6:58pm: Nerve issues will keep Steve Nash from playing this season, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report. Sources tell Ding that the Lakers are expected to rule the 40-year-old point guard out for all of 2014/15 because of recurring nerve damage in his back. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times confirms that Nash will not play this year (Twitter link). The Lakers can apply for a Disabled Player Exception worth nearly $4.851MM, or half of his $9.701MM salary for this season, but they can’t take Nash’s contract, which expires at season’s end, off the books.
If the Lakers waive Nash, they could apply for a salary exclusion if he’s deemed to have suffered a career-ending injury. However, they’d have to wait to apply for that on the one-year anniversary of his last game, which took place on April 8th last season. That would give the NBA only about a week before the end of the regular season to grant the exclusion, which would wipe Nash’s salary from the team’s cap figure, though the Lakers would still have to pay the former MVP his salary. Still, that’s unlikely to change the equation much for the Lakers, as few, if any, free agents of impact are available at that point in the season, and it wouldn’t affect the team’s cap room for next summer, since Nash’s contract expires at season’s end one way or another.
The league has an insurance policy that covers teams for a portion of the salary for around 150 players in case they are injured, but the insurance company may choose as many as 14 players to exempt from that policy each year. It’s not clear whether Nash is one of those exempt players, but if the insurance covered Nash when he first signed his deal in 2012, at which point he was still fully healthy, he’d still be covered now. The insurance nonetheless has no bearing on Nash’s cap figure.
In any case, the prospect of Nash returning to the court for 2015/16 or beyond seems remote, so there’s a strong chance his career is at an end. The 15th overall pick in the 1996 draft didn’t show his true potential until a trade sent him to the Mavs after his second NBA season. He blossomed into an All-Star alongside Dirk Nowitzki, and when Nash left as a free agent in 2004 for Phoenix, where he teamed with coach Mike D’Antoni, he reached new levels, winning back-to-back MVP awards his first two seasons with the Suns. He remained productive for many years, averaging 10.7 assists during the 2011/12 season, when he turned 38, prompting the Lakers to sign-and-trade for him in the summer of 2012. He joined Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to form a star-studded Lakers team that was a chic pick to win the championship, which would have been a first for Nash, but the team fell well short of expectations and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
A broken leg that Nash suffered in just his second regular season game with the Lakers helped limit him to 50 games in 2012/13 and touched off the nerve trouble that was largely responsible for him appearing in just 15 games last season. He never lived up to his contract, worth more than $27.9MM over three years, and he admitted this spring that he wasn’t going to retire because he wanted to collect his salary for this season. Still, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has said he doesn’t regret doing the deal.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.