Is It Officially Time for Lakers Nation to Panic over Steve Nash's Health?

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterApril 15, 2013

Misery loves company, especially in the case of the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant joined the NBA's most depressing party on April 12, when his Achilles tendon snapped during the closing minutes of the Lakers' 118-116 win over the Golden State Warriors.

The Black Mamba's tragic collapse was only the latest in a long line of calamitous injuries to have befallen the Purple and Gold during this most disappointing of campaigns.

Dwight Howard's been hampered by the residual effects of back surgery all season. In addition, Howard's had to cope with a torn labrum in his right shoulder since January, with on-court contact causing flareups in pain and occasional absences from the lineup thereafter.

Pau Gasol limped into training camp on knees that were worn out by the 2012 London Olympics, sat out eight games with tendinitis in said knees, and later missed more than a month after tearing his plantar fascia.

But the injury bug's "Reign of Terror" in the Lakers locker room began with the one player in LA whose season has arguably been the most miserable of all: Steve Nash. The two-time MVP and surefire Hall-of-Famer has been out of action since March 30 on account of hip and hamstring problems.

He'd previously sat out nearly two months after suffering a fracture in his left leg (and dealing with subsequent nerve damage) from a collision with Portland Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard on Halloween:

Nash hasn't exactly set the NBA ablaze this season when he's been fit to play this year, either. The interplay between Steve and Kobe had been shaky, at best, with Nash often relegated to a role as a spot-up shooter and occasional offensive operator next to the Mamba.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Nash's assist and usage numbers are at their lowest levels since the 1999-2000 season, though his shooting percentages (.497 from the field, .438 from three, .922 from the free throw line) are still phenomenal.

All told, Nash has missed 31 games for the Lakers in 2012-13, the most in a single season for his entire 17-year career.

And it's not as though Nash had been perfectly healthy up until his arrival in LaLa Land. He's been plagued by bad problems since his days with Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs—back problems that left Mark Cuban hesitant to re-sign Nash when he hit free agency in 2004.

Whether Nash's latest setbacks are in any way connected to his long-standing back problems or those that emerged in his left leg this past October plays a part in the extent to which the Lakers and their fans should be worried about their floor general's fitness.

Nash's 39-year-old body isn't likely to do him any favors from here on out. The toll exacted by 17 years of pro basketball can be seen, in some way, in every new injury that Steve suffers and the lengthier, more uncertain recovery times that each incurs. Likewise, every nick, cut, bump, bruise, strain, break and tear that Nash encounters now leaves him more vulnerable to further breakdown.

Which is certainly a concern for the Lakers. After all, they owe him just over $19 million for the next two seasons combined, whether he's fully healthy or not. And with Father Time bearing down on his ever-more-frail body, Steve's odds of reaching peak condition again grow slimmer day by day.

Then again, who knows what the rest of Nash's time in LA might bring? He's notorious for the meticulous way in which he cares for his body, from diet and exercise to sleeping and breathing. The guy's a fitness fiend and, as such, figures to do everything in his power to whip himself into proper playing shape during the upcoming offseason.

Of course, the Lakers have a bit of business to handle before then, and it's in that narrower temporal view that Nash's nagging injuries become particularly worrisome. He may be back in time for LA's season finale against the Houston Rockets on April 17, though he doesn't figure to be anything close to "100 percent" if/when he does. A seemingly never-ending series of stops and starts have dragged down Steve's conditioning, to the point where the proverbial step he's lost with age has been stretched into two or three.

Steps slow or no, the Lakers will need whatever semblance of Steve Nash they can get if they're to do anything more than get swept out of the playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kobe's torn Achilles leaves LA short of a guard capable of creating offense for himself and others with any consistency.

Steve Blake has done well to step up in that regard, with 23 points and four assists during the Lakers' 91-86 win over the San Antonio Spurs on April 14.

But as admirable as Blake's efforts have been, he's hardly a ball-handler, passer, or shooter on par with the man whose place he's holding. Nash is one of the greatest purveyors of the pick-and-roll that the game has ever seen, though, admittedly, his chemistry with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol in that regard has left something to be desired. His connection with Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni, which dates back to their days with the Phoenix Suns, is also without peer.

To be sure, LA's hopes of making a deep playoff push were dim to begin with, even before Kobe and Nash fell victim to the injury bug. The Lakers' overall efforts have been undermined all season by poor play on the defensive end, with the team's starting guards standing out as the chief culprits. Bryant had been oft-maligned for his lackadaisical play defensively, while Nash has never been much of an obstructor in that regard.

In the bigger picture, then, there's no need for anyone in Lakerland to panic over Steve Nash's health right now. The team won't be anywhere near title contention in the weeks to come, with or without Nash.  

But if Steve's problems persist and submarine the team's pursuits next season and beyond, then the Lakers will have cause enough to sound the proverbial alarm.