EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – He reached back with the left hand and gently punched the ice pack strapped to his back, underneath the grey T-shirt, in a quick adjustment. Not a bad reminder of things out of sight either.
Steve Nash is back and saying he is healthy. Forever feeling like the overlooked kid from British Columbia who got a lone scholarship offer from Santa Clara, the future Hall of Famer with two MVPs, eight All-Star appearances and the respect of the basketball world wants to prove he is still a factor at point guard. But, the reminders.
He nudged the ice with his left hand a few more times in the 10 minutes spent standing and talking after a Lakers practice early in training camp. Treatments are common for other players, so Nash turning himself into a shrimp cocktail is nothing unusual, except that other players are not 39 years old, coming off a season with 32 games missed to a fractured left leg and a strained right hamstring, and facing the possibility of a backcourt without Kobe Bryant for at least the start of 2013-14. To nurse along, Nash won’t do both workouts during two-a-days, just as Pau Gasol will be limited.
And there is the actual schedule as the real punch of a statement: coach Mike D’Antoni is planning to decrease Nash’s workload in the regular season, either by rationing minutes compared to the past or by occasionally completely holding Nash out of games and leaving the point-guard duties to Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar.
“I don’t know if it’s him missing games every once in a while instead of minutes so much,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll have to figure that out. But you can’t expect him to play 35 minutes, 82 games. We’ll start from there and we’ll see where we go…. In certain games he’ll play more, certain games less, and maybe games he takes a break. We’ll see.”
Both numbers – 35 minutes, 82 games – are unrealistic in 2013-14. Nash did 50 games and 32.5 minutes last season, his first as a Laker, and the concession to age is probably somewhere in between. Certainly they hope for more than the 50 at the compromise of less than 32.5. Getting 65-70 appearances at a strong level of play would be a very nice contribution from someone who will turn 40 just before the All-Star break, even if that comes at 25-30 minutes per and no back-to-backs.
Early indications are that the decisions will be fluid, depending on the situation. The schedule will be an obvious impact, depending whether the Lakers are playing four games in five nights or two in five. So will the games themselves – if Nash goes 32 and 35 minutes in close finishes Wednesday and Friday, the need to hold him back Sunday will increase. And, obviously, whether his body is feeling good or laboring will have a large role in how it plays out.
“I feel good,” Nash said. “Just working the kinks out. This time of the year I need to play and get reps, but obviously to find that balance between overdoing it as well.”
Or not overdoing it.
“I feel good, but obviously coming out of last year, what I had to train and work on all summer was the back,” he said. “The nerve from my back to my hamstring, it was really a trouble spot for me. But so far it feels great.”
His actual play is much less of an issue. While the 6.7 assists per game last season was his lowest output since 1999-2000, though playing without the ball in his hands more than before in the Mike Brown system was an obvious factor, Nash finished fifth in the league in three-point percentage and also shot 49.7 percent overall, a very good showing for a guard. He was typically superb from the line, converting 92.2 percent of the attempts to move in front of Mark Price on the career list.