The rumor first surfaced on Tuesday evening: "Lakers quietly enter chase for Steve Nash." No one thought it would come to anything. In its efforts to revitalize a team that had fallen well off the championship pace, the Lakers' front office had been making inquiries about every available superstar, and this seemed just another tissue-thin piece of ephemeral gossip. It's not like the Lakers could straight-up offer a credible free-agent deal to Nash, as they were already far over the NBA's salary cap. A sign-and-trade was the only possibility, and would Phoenix owner Robert Sarver, who fancies the Suns as some kind of rival to the Lakers (stop laughing, that's rude), really sign off on sending the most popular player in Suns' history to Los Angeles?
Yes, as it happens. Sarver would, and he has. On Wednesday the Lakers and Suns agreed to a jaw-dropping trade that sends Nash to the purple and gold in return for first-round draft picks in 2013 and 2015, second-round picks in 2013 and 2014 and $3 million in cash. The Lakers will sign the two-time MVP to a three-year deal that pays him more than $25 million. From a salary-cap perspective, the Lakers are able to absorb the payroll boost via the traded-player exception created by last December's giveaway of Lamar Odom to the Mavericks. Nash opted for the Lakers over the Raptors, who could have paid him $10 million more, and the Knicks, who made a determined pursuit of the own, so he could close out his career with a team in title contention while remaining just a short flight away from his kids.
So without parting with any of their current players, the Lakers have acquired their best point guard since Magic Johnson. Nash has spent a career supercharging offensive attacks with his impeccable court vision, creativity, passing touch and outside shooting, and now he brings that skillset to a Laker attack desperately in need of it. He and Kobe Bryant, with three MVP awards and 17 appearances on All-NBA first or second teams between them, form one of the most decorated backcourts in league history. This could be an inflection point in franchise history comparable to the deal that landed Pau Gasol in 2008.
Let's try to sort through some of the many, many questions raised by the Lakers' Fourth of July bombshell.
Steve Nash is old, right? What does he have left?
He'll be 39 when next season starts. His game, though, has hardly slipped at all. The past three seasons he's led the league in assist rate while posting his usual deadly shooting numbers. He's missed only a handful of games the past several years while averaging over 30 minutes a night. Perhaps he's not quite the force he was in the Suns' "seven seconds or less" heydey, but like John Stockton (and Kobe himself), his late-thirties decline has been slow and gradual. Mike Brown will need to manage his minutes carefully, and Gary Vitti the Laker training staff will have to do stellar maintenance work, but otherwise there's no reason to think Nash won't be a good-to-excellent player over the life of this deal.
But isn't this like when the Lakers signed Gary Payton when he was a million years old? That sucked.
Yes it did, and look... Nash's age, however well preserved he might be, presents the risk of a performance drop-off. But Payton was shoehorned into the Triangle, an offensive system that was a poor fit to begin with, and more of his value was tied into his defense, which suffered when his athleticism started to fade. What Nash brings to the party (again... passing, smarts, pick-and-roll creativity, three-point range) is less vulnerable to age effects. There's risk to this deal but accepting that risk, in a final push to get more banners before Kobe retires, is a no-brainer decision.
How does this affect the Laker offense?
A whole damn lot, one hopes. Last year the Laker offense was a plodding mess. When they weren't dumping the ball into Andrew Bynum in the low post and waiting for him to pass out of a double-team (or not), they were posting up Kobe 23 feet from the basket and waiting for him to make a move (or just shoot). All that must change. Brown and offensive coordinator John Kuester need to give Nash the freedom to play with pace. Kobe will have to live without the ball in his hands for significant stretches. The Laker big men will have to set much better screens so Nash can weave his pick-and-roll sorcery.
There will be an adjustment period, but when it all comes together... damn, girl. It's going to be beautiful. The Lakers finally, at long last, have somebody who can make a three-pointer, which in itself will improve spacing and stress opposing defenses. Everybody, guards and bigs alike, will get better looks with Nash at the controls. No one's better than Nash when it comes to generating easy buckets at the rim, so Bynum (if he's still a Laker next season) should see his dunk total spike. And Gasol and Nash - similar in their taste for fluid, elegant ball - should develop a delightful rapport.
