Steve Nash struggled to keep NBA dream alive, finally accepted fate

Former two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash retires after 18 years in the league, the last three with the Lakers

The inevitable finally came to pass Tuesday, as Steve Nash officially announced his retirement at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo.

"The one thing I want to say today is a huge heartfelt thank you to the Buss family, to the entire Lakers organization," said Nash, who has missed most of his three years with the team, including all of his final season.

"[It has been] an incredible experience for me to be a part of that history and tradition," Nash said of his run with the franchise. "Obviously we know it didn't go the way we planned, but I was treated incredibly in my time here -- an unparalleled level of support."

Nash, a two-time NBA most valuable player, joined the Lakers in 2012 for $27 million, via sign-and-trade from the Phoenix Suns.  The point guard built a career that will earn him a berth in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I came here with huge hopes and dreams, and was incredibly excited and humbled to have the opportunity to come here and play for the Lakers," said Nash, who was never the same after breaking his leg in his second game with the team.  "For it just not to be in the cards was a failure and also a huge disappointment.  It's been a difficult period of my career and my life, to battle through that and to try to make something of it, which was fruitless in the end."

Nash made 65 regular-season appearances with the Lakers over two years, none through the current campaign.

The Lakers gave up four draft picks to secure Nash (two first-rounders and two seconds).  They would send their first-round pick this year to Philadelphia (the 76ers acquired it from the Suns) to complete the Nash trade, unless they land a top-five selection in May's NBA draft lottery. The Lakers currently have the league's fourth-worst record, 18-50.

"I think I was in as good shape as anybody on the team through training camp," said Nash, who never got past the exhibition season in October.  "I actually played OK in our first preseason game, when I woke up that next morning and was a mess, that's when I started to think long and hard about what I was really capable of this year."

Ultimately Nash was felled with back, nerve, hamstring and knee issues -- otherwise known as growing old.  It was obvious to many that his time had come, but the 41-year-old veteran felt he still needed to do everything within his power to return.  Once he realized he'd be "lucky to play 10 games this year," he told Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak that he needed time away from the game.

"I wanted something so bad, and held on way too long, and probably over-trained to get there," Nash said.  "I could have medically retired but there was also a choice to just back away and to get that space and also to see if there was an opportunity for my salary to be worth something for the club and help them get better and that seemed like the right thing to do."

The Lakers never found a taker for Nash's expiring $9.7-million contract.  Had he called it a career before playing 10 games last season, the Lakers could have had almost another $10 million to spend last summer in free agency, with Nash still receiving his paycheck via forced retirement.

That decision was in Nash's hands, and he wasn't ready to let go just yet.

"I think probably the [doctors] were gracious in not telling me that [it was over] earlier," said Nash.  "I think they probably gave me a nudge and a hint a few times, that I pretended to ignore or pretended to miss.  I wouldn't feel as, in some way, clear or in full acceptance of this if I had backed out at any time before I did.  Maybe it was stubbornness that caused me to come to the realization when I did, but I definitely opened up every door that I possibly could."

As the Lakers toiled through the season, Nash said he enjoyed his time away from the game -- although the fans weren't necessarily on the same wavelength after Nash posted video of his golf swing at a driving range on Instagram, drawing heat from the online community.

"Fans don't know the whole picture.  I get that they're passionate, especially online. There's a bit of a pack mentality," Nash said Tuesday.  "I feel bad for our kids that they're going to grow up in that world but I don't have a real problem with that.  I'm not saying that it's awesome but you play professional basketball for 18 years, you face your fair share of criticism, no matter how much success you've had."

Admittedly, there's quite a difference between hitting a golf ball and competing among some of the best athletes in the world in the NBA.

Despite negativity in the virtual world, Nash had nothing but positive things to say about his reception in the real world of Los Angeles.

"I'm going to stay in L.A. with my kids and make this home forever, hopefully," said Nash.  "I know there's been a lot of negativity online but the people of Los Angeles have been incredible to me.  I've never had anyone say a negative thing to me in person.

"In fact, the amount of support I've gotten for the effort, and the constant fight to get back on the court ... has been incredibly touching frankly. I think we sometimes, the Internet becomes our reality, until you realize that's not at all how it is in flesh and blood.  There's kind of these two worlds and I'm really grateful for the one, and the other one I understand and accept."

Nash said he isn't sure what's next, now that he is a former athlete.

"Maybe six to 12 months from now, I'll have an answer for you.  I don't know," he said. "At this point I really want to have some time and space.  I've been playing professional basketball nearly half my life."

He said he'll still be around for Jordan Clarkson, and other Lakers who are looking for mentoring and coaching.

"I'm always ready to work with any of the guys.  It's been great working with J.C. and Ryan Kelly, and Julius [Randle] as well," Nash said.  "But they're so busy.  They're all battling through their own situations and travel. I'm here; it's harder for them to get the time."

Nash has many friends throughout the NBA, including Miami Heat point guard Goran Dragic, who will be a free agent this summer, and current NBA MVP Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a free agent in 2016.

Perhaps he'll stick around to help the Lakers recruit their next batch of star players, with All-Star guard Kobe Bryant nearing the end of his career as well.

"Who knows what the future holds, but I'd love to see the franchise come back in full force and I'm definitely open to helping out," said Nash.

Nash said he's not much for legacies, although there's no denying his impact on the game, which has evolved into a point guard-dominated league, partly stemming from his groundbreaking years in Phoenix.

"I simply want people to remember me as a competitor and as a great teammate.  That's it.  Those are the two most important things," Nash said.  "The key ingredient was hard work.  I think people have taken note of that, and I think for me, that's another incredible source of pride for me, is that my story is something the kids can relate to and learn from."

LAKERS AT MINNESOTA

When: 5 PDT.

Where: Target Center.

On the air: TV: TWC SportsNet, TWC Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.

Records: Lakers 18-50; Timberwolves 16-54.

Record vs. Timberwolves: 1-1.

Update: The Timberwolves have the NBA's worst home record (9-26) and are the only team below the Lakers in the Western Conference standings. The Lakers lost by one to Minnesota at Staples Center in November, but won by six in Minneapolis two weeks later on the night Kobe Bryant passed Michael Jordan for third on the NBA's all-time scoring list.

—Mike Bresnahan

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus

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