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July 2012

Lakers Aquire Steve Nash

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The Los Angeles Lakers have traded for one of the greatest point guards in NBA history – and David Stern isn’t going to veto this one.

In a surprising turn of events, future Hall-of-Famer Steve Nash was dealt (not official until July 11th) to the Los Angeles Lakers in a sign-and-trade deal that sent four draft picks (two first rounders and two second rounders) as well as $3 million in cash to the Phoenix Suns yesterday. It was surprising for a few reasons: 1) About a week ago Nash said during a radio interview that it would be hard for him to put on a Lakers jersey, 2) There was a belief that the Suns would be unwilling to help facilitate a deal for Nash to go to a division rival like the Lakers, 3) Earlier yesterday it appeared as if the New York Knicks were ready to put standout rookie Iman Shumpert and some other pieces on the table to get a sign-and-trade deal done themselves, and 4) The Toronto Raptors had offered Nash a boatload of money to come back to his home nation and revitalize the sport of basketball.

As it turns out, there was something keeping Nash from Los Angeles, but it didn’t have anything to do with Nash. According to a statement released by Nash after the trade had been agreed to, the Suns were bullish on the idea of dealing Nash to the Lakers but after asking them to re-consider, Phoenix paid Nash back for the loyalty he showed them over the past few years and dealt him where he wanted to go. Nash wants to be in LA because he’ll be closer to his kids (he’s divorced and his children reside in Phoenix) and even though he’s taking a sizable paycut to play for the Lakers, he’s rewarded with an opportunity to win a championship.

Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s piece…

Nash’s presence in Los Angeles will be surreal. It’s been so long since Magic Johnson was pulling off wizardry at the Forum that some Laker fans thought Ramon Sessions was a star point guard. Spending the majority of his career in triangular schemes, Kobe Bryant has never played an NBA game with a legitimate point guard on his side. Any time a Laker shoots above 40% from three in as many as two consecutive games it’s seen as an incredible and rare feat. Even at age 38, Nash will have Laker supporters rubbing their eyes for months simply because having a point guard wearing purple and gold that is capable of creating things for others and knocking down open shots is something that any 90s baby has never seen.

Aside from the ability to defend the new wave of point guards, a quality that is all pretty much obsolete at this point,  Nash covers every hole that the Lakers had last season.

Need a shooter? Nash might be the best shooter in the history of the game. 19 times an NBA player has recorded a 50/40/90 season (FG%/3PT%/FT%). Only two players have done it more than once. Larry Bird did it twice. Nash has done it five times.

Need a playmaker? Nash redefined the way the game of basketball is played during the peak of the Seven Seconds or Less Suns, taking pick-and-roll basketball to a level that had never before been seen. In four different seasons during his career, Nash has assisted on over 50% of his teammates’ field goals when he is on the floor. Factoring in his own scoring and hockey assists and he’s likely been responsible for 75% of his team’s offense in four separate seasons.

Need to rejuvenate an increasingly lethargic big man combo? No player in the league outside of Chris Paul has a bigger affect on his big men than Nash. Simplistically, Nash is a good creator and an amazing passer, so he’ll be able to get looks for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol at his leisure. Digging deeper, Nash is like a bored butcher on the floor. He’s so good at his craft that he’s decided to try and slice things up in ways you never thought possible, slashing his cleaver right through the heart of anxious and overmatched defenses. He’ll have you looking one way and then deliver the ball, with his off hand, on a dime to a cutting big man you were sure was just standing and watching the play. He’s turned unimaginable passing lanes into routinely traveled avenues and he’s done it so well that his marvelous creations now come with a stench of simplicity. A big man can have their way of live on a basketball floor transformed by a player like Nash, whose procrastinating dribbles turn defenses into a ball of nerves. Suddenly there’s more space, more time, more opportunities, more circulation, more naturalness.

Need reliability? Nash has been Hall-of-Fame good for the past 12 years while carrying some incredibly mediocre casts to the post-season¬† (or close to it) in the process. With all due respect to Derek Fisher, whom I’d still trust with the final shot if my life depended on it, Kobe hasn’t played with someone he could rely on to produce on a nightly basis since Shaq, although O’Neal’s consistent production was more about his unmatched size rather than his unmatched effort. Nash is someone Kobe can count on. Not just to take the big shot if Bryant passes to him out of a double team late in the game. Nash is somebody Kobe can trust to make that decision down the stretch. Hero ball is now completely indefensible. Every crunchtime play should involve a pick-and-roll and Nash should be the one in charge the majority of the time. And Kobe can trust that will give them just as good a chance to win as him isolating on the wing and taking a pull-up jumper.

The Lakers still have other roster needs even after trading for Nash. But everything that they need out of their point guard is covered in spades by Nash and you can make a case that all they needed was better point guard play to make it further in the playoffs last season. I still think that the Lakers would be best off trading Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard now (Howard is a much better defensive anchor, which the Lakers need, and Bynum isn’t close to Superman as a pick-and-roll player) but even with this current core, the addition of Nash has made the Lakers a title contender.

Perhaps even more interesting than Los Angeles’ vault back into the championship hunt via another seemingly lopsided trade is the relationship that the acquisition of Nash will create between two respected and admirable foes in Nash and Kobe. When Pau came to the Lakers, Bryant found himself a submissive and supportive big man that flowed seamlessly with his game up until Gasol started to lose faith in himself over the past two seasons. Despite his infamous playoff collapses in the past two seasons, Gasol and Bryant have become battle tested brothers that know each others strengths and weaknesses very well.

Nash will bring contrasting qualities to the table. Aside from the fact that Kobe’s confidence is noticeable and Nash’s is inconspicuous, they are two very similarly minded players. They both want the ball in their hands, they both want to make decisions late in games and, most importantly, they would both kill to win even if their body suffers in the process. How these two coexist on the floor will be fascinating. We will either realize that Kobe is allergic to adaption, forcing Nash to play without the ball more than he ever has in his career (simultaneously limiting his effectiveness), or Nash will bring out a new and devastating side of Kobe, one whose game is brilliant not only because of it’s aesthetics but also because of it’s efficiency. If Nash helps usher Bryant into the second stage of his career – a stage where Kobe replaces the majority of his isolations with spot-up chances, off-ball cuts and deep post-ups – then Kareem’s all-time scoring mark may be in jeopardy and Michael Jordan’s six championships may no longer be the benchmark for modern stars. Oh, and Nash will finally get the ring that he so desperately covets. Nash has had a positive effect on everybody he has ever played with, and I don’t think Kobe will be an exception.

The first time Nash dawns a Los Angeles uniform will represent a seismic shift in the foundation of Laker basketball. It will represent a team full of veterans that got here because of their skill trying to survive for one last run in an increasingly youthful and springy league. It will represent the payoff of patience and the benefits of endurance. It will represent the unlikeliest pairing of two of the pillars of modern basketball, one driven by a common pursuit of illustrious and resplendent accomplishments. It will represent the culmination of an extensive, provocative and robust rivalry, one that provided lasting pain for both sides. And it will represent a new era in the storied history of the Lakers.

An era that we can only hope matches the success of those that came before it.

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