On July 4, 2012, the Los Angeles Lakers agreed to a deal that would acquire Steve Nash.
Gasol and Nash in the pick-and-roll. Howard and Nash in the pick-and-roll.
Hell, Kobe and Nash in the pick-and-roll. It was setting up to be basketball nirvana in Lakerland.
The sign-and-trade was announced, at the price of a few first round picks (who needs those when you have Nash and Kobe?), and the two-time MVP was going to the Lakers. It was the perfect fit.
Until it wasn’t.
Nash was diagnosed with a fracture in his left leg in the second game of the 2012-13 season, and was in and out of the lineup as he missed 32 games.
He played in 15 games last year as he dealt with nerve damage from the leg injury; something that might not ever go away. (Here’s a good article by Eric Pincus on Nash’s health issues, and a future outlook on his playing career).
When he did play, Nash’s role was not nearly what anyone expected it to be. The pick-and-roll was a non-factor when Dwight Howard was in town, and Nash was reduced to little more than a spot-up 3-point shooter.
Last year, he was somewhat effective, but the sample size is just too small to tell anything definitively.
Last March, Nash told the media that he wouldn’t retire because “I want the money”; he’ll make $9 million in the final year of his Lakers deal (and likely his career).
So, what does this mean for Nash in the upcoming campaign?
It really depends on what the team decides to do with him.
Scenario 1: The Lakers Keep Him
Everybody loves a good story, especially one where players rise above the odds to achieve success.
That’s what the Lakers are probably going to be banking on in 2014-15, as they will trot out Nash, 40, and Kobe Bryant, 36, who are both coming off injuries that severely limited them last year.
From a basketball perspective, if Nash can stay healthy, he can contribute. He can still shoot, he can still pass, and his defense was never part of the MVP package.
Even if he plays off the bench, limiting his minutes to keep him as a healthy contributor, he can have some value. He will not live up to his contract, but I feel confident in saying that he will not be dead weight if he can stay on the court.
Financially, this hamstrings the Lakers from adding a talent that would actually be worth the $9 million they are handing out to Nash. He’ll come off the books at the end of the season, and the purple-and-gold will have more room to add talent around whatever pieces they are able to add this offseason.
However, this scenario will impede the Lakers rebuilding plan in terms of having such a high salary tied up in a player that probably shouldn’t be playing north of 20-or-so minutes all that often, so they’ll look at all their options.
Scenario 2: The Lakers Use The Stretch Provision
(Link above more explains the stretch provision for those unaware)
In brief, the stretch provision could be used to waive Nash and pay him his salary over the course of three years. The cap hit would be divide among those years, which gives the Lakers more room now, but would have the contract bite them in the future.
By using this scenario the Lakers could offer a bit north of $5 million more in contracts for the upcoming season.
This is my least favorite option for a few reasons, but mostly because it does not make sense for this contract to hinder the Lakers more that it needs to. In the summer of 2015, Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, and LaMarcus Aldridge are scheduled to be available, among other players. In 2016, Kevin Durant could be on the market.
Why have money tied up in retired players at that point? It doesn’t make sense.
Unless the Lakers get a verbal commitment from a big name free agent, and need a bit more cap room, I do not see them enacting this plan.
Scenario 3: The Lakers Keep Him For Trade Bait
This is the scenario that we’ve seen Mitch Kupchak work magic with.
Nash, on his own, has very little trade value, if any. His contract could, however, be worth something to a team looking to free up cap space. This makes Nash worth holding onto for reasons off the court.
Now, the drawbacks to this are quite obvious. The Lakers would have to add in assets to any team that would want to take Nash’s contract (future picks, prospects) or take back some albatross of a contract in return.
Neither of these fit into a rebuild plan, and could be costly to the future of the franchise.
Still, if some team wants to dump a solid player for cap space, this could be a card to play if you’re the Lakers. The trade deadline has seen crazier things than Steve Nash Expiring for Role Player X With Three Years Left On His Deal.
At the least, his contract could be a throw-in for a big-time trade.
In the end, the most likely scenario is that Nash plays out his contract with the Lakers.
And hey, it could turn out to be not that bad for the team, and REALLY good for Nash (like $9 million good).
The odds are that the Lakers will not be contending for a championship in 2014-15, and won’t be serious contenders until both Nash and Kobe’s contracts have expired. There is more harm in waiving Nash, or trading him for spare parts that soak up cap room than letting him play out his deal, and possibly ride off into the sunset on his own terms, at least relatively.
And somehow, I’m again excited at the prospect of Nash taking the floor for the Lakers; if he can stay on it.