First off, we need to clear something up. Although he's something of a hero around these parts, Los Angeles Lakers fans in general don't condone what Robert Horry did to you eight years ago. Sure, everyone around LA was still plenty salty about the first-round playoff exits at the hands of your Phoenix Suns that year, and, to a much greater extent, the year before, but no conscientious Lakers fan wanted to see that semi-final series in '07 end the way it did — with key Suns suspensions all but handing the pivotal Game 5 to the NBA's silver and black overlords from San Antonio. That wasn't our Horry. That wasn't our King-killing Big Shot Rob — he had been a dark side defector for nigh on four years at that point.
Although your Suns would go on to regroup and remain a Western Conference playoff contender for a few more seasons, that moment, in which the collision of two players forever altered the course of NBA history, would prove to be a harbinger of eerily similar events yet to come.
While some athletes' careers come to an end in the blink of an eye, many more, it seems, live on to see their skills slowly decay, their athleticism erode, and their passion for their craft dim as their bodies inevitably betray them. Though you couldn't blame anyone that had watched your tenure in a Lakers uniform for thinking you existed in the latter group, to me, it's fairly obvious you belong in the former.
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When Damian Lillard carelessly careened into your left leg in only the second game of your Lakers tenure, we were unwittingly witnessing the end of you as a basketball player. Although you came back later that season to some degree of success as a spot up shooter and secondary playmaker, gone was the Steve Nash the Lakers thought they were trading for. Though history will show that you did in fact play in fifty games in the 2012-13 season and fifteen games the following year, those numbers feel almost as trivial as the technicality that hijacked what could have been your best chance at an NBA title six years prior.
I can't begin to imagine the daily struggle you must have endured in your quest to return to the court after the resulting nerve damage sapped you of your seemingly ageless burst and made your trademark flourishes of athletic wizardry a thing of the past. Though you gave us a peek at the great lengths you went to in your attempt to honor your contract and exit the game on your own terms, I'm sure those were far outnumbered by the moments of doubt and pain you experienced in the silence and solitude of an empty gym. While your on-court contributions to the Lakers' cause may not amount to much, whatever amount of pride you feel for making it back onto the floor at all is certainly well earned.
Now, getting back to the Steve Nash the Lakers traded for...
In spite of how things turned out, many fans (myself included) still defend the Lakers' trade for you as being of sound logic. It's hard to argue against trading for a player who was an All-Star the year before (as well as a former two-time MVP) for the seemingly low price of four draft picks that weren't supposed to even sniff lottery territory. You were supposed to usher in a new era of Lakers basketball that would thrust the team back into title contention and prop open Kobe's title window for a few more years, all while allowing both of you to age gracefully as part of a winning culture.
But I digress, I'm not writing this to reopen old wounds or shuffle my feet on the grave of a horse long-since beaten to death.
I have a favor to ask.
Though you may be done with professional basketball, traces of you remain. I'm not talking about the influence you or Mike D'Antoni may have had on the way the game is played, but about the still very real vestiges of the trade that brought you here. Lakers fans sweated out this entire past season hoping the last pick surrendered to bring you to LA wouldn't be ripped away, leaving them with nothing to show for a dismal season aside from a dubious place in the record books. Even still, although that bullet was dodged, the Lakers will be paying for your services into next season in the form of a top-three protected first round draft pick.
Though Lakers fans have made peace with the likely forfeiture of next year's top pick, the career and development of this year's is still very much on their minds.
As you likely heard last week, after your Showdown in Chinatown and before you ran the bases with Dirk in Frisco, Texas, the Lakers — armed with the second overall pick — selected Ohio State point guard D'Angelo Russell. Though some are torn about whether Russell merited the selection over Duke big man Jahlil Okafor, most fans are ecstatic about both his superstar potential and his fit within the league's evolution toward perimeter-oriented play.
Now, if you're like me, you don't get a chance to watch a ton of college hoops, so here's a quick and dirty primer on Russell's skillset: smooth shooting stroke, uncanny passing ability with excellent court vision that allows for creative and unusual passing angles, unspectacular athleticism and sub-par defensive reputation.
If ever you doubted the interconnectivity of the universe, look no further than the story that led to Russell's mere presence on the Lakers being possible:
A storied franchise trades away future assets to attain Hall of Fame point guard. That Hall of Fame point guard is rendered ineffective for the remainder of his career due to the degenerative effects of a freak injury suffered less than two games into his stay. The absence and ineffectiveness of said point guard is partly responsible for the storied franchise suffering two straight historically futile seasons. The storied franchise's two straight historically futile seasons directly lead to retention of a future asset initially surrendered in order to acquire the services of said Hall of Fame point guard in the first place. This future asset is then realized in the form of a new point guard with many similarities to the aforementioned Hall of Fame point guard
Unlike much of the drama and high comedy pervading the NBA landscape, this actually wouldn't make for a very good movie, but ya gotta appreciate the irony Steve.
Twists of fate and Goldbergian developments aside, it'd be much appreciated around these parts if you could show D'Angelo Russell a thing or two.
When word got around that you'd be working with Jordan Clarkson during the All-Star break last season, many of us were cautiously optimistic. It was still relatively early in Clarkson's evolution into an NBA First Team All-Rookie selection, and the general attitude surrounding the news was one of upturned palms and appreciative nods. After not having seen hide nor hair of you for the entirety of last season, that you were dedicating some of your time to mentor the team's lone on-court bright spot was certainly a nice gesture.
While Clarkson's future with the Lakers could still be very bright, now that the team has a legitimate blue chip prospect on board, your mentorship could be all the more valuable.
This isn't about you owing the Lakers or their fans. Yes, the team stood by you and continued to pay you nearly $10 million per year as your contributions on the court abruptly approached absolute zero due to your declining health. Yes, the Lakers surrendered valuable assets to acquire you in the first place, only to see your contract become an albatross to the team's cap sheet and hinder their ability to add talent to a barren roster—but I don't blame you for any of that.
Sure, the whole point of a binding legal contract is to ensure that the two parties involved uphold their respective ends of a deal. Your job was to play basketball, but the fact that you were physically unable to do so for most of your contract's duration didn't mean you willingly shirked your responsibilities. Anyone with the slightest bit of empathy could see the extreme efforts you put forth in returning to the court, and how much anguish not being able to play caused for you.
As for the money, anyone lambasting your "greed" for not retiring has never weighed their morality against a $9.7 million payday.
Though Lakers fans are already salivating over Russell's highlight mixtapes, dreaming of what his supreme passing ability, reliable shot and competitive spirit could mean for the future of this franchise, his development as a professional is still undeniably in the embryonic phase. Someone with his talents could certainly use a few pointers about further masking any physical limitations at the highest level, probing the lane, shooting off of one leg, reading NBA defenses or fooling larger defenders with wrong-footed layups.
The Lakers newest star-in-the-making could use some advice about leadership, toughness or how to continue playing if an inadvertent elbow leaves him looking like Terry Sawchuk. He could use a lesson in the subtle etiquette of accepting freeway beers and the elegant repartee that follows. In other words, he could use a little Steve Nash.
You don't owe the Lakers or Los Angeles anything; and by all accounts, in spite of some in-the-moment griping, there doesn't appear to be any great degree of resentment directed at you in this city.
You'll be remembered mainly as a Phoenix Sun, but as memories of your balletic mastery of the basketball court sink further into the annals of NBA history, there lies in Russell an opportunity for your time in Los Angeles to take on new meaning and live on for another generation.
As perhaps the most egalitarian superstar of all time, how can you resist the chance for one more assist?
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