Will Steve Nash be a 'hummingbird trapped in a sandwich bag' in LA?

As expected, the Phoenix Suns spent Thursday in limbo with the majority of their remaining cap space tied up in an offer sheet to Eric Gordon that the New Orleans Hornets are expected to match.

As I reported last night, the Hornets are likely to utilize the majority of the 72 hours they have to match because once they do Gordon’s $9.6 million cap hold will turn into his $13.7 mil first-year salary, and thus the Hornets will lose $4.1 million of available cap space (they currently are about $10 mil under the cap).

CBA expert Larry Coon confirmed the Hornets’ position for me tonight in an email:

A team has to maintain “room” while an offer sheet is outstanding. Room can be either cap space or a suitable exception, and a suitable exception includes Bird rights. So as long as the team retains full Bird rights, they don’t need to maintain cap space.

Unless they find a use for that cap space sooner, I fully expect the Hornets to wait until the last hour on Saturday afternoon to match on Gordon as they have $4 million reasons to do just that.

While we’re waiting, I would recommend taking a visit to TrueHoop to read Henry Abbott’s analysis of Steve Nash as a Laker.

Henry basically wonders whether Nash can be Nash, the whirling dervish two-time MVP who annually led the league in assists and offensive efficiency in Phoenix while playing the most fun ball in the NBA.

The alternative would be whether this will be the Terry Porter era all over again, when people thought Nash was on the decline (in hindsight, what a joke!) when really it was just Porter’s offense that lacked spacing and featured Shaq hogging space in the middle that was stifling him.

Henry brought up the Kevin Arnovitz allusion that Nash looked like a “hummingbird trapped in a sandwich bag” during much of the Porter era. Will that scenario repeat itself in LA?

The Lakers would be getting a bargain if they were paying Steve Nash less than $9 million to be the player he’s been the past eight seasons, yet that’s quite the pretty penny for a glorified spot-up shooter who runs the occasional fast break and takes control of the offense only when Kobe isn’t shooting and Bynum isn’t posting.

The past eight seasons Nash has essentially been the most unselfish ball hog the league has ever seen in that everything revolved around him. This was a good thing for Phoenix because it led to some of the most efficient offense we’ve ever seen. When Nash was surrounded by shooters and roll men and asked to create, the Suns steamrolled the league for perhaps the best stretch of sustained offense ever.

Yet with Kobe, Bynum and Gasol, there’s no way Nash will be that guy anymore.

It’s something I’ve always wondered when pondering Nash’s trade value, and it’s probably one reason he was never really on the block. He would always possess more value to Phoenix than anyone else.

Sure, perhaps when D’Antoni was still around he would have been a perfect fit for the Knicks and maybe Toronto would run the Nash system, but any legitimate contender with its own stars in place (and that’s got to include the current Carmelo Knicks) would make Nash fit them more than they would suddenly fit Nash. And that could be a problem, as Henry points out:

 The 2005 and 2006 MVP didn’t even make the All-Star team in 2009, and most believed he was the same player he had ever been, but the system didn’t allow him to do what he does best. Ask him to do everything on offense, and Nash runs a beautiful show. Ask him to do regular point guard things, like make an entry pass, cut through the lane, and stand in the corner, and it’s not clear why he was ever the MVP. It’s like Mario Andretti driving the school bus.

I don’t think anybody in their right mind imagines Kobe Bryant being content watching Steve Nash run the show, and we know Bynum will need his touches and Gasol already gets lost at times as it is. Due to his shooting abilities and pure passing skills, Nash would be an asset anywhere, but he may not be the same special point guard he was with the Suns in Los Angeles.

Of course, the personnel in Los Angeles is much different than it ever was in Phoenix. The Suns just needed that one dominant roll man and a team full of shooters to surround Nash with. When the Suns weren’t fast-breaking, the pick-and-roll was their bread and butter with everything focused on Nash’s creation skills. Hence when Nash sat, the Suns were often in trouble aside from some brief stretches of Goran Dragic brilliance.

With all their other All-Stars, the Lakers don’t necessarily need that Nash to be a contender, yet it will be interesting to see whether they can maximize the talents of Nash, Kobe, Gasol and Bynum. Sure, Nash can space the floor for them as a spot-up shooter, but if he’s given the freedom to create open shots for those guys, man, the league will be in trouble, as Henry concludes:

The trick to getting the most out of Nash is to make the Lakers, all Lakers, value the open shot, the easy shot — to value making the right basketball play. Given how defenses handle the Lakers — Bryant is almost never open — that means more possessions where Bryant will have the ball very little or not at all. Maybe Bynum and Gasol will similarly realize that a lot of possessions might end with Nash driving and kicking to, say, a wide open Steve Blake.

That’s how this could work. It’s not as personally gratifying, perhaps, for the big-name players. But it’s hell for opposing defenses. And it could get all those good players the easiest looks of their careers. It could be amazing.

The alternative? Some offense where Nash doesn’t have the ball and lots of freedom? Well, that’s just putting the hummingbird back in the sandwich bag, and who’d do a thing like that?

Nash and Kobe will surely need their time to get used to each other, but the Lakers would be wise to let this hummingbird run free.

Tags: Eric Gordon Steve Nash

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