won't play again this season, but expects to return next year. (Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images)
The NBA may have seen the last of Steve Nash this season, but that doesn't mean the 40-year-old Lakers guard is planning to hang it up this summer.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni confirmed Thursday that Nash is done for the 2013-14 season, even with five weeks remaining on the schedule. The Nash announcement comes one day after the Lakers decided to shut down Kobe Bryant for the rest of the season.
"He's not going to play," D'Antoni said of Nash, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Nash, the league's oldest active player, has appeared in just 10 games this season while dealing with ongoing back and nerve injuries, averaging just 7.6 points and 4.7 assists. Nash has appeared in just 60 out of 146 games for the Lakers since he signed a three-year, $27.9 million contract as part of a sign-and-trade with the Suns in July 2012. When he arrived in Los Angeles, he was regarded as the potential engine of a star-studded title contender, but the Lakers were swept out of the first round of the playoffs last season and look destined for a good lottery pick this season. To many observers, the injuries have reduced him to a $9.7 million salary cap clog on next year's books, as his contract and the new, two-year, $48.5 million extension for Kobe Bryant limit the Lakers' flexibility and options heading into the summer.
Although some fans and media members think it would be best if Nash simply called it a career by retiring this summer, the two-time MVP plans to continue his fight to return to the court so that he can claim the financial compensation owed to him during the final year of his contract.
"It's just a reality," Nash said, in a Grantland.com video documentary. "I'm not going to retire because I want the money. It's honest. We want honest athletes, but at the same time, you're going to have people out there saying 'He's so greedy. He's made x amount of money and he has to take this last little bit.' Yes, I do, have to take that last little bit. I'm sorry if that is frustrating to some but if they were in my shoes they would do exactly the same thing. I wouldn't believe for a minute that they wouldn't."
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During an 18-year NBA career that began in 1996, Nash has banked more than $137 million in salary. His 2014-15 salary will push that number past $146 million, and Spotrac.com ranks Nash No. 15 when it comes to highest career earnings among active NBA players.
"I could come in every day and say, 'I'm not right today.' Just be injured, ride out the rest of my contract and collect my checks," Nash continued. "While I'm not willing to retire and give up that last year of my contract, I'm also not willing to just sit back and say, 'I don't feel it today.' ... That's just not me. I still love the game enough. Still love to fight. I want to do everything I can get to back out there."
As it stands, the Lakers do not have any other point guards under contract for next season, and they are giving minutes to Kendall Marshall and Jordan Farmar following the trade deadline departure of Steve Blake to the Warriors. The best available point guard options this summer include Eric Bledsoe, who will be a restricted free agent, and Kyle Lowry. DraftExpress.com also projects three point guards -- Australia's Dante Exum, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart and Syracuse's Tyler Ennis -- going in this year's lottery. L.A. also has the option of releasing Nash using the stretch provision, which would pay him his salary in full but allow the Lakers to spread out the money and cap hit over three seasons.
Regardless of how or with whom the Lakers fill out their point guard depth chart next year, Nash seems himself as a part of it.
"To come to the end of my career and have a lot of people calling for me to retire, a lot of people believing that I'm done, and frankly a lot of people being extremely critical of me. ... You have a lot of people who want to say you're just trash," he told Grantland. "That's not my primary source of motivation -- to show everybody -- [because] my primary source of motivation is to get out there because I love the game. But it would be nice to shut some people up while I'm doing it."
Any frustration directed towards Nash over his contract is obviously misguided. The final responsibility for any bad deal falls on the team writing the checks rather than the player cashing them, and Nash's only obligation is to work as hard as possible to get back on the court, which he certainly seems to be doing. It's simply unfair to make Nash the fall guy for a series of ill-conceived moves -- or good ideas in theory that wound up backfiring -- that were made by Lakers management in recent years.