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Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Lakers all in with Steve Nash deal

By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- It has been a while since one of the NBA's elite players looked around the league, considered all of his options, and decided that the Los Angeles Lakers offered him the best chance to win.

OK, it has been since December, when Chris Paul made the very same decision Steve Nash just did, only to have NBA Commissioner David Stern wag his index finger at the proposed trade with the New Orleans Hornets and send Paul into the other home locker room at Staples Center to play for the Los Angeles Clippers instead.

Steve Nash
If there was any question about the Lakers being contenders next season, Steve Nash changes that notion.

Since then the Lakers have been turned down and broken up with more times than Tom Cruise. Dwight Howard wasn't into them after an initial conversation with Kobe Bryant reportedly didn't go well. Deron Williams never really gave the Lakers a chance before he re-signed with the Brooklyn Nets. James Harden, an L.A. native no less, said his heart was in Oklahoma City. Heck, even the Lakers' own center, Andrew Bynum, said he was fine playing elsewhere if it came to that.

Veterans chasing a ring were flying south to Miami. Stars were flocking to the Nets. The team playing on off nights at Staples Center was turning into this era's version of Showtime.

For a team and a city that is used to getting what it wants, these have been strange times.

Until Steve Nash said "yes."

Yes to the Lakers.

Yes to Kobe Bryant.

Yes to the idea that this is still a glamour franchise.

Yes to chasing a ring here, and not riding in the backseat with LeBron & Co. down in South Beach in their quest for No. 2.

For Lakers fans this is going to feel a lot like the 2003-04 season, when former rivals Karl Malone and Gary Payton signed on to chase a ring at the back end of the Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal dynasty.

The Lakers had been bounced out of the second round of the 2003 playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs and were in need of a point guard who could stay with Tony Parker and a power forward who could rough up Tim Duncan.

But this is different for one very important reason: The Lakers were still unquestionably a contender that season. Their core was still young, Phil Jackson was still their coach, and Dr. Jerry Buss was still heavily involved.

The Lakers of 2012 have been enduring something of an identity crisis since Stern nixed the Paul trade. Things like that are supposed to happen for the Lakers, not to the Lakers.

One person heavily involved in the failed trade once told me, ''What happened to the Lakers was a tragedy. An absolute farce."

Another estimated it would take the Lakers at least five years to recover. The trade did damage to the Lakers' brand, their roster -- Lamar Odom asked to be traded, Pau Gasol is still recovering -- and their psyche.

New coach Mike Brown walked into a hurricane and just tried to survive it. With the season already condensed by the lockout, he had little time to put his imprint on the team, let alone install a playbook.

General manager Mitch Kupchak's job was harder than ever with the restrictive new collective bargaining agreement that penalized luxury-tax paying teams like the Lakers. And besides, he'd already hit a home run with the Paul trade, only to have an umpire call it foul.

All things considered, a second-round loss to the Thunder wasn't that bad of an outcome for a team that had been through so much.

But second-round losses aren't what the Lakers are about. Not now and not ever. Which is why acquiring Nash means more than solving the Lakers' point guard woes.

If Ramon Sessions was an idea, Steve Nash is an answer.

An answer for how the Lakers can win now.

An answer for critics who wondered whether the franchise had lost its luster.

An answer for Kobe Bryant, who was beginning to lose faith.

The Lakers had several fundamental choices this offseason:

Get older or get younger? Live for the now or the future? Swing for the fences or play Moneyball?

After trading for Steve Nash, they've made their choice. The Lakers are all in.