Before July 4th, 2012, there had never, ever been an excited Lakers fan when Steve Nash was coming to town. In fact, what everyone felt was most likely sheer terror.
Whether he was a Phoenix Sun or a Dallas Maverick, the perennial All-Star would come to LA with the expressed purpose of dissecting the Lakers defense and doling out assists that would sink any chance of free tacos. He was magnificent in every way, with a lifetime average of 15 points and almost 9 assists against the Show in addition to countless back-breaking, game-clinching shots. Watching Nash was like witnessing a well-choreographed boxing match--gorgeous, fluid and brutal, all while getting socked right in the face.
So when Lakers fans learned that he would be the team's new point guard, they were both relieved and excited. One of the team's biggest scourges was now one of their own, another piece of what many figured would be a championship puzzle. Dwight Howard joined the team a month later and fans began to make plans for a June parade. It was a genuinely exhilarating time to follow the team that many had figured had drifted past its championship contention window. I can remember stopping the festivities that Fourth of July, cutting out all...intake in order to concentrate and write an article for Silver Screen & Roll. It was glorious.
Almost two years later, here we are. And Lakers fans everywhere are right back to absolutely...reviling Steve Nash.
The two-time MVP has reverted to his status as scourge of the Lakers, this time negatively affecting the team from the inside out. In just the second game of last season, Nash broke his leg in a collision with Damian Lillard. Since then, he's simply been a shell of the player he once was. At 40 years old, Nash is the oldest player in the league, barely able to play because of nerve issues stemming from that fracture. He's been active for just 11 games this year, coming in and out of the line-up with waning effectiveness. In many ways, Nash is almost a non-entity with the Lakers. He just doesn't exist on the court.
Off the court, it's a different story. Even moreso than in the deal for Dwight Howard, the Lakers mortgaged their future for a shot at a title with Steve Nash in the sign-and-trade acquisition with the Phoenix Suns. LA gave up four draft picks in the deal, including 2013 and 2015 first rounders and 2013 and 2014 second rounders. For a player that's provided essentially no return, it's been a disaster of a transaction for the Lakers, especially seeing as how the team has gone down the tubes this season. If this slide continues into next year, LA could lose the pick unless they're gifted with a bottom-five selection once again.
But to make matters worse, there's also the salary component of the trade. The Lakers signed Nash to three years, $27 million, with the financial hit at around $9 million this year and almost $10 million next year. This is perhaps the most tangible effect of the trade for many Lakers fans, as they understand that the massive cap figure will impede the team from signing some younger, much needed help this off-season via free agency.
At this point, it's not an exaggeration to say that the Nash deal has been one of, if not the worst trade in Lakers franchise history. The team's losses in assets and salary cap room have been compounded with an ineffective player who isn't contributing (almost) at all. For this reason, and perhaps some backloaded bad will, Nash has been a target of much mud slinging from the fan base.
That being said, there are a number of barbs I hear on almost a daily basis that just are not true. There's been this negative mythology that's surrounded Nash for the past year and a half, strange considering his reputation as one of the most respected men in the entire league. Let's take a look, and hopefully disarm, some of the misconceptions of Stephen John Nash as a Los Angeles Laker.
Nash selfishly played his tenth game of the season, thereby disabling a medical retirement that would have given the Lakers back their $10 million dollars in cap room
On the eve of his tenth game of the season, Lakers and NBA fans at large became aware of a little known clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Medical retirement, in which a player cannot perform on the court any more due to injury, only can be enacted if the player plays less than 10 games and if an independent physician deems that the injuries sustained are indeed career ending. If this were to happen, the player is still paid his salary, but the figure is wiped off the books for not only this season, but all subsequent seasons.
That's what would have happened if Nash felt like he could no longer compete after his ninth game. That of course was not the case, as he went on to play his tenth game of the season and has actually made his return since then this past weekend.
The misconception surrounding this issue is multi-tiered. First and foremost, Nash would have had to agree that he could no longer play due to injury. While that may seem to be the case to the viewing audience, this is just our armchair interpretation. If Nash feels like he can keep on trying to come back and play, he's really the only person besides a licensed physician to say if that's true or not. Take his Friday return against Washington, for example. Nash can still get back on the court, so at this point it's a matter of him staying there. He's still not at a place where his body is prohibiting him from even getting prepared for games.
But let's say for argument's sake that Nash felt compelled to stop playing, for whatever reason. He'd then have to get the approval of a doctor, who after a full examination would have to give justification that he could no longer play professional basketball.
