Preseason discussion about a lack of leadership at the point guard position is nothing new for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Truth be told, they haven’t had a bona fide star (Magic Johnson) in that role since, well, since their new coach was playing for the team more than 20 years ago.
Byron Scott was equally adept playing the point or shooting guard for L.A. and was instrumental in guiding those Showtime teams to three NBA Championships (1985, ’87, ’88) alongside Johnson.
Scott most certainly will play a role and have a positive effect on whoever mans the PG spot for L.A. this season. As of today, there are not many options.
Barring any more free-agent signings, the Lakers will open training camp with three legitimate point guards: 40-year-old Steve Nash, rookie Jordan Clarkson and recently acquired Jeremy Lin.
The Lakers started last season with some depth at point guard, only to see it vanish in a hurry. The injury bug hit everyone and everywhere last year, including former Lakers Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar.
Nash was bothered most of the season by nerve-related injuries and only suited up for 15 games.
What those injuries did was open a door for Kendall Marshall, the 6’4” second-year guard from North Carolina. Signed in mid-December from the NBA D-League, Marshall appeared in 54 games, averaging almost nine assists and eight points per 29 minutes for the Lakers.
Marshall was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise forgettable 27-55 campaign, the worst in Lakers history. And, although Marshall fell just short of the requisite 58 games needed to qualify for the category, his assist numbers of 8.8 per game were second only to Chris Paul for the entire league.
L.A.'s plan was to first waive Marshall to free up extra cap space then re-sign him after he cleared the wire. That strategy backfired when the Milwaukee Bucks claimed Marshall, leaving the Lakers with even fewer options.
The Lakers may still bring in another point guard for the veteran's minimum salary, and it would make sense purely as an insurance policy.
L.A. also has several players who can switch to the point if necessary (Kobe Bryant, Xavier Henry, Nick Young), but that would be of last resort.
Steve Nash — It’s All About the Cash
Wouldn't it be great to have a healthy Steve Nash starting at point guard for the Lakers all season? It seems about as likely as L.A. vying for the Western Conference title.
The Lakers are on the hook to Nash for $9.7 million this season and aren’t really expecting much in return. Nash himself has said he’s uncertain how much he’ll be able to contribute. He's also said this is his final year, per SB Nation.
Nash is cautiously optimistic, but he's sounding realistic when it comes to his health and giving Lakers fans a season to remember. Via Mark Medina of InsideSoCal.com:
I feel great right now. I’ve been able to be pretty much go without limitations as far as my training. I’m obviously not trying to overdo it so I can allow that nerve to settle down perhaps and be less irritating. It has worked so far, but I would hate to say this is where it will be like once I join the rigors of an NBA schedule.
For a guy who battled debilitating nerve injuries all last season, there is a very real possibility Nash will be limited to no more than 15-20 minutes per game, even if he feels good. He’s likely to be most effective as a mentor/tutor for rookie Jordan Clarkson and veteran Jeremy Lin.
Jordan Clarkson — Second-Round Pick Comes with a Chip
With the departures of Marshall, Blake and Farmar, Clarkson has an excellent opportunity to prove his worth right away. Depending on the health of Nash, he could even become the backup to Lin.
The former Missouri point guard was likely not happy being drafted so late (46th overall), and will have to prove the critics wrong. The Lakers paid the Washington Wizards $1.8 million for the rights to Clarkson and were thrilled to see his name available that late.
Like the 6'3" Lin, Clarkson is a lanky, 6'5" point guard most effective at driving to the hoop. His outside shot is a work in progress.
Clarkson averaged 17.5 points and 3.4 assists his last year at Missouri. That included a 28-point performance against the Lakers' top pick Julius Randle and the Kentucky Wildcats in a five-point loss on February 1.
