For the love of the game

"At that point, people were saying he was only going to last a few more years," Celebrini said. "Of course that was before his two MVPs.

"He came to Vancouver and we worked two-a-days for eight weeks in the heat of the summer, jumping into the ocean to cool off in between sessions because [the training] was so intense."

It's very different from the basketball tai chi they work on now, but the principle is the same. Whatever the challenge, Nash will try anything to work through it or around it.

Perhaps this would have gone differently in Phoenix, the same way it will go differently for Bryant in L.A. or Derek Jeter in New York. Perhaps Suns fans got to know Nash well enough over the years to understand why he keeps doing this, why he won't give up.

You see, it's always been enough for Nash to know he gave it everything he had. Others dwell on all the bad luck that befell his great Suns teams in the playoffs, the games they could've or should've won but for an unlucky break -- or suspension -- or two.

Not Nash.

"I do remember those things," Nash said in an interview last season. "But I don't look back on them. That's life. You move on. We never got to the Finals, we never were a championship team. But we also accomplished a lot and had a lot of success.

"We also never played with a defensive center. We were a flawed team that got pretty dang close to our potential and maybe it was never quite good enough."

They're the words of a man who seems to have made his peace with the past.

At some point, he learned that all he can do is train hard in the morning, jump in the ocean in between sessions to cool off and do it all over again in the evening.

There will come a day when Nash won't want to do any or all of it anymore, of course. When he'll get out of the ocean and simply want to relax on the beach.

"Obviously he's 40 years old, so that's imminent," Duffy said. "It's just a matter of when, whether he's 100 percent healthy or not. He's one of three guys, from what I'm told, who played beyond this age at his position.

"But he's made the comment that he wants to fulfill his contract, so anything less than that, or short of that, is something we'd have to discuss."

Celebrini sometimes wonders when Nash will walk away, too.

"Before last summer, we talked about the, 'Why?'" Celebrini said. "Why he does what he does. And why he wanted to go through this at his age, after all that he's accomplished?

"It was for no other reason other than he loves playing and he loves preparing to play. Once that goes, once it's not enjoyable anymore . . . once he loses that essence, then I think he'll walk away."

Nash wasn't a part of the Lakers' past. He won't be a part of their future either.

But he is a part of their present, and win or lose, his essence distinguishes this time.

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