The Lakers acquired Steve Nash in a sign-and-trade without giving up any element that hinders their ability to win in the short-term. They also used the last semi-direct byproduct of the 2004 Shaquille O’Neal trade by acquiring Nash via the Traded Player Exception created when they sent Lamar Odom to the Mavericks last December.
Nash makes the Lakers even worse defensively at point guard, which is especially troublesome since the Western Conference is going through Russell Westbrook and the Thunder for the remainder of his career. There is also the fear that Nash’s skill-set will go underutilized considering the high usage of Kobe Bryant and how frequently they run their offense through Andrew Bynum in the post.
But at the very least Nash gives Bryant, Bynum and Pau Gasol the best floor spreading shooter in the game. As Jonathan Tjarks points out, the spacing in the halfcourt was the biggest problem for the Lakers in the playoffs against both the Nuggets and Thunder. The mere presence of Nash, even if he scales back his off the dribble offense in Year 2 and Year 3, will be worth the cost. The Lakers fell to 10th in offensive efficiency in the first season with Mike Brown on the sidelines, a drop from sixth in 10-11. There is little doubt that an offense with four talents of that caliber will be right there close to 110.0 points per 100 possessions.
While I have seen arguments stating the opposite, Dwight Howard is a far more logical fit at center to maximize the abilities of Nash than Bynum. There were very few possessions in which Bynum was used in the pick-and-roll last season, as he doesn’t have that type of lateral agility to be a real threat.
Howard has never played with a point guard anywhere close to Nash in this capacity and would be impossible to guard when you also have Gasol stretching the weakside big and then Bryant as a genius cutter still wanting to catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the scoring title. Howard doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be as much of a factor offensively as Bynum and will be a more efficient scorer. Howard’s previous career high in field goal percentage was 61.2% in 09-10 and it is realistic to see him get on the doorstep the 70% mark as Tyson Chandler did with the Knicks last season. Wilt Chamberlain had a FG% of 72.7 during the 72-73 season with the Lakers, the only season on the books above 70%.
Trading for Howard would more importantly cover the Lakers’ deficiencies on defense. Bynum has moments of excellence as a rebounder and shotblocker, but simply doesn’t compare to Howard in any meaningful way in terms of space covered. The Magic need the Lakers more than the Lakers need the Magic, there is little question about that, but the title chances undoubtedly uptick with Howard instead of Bynum.
The adjustment period with Nash will be fascinating, especially since Brown is nobody’s idea of the ideal coach for a team of this type offensively. For all involved, it would be preferable if Nash takes on a Peyton Manning-like role as point guard/offensive coordinator.
More intriguingly, the offensive evolution of Bryant will be the most interesting aspect of this acquisition. Bryant has long coveted a creative passing point guard as he wanted the Lakers to trade Bynum to the Nets for Jason Kidd. Bryant played an active role in putting together the Nash acquisition, so exactly how he envisions sharing a backcourt with a point guard like Nash (something he has never done before) will have a lot of nuance and will not be fully clear until January if not the All-Star break.
Bryant wants ring No. 6 and the scoring title, in that order, and Nash makes both things far easier. Bryant worked incredibly hard for his offense last season, something that seemed entirely unsustainable as he regresses physically. Watching Nash setup Bryant will be joy if the latter fully buys in, which should be less of an issue than some fear.
Nash's impact on a thin bench will also be interesting. The Lakers have clear depth issues and whether he can get questionable NBA talents to overachieve will really put this deal over the top.
The cost for the Lakers is merely four draft picks and a higher tax bill. When was the last time a Lakers' rookie made any type of real impact? The Lakers will presumably simply reload around Howard or Bynum when Bryant and Nash retire so those picks in the twenties will have little consequence in comparison to maximizing their chances over the next three seasons.
The only risk for the Lakers is if Nash is unable to play out his contract since a younger option like Kyle Lowry, who was traded to the Raptors less than 24 hours later would have been a longer-term solution.
Grade for Lakers: A-
Nash had an interesting gamut of choices in free agency, each with their own appeals.
The Raptors and Knicks would have made sense for him as a gateway to retirement in their individual way, but they both are a little too far away from being a title contender and apparently too far away from his children.
The Mavericks would have allowed Nash to reunite with Dirk Nowitzki eight years after he left for the Suns, but that roster needed too many additional pieces and the exercise likely would have descended into more of a farewell tour than a legitimate threat.
The Lakers are again a title contender, with or without a Howard trade, plus they afford Nash an hour flight from his children and the culture capital that legitimately matters to him.
The Lakers broke Nash’s heart in 2010 during the Suns’ final playoff run in the Western Conference Finals, but the Suns eliminated them in 2006 and 2007. Nash never played the Lakers in the playoffs during his Dallas days, and it was always the Spurs that eliminated Nash’s teams. That San Antonio uniform would have truly been the difficult one for Nash to feel okay putting on.
Grade for Nash: A
The Suns received a ton of criticism during the past two deadlines in holding onto Nash as he played out his contract. They were able to maximize the revenue opportunities of keeping Nash while also cashing out with four draft picks as they rebuild. The picks will likely have dubious value, but picks in the twenties have even greater value in this CBA since they represent young, cheap roster spots filled with potential.
Losing Nash to Toronto, for example, would have set back the Suns in comparison to this sign-and-trade.
Grade for Suns: A