in the towel, his love of the game (and his desire for some money after a pretty gutting divorce in 2010) means that his time in the NBA isn’t over just yet.
The fact of the matter is that it was never meant to end this way. Nash’s swansong in LA should have delivered him with that long-desired ring, finally placing him amongst the elite that can claim to have “won it all”. Because that ring was always the missing addition to his awards chest, Nash can’t go down without a fight. This season has been a write-off both for him and the franchise and, much like the Lakers, he’ll be hoping that next year brings far brighter fortunes.
It’s far too shallow minded to believe that Nash’s current predicament is a trick to draw money away from the franchise. Whilst the money is a bonus, admittedly a very attractive one to say the least, the game of basketball is, and always has been the motivation for Steve. Even if he would have experienced this issue in Phoenix, LA, Dallas or any other destination in the NBA, it’s true to say that Nash would claw away at his injury with the same intensity that he does here, with that same intensity that he’s held throughout his entire career.
Does he still believe that he can be his former self? I think he does. Even if you see this to be a mark of delusion on his point, you have to pay credit to his persistence and never-ending drive to succeed. The money is the pawn in this decision. Nash would probably trade away his entire career earnings to relive his Phoenix glory days, the days that (literally) flew by so quickly that we forget how incredible he once was. If he can even regain a minute portion of that form, we’ll have a fun final year to behold with him. Even if the ring is now history, he admits that he now plays just for the joy, the little things. After all, aren’t the little things what makes up life?
Now that the stretch provision looks unlikely to hit Nash, he’s got one more chance to prove his worth. One more shot at demonstrating how a microcosm of the Showtime offence could still be played. It’s a long shot, perhaps it’s the toughest challenge in Nash’s career to date, but he’s not about to give up. He never has. He never will.