- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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PORTLAND, Ore. -- Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni thinks we've seen the last of Steve Nash on the court for the 2013-14 season. Does that mean Nash has played the last basketball of his brilliant 18-year NBA career?
"I doubt it," D'Antoni said after the Lakers' shootaround Monday when asked if Nash would play again this season with 23 games remaining, starting with the Trail Blazers on Monday night. "I don't think so. What's the end game? We've talked about it. He's not completely healthy. We have 23 games left. We're not going to make the playoffs. So what's his objective into taking minutes away from the young guys that we're trying to develop? That's kind of the theme that we're talking about."
Nash was noncommittal about his chances of playing again this season.
"We'll see," he said. "I couldn't really make a prediction. If I get the chance, it would be great."
Nash has missed the Lakers' last seven games after returning from nerve root irritation to play a four-game stint in early February. During his short-lived comeback, he collided with Chicago's Kirk Hinrich, with the point of impact occurring in nearly the same spot on his left leg where he suffered a fracture last season.
"That knee to [his leg], that was crazy," Nash said. "It just flared everything up. But it's subsiding, and I'm kind of working through it and coming back to where I was."
The two-time league MVP has averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 assists in 10 games this season while shooting just 36 percent from the floor and 31.6 percent from 3 -- well below his career marks of 14.3 points, 8.5 assists, 49 percent shooting and 42.8 percent from deep.
Nash looked like his old self in a 112-98 win against the Philadelphia 76ers in a game played on his 40th birthday, racking up 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting with five assists and four rebounds.
"You look at an 18-year career and, like, one game against Philly [should not matter]," Nash said, "but it meant so much to me just to say, 'OK, I showed I can do it still.' Can I sustain it? That's the next step, and I haven't been able to prove that yet."
Nash has one year remaining on his contract with the Lakers, set to pay him $9.7 million. Under the collective bargaining agreement, L.A. could waive Nash via the stretch provision before the start of training camp and have one-third of the $9.7 million owed to him (approximately $3.2 million) counted against the salary cap for the next three seasons.
Nash commented on the possibility of being a stretch provision candidate in the second episode of his documentary series "The Finish Line" on ESPN.com's Grantland.
"I'd imagine that's the outcome," Nash tells his agent, Bill Duffy, in the documentary, believing he will be waived.
Nash also says in the episode that he will not try to play for another team if he is waived.
"If the Lakers release me this summer, this is it," he says. "I finally got my kids here in L.A. I'm not going to move them again, and I'm not going to be without them for another year. So it's either back with the Lakers next year or I'm done."
Nash said Monday that the stretch provision was a key motivator in him coming back in February after being sidelined since Nov. 10 because of back, neck and hamstring discomfort because he did not know if this would be the last time he would get a chance to play professional basketball.
"The reality that next year's not guaranteed made me realize that I had to take more risks with my training and try to get back on the court," Nash said. "When you're looking at potentially the last few months of your career, I didn't want to just let that slide by without getting back on the court."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters shortly after the trade deadline two weeks ago that Nash's future will be in the point guard's hands.
"It's really his decision," Kupchak said. "He's under contract to play basketball next year. There's a lot of moving pieces in something like this. For us to sit down and influence one way or the other is not ethical."
The Lakers have approximately $22 million in cap space available to pursue free agents this summer, but if the market is tepid and they choose to save their money to be able to go after big names in the summer of 2015, the team would have more flexibility if Nash's entire $9.7 million was coming off the books rather than having it stretched over three years.
"We have to see where we are next summer," Kupchak said when asked about the possibility of using the stretch provision. "A lot of is going to be based on what Steve says and what we see. If he's out there playing at a high level and he's working during the summer at a high level, that'll be a factor in what we do."
Already the oldest active player in the league, Nash said he intends to play next season.
"I want to come back," Nash said. "For sure."
Nash made the one-game road trip to Portland with the Lakers after staying behind in L.A. last week when the team went to Indianapolis and Memphis. He has been able to undergo individual shooting and dribbling drills in the past week but still feels he needs more training before he would be ready for game action.
"We'll see if I can practice soon," Nash said. "I kind of got to get some practice out of the way, and we're not going to get many practices in this week, or any practices, so we'll see. We'll see how I feel next week and if I get a chance to practice."
The Lakers' other injured future Hall of Fame guard, Kobe Bryant, did not make the trip to Portland. D'Antoni said Bryant's potential return from a fracture in his left knee that has kept him out since Dec. 17 is still undetermined.
"The doctors haven't cleared Kobe, so it's a non-issue right now," D'Antoni said. "Steve's been cleared, but he hasn't been able to make it through a game. So it's kind of two different issues, but we keep talking and see what we can do."
Bryant is slated to be evaluated again in mid-March, at which point he would likely require a couple weeks of practice before returning to game action if he is cleared.
Will it be worth it for Bryant to come back if there is only a handful of games remaining?
"The thing is, does he get back and play some games to get his rhythm back for next year or just wait? I don't know," D'Antoni said. "They'll talk. [Lakers trainer] Gary [Vitti] and the doctors will talk about that."
13hMichael C. Wright