Steve Nash is about to begin a new — and final — era.
When Nash suits up in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform for their regular-season opener Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, the 38-year-old will embark on his last quest for an NBA championship that has eluded him for 16 seasons.
“That’s a big reason why I’m still playing,” he said after practice Monday at the Lakers’ practice facility. “It’s because I enjoy the challenge. I haven’t won a championship, and I’d love to know what that feels like.
“Obviously, I can’t say [what a championship would mean] until it happens, but it would be a great cap to my career — for sure.”
Barring an unforeseen turn of events, the legendary Lakers will “most likely” be his last team in a storied career that has included two NBA most valuable player awards, back-to-back in 2004-05 and 2005-06 with the Phoenix Suns.
“I’ll be 41 at the end of this deal,” he said. “We’ll see how my body feels and my mind is, and if I’m still effective and enjoying [playing].”
The Victoria native inked a three-year contract with the Lakers following a sign-and-trade deal in the off-season that saw him leave Phoenix after a second stint that lasted eight seasons.
Nash helped both Dallas (2000-01) and Phoenix (2004-05) reach the Western Conference finals, but the Suns have had limited success in recent seasons while going through coaching and management changes and rebuilding efforts.
Now, the veteran point guard is being asked to help provide some of the passing and shooting wizardry that have helped him rank among the all-time greats of the game after being a rare Canadian drafted in the first round of the NBA draft (15th overall) by Phoenix in 1996.
Nash’s championship quest will be aided by a star-laden Lakers squad that includes Kobe Bryant, who is nursing an injury and may not play Tuesday, newcomer Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace. While dishing the ball to them, and not playing favourites, Nash will also attempt to introduce a sense of unselfishness to a squad not necessarily known for it.
He will also try to provide cohesion among the brash personalities.
“Guys have been great — so far,” said Nash with a smile. “I’ve enjoyed it. We have a great group of guys — guys that are hungry — and, obviously, guys just have to be honest and have the best interests at heart.”
While Bryant is perceived as the face of the franchise and the key to its attack, Lakers coach Mike Brown said Nash will drive the offence.
“He’s extremely intelligent and helps out a lot,” said Brown. “But, I think, at the end of the day, he understands that he has the keys to the engine, and we’re going to go as he wants us to go.”
Brown said Nash can also play a key leadership role as the Lakers attempt to manage “the chatter” that comes from media and others who place high expectations on the club annually. He wants his players to adopt a bunker mentality that will help the team “stay the course” — in other words, avoid distractions — until the end of the season.
“There’s a lot of chatter out there about this or that, and we have to ignore the noise,” said Brown. “We’ve gotta stay united as a group.”
Nash will also play a key role in introducing a new system — the Portland offence — that Brown covets. The coach said learning the system will be more difficult than introducing the new players.
World Peace called Nash “the quarterback” of the L.A. offence.
Howard, who will be backed up by North Vancouver, B.C., native Rob Sacre, who is expected to make his NBA debut Tuesday, indicated Nash will make a talented Lakers team even better.
“Steve Nash is a veritable point guard,” added Howard. “He sees the game very well, great leader, and he’s just a positive person. He knows how to pass the ball. He knows how to find guys in the right position to score.
“I’ve watched him over my NBA career, how he’s turned guys into great players.”
Whether the Lakers can be a great team again remains to be seen. But it looks like a good fit for Nash, who joined L.A. so that he could be close to his children, who live in Phoenix with his former wife, and have a shot at the elusive NBA crown. if the Lakers win a title with him, efforts to name a street after the Canadian will not be necessary.
The Lakers’ practice facility happens to be located on Nash Street. But how long he can keep the drive smooth or have a shot at a title remain to be seen.
“I’m just excited for the opportunity this season,” said Nash. “That’s all I’m worried about. We’ll worry about next season when it comes around.”