Steve Nash’s Return Key to Lakers’ Title Hopes
Over the course of four seasons with the Phoenix Suns under current Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni, Steve Nash was unquestionably one of the most dominant players in basketball. After winning back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player awards and leading the league in assists three of those years, Nash sealed his legacy as one of the best point guards in league history.
Fast forward five seasons and fate has brought the two back together with the Lakers, who added Nash this offseason and put him alongside Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to create a super team that looks to erase a two-year title drought in L.A.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, things haven’t gone according to plan out of the gate, which led to the firing of former head coach Mike Brown and the introduction of D’Antoni at the helm for Los Angeles. It’s been a rocky start in D’Antoni’s tenure as well as the Lakers have gone just 2-2 since the offensive guru took over and have cracked the 100-point mark in just one of those contests.
As for Nash, the eight-time All Star fractured his left leg just two games into the 2012-13 season and is out indefinitely for L.A. In speaking with players and coaches on the Lakers, it’s clear that Nash’s return is crucial to both fully implement D’Antoni’s offensive philosophy and reaffirm this team’s status as title contenders.
“It’s really important,” D’Antoni said of Nash’s role on the Lakers. “In Phoenix we couldn’t win without him, not even a game. So you know we are bouncing along in November, we hope he has the same effect that he had in Phoenix. If that’s the case, we’re going to be dangerous and I hope that’s the case.”
Not surprisingly, Bryant couldn’t stress enough just how important it was for the Lakers to feature a healthy Nash in the starting lineup.
“It’s crucial [to get Nash back],” Bryant said. “I mean, that’s what he does: he’s a playmaker, he’s a point guard and he’s been that his entire life. He’s one of the all-time greats at it and that’s what he’s naturally good at.”
What makes Nash so integral to the Lakers, on both ends of the floor, is how seamlessly a point guard of his caliber is able to integrate his teammates. Egos are stabilized and attitudes are lifted due to just how effortlessly Nash goes about getting all of his teammates involved.
Lakers’ sixth man Antawn Jamison, who was also acquired this offseason, believes Nash’s mere presence will help make life easier for everyone on the roster.
“In my eyes, he’s the one who pretty much invented this offense but for Steve he just creates so many easy opportunities for his teammates,” Jamison said. “He knows how to put the pressure on the defense. He knows where guys need to be at so it’s almost like having another coach out there actually on the court with you. Whenever he gets back, he just makes us even more dangerous and even more versatile on both ends of the floor.”
It’s clear that the heavy hitters on this Lakers squad all agree that this team needs Nash on the court in order to get back on the right track. The only problem is that no one is sure when exactly that will be.
“When they tell me he’s ready to go and he’s ready go, I’ll be the happiest guy in the world,” D’Antoni said when asked for a timetable on Nash’s recovery.
On the court, getting better now is the only thing on Lakers players’ minds moving forward as this team tries to gel and steady the ship without their starting point guard. Another perennial All-Star added this summer, Howard believes that guys simply have to step up in Nash’s absence.
“It’s going to be important to get Nash back, but until then we’ve got to trust in our guards to come in and do a good job and they have been,” Howard said. “It’s on the rest of us to make sure we dictate the flow of the game.
“[Nash]‘s used to [D'Antoni's offense] but we’re the guys on the floor and we have to dictate what happens,” Howard continued. “We can do a lot just with our energy and effort.”
Especially with Nash on the sidelines, Lakers’ players and coaches continue to stress the learning process that goes along with bringing in a new coach this early in the season. Coach D’Antoni specifically tried to temper expectations postgame Saturday night after the Lakers put a 115-89 whooping on the Mavericks in Dallas, preaching that championship-level cohesion doesn’t happen overnight.
“It’s a marathon and we’ve still got a training camp to go through, in a sense, and it’s another month before we get things right,” D’Antoni said. “In the meantime, we’ve got to win as many as we can and not get in too big of a hole.”
At 7-7 on the season, Los Angeles continues to try to fight its way through a first month engulfed in turmoil. It’s obvious that this team is hanging it’s hat on Nash being the savior once he returns to try to help this team emerge from underachieving mediocrity and get back into contention.
When that return happens and if Nash, at 38 years old, can still have that type of impact is still anybody’s guess.