This is a dark time, my friends.
The Los Angeles Lakers have nearly half the season left, but with so little to play for. The team sits 20 games under .500 and clearly in a rebuilding phase, each quarter seemingly more treacherous than the last. And worse yet? No Kobe Bryant to serve as a temporary salve from this horrid basketball.
With Kobe done for the season, there's no doubt there's going to be yet another vacuum of veteran leadership on the Lakers. Sure, they still have Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Price and Nick Young, but other than that, we're looking at a roster full of guys with five years (or less) of experience in the league. This leads me to a question we've pondered aloud all season: where's Steve Nash? Aside from a few Instagram photos and a flyby hello before the team's Christmas Day road game against the Chicago Bulls, the two-time MVP has been nowhere to be seen.
What benefits could Steve Nash serve as simply a presence on the sidelines?
Ben Rosales: It's hard to neatly encapsulate what this would entail since it requires a more in-depth view of the team's coaching dynamics than we have available. That noted, he'd mostly just be passing on pointers to the team's players every now and then and acting like an assistant coach if we're generous, a glorified cheerleader if we're not being so. The cumulative effect over the course of a season might be to the benefit of the team's young players but on a single game-to-game basis, it's likely negligible.
The CDP: With a young roster, mentorship is always critical, especially when the team is struggling and you want to avoid developing losing habits. Unfortunately, Byron Scott does not seem to be able to do much other than run them into the ground in practice and publicly criticize his players in a way that is both less strategic and less effective than the famous Phil Jackson mind games. Steve Nash, on the other hand, is a legendary mentor who has been able to make his teams play the right way, bond together, and even improve their eating habits. Rotation guys like Jared Dudley were probably helped by the black magic of the Suns training staff, but Nash played a huge role in the maturation of his teammates into true professionals. The Lakers should be doing everything they can to get his presence around their young locker room - Nash will provide a dose of positivity, calm, and understanding of the game that will help the whole roster, not just PG's.
Sabreena Merchant: Steve Nash lying down by the bench, watching the Phoenix Suns' offense flounder without him on the court, is an indelible image of the Seven Seconds or Less era. But I have absolutely no desire to see Nash on the sidelines at this point in his career. It would just be a sad reminder of the worst transaction of Mitch Kupchak's tenure as GM, and Nash's poor relationship with Byron Scott makes it unlikely that he could contribute anything of value during games. Whether we want the Lakers to perform better is an entirely different question...
Harrison Faigen: The level of benefit that Nash would have with his presence on the sidelines is heavily debatable. On its face, one would think that one of the best teammates in NBA history would be a great presence to have around the team, especially a terrible one like this group of Lakers who need all the positive vibes they can get.
But what would be the point? If Nash helped this team be even a little bit better, is that not counterproductive to the Lakers' need to accrue every possible loss they can pile up? The only way that I could get behind this would be if the argument was that his presence would help Clarkson's long-term development, which seems like a flimsy case at best.
Drew Garrison: It's hard to say how much having Nash around could benefit the Lakers. My opinion on this has shifted a bit, though, with Jordan Clarkson actually starting now. It'd be nice to have someone like Nash helping on the spot.
Do you think he should be back with the Lakers right now?
Ben Rosales: Not really if he doesn't want to. His time with the team has mostly been an exercise in severe frustration and adding to that burden seems pointless when the possible benefits are so marginal. He is only obligated under his contract to play for the Lakers if he's healthy, which isn't the case, so providing the sort of mentoring that coaches and management would like for him to do is a courtesy, not something he has to do. The Lakers implicitly accepted the risks that Nash might not be able to play when they signed him, as they do for all players, so foisting especial responsibilities on him doesn't feel warranted.
The CDP: It depends on what Nash wants and what kind of role they are offering. At this point, we should all forget about him ever getting on the court and focus on his value elsewhere. If he doesn't have a concrete job with the team or get positioned as a leader/mentor figure, I don't see why he would be. I think he has a lot to offer, but only if the Lakers want to embrace that in some official capacity. Could Nash be the NBA equivalent of a quarterbacks coach for Clarkson and Lin? I don't see why not.
Sabreena Merchant: Even if I don't care to see Nash, I don't think he should be completely separated from the team. Nash at his peak was an undeniable talent at point guard, and if he can't play, he can at least serve out his contract as a mentor to Jordan Clarkson, and possibly even Jeremy Lin. Clarkson is one of a few players on the Lakers who could be part of the team's future, and any expertise he can gain from Nash would be a huge boon. Watching Goran Dragic play makes it clear that Nash could have a ton to offer if he chose to.
Harrison Faigen: I think that Nash should be wherever he wants to be right now. If that is the Lakers sideline, great. If that is on the beach or spending time with his kids that is fine by me too. The Lakers have Nash under contract to play basketball, and since the Lakers medical staff stated that he is no longer able to fulfill that job and declared him out for the year, he is under no obligation to hang around the team.
Drew Garrison: I believe Nash should be able to do what he wants at this point in his career and life. It'd be nice to have him around, but I'm not interested in holding him to that. The season is already at the mid-way point and if he doesn't want to be around it's going to be a fruitless situation anyway.
Would you rather have him on the sidelines or just outright cut him for a look at a young D-League guy like Jabari Brown, Keith Appling or Roscoe Smith?
Ben Rosales: As I've noted on Twitter several times, Nash is the most natural candidate to be cut to open up a roster spot, but at the moment, his contract is useful salary ballast for possible trades. Although it is unlikely that the team consummates a trade that would require his contract -- as it has little to no value in and of itself unless the Lakers are using it as a means to take on a longer contract; that Hill and Lin can provide value on the court in addition to offering salary flexibility makes them much more valuable -- you never know what can happen, so until the trade deadline, it is probably worthwhile to keep him around. After that, having him present instead of someone like Jabari Brown would serve no purpose.
The CDP: In terms of a roster spot, I think the Lakers should definitely cut the cord with Nash. There's nothing to play for at this point and risking further nerve damage to a future Hall of Famer doesn't make a lot of sense to me. It would be a much better move for the future to see if the Lakers could catch lightning in a bottle with Jabari or Roscoe - see if there is a D-Leaguer or two that should be on the 2015-16 squad. That said, my opinion is that it would also be foolish to totally cut ties with Nash. He lives in LA and could add a lot of value off the court. If I were an heir to the Buss throne, I would try to negotiate a coaching position for Nash, bringing him in as an assistant for the future. If there is anyone whose leadership and understanding of the game could make an instant impact, it would be Steve Nash. Let's make it happen, Lakers.
Sabreena Merchant: At this point, Nash is a useful expiring contract for trade purposes. If the Lakers can get an asset for taking on a longer contract - ideally one that expires in 2016 - then L.A. should move him. Otherwise, I don't see too much value in waiving him after the deadline. I'd rather see Nash offer some veteran leadership, even if it's just on how to survive in the NBA, than take a couple of 10-day fliers. Don't want to create a late-2000s Wizards environment with too many youngins in the same locker room.
Harrison Faigen: Cut him yesterday. It may sound harsh for one of the great point guards the game has ever seen (and on a personal heritage note the undisputed greatest Canadian baller of all time), but Nash's salary is sunk cost at this point. Since the front office is thus far unwilling to cut Byron Scott's security blanket Ronnie Price, giving Nash's spot to a young prospect would be a decent middle ground for an organization that needs to be exploring every possible avenue for improvement.
Drew Garrison: I'd be up for cutting Nash if the Lakers really needed/wanted the roster spot. He's not with the Lakers, there's no sense he'll be on the sideline, and cutting him doesn't hurt the team at this point. It'd make for a brilliant news cycle, too.