I’ve been surprised by the banner headline level attention give to the trade of Phoenix Suns point guard to the Los Angeles Lakers. On the one hand, it shows that even in middle age, I’m prone to naivete; the pairing of Nash with Kobe Bryant gives one of the NBA’s signature franchises a backcourt duo that are locks for the Hall of Fame. OTOH, this doesn’t make the Lakers a championship contender, which is the implication if not the flat out analysis from most of the coverage.
Nash is an upgrade over incumbent point guard Ramon Sessions, but not as much as you might think. Nash is now six years removed from his back to back MVP seasons in 2005 and 2006, and although he’s still an excellent player (and an extraordinary one for a 38 year old backcourt player), he doesn’t turn a minus into a plus. Sessions compiled a Player Efficiency Rating of 17.3 last season with the Lakers. Nash compiled a 20.3 with the Suns. An increase in three points in PER at the point guard position won’t elevate a second round loser to the level of championship contender.
What’s more is that point guard wasn’t the Lakers big weakness by season’s end (it was at the beginning of the campaign, but then Sessions arrived). The Lakers glaring weakness is their bench. Aside from Matt Barnes the Lakers reserves consisted of too many “really, he’s still in the league guys,” like Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy. The Nash signing leaves the Lakers little cap maneuverability to fortify this aspect of the team.
This is an important consideration because of the ages in the Lakers likely opening night starting lineup: Nash (38), Bryant (34) Metta World Peace (32), Pau Gasol (32) and Andrew Bynum (25). Four guys on the wrong side of 30 and a center who has played 75% of the available games only once in his career. The Lakers lack of depth could be their downfall.
The other reasons I’m skeptical are more speculative. I don’t see how Nash fits in with an offense as isolation heavy as the Lakers, and I’m not sure how healthy he stays away from the renowned training staff in Phoenix. All that said, it’s a good acquisition for the Lakers, just not one that changes the balance of power in the Western Conference.
Martin Johnson wrote a weekly NBA column for the New York Sun from 2003-’08, and for http://www.theroot.com from 2008-’10. His sportswriting has also appeared in the NY Times, Wall St. Journal and the Atlantic Monthly.