In sports, The End of Things is almost never pretty. Circumstances – whether a star’s team fading from championship relevance or the unrelenting economics of roster maintenance forcing him into a strange, uncomfortable, and likely regrettable jersey for the last season or two – frequently betray the ideal. More often, though, The End is demanded by something as personal and fundamental as the athlete’s body. The foundation, given enough time and opportunity, always crumbles. So it is for Steve Nash. The long, frustrating chain of events that began knocking legs with Damian Lillard in Nash’s first road game as a Laker has ended here, with the Lakers announcing Thursday Nash won’t play at all this season, ending both his time in purple and gold, and presumably his NBA career.
Even if’s not exactly surprising – given an over/under of 30 games played for Nash this season, I suspect most fans would have taken the under – it’s still disappointing. Nash was never going to be able to win the crowd in L.A. given the total failure of his time in purple and gold, but at the very least he could have exited the game on something resembling his own terms, paying off not only a life’s worth of training and dedication but the grueling effort put in over the last two seasons trying to get his body right.
Lakers fans could have seen glimpses of that alternate universe in which the freak chain reaction from Nash’s initial injury never happened. In that world, he may not be MVP, but still has control over his artistry. You could bring your kids to see him play, telling them to watch the way he changes speeds, how his eyes are always up, how he never gives up his dribble, and how one little guy can control the actions of nine larger men. And they would understand. That guy makes basketball more fun, and it sucks he won’t be around.
Professionally, few guys were more candid about his situation than Nash. He spoke openly about everything keeping him going, from the love of the game to the money, strong enough to express vulnerability without embarrassment. Rare qualities I’ll miss. But while the news is disappointing today, it’s less depressing than 82 games worth of “Can he play tonight?”
For the Lakers, a healthy Nash would have been a boost to their playoff hopes, but since a healthy Nash was always a long shot, the news doesn’t have a lot of practical impact. It probably nets out as a positive, really. Byron Scott won’t have to deal with the headaches caused by Nash coming in and out of the lineup. Jeremy Lin won’t be yanked around, and in the meantime will have the opportunity to play huge minutes, potentially boosting his trade value. Jordan Clarkson will get more time on the floor. Should they be granted a disabled player exception, the Lakers might be able to find another piece they can use for the rebuild. (Think modestly, though. The rules are pretty restrictive.) If Nash retires, it opens up space to take a flier on a younger player. (For a full overview of how this could all play out, Eric Pincus of the LAT, like Clarissa, explains it all.)
It’s hard to reverse engineer the what if’s had the Lakers not made the Nash trade, or granted him the contract, or if Nash had fallen on his sword last season and taken a medical retirement. Interesting questions to ask, with no obvious answers.* We do know the end has come – grand, sad, disappointing failure for the Lakers and Nash – and are again reminded how unforgiving professional sports can be, particularly for those wrestling for control of their final days as a participant.
Hopefully it’s the last one Lakers fans get this year.
*That said, I still believe the logic of the trade was sound. Yes, there was always a chance he’d get hurt, but Nash hadn’t missed many games in the seasons leading to the trade and the injury ending his career was a freaky thing even those predicting doom couldn’t see coming. It’s like a doctor saying his patient has a 75 percent chance of dying from cancer within a year, and two months later the guy gets hit by a bus. Yes, the patient is dead, but the doctor can’t chalk one up to his forecasting skills.Read More