May 25, 2010; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash (13) handles the ball against Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) during the first half in game four of the western conference finals in the 2010 NBA Playoffs at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Lakers 115 - 106. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

How Steve Nash traded to Los Angeles Lakers changes the landscape of the Western Conference

Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

Steve Nash was unexpectedly traded to the Los Angeles Lakers last night in a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns for four draft picks and cash.

Nash was expected earlier that day to be closer to signing with the New York Knicks and a few days before that, the Toronto Raptors were the frontrunner for the former back-to-back MVP winner.

But as fate would have it, the Lakers swooped in and grabbed one of their former rivals. Nash in a Lakers jersey was unthinkable until yesterday. The Suns were even rumored to have turned down a deal to L.A. because they couldn’t stomach the idea of Nash playing there.

Now that he is there, how does this change the landscape of the Western Conference? Are the Lakers back now as NBA title contenders with Nash?

The Lakers get better with Nash, that’s for sure. Los Angeles has been looking for a point guard for some time now. They traded for Ramon Sessions at the trade deadline last season and that looked like it might work for awhile until Sessions disappeared in the playoffs.

Nash will be 38 years old at the start of next season but is still a productive player. He averaged 12.5 points and 10.7 assists last season in Phoenix. He also shot .532 percent from the field, .390 from three and .894 from the free throw line.

There is no question that Nash can still produce. The biggest question is how he will fit in with Kobe Bryant.

Kobe has never really played alongside a traditional point guard in his NBA career. Derek Fisher has been the point next to him for most of his days and the Lakers were a triangle offense team that didn’t feature a point.

Because of this, Kobe is used to having the ball in his hands as much if not more than the point guard he’s playing with. If you’ve watched Nash play, you’ll know that he too has the ball in his hands as much as any player in the league on offense.

Both Kobe and Nash will have to adjust. Nash will not be featured like he was in Phoenix. Kobe may want to let Nash patrol the floor with the ball in his hands a little more than he is used to.

Kobe and Nash may not work perfectly but they won’t fail. Nash is too good of a teammate and Kobe cares only about winning and he knows Nash is coming on board to assist in that.

Kobe will probably not benefit dramatically with Nash and get way more open looks. It will be the other players, especially Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, that feel the biggest change with Nash on the floor.

There is one area that Nash does not help at all and maybe even hurts the Lakers: defense. Nash has never been a good defender even back when he was super quick and winning MVP’s he still acted as an open door for guards like Tony Parker to easily drive by.

The greatest competition in the Western Conference for the Lakers will be of course the Oklahoma City Thunder. Just go down the list of their big three and you’ll see why they aren’t totally scared of the Lakers now any more than they were last season. They still can’t guard Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or James Harden.

But the Lakers weren’t all of a sudden going to be the favorites to come out of the West after signing a 38-year old point guard. They are better though and their potential is a little unknown and possibly greater than we might think.

The other factor now in play with the Lakers signing Nash is Dwight Howard. L.A. didn’t give up much to get Nash so Howard is still technically very much in play with them. After Brooklyn pretty much fell through for Howard, the Lakers seem the most likely suitor for him.

A package involving Bynum is probably the best deal Orlando could get back for trading away the best center in the league. There has been discussion between the two teams with a trade looking like: Bynum and Metta World Peace to the Magic for Howard and Jason Richardson.

If the Lakers could end up with a lineup looking like Nash, Kobe, Gasol and Howard, we can start talking about them as NBA Finals hopefuls. Until then, it’s the Thunder’s league and everybody else is just playing in it.

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Tags: Andrew Bynum Dwight Howard James Harden Kevin Durant Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers NBA Free Agency Oklahoma City Thunder Orlando Magic Pau Gasol Phoenix Suns Russell Westbrook Sign And Trade Steve Nash Trade

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