During his final three seasons in Phoenix, Steve Nash evaded the inevitable, rapid aging that plagued many of his fellow stars creeping up on 40. He was adding more candles to his cake, but he was still operating in the pick-and-roll like a man 10 years younger. There were incremental signs of decline then, but this year, his skills have eroded like a California mudslide.
When he took the Lakers job, Mike D’Antoni assumed that Nash would be splitting the duties of navigating the Lakers’ Rolls Royce offense and take some of the driving load off of Kobe Bryant’s shoulders.
Instead, without the miracle workers on the Phoenix Suns training staff, (see: Grant Hill’s Phoenix resurrection as an impact player and injury struggles with the Clippers this season) Nash missed more games than he had in any season since he was drafted, and his body has become more brittle than ever. With Nash out, Bryant began “Driving Miss Daisy” and well, that idea had the same effect as a Porsche in a monster truck rally.
Coach Pringles won’t be stacking chips in LA anytime soon. Instead, he’s become the first Lakers coach to go 0-2 in his first two playoff games.
The decline of Nash has been amplified by 33-year-old Steve Blake’s emergence as the Lakers new offensive initiator in the half-court. Blake is a stop-gap, but he’s balling at a level not seen since he had Juan Dixon and Byron Mouton on the wings at Maryland. Conversely, Nash is looking creakier than ever, after scoring just nine points and dishing six assists in the Lakers Game 2 loss.
That he struggles to this extent against the Spurs makes it even more uncomfortable to watch. As a Sun, some of Nash’s greatest (and not so great) career moments came against the Spurs.
The last time Nash faced the Spurs in a seven-game series, Nash averaged 22 points and a modest eight assists as the Alvin Gentry-coached Suns took care of business in four games of the 2010 Western Conference Semifinals. At that point, it appeared Duncan and Ginobili’s Spurs were the grainy black and white stars of yesteryear in a high-def, flat screen 3-D era.
Over the next three years, San Antonio turned back the clock. The long, flowing hair that flailed in the wind while he whizzed up the court in Phoenix, has been replaced by a more mature and aristocratic “Great Gatsby” cut. The retirement alarm is blaring loudly.
“I’m not myself,” Nash mentioned to the LA Times after scoring 16 points in Game 1. “I’m not moving that well. I’m struggling a little bit. I probably had a few shots in there that I probably normally make, but I still think it’s important to try and contribute. We don’t have enough points in our lineup every night.”
There are still moments when the Nash of old pokes his head through the fog, but he’ll never be the improvisational, top-10 caliber point guard that LA doled out a three-year contract to last summer. There are still two years and $19.5 million left on that deal.
While Nash was sprawled out on the floor beside the Lakers bench, Shadow League editor Khalid Salaam opined that Nash retired and didn’t inform anybody. Once the Spurs euthanize the Lakers’ season, he should preserve his legacy by doing the same to his distinguished career.