The writing on the wall finally came to fruition with Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash as the team announced earlier this week that he would miss the entire 2014-15 season due to ongoing issues with his back.
The 40-year-old has worked hard over the past two seasons to get past his nagging back and leg injuries. It has been extremely difficult for Nash to take the floor in a Lakers’ uniform as he has played in only 65 games with Los Angeles since he was acquired for a hefty price of first-round selections in 2013 and ’15, and second-rounders in 2013 and ’14.
The Lakers had also signed Nash to a three-year, $27 million deal in hopes of him being one of the major contributors to a championship-contending team that had included Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Kobe Bryant.
Things fell apart before they even began with Nash suffering a broken left leg in the second game of that season. Once he returned, Nash was never able to stay on the court long enough to impact the team as various injuries came about all stemming from the nerve damage he suffered from his broken leg.
Despite that being the case, Nash continued to rehab in hopes of getting back on the court and helping his team. Nevertheless, the injuries continued to come and he was hit hard last season as he only played in 15 games due to reoccurring nerve root irritation in his lower back that kept him off the court.
The former two-time league MVP never deterred from his goal of getting back on the court. He had finally looked to be on the right track this summer, and multiple reports had stated he was looking like the player he was prior to the injuries.
The Lakers with that in mind, remained cautious with Nash in training camp as head coach Byron Scott sat him out of the second practice of two-a-days to help keep him healthy, and consequently lower the likelihood of any potential setbacks.
All was well until the Lakers’ third preseason game against the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 12, when Nash asked 0ut of the game after the first quarter because he wasn’t “feeling right” physically. Things continued to go downhill from that point on when he injured his back three days later attempting to lift luggage prior to heading to practice that day.
This appeared to be the last straw for his body with the announcement a few days later that he was done for the season. It comes as a huge disappoint for Nash after having worked hard in the offseason to get healthy.
“Being on the court this season has been my top priority and it is disappointing to not be able to do that right now,” said Nash. “I work very hard to stay healthy and unfortunately my recent setback makes performing at full capacity difficult. I will continue to support my team during this period of rest, and will focus on my long-term health.”
Bryant, who missed all but six games last season due to two serious knee injuries, stated that Nash “did everything” in his power to get past the lingering injuries and be ready to play the Lakers this upcoming season. However, he also pointed out the sad reality that all professional athletes go through at the end of their careers.
“You can control what you can control,” Bryant said before the Lakers’ final preseason game, a 93-92 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday night. “He did everything to get back and play at a high level. From that standpoint he should be able to sleep at night. I know I would. I can only think about that in my situation; I just tried to do everything possible to be ready, and if it wasn’t in the cards, if I couldn’t get back to being at that level, you just have to accept it and when you lay your head down you know that you did absolutely everything possible.”
Scott had Nash slated to be the team’s starting point guard to start the season. He also indicated that the 40-year-0ld would have been on a similar plan for playing time that he had last season that consisted of him not suiting up for the second game of back-t0-backs, and sitting out practices to help maintain his health.
The Lakers’ new coach had hopes of coaching Nash, who he described as being “one my favorite people in the NBA,” for the first time in his NBA coaching career.
“Obviously it hurts,” Scott said. “I think we feel more for Steve than anybody because I saw how hard this kid worked out all summer long to be ready for the season. For him to be out hurts the team, because he’s obviously the best point guard that we have and one of the best that’s ever played the game. I know it hurts him because this is something he wants to do. He loves playing basketball. Like I said, I feel more for him than anything else.”
That said, this is not something that the Lakers did not see coming given his continued struggles with injuries over the past year and a half. Despite that, the front office maintained their faith in Nash by electing to not to use the stretch provision on him that had a deadline at the start of September.
The move would have allowed the Lakers to stretch his remaining $9.7 million left in the final year of his contract over the next three years, and erase his salary from their team payroll. Los Angeles has Nash on their roster, but general manager Mitch Kupchak has stated that he will look into options in regards to applying for a disabled player exception that would be worth around $4.85 million.
With Nash out, the biggest question that comes to mind is where does that leave the Lakers moving forward into the season, and ultimately beyond that?
For the immediate future this opens up a prime opportunity for Jeremy Lin to play significant minutes, and possibly be the team’s starting point guard.
Lin played in well in the preseason averaging 12.4 points, and 6.2 assists in five games played. The 26-year-old has shown signs that he is progressing along in the development of chemistry with his new teammates, in particular Ed Davis, who he has excelled in the pick-and-roll with in each game played.
He was also true to his word by staying aggressive offensively with consistently driving to the basket, and drawing fouls because of it. Lin shot the ball at a high percentage in his final four preseason games going 18-of-30 from the field. Finally, he capped the preseason off with arguably his best performance in the finale against the Sacramento Kings with 19 points and seven assists.
Although Lin has performed at a high level, Scott has not ruled out the possibility of Ronnie Price being the starting point guard to begin the season. Scott has praised the 31-year-old all throughout preseason calling him the “ultimate veteran” and a “bulldog” on defense. In seven games played, which included five starts, Price averaged 7.0 and 4.7 assists in 25.6 minutes per game.
The possibility of Price starting for the season opener on Tuesday could be out of the picture due to a knee injury that he suffered in the preseason finale on Friday against the Kings. Whatever the case may be, Lin looks to be in for what Scott calls a “huge chance” to play a significant amount of minutes on a daily basis, which is something that he didn’t experience last season with the Houston Rockets.
If Scott does indeed go the route of starting Lin, it will be a move that brings more stability to the starting lineup with another ball handler who has the playmaking ability that can make a huge impact on a game. This is something that Bryant has quickly come to realize in the short amount of time that he has played alongside his new teammate.
“Jeremy Lin makes a big difference,” Bryant said. “He creates shots for others. He is somebody for us that penetrates and make plays for others which puts pressure on the defense.”
What Bryant and Scott have also been quick to realize is that Lin will play a major part in determining the team’s success this upcoming season. He is the team’s only healthy true point guard, and he has the ability to be a game-changing type of player with his passing skills and ability to get to the rim. Although Scott did not necessarily name who would be the starting point guard, he did described the duties of the starter that seem to fit Lin.
“If Ronnie starts or Jeremy starts, both of them play well with the first unit,” Scott said. “That’s not a defining factor. It’s all about who I feel gives me the best chance to win basketball games. Whoever I start is going to play the bulk of the minutes. He’s going to play 30 minutes or more. It’s really who I feel comfortable with, and to be honest with you, right now I feel comfortable with both of those guys.”
The news of Nash’s injury may be a huge disappointment in its own regard, but what it has done is allow for them to look ahead to what might be their future at the position in Lin. If they don’t look at Lin as the long-term solution, the increased playing time that he will receive could play in the Lakers’ hand as it could allow him to turn into a hot commodity across the league.
All in all, there are an influx of ways that the Lakers are affected by Nash missing the entire season. Above the rest and most importantly, is how it will affect their most influential player in the 2014-15 season.
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