The Lakers' bad gamble on Steve Nash

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Nash put together a respectable performance in his return to the court on Tuesday, but there are still major questions of whether or not he can sustain his health and what's left for the veteran to play for in a lottery-bound season.

Steve Nash's career will go down as one of the best for a point guard in NBA history. His tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers, however, will likely be a blemish on that masterpiece.

On Tuesday night, the veteran played his first game in a season decimated by injuries. Nash did some good things, posting a respectable line of seven points and nine assists over 24 minutes as the Lakers lost 109-99 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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Unfortunately for Nash, his L.A. renaissance has been marred by losing in bunches. Including the playoffs, the Lakers are 61-73 since he's joined forces with Kobe Bryant & Co.

To call his time in Southern California anything other than miserable for both player and fans alike would be an understatement. In fact, it's the only statement that makes sense when considering his injuries and lack of time on the floor to this point.


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The two-time MVP said as much himself via Time Warner Cable SportsNet on Tuesday:

"Mentally and emotionally, just the amount of pressure I put on myself to try to get out there and make something happen and repay all the Lakers fans and organization for bringing me here has been nothing but misery in some respects," Nash said as the Lakers prepared to face the Timberwolves on Tuesday night. "So I'm just thrilled to get a chance to play again.

"At this point I'm just happy to play tonight. And hopefully play again when I can," he added. "I don't want to look too far in the future; I want to enjoy this moment and see if I can build on it. "

That's as depressing as it gets for a player who's been labeled a team savior on more than one occasion over the past two seasons and a key component of their championship aspirations. Now, he only wants to play basketball and get back on the court as he approaches his 40th birthday on Feb. 7.

His tenuous time in Tinseltown began just two games into the 2012-13 when a chance collision with Damian Lillard resulted in a fractured leg that caused him to miss nearly two months of action. Lillard went on to win the NBA's Rookie of the Year Award and Nash spent the year in the trainer's room.

A hefty cost

Even more discouraging for Lakers stakeholders is the fact that the team mortgaged its future in order to acquire Nash to pair with fellow newcomer Dwight Howard in the summer of 2012. In giving up a 2013 first- and second-round pick, a 2014 second-round selection and a 2015 first-round pick, Los Angeles banked on the fact they would be among the NBA's elite teams and contend for a title.

Instead, they suffered a first-round defeat in the playoffs, saw Howard bolt for the Houston Rockets via free agency and began 2013-14 with the odds against them.

Then, it happened again -- another injury sidelined Nash following Nov. 10 due to nerve root irritation in his back and hamstring. The pain was so great that it bothered him constantly and he was unable to play for sustained stretches. He received an epidural block in hopes of returning sooner, but decided the best course of action was to rehab and wait until he was beyond the ailment.

The only trouble is at 39 years old, will he ever be over it? Even if he returns to full health, he may still not be the same player.

Even when Nash has been on the floor this season, he's been ineffective. Prior to the game against Minnesota on Tuesday, he averaged 6.7 points and 4.8 assists per game on an abysmal 26.1 percent shooting from the field. Those are beyond uncharacteristic for one of the greatest shooters of all time:


It's proof that he's not the same player, and he's struggling to convert his looks from all three levels. In his heyday, he had the ability to score from each of those levels with a high percentage, as evidenced by this chart from his first MVP season in 2004-05:


The sample size of the first chart is only six games, but the decline in production is evident. If the Lakers' strategy played out according to plan, he wouldn't have needed to be the MVP-caliber player he once was, only the capable ball-handler and passer he's always been. Prior to joining the Lakers, he was dishing out a mark of 12.2 assists per 36 minutes in 2011-12 with the Phoenix Suns. It wasn't a reach to believe he could put up similar numbers surrounded by All-Stars in L.A.

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But circumstances and injuries have cost Nash his chance at succeeding, so much so that he's lowered his own standards. His victories these days consist of staying on the floor -- a far cry from the championship expectations set forth when he arrived.

He summed up that sentiment after playing his first game since Nov. 10.

"I feel a bit selfish in that we lost, but I felt great just to play in the NBA again and be out there with my teammates," he said in the post-game interview via the Lakers' broadcast on Time Warner Cable SportsNet. "Obviously the game didn't go as we'd hoped, but for me personally it's pretty cool to be back out there.

"It's been a tough road, but tonight there's a  part of me that feels like a kid, like a rookie that got to play in the NBA," he added. "It's a pretty cool feeling, period but it's also pretty cool when you're in your early 30s and you get to play in the NBA still."

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