First things first. The Lakers aren’t going to take Wilt Chamberlain’s No. 13 down from high inside Staples Center and give it to Steve Nash.
There won’t be a laser-light show and fog machine when Nash is introduced next week at the Lakers’ training facility.
Nor will Magic Johnson be there to hand the torch from one dynamic point guard to another. But he sends his regards.
“The excitement will be back at Staples Center,” Johnson said in a phone interview while vacationing in Italy. “This guy is so much fun to watch. He’s a ‘mini-me’ of me.”
Welcome to the new Lakers, the ones who are actually fun to watch.
They won’t be as dreary as last season, when they failed to break 100 points for 13 consecutive games in January, the longest sub-100 famine for the franchise since the shot clock was established in 1954.
And, no, that wasn’t also the year Nash was born.
Sure, he’s old and a step slow on defense. As if the Lakers care.
They’ll no longer bore their fans to tears.
A typical possession last season: Kobe Bryant gets the ball with 11 seconds left on the shot clock, dribbles, dribbles, starts to drive, stops, dribbles, dribbles, glances at Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol, dribbles toward the post and fires a turnaround fade-away as the shot clock expires.
Not any longer.
Don’t be surprised to see lots of pick-and-rolls with Nash and Bynum. With Nash and Gasol. Even with Nash and Bryant.
They’ll be early in the offense too, some even coming near midcourt, all designed to free up Nash with a young shot clock.
“We’re going to get into the 100s for sure with Steve Nash,” Johnson said. “It’s almost going back to Showtime. From one to 10, there’s nine pluses now. Only one minus.”
A minus? What? There doesn’t need to be a parade next week down Figueroa Street, but what’s with Wet Blanket Johnson?
“We haven’t got enough runners,” he said. “The unfortunate thing is we can’t take full advantage of Steve Nash’s ability if we’re just using him in the halfcourt. We’re still a slow team. We’ve got to somehow get a little bit faster or get players who can get up and down the court.”
Johnson had plenty of runners when he ran the point. James Worthy. Michael Cooper. A.C. Green. Even Kurt Rambis got his short shorts down the court for a dunk every once in a while.
Johnson hopes the Lakers re-sign restricted free agent Devin Ebanks or unrestricted free agent Grant Hill. Really, though, there’s only one other transaction for them to consider.
It won’t be easy. It won’t come today, but it will be bigger than Nash. It’s the obvious one.
“I think Dwight Howard is making a big mistake by not considering the Lakers,” Johnson said. “Dwight Howard cannot finish a game. What happens is big men put you in a position to win, but they don’t win it. Kobe Bryant always closed out games when he was with Shaq. There’s no Kobe Bryant on the [Brooklyn] Nets team.”
They do have Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, however.
“Dwight Howard can’t hit free throws and dominate a game in the fourth quarter,” Magic added. “If he wants to be MVP and win a championship, L.A. could be Dwight Howard’s town. He could light the whole city up. He could own Los Angeles. Can you imagine the lobs that Steve would be throwing to him? If Dwight Howard ends up with the Lakers it would be the most exciting team we’ve seen in the last 10 or 15 years, probably sinceMichael [Jordan] left.
“Kobe Bryant would definitely pass me in rings if he joins the Lakers. Kobe Bryant needs Dwight Howard and Dwight Howard needs Kobe Bryant.”
But the Lakers don’t want the salaries Orlando’s trying to attach to Howard. They can take their pick of one: Hedo Turkoglu, 33, has two years and $23.8 million left on his contract. Jason Richardson, 31, has three years and $18.6 million remaining.
Which means ... uh…back to Nash!
If he isn’t a top-five point guard these days, he’s right outside the cadre of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook.
Magic was actually wrong, though. There are other minuses.
The average age of the Lakers’ starters will be 32 years on opening night. Average age of Oklahoma City’s starters: 25.
If somebody is hurt, the Lakers’ bench isn’t the place to look for help. Right now it’s Steve Blake, Josh McRoberts and a bunch of fresh-faced kids.
There’s also the issue of Nash’s defensive burden, but everybody knows that. It means Bynum will have to be more alert on pick-and-roll defense, which he wasn’t in the playoffs.
Which brings us ... uh…back to Howard!
“I want to giveMitch [Kupchak] and Jim Buss credit for Steve Nash,” Johnson said. “They showed me something. But if they have the opportunity, keep it going. You can’t stop. Unfortunately, you’re still not good enough. They’re still missing a piece that would help them win it all. If you get Howard, that puts you over the top.”