EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- After giving his 39-year-old body some time to rest during the summer, Steve Nash has been walking a fine line all preseason of trying to round into shape without pushing too hard and risk falling back into the cruel injury cycle that sabotaged his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
With the regular season set to tip off in less than a week, some of Nash's teammates are starting to wonder when, or even if, they'll have the full services of the surefire Hall of Famer in their lineup this season.
Coach Mike D'Antoni brought it up first after the team's exhibition game against the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas, suggesting that Nash would be in and out of the lineup all season. Pau Gasol followed this week, saying he was "concerned" about Nash after the point guard played only 15 minutes in the Lakers' win over the Utah Jazz, sitting out the second half because of a neck injury.
"Steve hasn't been able to complete a practice yet, so that's the bigger issue," Gasol said of Nash, who is averaging just 3.5 points and 3.5 assists in 16.7 minutes per game in the preseason, sitting out one of the exhibition games altogether. "I'm a little bit concerned because I want him to be healthy, I want him to play. I want him to play and I want him to do well. I want him to help us. I hope that he can."
D'Antoni said Nash was able to make it through a full practice Thursday but cautioned that he could hold Nash out of the preseason finale Friday in Anaheim.
If Nash doesn't play Friday, does he think he will be ready for the regular-season opener Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers?
"I do, I do," Nash said. "I played the last game even though I probably shouldn't have, trying to get a little extra rhythm and some reps. By the end of the week, I should feel better."
Nash said that had the Utah or Sacramento games been in the regular season and meant something, he could have stayed in and pushed through his ankle and neck discomfort that caused him to shut down his night at halftime in both instances.
"Oh yeah, I would have played," Nash said. "I want to play [now] because I want to get a little bit of a rhythm having not played in games for five months. At the same time, I don't want to overdo it where I put myself out for a couple weeks. Then you're always chasing it. Just trying to play in the middle there, where I can get some reps, but at the same time, not put myself on the bench for a couple weeks."
Kobe Bryant, who is going through his own balancing act to return from his torn Achilles, can empathize.
"He's been a trooper and he's been trying to get out on the floor and practice with the guys as much as he possibly can, but at the same time, you want to see him -- especially now that the season is right around the corner -- try to knock out as much of it as he possibly can going in Game 1," Bryant said.
The Lakers aren't necessarily lost without Nash -- they have two viable backups at point guard in Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar -- but there are intangibles that are hard to match from the former two-time MVP.
"We'll just try to manage it as best we can," D'Antoni said. "But we did add Jordan Farmar, who is going to give us a lot. So, we're trying to cover our bases a little bit. But, again, you don't substitute a Nash or a Kobe or Pau. They're still going to have to carry a lot of the load."
Nash recognizes there are capable players behind him, but he doesn't look at it as a preferred fallback plan.
"I think the luxury is there, but that's not my mentality," Nash said. "Definitely, we're in good hands with three point guards. I'm not going to give an inch, but at the same time, our team does have that luxury."
Nash is admittedly having to teach himself to adjust to life as the oldest player in the NBA.
"It's a different stage in my career," Nash said. "I used to be able to get out, run up and down and feel like a world-beater every day, and now I have to try and get myself into some sort of form to try and execute for my team. It's a different frame of mind. It's a different challenge, but like I said, I'm up for it. I'm positive about it, I feel optimistic, I'm inspired by my teammates and I'm going to keep pushing through."
And D'Antoni said Nash provides inspiration right back to the rest of the group.
"I understand the concern," D'Antoni said. "I think everybody does. And he is 39, and it is what it is. But again -- one, it's a privilege to play with or coach him, and two, I know he's doing everything he can, so I'm not worried. Whatever happens happens. Like I said, I'm just privileged to be here coaching him."