Posted by on Mar 1, 2014 in Lakers Analysis, Opinion, Steve Nash | 5 comments

If you haven’t watched “The Finish Line,” Grantland’s series on Steve Nash’s attempt to dictate the terms of his exit from the game, you’re missing out. The installment above (Part 2, the first is here) not only puts on full display once again the physical and mental pain Nash endures to find some semblance of health, but also introduces him to a piece of CBA machinery that had apparently slipped under his radar: The stretch provision.

For the uninitiated, it would allow the Lakers to release Nash this summer and instead of absorbing his $9.7 million cap hit for the 2014-15 season, chop it up and spread it out equally over the next three seasons. If it’s not generally assumed the Lakers will take advantage, at the very least it’s a well-traveled forecast. Even Nash seemed to think it would be the obvious move.

“If that’s the case [in terms of how the rule works],” Nash says to his agent Bill Duffy after having the details explained, “I’d imagine that’s the outcome.”

Then again, maybe not. Nash makes it pretty clear he’s not playing anywhere else next season, whether the Lakers stretch him or not. “If the Lakers release me this summer, this is it,” he says, noting how he finally has his kids in Los Angeles (following a difficult divorce) and is unwilling to move or be away from them again. “It’s either back with the Lakers next year, or I’m done.”

So there’s that.

But say Nash sees enough from the rest of the season and somehow believes he can play effectively next year. Maybe he dares the Lakers to let him go, or whatever. The Lakers can certainly stretch him, but I don’t think they will or should. Not because there’s any real shot of Nash contributing, whatever that might entail. It’s more a matter of cap management. The Lakers are unlikely to put together this offseason a team capable of competing in the West next year. More likely, they’ll return a group similar to this one, throwing life rafts to wayward #1 picks of yore and working to preserve as much future cap space as possible.

Yes, it would suck to have nearly $10 million in apparently dead money on the ledgers in a year the Lakers will already be watching their bottom line, but what would suck worse would be having to work around Nash’s stretched out $3.2-ish million in upcoming summers. Unlike rostered players who can be offloaded in trades (even if the other team requires a little sweetener to cooperate), Nash’s salary would be truly dead money, and would serve to lower the Lakers’ cap ceiling relative to every other team in the league.  What would suck the most? Somehow finding themselves aced out of a prime free agent (or really anything they’d want) because a chunk of maneuverability was taken away.

It’s not a huge number, but is it worth taking the risk?

Better to bite the bullet and work through the final year of Nash’s deal all at once so it comes off the books clean, particularly in a season unlikely to produce parades, anyway.*

Of course, this stuff only matters if Nash decides to play next year. I don’t think he will. One school of thought says he won’t leave nearly $10 million on the table, because almost nobody does that. But sometimes it happens, particularly for someone who has earned nearly $140 million in salary over the course of his career. Pride and principle have value, too. Nash alludes to it in the both parts of the film, that as much as he loves the game he’s not going to play if he can’t do it at something approximating the level he’s accustomed, and that he’s either going to be a Laker, or he won’t be an NBA player.

Maybe I’m being naive, but I have trouble believing Nash would just steal from the team next year if he knows he can’t play, and by the end of this year I think it’ll be pretty clear he can’t. And if he retires, the conversation becomes moot.**

*Not stretching Nash does, assuming he hasn’t filed retirement papers, allow the Lakers to shop his expiring deal during the season. So that’s another potential reason to hold the contract, though as we’ve seen in the last couple of trade deadlines, expiring contracts have less value now than ever. 

**For some, those looking at Nash not as a player but a cap number, that will be a happy day. Others, including me, will be focused on the disappointment of Nash’s gifts punted from the game by such a strange injury despite incredible efforts to undo the damage, and how Los Angeles never had a chance to experience him as anything but the enemy to its team, whether by wearing another uniform or being a symbol of what went wrong in the last two seasons.