July 9, 2012
Last week, the first blockbuster of the NBA’s offseason was announced as the Phoenix Suns declared their intention to deal star point guard Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers. Detractors of the deal from the Lakers’ standpoint will be fast to point out that, at 38, Nash is no longer the player he once was. That’s true, but this deal is still an ideal one for L.A.
On the surface, it appears the Lakers didn’t give up all that much to get him. In particular, the team traded away none of its current talent. Getting Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard has been a goal of the franchise, but would presumably come with the price tag of dealing either All-Star forward Pau Gasol or center Andrew Bynum (or even both, as some reports have suggested). Howard is, of course, one of the league’s top centers, but it’s difficult to gauge how much his presence would help when it comes with the absence of a talented big man in return.
Los Angeles did give away a pair of first- and second-round draft picks to get Nash, but assuming they finish near the top of the league’s standings, those picks will be low ones. And here’s the thing – want to know the last time the Lakers drafted a player that contributed as a significant starter for them? Other than Andrew Bynum in 2006, who was a lottery pick, you have to go all the way back to 1996 when they selected Derek Fisher as a late first-rounder. You can never base future draft success based on what a team has done in the past, but the fact is that the Lakers generally don’t do very well in finding talent late in rounds. Guys like Jordan Farmar and Devean George have helped along the way, but Los Angeles hasn’t been able to spot considerable talent where they’ve drafted.
The issue of Nash’s age is sure to come up a lot this offseason, but even though he’s been slowed down a bit, he’s still been incredibly effective. Playing for Phoenix last year, he averaged nearly 13 points per game and his 10.7 assists each contest was still one of the best averages in his career. Even at an advanced age, he still should have a few more seasons ahead of him if he can stay healthy. At one point in his career, Nash was able to score nearly 20 points a game. He’s not doing that now, but the Lakers don’t need that from him with so many stars around.
Nash brings two specific things to the Lakers that should make them a better team right away. He has shot 49% from the field over his career and last season, his 53% was a career high. The Lakers have desperately needed a shooter that can knock down shots and Nash should be that guy. Without him, Kobe Bryant has forced attempts and hasn’t had as much help in the backcourt as he’s needed. But with Nash there, defenses won’t be able to key on him as much and that should only help Bryant’s game.
The other thing that Nash has is the ability to facilitate and simply run offenses. He will almost instantly make those around him better as he can set them up for open shots. In particular, the Lakers’ big men will benefit as Nash has an uncanny knack at delivering the ball at just the right moment. And his ability to get into the lane will draw defenders and leave Los Angeles’ frontcourt players with some easy baskets.
While this all sounds good, though, there are some concerns. Even though Nash has played a relatively healthy career, the age factor shouldn’t be discounted completely. Injuries can always happen and at Nash’s age, he will likely take longer to heal. Then there’s the issue of his defense. While Nash can run a half-court offense with great effectiveness, he’ll have some trouble keeping up with opposing point guards that are younger. The one that immediately comes to mind is Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who was nearly impossible for teams to stop in the playoffs this year. If the Lakers find themselves in a matchup with the Thunder again in the postseason, they could find slowing Westbrook down hasn’t gotten any easier with an aging point guard.
Even with those negatives, the Lakers are a significantly better team with Nash aboard. The question is, will they be able to win a title with him running the offense? Time will tell.