Wait... Gasol? Aren't the Lakers shopping him around?
Yes they are. Or at least, they were. The Nash trade makes it much less likely the Lakers will pull the trigger on a Gasol deal. It's not that they wanted to get rid of Pau, but that doing so seemed the only way to improve other areas of the roster in any significant way. Now that they've done precisely that, odds are they'll hang onto Pau and make him the deadliest fourth option in NBA history.
And what effect will Nash have on the Lakers' D?
Not much, unfortunately. Nash is a poor defender and isn't going to stop Russell Westbrook or solve the Lakers' inability to generate turnovers. But hey. the team is used to poor defensive point guards. Nash's D is a problem, but for the Lakers it's one they've lived with for a long time and have experience in scheming around.
Who can people who hate the Lakers blame for all this?
Dan Gilbert and Mark Cuban. Remember, the Lakers should have had Chris Paul after they fairly negotiated a trade with the Hornets that would've sent CP3 to Los Angeles for Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. Gilbert and Cuban bitched up a storm to David Stern, who caved to their whining and killed the deal in the infamous "basketball reasons" episode. That triggered Lamar Odom's meltdown, which quickly led to his being dealt to Dallas in return for nothing. And that created the traded-player exception by which the Lakers are able to pay Nash $25 million over three years. So the Lake Show gets Nash instead of Chris Paul and get to keep Gasol for their troubles. Excellent work, Gilbert and Cubes! You guys are the best.
Are the Lakers now the favorites win it all next year?
Slow down there, homes. The Heat are still the favorites to win the title next year, and the Thunder are favored to come out of the West. But in Vegas Wednesday's trade bumped the Lakers' championship odds up to 8 to 1, and they have to be considered legitimate challengers to both the Heat and Thunder. Much depends on follow-up roster moves.
Speaking of which, does this improve the Lakers' shot at landing Dwight Howard?
Sure does. Dwight has maintained that he doesn't want to be dealt to Los Angeles, but that was before it meant getting to play with Point God Nash. If he can't get excited about being a Laker superstar and playing for rings alongside a couple all-time greats, there's something wrong with how his brain works. Mitch Kupchak should offer Bynum to Orlando straight up and trust that when Dwight gets to L.A., Nash and Kobe will persuade him to extend. If the deal's not there, riding with Bynum works too. Kupchak is now dealing from a position of strength.
What other moves might we expect?
Grant Hill could soon be a Laker. He and Nash were thought to be a package deal to begin with, and Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reports this evening that Hill will either join the Lakers or retire. Beyond that, the focus should be on stockpiling shooters. Rashard Lewis, recently bought out by the Hornets, is a candidate for mini-MLE money. Brandon Rush and Nick Young are also possibilities though they might be out of the Lakers' price range.
So Ramon Sessions is gone, right?
Yep. Steve Blake and Darius Morris are under contract, so it makes no sense to pay Sessions $5 million or a year or whatever he'll get offered by another team. It's possible, though, the Lakers will use their Sessions Bird rights in a sign-and-trade for bench help.
What number will Nash wear with the Lakers?
Not number 13, which he's worn his entire pro career. That belonged to Wilt Chamberlain and has been retired to the Staples rafters. In college at Santa Clara Nash wore number 11, which happens to be available in purple and gold. The last Laker to wear number 11 was Coby Karl in 2008.
This is awesome! But does it mean we have to stop mocking Jim Buss?
Yes, and we probably never should've started. There was never solid evidence that Jim isn't up to the job. He just didn't inspire confidence because he's not his dad, he's not Jeannie Buss (who's always lived more in the public eye and whom we got to know and grow comfortable with over many years), and whenever he was photographed he looked goofy as hell with his baseball cap and "aging party guy" mullet. But twice on his brief watch the Lakers have pulled off league-shaking deals: first for CP3, which got scotched for reasons no one could've predicted, and now again for Nash. Make fun of the mullet all you want, but it's clear Jim Buss knows what he's doing, even if that's just "sign the checks and let Mitch run the show."
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.