In a season chock-full of turmoil, surprise and misfortune, I’ve been most puzzled by the lack of any resemblance of leadership and stability. With fingers being flailed in every which direction, I’ve taken the stance that no one within the organization is without responsibility for what has transpired. While (like many of you) I was pleased with the addition of Dwight Howard with the future in mind, I felt the Steve Nash acquisition would be the absolute key to get the current mix of players working. If you followed my writing prior to the season, you already know my stance on this matter.
While some analysts referenced the 2003-04 season in describing what could take place, I vehemently disagreed with the Nash/Payton comparisons. Not only because I felt Nash had more left in the tank, but I thought the adjustment period would be easier than in a season where the team failed in its attempts to get (then) Payton to adjust his approach under Phil Jackson and in the Triangle Offense.
Obviously, breaking your fibula just two games into your tenure won’t help, but I have been privately wondering when/if Nash would finally assert himself with this group. No, not just by shooting or being more aggressive from an offensive standpoint, but rather as leader. Specifically, a leader willing to not only say the ‘nice’ or politically correct thing in the interest of camaraderie and chemistry, but the difficult or unpopular (yet, equally as vital) messages in the interest of growth and maturity as well.
Admittedly, I expected the necessity for a few “truth to power” moments to come between Nash and Kobe Bryant. Not that I was predicting a future clash; rather, I anticipated there being (at least) a few questionable scenarios as they each figured out and adjusted to playing with a fellow ball-dominant guard for the first time in almost a decade. Bryant and Payton only played together for one season that resulted in a Finals defeat at the hands of the Detroit Pistons. Nash hasn’t been partnered with a playmaking backcourt mate since Joe Johnson left the Suns for greener pastures in Atlanta following the 2004-05 season. Additionally, most of their respective running mates have been spot-up shooters for the better part of their 17-year careers.
While Nash’s frustration during his post-game comments about Dwight were as evident as they were justifiable, I was left with the overwhelming feeling of: It’s about time! Nash and Bryant may have varying approaches to holding a teammate accountable, but they both seemed to mean the very same thing most fans are saying. We appreciate and respect that Howard is actually much tougher than he’s given credit for, and has endured several injuries while laboring through a difficult season. However, if he’s going to be on the court, we need a greater sense of urgency.
Even though slowed by injury, I’ve really expected this type of leadership from Nash from the start. He’s always had the uncanny ability to inspire his teammates to play as hard/fast as they could, and with a sense of purpose. During extended stretches of this season, that has been the key ingredient they’ve lacked. Although I would always prefer for messages to be handled behind closed doors and amongst the players, I have no problem with Nash expressing the team’s desire to get a commitment from Howard to doing things as simple as rolling on screens and making hard dives at/towards the basket.
Posting an average of 12.1 points and 7.4 assists per game while shooting well over the 50-40-90 percent figures this season, it’s obvious why all of Lakers Nation rejoiced when he was acquired. Yet, Nash’s greatest impact (hopefully) will have nothing to do with numbers or statistics. For the Lakers to have any type of success (not just in the second half, but in the relative future), his greatest achievement could be in finally getting through to Howard.
Whether they climb into the playoffs or complete the disappointing season on the outside looking in, Howard could use the type of support and leadership I feel the Lakers’ veteran backcourt has given him in relation to how he approaches his career moving forward. There’s a difference between being a dominant player and a great player. Nash is trying to get Howard to understand that. There’s also a difference between being a great player and becoming a champion, and Bryant (questionable approach and all) is the one trying to get Howard to embrace that.