The Los Angeles Lakers have gone through more than their share of point guard woes this season. With this season half over, a new question looms—who will be starting at the point when next season rolls around?
Before diving in with any quick answers, let’s consider a few things:
Kobe Bryant’s new two-year contract extension begins next season. This will likely be the final chapter in his playing career in the NBA—his 19th and 20th seasons with the Purple and Gold. Bryant wants another ring, and a quality point guard helps pave the way.
At the same time, the Lakers have only two point guards under contract for next season. Steve Nash is about to turn 40, and his best years are behind him. This isn’t a knock on his talent or dedication—Nash is one of the all-time greats. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to get injury free since joining the Lakers and time seems to have finally won out.
Kendall Marshall probably wouldn’t have entered this discussion if not for a calamitous string of injuries that sidelined the entire point guard rotation and a couple of shooting guards as well. Marshall played two uneventful season for the Phoenix Suns before being waived. Two of the major knocks against him have been his suspect footwork and a low release set-shot.
Bob Young from the Arizona Republic wrote about Marshall’s shot mechanics and the unsuccessful effort last summer by new Suns coach Jeff Hornacek to fix the problem:
I talked to him about getting his shot up higher, and I’m not sure he has yet. It’s a tough thing to do. He’s put a lot of time in at the gym practicing shooting, which has helped him make more shots. But the better you get, at some point the guy is going to come out and get up on you, and that’s when that shot can’t come from down low. You’ll never get it off.
The Lakers signed Marshall out of the D-League, and so far, his assists average of 9.1 per game has been a more than pleasant surprise. The question, of course, is whether he can sustain his recent play, whether he’s good enough to lead a championship-caliber team and how soon it will take opposing defenders to wreak havoc on his shot-making ability.
There’s two other point guards on the Lakers roster worth mentioning. Both, however, are free agents at the end of the season.
Steve Blake was averaging 9.8 points and a career-high 7.7 assists per game as a starter this season before going down with a right elbow injury. The Lakers’ financial situation will have a lot to do with his future with the team. Blake’s currently making $4 million per year, and it seems doubtful that he’ll come back for the minimum salary exception—the team’s primary building block if it's going to make a run at a major free-agent acquisition.
The other point guard without a contract next season is Jordan Farmar, who has been derailed by a torn hamstring. Farmar accepted a one-year minimum deal to join the Lakers for a second time this season—he won championship rings with the team in 2009 and 2010. His role with the Lakers has always been as a second-unit guard with great acceleration and the ability to get to the basket for up-and-under layups. Whether he’d come back for another minimum deal is one question—whether he’s a reliable starter is another.
The 2014 NBA draft could certainly impact the starter question. The Lakers have a first-round pick this year and currently possess the ninth-lowest winning percentage of all 30 NBA teams, at .381 through 42 game played. Chad Ford for ESPN gives the Lakers a 1.7 percent chance to hit the lottery, placing them ninth among 14 teams. Draft Express currently has the Lakers penciled in at the eighth slot.
There’s some intriguing choices in the draft this year, including Dante Exum, a dynamic point guard from Australia who hasn’t yet decided between college and the NBA. Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report writes about the wild-card prospect who turns 19 on July 13:
A big reason why the NBA piques Exum’s interest is because it’s a point-friendly league. His dream teams are the Orland Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, as he's friends with Victor Oladipo—they met at Indiana during Exum's recruiting visit—and Kobe Bryant is one of his two favorite players (the other is Derrick Rose).
Excum is 6’6” with an explosive first step off the dribble. He can score off pull-up jumpers and has plenty of vertical lift to finish at the rim. He’s got excellent ball-handling ability, can shift speed and change direction at will, and has blow-by speed in transition. If he falls into the Lakers' lap, they will grab him in a heartbeat. The only question is whether he’s NBA-ready—he’s very young and simply hasn’t faced this level of competition yet.
Another possibility is Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State, but he’s more of a combo guard and the Lakers would prefer someone with pure point skills.
The other obvious path lies in the summer free-agency period. As presently configured, the Lakers have around $21 million to spend, just enough for a max-contract player like Carmelo Anthony. Of course, Melo’s not a point guard. Who then?
Eric Bledsoe’s having a phenomenal year with the Phoenix Suns, and they haven’t yet been able to work out a contract extension. According to Ramona Shelburne for ESPN, however, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is confident that things will work out:
Obviously we don't have a whole lot of money committed for the future, we don't have a lot of long-term contracts on our books. So we'll have no problem stepping up and paying Eric whatever it takes to keep him.
There’s also Kyle Lowry who’s putting up career numbers with the Toronto Raptors at 16.5 points and 7.4 assists per game through 40 starts this season. Nobody but nobody knows what the Raptors will do in the offseason. At this point, they’ve moved well past the tanking point with a 20-20 record and a solid Eastern Conference playoff position. According to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, the Lakers inquired about a trade deal for Lowry recently, but the talks went nowhere.
So where does all this leave us? With a whole lot of uncertainty, to be honest. The Lakers have a wide-open roster next season and only so much money to spend. They certainly want to surround Bryant with as much talent as possible, and they have major frontcourt holes to fill in addition to the point guard dilemma.
Marshall’s option is sure to be exercised unless something unexpectedly bad happens. Nash is a complete unknown at this point with possibilities ranging from retirement to an unlikely comeback.
Nobody knows what the future really holds, but you didn't read this far to have the bets hedged. If the question can't be definitively answered, it at least deserves a prediction. Here it is:
Lowry will be running the point for the Los Angeles Lakers next season. The veteran point guard has plenty of experience but still has some rubber left on the tread. He’s a nasty defender, which should impress Bryant, can score well off the pick-and-roll, and as this season has proved, has become a more willing passer.
Rounding out the predictions, Lowry will be backed up by Exum and Marshall.