The Old Man And The Court
Fish, I will stay with you until I am dead – Santiago, “The Old Man and the Sea”
21 days. That’s how long it’s been since Steve Nash has taken the court as an NBA player. If that doesn’t sound like very much time, that’s because it isn’t, not over the course of an 82-game season or an 18-year career. That’s nothing, a small inconvenience, a brief injury, a blip. But then you consider what happened before those 21 days, that Nash came back from a much longer absence and managed just four games before his body broke down again, that he has played just 10 times for the Lakers all season … and those 21 days begin to seem much longer. The games he played were the blip.
You can’t help but feel sorry for Nash when you consider what he’s been through the past two seasons. His arrival in Los Angeles was marked with such promise, but that promise could not last the first official week of his tenure. He went down in the second game of his first season and, though he’s played many games since then, he never really got back up. But it’s not for a lack of trying. Steve Nash is not just sitting on his bottom collecting a sizable paycheck. He’s given everything he has to try to get back on the court, even as he’s been dealt one setback after another after another. He spent the entire summer getting healthy, only for the nerve root issues in his leg to re-surface after this season’s first six games. He spent another three months rehabilitating, even traveling to Vancouver to work with a specialist for two weeks, doing everything conceivable by science to get a 40-year old body capable of playing basketball again. He got just four games out of the equation before he somehow managed to take a knee to the exact same spot on his leg that caused all this trouble in the first place.
It is easy to look at Steve Nash’s time in Los Angeles and come to the conclusion that he was just too old to handle the rigors of the NBA anymore. It is also the truth, or at least, a version of it. But you also have to remember that he’s been the worst kind of unlucky since he got here. His initial injury last year, the first domino in the sequence that has turned Nash from All-Star to laughing stock, was a complete fluke. So was his body’s response to it. Now, after all the time he’s put in to get back to a high level, he’s been undone again by random contact at the one place on his body he could most ill afford to get hit. It’s almost like the basketball fates are laughing at him now. When it comes to Nash’s decline, “unfortunate” and “inevitable” are there in equal parts, braided together to form the tapestry of his downfall. Yet still he works, tirelessly, ceaselessly, to make himself ready once again.
It now appears more and more likely that his work will be in vain. Coach Mike D’Antoni admitted after the Lakers’ morning shootaround on Monday that he thought it was unlikely that Steve Nash would see the court again this season. Despite all of the issues and injuries and struggles that Nash has suffered, very little about D’Antoni’s conclusion had to do with Nash himself. D’Antoni was simply admitting an ugly truth about where the Lakers are as a team and as a franchise right now, a place where developing young talent trumps putting the best possible product forward. Actually, the truth is that putting the best possible product forward is trumped simply by not doing so, that losing really is preferable to winning, but you can’t come out and say that. So developing young talent is the code that serves a dual purpose, because it is a tangible and potentially profitable enterprise in and of itself. That it helps the team lose games is just a bonus – or perhaps it’s the other way around, with the development as the bonus. Either way, there is no place for Steve Nash within that structure. If Nash returns and he’s awful, then he’s taking valuable development minutes away from guys like Kendall Marshall. If he’s not awful, then he’s making the Lakers a better team, and truth be told, that’s not in their best interests right now. So Nash will probably sit until season’s end.
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