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Could Los Angeles Lakers Turn Steve Nash into a Role Player?

Mar 30, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash (10) dribbles the ball against the Sacramento Kings in the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 15, 2013

Steve Nash will turn 40 years old in the middle of next season and after struggling through a frustrating, injury-plagued campaign in 2012-13, the 17-year veteran could find himself in a very different role next year.

Mike Trudell of Lakers.com sat down with Los Angeles Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, who chronicled the rotten injury luck that helped sink the team last year. Amid that conversation, Vitti let slip an interesting thought about how L.A. could best use Nash going forward:

But I think he's going to come back in great shape, and then it's all about how he's used. You don't want to beat him up in practice. Save it for the game, figure out the appropriate minutes that put him in a successful situation. The example I use is Robert Horry, where we played him a lot of minutes, and it was difficult for him to recover and be productive at his age. But he goes to San Antonio, plays 18 minutes a game, and the guy was an unbelievable force off the bench for them. I think if we figure out how best to use Steve, he can be the same way.

Vitti's comments don't make it clear whether the team envisions Nash as a starter with a low minute allotment (think Tim Duncan), or a reserve who comes in to run the second unit. Either way, it seems clear that the Lakers no longer feel Nash is capable of handling big minutes.

It's no wonder the team has that opinion, as Nash hasn't shown the ability to log serious playing time at any point in his career.

In 2005-06, Nash averaged a career high in minutes per game—just 35.4 with the Phoenix Suns. Since then, he's been in the mid- to low-30s every year. Considering that Nash has been playing relatively few minutes for the bulk of his career, it's going to be interesting to see what kind of a reduction the Lakers have planned.

Either way, L.A. has to do something to ensure production from the only player under contract after next season.

Even though Nash's most recent season was marred by injury, he retained his typical shooting accuracy. He knocked down 49 percent of his shots from the field, nearly 44 percent from long range and 92 percent from the stripe.

Clearly, age and infirmity haven't diminished the perimeter accuracy of one of the greatest shooters ever. And that means Nash still has plenty of value—if he's used optimally.

In addition to outside accuracy, Nash still has phenomenal court vision and an inherent unselfishness that makes him an offensive weapon whenever he's on the floor. The problem is that his body wasn't able to keep up with his mind last season. He'd see an opening, or a way to create a passing angle, but his broken down legs wouldn't allow him to get to a position that would allow him to capitalize.

The indication from Vitti seems to be that the Lakers will try to use Nash in situations that favor the skills he still possesses. I'd expect that L.A. will use him as a facilitator when favorable and as a spot-up option as necessary. More importantly, though, it seems like the Lakers will do their best to shield Nash from any problematic defensive matchups.

It's not going to be easy to pick and choose the minutes Nash plays, as teams will certainly look to test him whenever possible. But the Lakers don't really have a choice at this point; Nash hasn't shown he's capable of being a full-time, two-way player anymore.

What's going to be particularly intriguing is the issue of how the Lakers will compensate for the extra minutes a playing time reduction for Nash will yield. We saw last season that no point guard on L.A.'s roster was capable of stepping into a bigger role, so it's going to be very difficult to resist the temptation to stretch Nash's minutes beyond whatever figure the team deems "safe."

It's an unfortunate reality that the Lakers have to bend over backwards to keep Nash relatively healthy. But he's still the best point guard on the roster by a significant margin, so anything they can do to squeeze something close to a full season out of him is probably worth the trouble.

Does anybody know if a two-time MVP has ever won the Sixth Man of the Year award? Just wondering...

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