It wasn’t supposed to start like this.
All the fanfare that followed Steve Nash, and subsequently Dwight Howard’s arrival in La-La Land had prognosticators calling this the most talented team “on paper” in the league.
Except the game’s not played on paper, and the hardwood of the court has wrought harsh realities; a 1-3 start and injuries to Nash and Kobe Bryant.
“We didn’t expect to just come together and be awesome,” Howard said after consecutive losses to open the regular season.
“It’s always a process. We’ve got to stick with it so that at the end of the year we can have a trophy.”
That’s the idea at least, but for Howard it’s all a game right now. He moped his way out of Orlando and onto a goldmine of basketball legacy. His title window is still wide open at a ripe 26 years old.
Nash on the other hand doesn’t have the time to stick it out among the league’s elite beyond a year, maybe two in the purple and gold.
Howard is still recovering from back surgery, Bryant has said his foot felt like “it was about to fall off,” while Nash suffered a broken fibula in the second game of the season.
At 38 years old Nash has been through the wars, and when the injury was originally announced, his timetable for return was “at least a week.”
Only Steve Nash could break his leg and be back in a week.
Except the diagnosis has since been updated, and the two-time MVP is now expected to miss up to a month – crucial time that he needs to grow with the team and build on-court chemistry.
The rest of the Lakers starters have been in the Finals before and expect to be back there this season, but that expectation is in doubt with the way the team has played early on.
Though Nash has had his share of memorable Playoff performances, he’s never even waltzed to the slow song at the end of the dance, never mind brought the girl home with him.
“We’re not sharp,” Nash said before the injury. “I think the guys are trying, we just didn’t live up to what we’re trying to do.”
It was clear Nash wouldn’t accomplish his playoff goals dragging the Suns through another season, and his commitment to his home country was solidified when he was named general manager of Canada basketball’s senior men’s team so he owed nothing to Canadians hoping to see him don a ‘dinos’ uniform.
And Suns fans, Raptors fans, and NBA fans alike can agree that Nash deserves another shot at an NBA title. Aside from 24-year-old Derrick Rose, he’s the only active former MVP without a ring.
Nash has averaged 14.4 points and dished 8.6 helpers per game, leading the league in assists five times during his 16-year career.
Most of those numbers came in the free-flowing offence of Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix alongside Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, and the Lakers system is something he’ll have to adapt to when he returns after spending the previous eight seasons in the desert.
Laker coach Mike Brown has installed the ‘Princeton offence’ in L.A., a system that is supposed to showcase the passing and ball-handling of the Lakers twin towers Howard and Gasol.
Los Angeles is right to try to use their bigs to their advantage, but Nash is used to running and one wonders if the Lakers’ half-court focus is diminishing the full-court brilliance of this generation’s best point guard.
Or maybe Nash is comfortable in the twilight of his career to step back a bit, and play it slower.
“He [Nash] has said it himself that he doesn’t feel like he’s as burdened because he doesn’t have to make every play for everybody all the time with what we’re trying to do,” Brown told the Los Angeles Daily News.
“He can give it up and still have a chance to get it back. He’s said that he feels as fresh as he’s ever felt in his career because he doesn’t feel the pressure of making every single play.”
When Nash finds his ‘zone’ with the Lakers, he’ll be the engine that runs the team. He’s an intelligent player. He’ll figure it out, especially if he now has a month watching, learning and observing while camped on the bench next to Brown.
And come playoff time, fans will laugh at the worry they wasted at the beginning of the year when things were just getting started.