Lakers associate head coach Mark Madsen really liked what he saw from Clarkson this summer. Via NBA.com:
I think Jordan Clarkson had a tremendous summer league. I think he was one of the top players, not only on the Lakers team, but here at the Las Vegas Summer League. I loved Jordan Clarkson's energy, I loved his enthusiasm for the game and I loved his ability to learn.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak on Clarkson, via ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin, following the draft:
He's got great size. Good athlete. Really good size. Good defender. Excels probably at attacking the rim. Maybe not as good of a shooter, probably, as he will be when he works on it. He left school a year early. He transferred. So, I'm sure he was thinking that maybe he would get drafted higher and maybe he has a chip on his shoulder -- an expression you've heard today -- to come out and prove something. But we liked his size and we liked his skill at that position.
Jeremy Lin — Third Time May Be a Charm
Here's a guy the Lakers wanted since he went undrafted out of Harvard in 2010 and tore up the NBA Summer League.
After being waived by the Golden State Warriors (December 9, 2011) following his rookie season, Lin was again targeted by the Lakers but lost out in a waiver bid to the Houston Rockets. The Rockets subsequently kept Lin for just 12 days before cutting him loose on Christmas Eve of that year.
Lin signed with Knicks in January of 2012. His circuitous route through the NBA now has him back in his home state and the Lakers could not be happier.
"The first thing I said to him when he sat down was, 'You know, three times is a charm,'" Kupchak said, per ESPNLA.com.
Without question, Lin is in a great situation. With Nash being so uncertain and Clarkson a talented but raw rookie, Lin has the opportunity to be the team’s starting point guard and play alongside Kobe Bryant for as long as he produces.
As ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton points out (subscription required):
Dealing for Lin is an ideal use of the Lakers' cap space. For the time being, he provides some value on the court. Lin isn't a perfect fit for the Lakers. Playing with Kobe Bryant creates similar issues to the Lin-James Harden pairing, since Lin is most valuable with the ball in his hands running frequent pick-and-rolls. Still, Lin is an upgrade on Kendall Marshall, and with the Lakers' inability to count on Steve Nash, adding Lin helps them in basketball terms for 2014-15.
The pressure for Lin to produce is big, yet he managed to handle the limelight pretty well when thrust into the starter’s role for the New York Knicks in 2012.
In fact, Lin dropped 38 points on Bryant and the Lakers at Madison Square Garden after the Mamba claimed he didn't even know who Lin was.
It may seem as if Lin has been around for many years, but he is 25 and entering just his fifth season in the NBA. The Lakers represent his fourth team, after Lin wore out the welcome mat with the Rockets. Or maybe it was the other way around.
After signing a big contract with the Rockets in 2012, the Harvard graduate went out and demonstrated that he belonged in the league, averaging 6.1 assists and 13.4 points while starting all 82 games.
But with Patrick Beverley averaging over 31 minutes last season and taking over the starter's role, Lin and his big contract became expendable.
The Rockets sought to trim salary in order to pursue free agents like Chris Bosh. The deal to L.A. made sense for both sides, with the Lakers getting Houston’s 2015 first-round pick as well.
Lin is essentially on a one-year deal with the Lakers. His expiring $14 million contract includes a salary-cap hit of $8.3 million. The Lakers get to audition Lin this season and can decide next summer if it makes sense to sign him to an extension as their PG of the future.
Linsanity did not make the trip to Los Angeles, at least according to its owner. Lin had a spectacular run of 25 games two years ago in New York. His reward was a big payday in Houston, where he actually became a more complete player.
Yet Lin has put the experience of New York in his rear-view mirror as he prepares for a new beginning in Los Angeles and the chance to play alongside Bryant.
Their games are not necessarily complementary, as both like to have the ball in their hands. Nevertheless, it should be fun to watch, and Lin is a definite upgrade from Kendall Marshall.
Linsanity is over. Jeremy Lin has moved on and is ready for the latest challenge.
I'm not trying to be a player from the past. I'm trying to make history again. It's not so much about me trying to be something that happened beforehand, and now I'm looking to the future and trying to be a much bigger and better player than I was ever before. To be honest, I feel the least amount of pressure on my shoulders now than I ever have.
A golden opportunity awaits Lin in Los Angeles. It's his show to run. Let’s see what he does with it.