- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here Nash is, a 38-year-old point guard in his 17th season joining the enemy in the Los Angeles Lakers to try to get a ring after playing with the Phoenix Suns for so long and right now a championship seems about as far-fetched as Nash winning the dunk contest during All-Star weekend.
While things certainly haven't gone according to plan (at Nash's introductory press conference in July he said, "This is going to be a really exciting chapter of my career," and I'm sure he'd choose a different adjective than "exciting" these days), the former two-time MVP is keeping the team focused on a more humble goal of just qualifying for the postseason.
"Obviously, the goal is to win a championship when you have a team like we have on paper," Nash told the radio station. "Having said that, I think now our goal is to make the playoffs. If we make the playoffs, maybe we can re-adjust our goals. But the goal right now is to make the playoffs.”
"That would be an edit [of expectations], I would say,” Nash said. “I think I would be lying, I think everybody would be lying, if we didn’t admit to that. For me, the goal at this point is to not give up, to not give in, to not allow the disparity in where we are and where our expectations were to immobilize us or limit us. It’s to keep pushing everybody, to keep encouraging, to keep fighting and demanding of each other every day so that when we can look back and say, ‘Look at how far we’ve come,’ regardless of what happens."
Here is a selection of Nash's answers during the 30-minute interview:
On whether he and Kobe Bryant have met privately to discuss how to lead the team:
"We have for sure. We’ve definitely had conversations about how we can move the group forward. I think it’s obviously been a tough start to my career here and it’s been a tough year for everybody -- coaching change, injuries, the record -- so we’re definitely trying everything we can to try to move this thing forward. We’ve had conversations and we just put so much into it. We both prepare every day. We both put this before everything. For the most part, we don’t go home and have too much fun. We go home and do the best we can trying to get ready to be better the next day. When that’s your mentality, you’re not getting a lot of sleep. You’re thinking about the team and how you can help it."
On how the Lakers need a team effort to bounce back:
"The bottom line is, the only way out of this is together, and the only way to get on a roll here is to not worry about anything but sacrificing and giving to the team. I think there have been times where we’ve spent such little time together, so much change and so much stuff to figure out, that we haven’t found that comfort. So then, ‘How can I get comfortable?’ instead of ‘How can I impact this game right now?’ I just think we haven’t really hit the ground running yet."
On treating the rest of the season like a marathon or a sprint:
"If our team was 25-10, or whatever, maybe I would be pacing myself. But we don’t have that luxury, so I think we’re not good enough to be pacing. I think for me, as one of the leaders of the team, I got to give everything. I know you guys in football talk about putting it on the tape. Well, the way this team is, I got to put quality on the tape. Defensively I got to be in the right spot every time. I got to hustle. I got to do all the little things that on better teams maybe isn’t as important, but on this team it’s really important, to send that message and set an example that there is no pacing, there is no conserving energy and there is no missing assignments. I think for me, there’s no question, I can’t really pace myself."
On being nearly 40 with teammates in their early 20s:
"There is a gap. At the same time, we manage to develop many relationships of that sort here in the locker room and through our career in the locker room. So I think in that respect we can overcome the gap. I think the biggest two things are: One, the commonality of the love for the game. You know, you hope that a young player has that and that lasts no matter if you’re a veteran or a coach or whatever it is; there’s always that commonality. And then I think two for us also we can form bonds with the younger players as far as helping guide them. Helping their game, but also helping them navigate their career. So, I think there’s a lot of ways where it doesn’t have to be as pronounced as me being nearly 39 and someone else being 22 to 23 years old."
On Bryant picking up the opposing point guards on defense moving forward:
"I think for Kobe, he’s our most athletic player and he has the most experience for the most part. And he’s also a guy that takes a challenge and loves a challenge and it gets him engaged and gets his juices flowing. We’re talking about someone that scored 30,000-plus points and is asked to do a lot for us, and the one way to really -- if it’s possible to try to get more out of Kobe, as great as he is -- is to challenge him sometimes. Throughout my career, I’ve often had the 2 or the 3 or the 4, even, guard me in different situations, and as a point guard, that can be tough to put someone with length on you to force you into picks and into help and to chase you down to come from behind. So in some ways it’s great to get his athleticism and get that combative nature on somebody with the ball. It’s fantastic for our team. So, it makes a lot of sense I think. I don’t think we’ll do it all the time, but I think more nights than not it will help our team."
On averaging just 7.8 field goal attempts per game, down from his career mark of 10.7 attempts per game:
"Ideally, I’d love to shoot more. I like to shoot. I like to score. I’m competitive. In particularly tight games, I feel an urge to be aggressive and score. At the same time, especially lately with a lot of injuries, it’s almost been the opposite I can’t be stubborn and just dribble, dribble, dribble through and around double-teams as a point guard. I got to get rid of it early and try to create opportunities, odd-number opportunities on the weakside -- 3-on-2s, 2-on-1s. And, so, I don’t always get the opportunities the way we play, and as a facilitator I think it’s twofold: One, I don’t want to overhunt shots because I think it can disrupt the flow and it can disrupt my teammates. And then the second part is just I’m going to my teammates. I’m trying to keep that harmony and make the right play and right decision and know that in time that will help our team.
"I guess another way to say it is, if we get the ball moving and guys are getting shots and the offense is hitting on all cylinders, it’s going to get a lot more difficult to jump out on pick-and-rolls and draw too much attention to them. They’re going to loosen up a little bit, then I can find opportunities. So, I agree. It would be great. I know I can make shots and theoretically we’d want me to shoot more; at the same time, it’s not always as simple as coming down and jacking a long, early 3. So, the truth is more difficult than it seems. Yes, I would like to get more shots up, but I’m not the type of point guard that’s going to force it."
On what impresses him about Bryant's leadership:
"This is a guy that takes a helicopter to and from [games and practices] sometimes because he wants to save his knees. That’s a sacrifice. You can say he has all the money in the world, but a [$2,000] pop each way or one way, round-trip -- I don’t know -- just to get to and from because he wants to save his knees? That’s a guy that’s putting a lot into this, and it just signifies the kind of effort and detail he has. So, as a teammate and as a leader, I mean that I think [showing] leadership is about being yourself. If you’re yourself, people will believe in you; they’ll believe in your motive. And then you’re authentic and they trust you. I think this is a guy that people understand his motive. Everyone’s leadership style is different, but as a teammate and as a leader, basketball is something that he puts all his energy into, and you can’t ask for more than that as a teammate."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.