In the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NBA and its players agreed on something called a “Stretch Provision,” which would give teams the ability to release a player while still paying the full extent of their salary over twice the length of the remaining contract, plus one season. For teams, the inspiration behind such a move is simple – they can either release malcontents or players they have no use for while taking in potential salary cap savings along the way.
Steve Nash is not a malcontent, and even in his advanced age the Los Angeles Lakers have use for him both this season and next if he were to be playing at full strength. Next season marks the last year on Nash’s disappointing three-year, $27.9 million contract, though, and Steve is still battling through leg, nerve and back issues and hasn’t played in over two weeks.
Nash is owed $9.7 million by the Lakers next season, but if Los Angeles chooses to use the Provision they would only be on the hook for just over $3.23 million for the next three seasons. This would allow the Lakers to chop nearly $6.5 million more off their salary cap ledger for the summer of 2014, as they desperately try to sign stars align around the similarly-ailing Kobe Bryant, who is owed a league-highest $23.5 million in 2014-15.
Nash is more than aware of this. And in the second installment of Grantland’s bordering heartbreaking series on the legend, he talks about as much. Watch:
That was brutal.
You can’t fault the Lakers for considering such a move. Given Nash’s recent record of good health (he was banged up quite a bit during his first two seasons in Dallas, a decade and a half ago) when he came to Los Angeles, it was assumed that at the very least the first two years of Nash’s deal with the team would be worth the contract he signed in the summer of 2012. He was a top-flight point guard despite his creeping age in his last few years in Phoenix, so signing that sort of player – even knowing about the diminishing returns – to less than eight figures a year seemed like a sound deal. Even if it meant overpaying in the third season.
Nobody could predict a broken leg, the resultant nerve and back damage, the all-out embarrassment of the Dwight Howard situation, and Kobe’s career-altering Achilles and broken leg issues. In just a year and a half we’ve gone from giddy Laker fans handing Nash a beer on the freeway to wondering if Bryant will even return in good health from his own frightening (and rare) leg fracture.
You can fault the Lakers for clearly overpaying Bryant (who is set to make $25 million in 2015-16 on top of next year) in his late years and after one (and possibly prior to two) career-threatening injuries, but you can’t fault them for considering knocking almost $6.5 million off of this offseason’s books knowing that a 40-year old (and eventually 41-year old, by the time the deal runs out) Nash may not be able to contribute much next season.
And, as a player who has dealt with trade rumors since his rookie year, one that went out of his way to sign with a team in 2012 to stay close to his children, you can’t fault Nash for thinking that this could be it. Few in NBA history have deserved a ring more than Nash, but you don’t get the feeling he’d be the type to work as Chris Paul’s backup next season with the Los Angeles Clippers in order to chase down a championship.
(Even if that would be just about the greatest thing ever.)
Nash and Kobe have to come back this season. For Kobe, it would be to get some reps in as he recovers, in order to stave off nature red in tooth and claw in the hopes that he wouldn’t be limited to just six games between April of 2013 and October of 2014. He also would want to show potential free agents that there’s some Kobe left in there, yet.
For Nash? His career is on the line. Which is just brutal, despite extended and slow recovery time we’ve had to watch him work through. So brutal, and so swift.
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