Why Steve Nash Is So Important to Building Lakers’ Progress

The roller coaster of a season thus far is still in full throttle as the Lakers still look to find their way. The fans are still left to question which team will show up for a game. What are considered “for sure” wins are proving to be a challenge for the current roster to handle. However, this doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any glimmers of hope from the team this year. Additionally, their current struggles don’t mean that the Lakers are completely doomed, but rather represents obstacles that the team needs to overcome.

We started off the week with the news that came out yesterday of Mike D’Antoni telling the media that Steve Nash has a “possibility” to return to the lineup during the upcoming four game-road trip that kicks off Tuesday against Antawn Jamison’s old team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. This doesn’t mean that Nash’s return is a definite for this week, but it is a huge step in the right direction.

Laker fans have been hearing the “when Steve returns” excuse for weeks now, even from D’Antoni himself, especially after losses. While I believe that the absence of Steve Nash isn’t an excuse for some of the poor performances the Lakers have strung together this season, as Lakers Nation’s Carmen Vitali pointed out this weekend, building the team’s identity has yet to show its face and sure has been affected without the on-court presence of Nash.

Their defensive presence is another story and I’m mainly discussing the offense here.

Nash is the root reason why D’Antoni was hired over Phil Jackson. The real possibility of recreating Showtime, or at least a version of it, seemed too much for Jerry Buss to pass up. I have always believed that the acquisition of Nash would have more of an immediate affect than the addition of Dwight Howard. Don’t get me wrong, having D12 in purple and gold is phenomenal, but I believe Howard represents the future for LA. Nash’s impact will be more short-term (three years) and is all about the now.

Plus, I think we all know that Nash will have an immediate and very complimentary impact to Howard. Dwight is arguably the best roller of the pick-and-roll in the game. I lived in Phoenix during the D’Antroni/Nash era and witnessed how Nash made Amaré Stoudemire a household name. Therefore, I can only imagine how the dominance the Nash and Howard will have once they share the court together and get on the same page.

The same goes for Pau Gasol. I have remained true to my opinion that Gasol should not be moved until he and Nash play together. Nash makes everything easier for everybody on the court, which should absolutely benefit Gasol, who has had his struggles this year. Gasol has the basketball IQ and skill to play in essentially any system. I think it is only fair to without complete judgements of what to do with Gasol until we see how Nash affects his contribution, especially since Gasol’s presence of the Lakers was one of the selling points for Nash to join the Lakers.

D’Antoni’s up-tempo offensive system is solely dependent on the point guard. D’Antoni happened to have one of the best point guards in history in Nash during his time in Phoenix, which is why his system was such a success there. Fourtunatly for the Lakers, Nash and D’Antoni are paired up again, which is why fans and the organization are so hopeful.

Additionally, D’Antoni hasn’t had this type of talent on his team before. While the uber-talen of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and company should absolutely be enough to find a way to win games without Nash, the team’s identity will not form until Nash returns. Additionally, for those that doubt the importance of chemistry, just review the number of turnovers that appear on the stat sheet every game.

Of course, I understand the frustration that fans feel after losses. I’m in that same boat. However, I find it unwise to call for the firing or questioning the hiring of D’Antoni. I have said this before in responses on Twitter, and I’ll say it again. It is my belief that we cannot completely judge the performance of Mike D’Antoni as a coach or the state of the Lakers until Nash returns.

As I said before, some losses should have been wins and the Nash excuse shouldn’t be used as a crutch to explains those losses. However, when you consider that the Lakers have started their 3rd and 4th string point guards for about a month now, have fired and hired a new coach and have adapted to another system, you can understand the major obstacles that the Lakers have had to deal with right out of the gate.

Patience is one of the most challenging aspects of sports. This especially applies to the Lakers when we all know that this starting lineup is arguably the best is the league. However, we cannot totally judge the Lakers and write them off before they have had a chance to truly gel, particularly under a system that relies so heavily on Nash.

The process of becoming a dominate, championship contending team is never perfect. Their commitment to defense will be an on-going need to legitimately compete for example. The Lakers have four plus months of regular season basketball left to move to the next level. Nash’s return won’t resolve every issue in LA, but we will get a much clearer picture of what the team can do. Don’t lose hope yet. Leave that for the bandwagon fans who have already jumped ship.

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