It's hard to say it, but Steve Nash is a shell of his former self. The mind is still willing, but the body is not.
Nash has been able to eke out a few gutsy performances just by relying on instincts, but on most nights as of late, he's made getting up and down the floor look like a painful chore. After all these years, Nash's back looks like it has finally quit on him. Our own Kevin Ding:
The culmination of Nash's injuries all comes at a time where the Lakers have been hit hard with health issues and by reality over the last few months.
Kobe Bryant might be the hardest-working athlete we've ever seen in the NBA, but he remains sidelined when many predicted he'd already be playing again. Age and injuries are a toxic mix, as we've seen, and there's a reason why Father Time remains undefeated, even against some of the greatest athletes to ever suit up.
Without Kobe able to play yet, who will bail the Lakers out of this mess?
In the past, perhaps general manager Mitch Kupchak would ride in and save the day with a wild trade out of nowhere, but that well is probably already dry. The Lakers can't deal a first-round draft pick until 2019 thanks to previous trades for Dwight Howard and Nash, and most of the players who could be trade assets are already long gone.
Nash, meanwhile, almost certainly can't be dealt given his health status. Due $9.7 million next season, Nash's value will be directly tied to his expiring contract next year and not to what he can provide on the floor.
Of course, that's if Nash doesn't retire at age 40, which at least seems like a reasonable possibility given everything that's happening now.
Pau Gasol could be dealt, but the Lakers likely don't want to bring back any salary with a big free-agent class looming.
A deal exchanging expiring contracts would likely be the only option for Gasol, but it's hard to imagine any scenario where the Lakers aren't the "seller" in that type of trade. Basically, moving Gasol while maintaining cap space for next year isn't going to transform the Lakers into a winner, particularly since Gasol's stock is down after his performances early on this year.
There are limited options for a miracle turnaround this year, but the Lakers have a hole to fill nonetheless. What's the best option for replacing Nash?
There are a few reasons why the Lakers will most likely stay put and roll with Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar at point guard in Nash's absence.
First and foremost, we can assume the Lakers don't want to add salary to next year's books, which makes a trade difficult. The lack of movable or desirable assets compounds that issue, as well.
As for adding a free agent just for this season, it's important to note there are 15 players on the Lakers current roster, which is the max amount a team can carry. If the Lakers want to add a third point guard to the roster, they'll have to waive someone first.
These aren't major hurdles, but the degree of difficulty for adding another point guard is a little higher than it typically is for most teams.
Still, it's not as though the Lakers are caught completely off guard by Nash's injury woes and are grasping at straws here. Farmar was brought in largely to protect against this sort of thing, but he's been a bit of a mixed bag so far.
There are the ugly numbers from Farmar's start to the year (38.4 percent shooting from the field, 5.1 turnovers per 36 minutes), but then there are some encouraging totals as well (16 points, six rebounds and 7.2 assists per 36).
Despite the up-and-down play offensively, Farmar is a pretty reliable defender, as he has the speed and athleticism the other guards on the roster don't. Going from Nash to Farmar, at least on the defensive side of the ball, will be like going from dial-up to broadband.
Farmar should mix well with Blake in the same backcourt, mainly because Blake's safe approach is a nice counter to Farmar's risk-taking nature. It doesn't hurt that Blake is shooting a blistering 48.8 percent from behind the arc early on this year, either.
Blake will still have to spend more time at the point, though, which means a bump in minutes for Nick Young, Xavier Henry and Jodie Meeks is probably on the horizon.
Each of those players are horribly flawed in their own way, but it will be hard to be much worse than Nash's 26 percent shooting and statuesque defense displayed this season.
Losing Nash for an extended period of time would still be a tough blow despite those numbers, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least bit to see Farmar really take off in D'Antoni's offense. We've seen it happen before with Chris Duhon, Jeremy Lin and a host of others, and Farmar does have a lot of natural ability and a more nuanced understanding of the pick-and-roll thanks to his time playing overseas.
Truth be told, replacing this version of Nash with Farmar should be a sizable upgrade for the Lakers. Blake will mesh like he always does, but it's Farmar who could resuscitate the offense and at least make life a little more difficult on opposing point guards.
Although this would be a strange avenue to explore for what should be a stop-gap solution, especially when there are already two capable point guards on the roster, we can't rule out a trade entirely.
Barring a big move involving Gasol, however, there are limited attractive pieces to dangle.
D'Antoni seems to have an aversion to playing Jordan Hill major minutes (just 16 minutes a game) despite the fact he's probably been the most productive Lakers player this season.
Hill's crazy energy on the offensive glass has been a huge factor in a few games, and his per-36-minute numbers of 14 points and 14.8 rebounds should make him attractive to a team where his skills are a better fit.
Selling high on Hill to a team that needs a rebounder in the frontcourt, like the New York Knicks, would make sense if D'Antoni prefers a stretch 4 for his offense.
Trading Hill for another expiring deal, however, seems a little pointless in the grand scheme of things, unless a draft pick was coming back in exchange.
Since Hill isn't good enough to bring back a first-round pick, a point guard and a second-rounder might be the best haul for the Lakers, so long as we're dealing solely in expiring contracts.
Point being, when your assets are limited and the requirements for a return are hyper-specific, trading can be awfully difficult.
If the Lakers feel the need to add another ball-handler, scouring the free-agent bin for a high-upside option would probably be the best way to go.
Kendall Marshall probably deserves another chance in the league, and a point guard-friendly system might be just the right remedy.
Marshall excelled at North Carolina in a high-tempo, transition offense. For the Lakers, taking a chance on a lottery pick from last year's draft could pay dividends, particularly with Nash on the roster serving as a mentor.
Marshall is limited skill-wise, particularly when it comes to shooting, but he shouldn't have many bad habits that can't be broken at this point in his career. If nothing else, he's a capable third ball-handler.
Rodrigue Beaubois is another option. Beaubois sort of fell off the face of the earth after his early success with the Dallas Mavericks, but he's still relatively young at 25 years old. Perhaps Beaubois could recapture some his scoring ability in a system with more freedom.
Scott Machado is held in high regard in a lot of basketball circles, and there's a reason why he keeps getting chances to make teams in summer leagues and training camps. He's underwhelming from an athletic and skill standpoint, but he's a natural point guard who could hold down the fort as a third point guard.
While there are some veteran point guards out there, like Chris Quinn or Keyon Dooling, the Lakers are in a position where they should swing for the fences and skew young.
If everyone on an expiring deal is going to be renounced before free agency anyhow, why not try to pump up a player's value to make him a trade asset, or try to find a cheap fit in D'Antoni's system to keep around?
So long as next year's cap space isn't sacrificed, there's no point in being risk-averse now.
It's a strange position for the Lakers to be in, but after watching Nash deal with injuries and Gasol struggle early on, the Lakers no longer have all that much to lose.
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