LAS VEGAS — Kobe Bryant said Steve Nash can go to sleep at night knowing he did everything he could in order to return this season.
Bryant also said that if he was in Nash’s position, he would accept his fate as well.
“You can control what you can control,” Bryant said before the Lakers’ final preseason game, a 93-92 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday night. “He did everything to get back and play at a high level. From that standpoint he should be able to sleep at night. I know I would. I can only think about that in my situation; I just tried to do everything possible to be ready, and if it wasn’t in the cards, if I couldn’t get back to being at that level, you just have to accept it and when you lay your head down you know that you did absolutely everything possible.”
Bryant found out that Nash would be sidelined for the season Thursday when Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak called to inform him.
“It’s tough,” said Bryant, who later talked to the two-time MVP about the injury and his future. “I just asked him if he was in good spirits and he said, ‘Yeah.’ It kind of is what it is at this point. … He struggled with his back even when he was in his prime. I really don’t think it’s an age thing, it’s an injury thing. He’s had to deal with it his entire career, and it just caught up with him now.”
Kupchak first talked with Nash and his agent, Bill Duffy, about this decision Monday.
“I’m not going to share too much,” Kupchak said when asked about the conversations that led to Nash’s decision. “A lot of that is private stuff, but I would say we had discussions at the beginning of the week. I have a pretty good relationship with [Nash] over the years. I think I talked to Steve more than the representative about the issue and I have a great relationship with Bill Duffy, his agent. In fact, Bill and I met here yesterday to make sure we’re on the same page in terms of the [news] release because it’s a sensitive kind of thing. It’s a little unusual. Something like that you normally hammer out with an agent, but because of the relationship [with Nash] I spent a lot of time with him.”
Kupchak said the Lakers have reached out to the league about applying for a disabled player exception. If it is granted, it would be worth roughly $4.85 million.
“This just came about, and he remains on our roster,” Kupchak said. “We made a couple of preliminary phone calls, looking into the mechanics of the disabled player exception, so we’ll look into that further next week and probably get that process going.”
Ronnie Price started at point guard for the Lakers on Friday night but hurt his right knee in the first quarter and did not return. He will be re-evaluated Saturday. If he is out for an extended amount of time, the Lakers would be left with only two point guards — Jeremy Lin and rookie Jordan Clarkson.
“Will we look to get another backcourt player?” Kupchak said. “I don’t know.”
The Lakers have been careful not use to the word retirement when talking about Nash in an effort to keep their options open with him. Those include the disabled player exception and the possibility of trading him to a team looking to dump salary for an expiring contract. But the more Kupchak talked, the more it was apparent Nash, who will turn 41 in February and is in the last year of his contract, has played his final game.
“I think all he knows is that he can’t continue to play,” Kupchak said. “Whenever he feels like he can, he tries to and then he gets set back three or four weeks. There’s age, there’s life after basketball. The only reason he’s playing this year is because he loves to play, so there’s a lot racing through his head. The bottom line is he can’t put it together.”
Although the end of Nash’s illustrious career might have ended riddled with injuries after playing just 15 games last season, Kupchak is happy the two-time MVP was at least able to leave the court on his own two feet.
“It could have ended a lot worse,” Kupchak said. “He could have gotten hurt in a game and there could have been some permanent damage. Even now, I think he’ll recover and feel fine in three or four months. Clearly when we signed him, we felt there was a two-year window to contend for a championship and that’s why he wanted to come to Los Angeles, too. It didn’t work out and I know he’s felt a lot of pressure to fulfill his obligation contractually. The expectations were so high and I’m sure he’s disappointed about that, but it doesn’t take away from a great career — two MVPs, multiple All-Stars, and he’ll be in the Hall of Fame.
“That third year we kind of felt was a gravy year anyway and didn’t take place. Who would have expected him to break his leg in the second game of the first season? That really was the beginning.”
While there has been talk about Nash staying on as a mentor or an assistant, Kupchak said, “I think he needs to get away.”
Nash hasn’t talked to the team since the announcement was made and isn’t expected to be with it this month.
Nash entered the league in 1996 along with Bryant. Before Friday night’s game, Bryant simply smiled at the fact that they are still in the league almost two decades later.
“We’ve both been playing years that we probably should not have been,” Bryant said. “Nineteen years is a very, very long time. It’s tough to look around at any industry and find anyone that’s been doing anything else for 19 years.”
In order to get Nash more than two years ago, the Lakers traded first-round selections in 2013 and ’15, and second-rounders in 2013 and ’14. They also gave Nash a three-year, $27 million contract. The thought at the time was he would be one of the final pieces to a championship puzzle, but it ultimately never got solved.
Kupchak, though, said he won’t regret trying to figure it out.
“That’s part of what it takes to get a player like that,” Kupchak said. “We would do it again.”