Nash, Lakers still searching
"Sir, do you know how far it is to the -- Hey! Aren't you Steve Nash?"
Nash, possibly the most polite man on Earth, gives him a friendly, cheeks-full nod.
"I'm James Worthy!" says the guy, who's white. "No, that's my real name! I look a little different than you thought, right?"
Hey, dude, almost everything has been a little different than Nash thought since the two-time MVP signed with the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer.
For one thing, his new team of SuperFriends has turned out to be the biggest dog since Marmaduke.
Even with four All-Stars -- Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Nash himself -- they seem to be running in a giant vat of oatmeal. Going into Friday night's home game with Utah, they had lost eight of their past 10. If the season ended right now, they wouldn't be within a moon landing of the playoffs. Yes, the Lakers.
It's driving Nash nuts.
"We're not all committing to what they want us to do," he moans. "We're half stuck in our own, old ways. We have to stop thinking about our pasts and ourselves."
I've been covering Nash for 17 years and have never seen him so glum.
"I just go home at night and lie awake trying to figure it out," says Nash, who says he slept only three hours the night before. "I keep asking myself, 'What am I not doing?'"
Well, he's not scoring like he usually does, for one thing. His points per game are the lowest they've been since the last millennium. And he's not pick-and-rolling like he usually does -- his assists average hasn't been this low in 10 years.
Yet he has not one but two star centers to work with. One of them, Howard, isn't just on a different page from Nash but seems to be reading an entirely different book.
"You forget he's only 27," Nash says. "He's trying to figure it out. Figure himself out."
If that sounds like a veiled way to say Howard is immature, that's the vibe you get from other Lakers players, too. As one Lakers staff member said, off the record, "You can't come into a locker room where Kobe is pretty quiet, Nash is pretty quiet, Gasol is pretty quiet, and never shut up. The guy never stops talking."
Another thing Nash didn't expect was that, when he finally met Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, it would be in a hospital bed. Buss had been there for months, he said, battling an undisclosed intestinal problem.
"I'd never met him," Nash remembers. "I went to the hospital in September, and we had a great talk. It was supposed to be five minutes, but we talked for about an hour. You could see he was fighting something big, but he still had a great spirit, a great mind. He's still full of life."
Nash says Buss approved the trade, but a lot of people wonder why. When your team is one of the most lead-footed in the NBA, and playing in a conference where nearly every team seems to have a young burner guard (See: Westbrook, Russell), why sign a 38-year-old point guard?
Nash has told his coach -- hot-seated Mike D'Antoni -- that he's willing to play any role in any offense. He has tried everything up to and including getting healthier food on the team plane, but nothing's working.
Will it ever?
"That's yet to be seen, I guess. I think we have a chance. Maybe not this year. Maybe it's next year. But we have a ton of talent and an organization with great history. If Dwight stays [after this season], we have the pieces. We just have to figure out how to put it all together."
What's weird is everything else besides basketball has been a pleasant surprise for Nash in Los Angeles. His video and documentary career is taking off. (He co-writes, stars in and directs most of them.) He's so good at them, Bryant says he'd like to work with Nash on a few spots. "I'd let him direct me," Bryant says. "He's really good."
Nash has become a little starstruck. Not by the people in front of the camera, by the people behind it. "I'd love to meet Quentin Tarantino," he says. "And the Coen brothers. And Paul Thomas Anderson. I love all their movies."
He loves the relative calm of L.A. fans ("nobody's come up and been pissed about how bad we're playing"), skateboarding behind his dog, Charlie, along The Strand, and the way his three kids have taken to the beach.
Everything is working but his nighttime job.
So what happens if he came to Los Angeles for a ring and winds up even further from one than he started?
"I'll be fine with that," he says. "Don't get me wrong. I fight for it every day. But I'm not going to quit on life if it doesn't happen. There's too much good stuff out there. And I like living here. I could see myself retiring here."
If he and the Lakers don't get it together, he might not have a choice.