The Los Angeles Lakers never surprise anyone with their offseason acquisitions. It seemed inevitable that the Lakers would figure out a way to stay relevant after a second straight second round exit. This result would not do. Not with time running out for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
The Lakers were in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes to varying degrees and finally landed the next center in a long line of great Lakers centers. Howard, when at his best, is a top-five player in the league and changes the game defensively like no other. It is the other major acquisition from the Lakers that could have wide-ranging effects.
Before Howard, the Lakers big move was bringing in the point guard that would manage everything and address one of the Lakers most glaring weaknesses. Since… well, maybe since Magic Johnson or Nick Van Exel. The Lakers have not had a true, elite pont guard.
When Los Angeles agreed to a sign and trade deal with Phoenix to bring in Steve Nash, it appeared Los Angeles had solved a glaring weakness to a team that was pretty good. Howard was only gravy.
Nash though is still the player that might push the Lakers well over the top and make them truly elite.
Nash is not the player he used to be — age has that tendency to do that — but he is still among the elite of point guards. Last season, he averaged 12.5 points per game (his lowest points per game total since 2000) and a solid 10.7 assists per game. He shot 53.2 percent from the floor and 39.0 percent from beyond the arc.
Clearly, Nash can still play. Maybe not at an MVP level, but he can still play.
And for the last two seasons at least, Nash has had to carry the load offensively for a middling Phoenix team. Going to the Lakers where he will have Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard as new toys to play with will take that pressure off of him to create everything for his offense. Nash's presence should help take pressure off of all these star players. Kobe Bryant will not have to create everything for himself and his team and Dwight Howard may actually get a decent entry pass to start his post moves with.
If there is one thing Steve Nash should be able to do for this Lakers team, it is become their quarterback and game manager. Bryant should not need to have a usage rate of 35.7 percent like he has had to post the last two years. It seems the Lakers are at their best when Bryant does not have to dominate the ball this much.
There are questions as to whether this whole plan will work.
Nash is accustomed to having the ball in his hands a lot himself. The last few seasons, and even with Amar'e Stoudemire, Nash had an offense that was built around him and his skills. He had the ball in his hands and was like Peyton Manning controlling the offense.
But Nash has always found a way to be efficient. He will post an assist rate that will certainly be in the high 40s but a usage rate in the low 20s. If there is one point guard that can manage all the talent on this Lakers roster while still creating for them, it is certainly Nash. And he will not be one to care about how much he scores either.
This will make Nash the real key to success for Los Angeles this season. He will make the team go.
He will be the one getting the machinery that is Los Angeles' offense moving and creating easy shots for Howard, Bryant and Pau Gasol (as well as the rest of this cast of characters). The question is whether Mike Brown will give him the freedom to create and improvise or if Nash will feel confined to a box, trying to please the other stars on the team and manage egos and talent.
Brown should be willing to hand Nash the keys to create this offense. Nash is still that good. But whether this puzzle works will be determined by how well Nash fits everyone into this offense and manages the game. His career has shown that he should be adept at doing this.
One thing is for sure. The Lakers changed the game this summer. They changed their game by signing Nash and handing him the keys to run the show.
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