- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The way Steve Nash sees it, if the next time he suits up for the Los Angeles Lakers goes south because of the chronic nerve issues in his back and hamstrings, it could be the last basketball he plays in his illustrious 18-year career.
With that in mind, Nash is making sure he does as much as possible to get his body right before making what could be his final comeback attempt as an NBA player.
"At some point, I have to also realize, do the safest thing, the best possible opportunity to play basketball again rather than letting my angst get the better of me and jumping back in there," Nash said after the Lakers' shootaround Friday. "I know I can get healthy. It's a matter of, 'Can I sustain it?' And I'm just trying to get that health under my belt for an amount of time where we feel confident that it can be sustainable is the tricky part, and that's probably going to take a little while longer than I was hoping."
Nash, the league's oldest player -- turning 40 next month -- originally hoped to return to the lineup sometime during the Lakers' upcoming seven-game Grammys road trip Jan. 15-26, but he has since decided to use that time to go back to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the fourth time this season to undergo rehab with personal trainer Rick Celebrini.
If all goes well, Nash will practice with the Lakers for a week when they return from their extended road trip and attempt a comeback during the first week of February with about 35 games left in the regular season.
"It's all super speculative at this point because it's such a weird, tricky dimension when you're talking about this nerve issue," Nash said.
Nash exited at halftime of the Lakers' loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 10 and has not played since. He is averaging 6.7 points and 4.8 assists per game this season while shooting 26.1 percent from the field. He has two years remaining on his contract with the Lakers, set to pay him $9.4 million this season and $9.7 million in 2014-15.
Nash said that the time away from the team -- missing the past 24 games -- is starting to wear on him.
"That just eats away at me every day -- how far away I am from the game," Nash said. "It's been almost two months now. It takes a while to get your rhythm and everything down. So the anxiety and stress over the last eight months have been very unwelcomed."
After his last trip to Vancouver in early December, Nash was able to participate in three straight days of Lakers practices without a setback. However, two days after the string of consecutive work, discomfort set in.
"My left leg just like shut off," Nash said. "I remember just shooting and couldn't feel the muscles working, and it was like fatiguing in like 10 minutes of light shooting. That's classic neuropathy. Apparently I've become a bit of an expert."
Lakers trainer Gary Vitti persuaded Nash to push back his potential return date this time around.
"Gary, I think, makes perfect sense in kind of convincing me that [playing on the Grammys trip] is maybe a little hasty and that the safest thing is to go back up to Vancouver instead of flying all around the country and really get my two-a-days in and a 10- to 12-day training camp in there and then come back and practice for a week and try to play," Nash said.
Early February could be good timing for the Lakers, as Kobe Bryant (fracture of the lateral tibial plateau), Steve Blake (torn ulnar collateral ligament in right elbow) and Jordan Farmar (left hamstring tear) all have injury timelines that coincide with predicting their availability close to Feb. 1. Bryant went through about 15 minutes of form shooting, including some light jumping on his release, at the Lakers' practice facility Friday.
Without all those important pieces, the 13-19 Lakers are riding a season-high six-game losing streak entering Friday night.
"It's hard business to be proud of your guys when they're losing [six] in a row, but one thing that I will say about this group that I'm extremely proud of is this type of situation in the NBA nine out of 10 times is one of disaster or guys start going their own way and they stop listening to the coach and you got a real combustible atmosphere," Nash said. "It's amazing and a tribute to the players and coaches and staff that this is still a positive environment. Guys still like coming to work every day. They're working hard together."
All of the injuries add up to the Lakers going with their 18th starting lineup in their 33rd game of the season Friday when they host the Utah Jazz, tying the Milwaukee Bucks for the league lead in the dubious category. Kendall Marshall and Robert Sacre will be the new additions against the Jazz, joining Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks and Nick Young in the first five. Wes Johnson has recovered from the gastroenteritis that kept him out of the Lakers' last game and will play against Utah, but he will not start.
What does Nash think about making a comeback with a team that could be 10 to 15 games under .500 by the time he's ready to return?
"I don't really think in those terms at all just because I really want to play," he said. "I just want to play the game. I love playing. I really love the game, and I know that I've got a really short window of basketball in my life, so I just want to get out there and play and try to build a little bit of health and confidence and ability to finish out my career."
Even if Nash can sustain his health enough to get back on the court this season, the Lakers will have the option to waive him before 2014-15 via the stretch provision and pay the remaining $9.7 million on his deal over a three-year period with only about $3.2 million counting against the cap annually.
"I don't know all the technical possibilities but obviously know that nothing is guaranteed," Nash said when asked about being a stretch provision candidate. "Obviously right now I have a guaranteed contract, but the future is totally in flux and anything is possible in the NBA and frankly with my health.
"I haven't proven to myself or anyone else that my body still has what I think it has in the tank. So I walk around feeling optimistic that I can do it, but I'm also reminded daily that I have to prove it."
There is one thing Nash is focused on more than wins, back pain or contract dollars at this point.
"I just want to get whatever I can out of my career at this point and then walk away with a smile on my face and happy to leave the game," he said.
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