To recap, this isn't just a Nash decision. He can't just throw his hands up and say "I'm medically retired! I can't do this anymore!" He would have to get medical corroboration from a doctor independent of the NBA or the Lakers.
It wasn't selfish for Nash to play in that tenth game. He is paid to play professional basketball, not to be a manager of the salary cap. It's not his job to be conscious of the Lakers' luxury tax situation. It's his job to try to compete and win basketball games. The notion that Nash should have done the organization a favor and retired just so he could help them erase their bad trade (not his!), is a ridiculous sentiment.
Well, the Lakers should have forced him to retire. Couldn't they have appealed to his common sense of compassion? Or worked out a deal where he could have been involved in the organization off the court?
No, they couldn't.
Legally and ethically, the Lakers could not have even spoken to Nash about this. Medical retirement has to come organically from the player and supported by an impartial physician. The team could not have said anything to Nash concerning the retirement without facing legal consequences from the Player's Union.
Since the Lakers traded for him, it's been injury after injury with this guy
This isn't true at all. Everything that has happened to Nash has largely been from that one, well-placed Damian Lillard knee last season.
Most of Nash's maladies have had to do with nerve root irritation, which has all stemmed from his fibula fracture in just the second game last season. That broken bone created a problem with his nervous system, an injury that's trickled down to problems with his hamstrings and back. Its not that he's got a back strain or a torn hamstring--it's that those parts of his body feel like they're on fire because of nerve irritation.True, his age hasn't helped matters. Older players heal slower. That's just the human condition. But from what I understand, most of his problems have been related to the fracture.
It's not a stretch to say that if not for that one, fateful injury, Nash might not be in the career-threatening dire straits he's in right now. Everything that's happened to him health-wise has stemmed from that one injury. It's a true basketball tragedy that the last two seasons have largely had to do with one, well-placed knee from Damian Lillard.
It's all a Phoenix Suns conspiracy! They knew he was injured and sent him to the Lakers to covertly destroy the franchise from the inside out!
Nash has to do the "right thing" and rescind his salary for next season
It's true that Steve could accomplish this if he truly desired. Besides the dissatisfaction of the Player's Union, there's nothing to prevent Nash from simply quitting, saying he couldn't perform and giving up his $9.7 million dollar salary.
First and foremost, it's $10 million dollars. No matter if you're Steve Nash, Average Joe or the King of Prussia, that's a ton of money. No matter who the person is that's criticizing Nash for being "selfish", it's almost assuredly hypocrisy.
As I wrote earlier, it's not Steve Nash's job to make up for the mistakes that the front office made. His job is to try and get healthy to play. I understand the ethical argument that Nash shouldn't be taking money for a job that he's not equipped to do. However, the Lakers knew full-well that with a player who would be 41 at the end of the deal, this scenario was a very real possibility. Anyone that even casually watches the NBA could have seen this being a problem. In signing Nash to this contract, they made him the guarantee of this money. When they did this, they recused themselves from being in any argument of ethics. I don't understand how anyone could argue otherwise.
The "right thing" is for Nash to try his best to fulfill his contract and play. If he truly feels like he can't do that and believes that the Lakers should be relieved of their duty, no matter of a contract that they negotiated and agreed to, then that's completely his prerogative.
For the most part, many of the issues that fans have with Steve Nash are completed misdirected. If anyone has a problem with him taking $10 million next year, no matter what the reason, blame the Lakers for signing him to a guaranteed, three-year contract. If anyone has a problem with his injury situation, it was a freak accident that seems to have inflicted the maximum amount of damage possible on a man's body. If anyone has a problem with him trying to continue his comeback, why don't you put yourself in his shoes: you're asking him to completely stop doing his life's work, something he's been doing for 30 years. You're asking him to quit his passion, the very center of his identity. It's easy making that decision for him, isn't it? But Nash making that decision himself?
The sad truth is that the anger directed at Nash really has no true target. He's been the victim of a very unfortunate injury that's sabotaged his career. He's only fulfilling a contract that was negotiated and signed on both sides. He's been surrounded by injuries almost as impactful as his own, including Dwight Howard's recovery from back surgery, Kobe's broken leg and ruptured Achilles tendon and a grab bag of maladies to Pau Gasol. Fans are furious at Nash, but unfortunately, many of those complaints do not have any culprit besides bad luck.
There are criticisms we could fling at Steve Nash, but from my vantage point, most of them belong directed towards the Lakers front office and the fates above. Let's try to debunk this fraudulent mythology, my friends.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino