Posts Tagged ‘Kendall Marshall’

Another big bang of free agents on tap

LeBron James has chosen to test the free-agent market this summer. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

LeBron James has chosen to test the free-agent market this summer. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Most scientists believe it was roughly 14 billion years ago when a single point exploded to create the universe. Of course, it was a more thoroughly documented Big Bang four years ago that blew a hole in the NBA space/time continuum, sending the celestial bodies of LeBron James and Chris Bosh south to join Dwyane Wade in Miami.

Two championships and four Finals trips for the Heat later, the potential for another explosion is on us.

Carmelo Anthony’s declaration that he will opt out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks was the first stick of dynamite ahead of the July 1 start of the annual free-agent scramble. Then, Tuesday, LeBron told the Miami Heat that he was going to test the waters, too.

You can feel the ground quiver as the movers and the shakers in the league start to do their thing …

Who has the space?

There are a lot of big-name free agents on the market — or there will be July 1. But the number of teams who have enough space under the salary cap that would enable them to sign some of those big-money players … well, that’s a lot smaller. Here’s a list:

Miami Heat: Up to $55 million, assuming virtually everyone opts out of contracts.
Dallas Mavericks: Up to $32.4 million
Utah Jazz: Up to $29.6 million
Philadelphia 76ers: Up to $29.0 million.
Phoenix Suns: Up to $28.4 million.
L.A. Lakers: Up to $28.2 million.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Up to $23.4 million.
Orlando Magic: Up to $22.2 million.
Detroit Pistons: Up to $22.0 million.
Charlotte Hornets: Up to $19.5 million.
Atlanta Hawks: Up to $13.9 million.
Milwaukee Bucks: Up to $13.0 million.
Memphis Grizzlies: Up to $12.0 million, if Zach Randolph opts out of his final year.
Chicago Bulls: Up to $11.3 million if they use their one-time amnesty on Carlos Boozer.
Boston Celtics: Up to $9.3 million. (more…)

Morning shootaround – June 21


VIDEO: David Aldridge with the latest NBA news

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron the next Rocket launcher? | Joel Embiid out 4-6 months | Love on the rocks | President Obama calls Pop | Lakers want Klay Thompson

No. 1: Rockets aiming for strike at LeBron — The Rockets still haven’t made it out of the first round 2009, but they’ve become very good at winning the summer. Two years ago they traded for James Harden and last summer signed Dwight Howard. Now they are reportedly prepared to chase hard after four-time MVP and two-time champion LeBron James if he opts out of his contract with the Miami Heat. How could the Rockets possibly afford another max salary? Howard Beck of Bleacher Report delivers the goods:

Given the extreme constraints imposed by the 2011 labor deal, it will be nearly impossible for any franchise to replicate the Heat’s roster-building feat of four years ago.

However, one franchise is quietly plotting to at least try to revive the Big Three model. And before you dismiss its chances of doing so, consider the fact that it’s the same team that stunned the NBA in each of the last two summers.

Now, Rockets officials are aiming for the trifecta, with their sights set on the biggest prize of all: LeBron Raymone James.

A long shot? Perhaps. But the Rockets have defied expectations before.

League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.

The competition for James’ affection will be fierce, but Houston’s pitch may be tough to beat.

The Rockets already have the league’s best guard-center tandem (Harden-Howard), solid young role players (Chandler Parsons, who is set to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones) and an owner (Les Alexander) who is willing to spend. Houston also has all of its first-round picks for the next couple of years as well as a knack for finding talent late in the draft.

Like Florida, Texas has no state income tax, negating Miami’s advantage on that front and giving the Rockets a big selling point in their pursuit of Anthony. (A player pays about 10 percent more in taxes in New York than in Texas.)

What the Rockets don’t have is salary-cap room. But they could clear about $19 million by unloading a few players, starting with Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, who are taking up a combined $16.7 million in cap space.

However, their contracts are unique and potentially difficult to move: Asik and Lin are each due a massive $15 million balloon payment next season, although they count as $8.37 million each for cap purposes. Then again, their contracts expire in 2015, so the commitment is minimal.

Sources say the Rockets are confident they can trade both players to teams with cap room and thus take back no salary in return.

 

***

No. 2: Joel Embiid to miss 4-6 months after surgery — Now there is a timetable. Joel Embiid, the one-and-done center out of Kansas, who missed the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments with a back injury, will need four to six months to recover after having two screws inserted into the navicular bone of his right foot during surgery Friday. The injury has seemingly thrown the entire portion of the draft into chaos. Embiid was expected to be the No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now he is expected to drop, with possible trade rumors also cropping up. ESPN.com provides more details on Embiid’s recovery:

Embiid’s agent, Arn Tellem, said in a statement that the former Kansas star underwent the procedure at Southern California Orthopedic Institute.

The surgeon, Dr. Richard Ferkel, said that Embiid “tolerated the surgery without difficulty” and claimed that the 7-foot center should “be able to return to NBA basketball.”

“Two screws were inserted into the navicular bone in Joel Embiid’s right foot,” Ferkel said in the statement released by Tellem. “The surgery went very well and I’m confident that after appropriate healing he will be able to return to NBA Basketball. Joel tolerated the surgery without difficulty and will begin his rehabilitation in the near future.”

Embiid is not attending Thursday’s NBA draft because he can’t fly for 10 days to two weeks post-surgery, Tellem said Thursday. Embiid was projected by many to be the first pick before the announcement of the surgery.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid already was dealing with health questions regarding his back, which forced him to miss the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments this past season.

He worked out earlier this month for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and sources said he fared well and that the medical testing also came back without much concern.

Embiid also participated in a one-on-none workout in front of NBA teams in Santa Monica, California. He was scheduled to work out for the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the second overall pick, later this week.

Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks this past season as a freshman at Kansas.

If Embiid slips significantly in the draft, he wouldn’t be able to recoup the money he’d lose. His total disability insurance policy was purchased through the school, according to Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director at Kansas.

Marchiony confirmed that the school purchased a $5 million policy, the maximum allowed under the NCAA insurance program, through the NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund, which allows schools to apply for need-based assistance on behalf of its players.

The policy purchased through the NCAA program does not allow for loss-of-value insurance, a rider attached to insurance policies that permits athletes to collect if they fall far enough in the draft from their projected position at the time they sign the policy. Athletes can get loss-of-value policies, but they have to go outside the NCAA program to do so.

***

No. 3: No clear path for Love — Clearly Kevin Love is no longer in love with the Timberwolves. And Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders is not necessarily in love with the bounty teams are offering for the All-Star power forward. While it seemed Minnesota might trade the double-double machine before the draft, they might keep him around and wait out better offers around next season’s trade deadline. Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com fleshed out the ongoing saga:

For Minnesota these talks are in a negotiation phase and they are in no rush to move on to the next steps.

Kevin Love’s agent Jeff Schwartz is serious and pushing to get his star moved sooner rather than later and to a destination Love wants to be long term. That’s where the pressure comes from. But it’s not just me saying Saunders doesn’t feel rushed.

Part of that is spin — the guy with the strongest positioning at any bargaining table is the guy willing to just walk away. Saunders wants everyone to think he will get up from the table. For now.

The only thing that has become clear is that Minnesota would prefer established players to picks and prospects — they don’t want to just rebuild, they want players who can help now.

Saunders is milking this as best as he can. In what are fluid talks with Golden State the Warriors had been hesitant to include Klay Thompson in a deal (although they should because it could be crippling against the cap for them to pay him what he’ll make on the open market). There is no deadline yet no reason to agree to anything right now. If the Warriors are offering David Lee and Thompson, ask for Draymond Green too. Or Harrison Barnes.

Saunders should do the same things with Denver and Boston and Chicago and anyone else interested in getting Kevin Love in a trade.

And if Saunders doesn’t get everything he wants on draft night, he can wait.

***

No. 4: President Obama congratulates Popovich — Here’s another interesting tidbit when it comes to the Spurs’ success under coach Gregg Popovich: He took a congratulatory phone call Friday from President Barack Obama, the third U.S. president since San Antonio won its fifth title since 1999. Bill Clinton was in office when the Spurs started their run and they made three trips to the White House to visit George W. Bush following championships in 2003, ’05 and ’07 championships. The San Antonio Express-News has details of Obama’s call:

President Barack Obama gave coach Gregg Popovich a ring on Friday to laud the Spurs after crushing Miami in the Finals for their fifth NBA championship, the White House announced.

This afternoon, the President called San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to congratulate him on his team’s resounding victory in the NBA Finals. The President praised the selfless teamwork, clear focus, and steadfast determination displayed by the Spurs and noted how impressed he was by the record-setting scoring by the team. The President called Popovich one of the nation’s finest coaches and a role model for young men across the country, and he is looking forward to hosting the team at the White House.

It was no doubt a warm conversation given that Popovich contributed to Obama’s last campaign. As noted, the two will meet in person during the upcoming season when the White House hosts the Spurs.

***

No. 5: Lakers offer No. 7 for Thompson — The Lakers, desperate to engage in a quick rebuild around Kobe Bryant, are interested in prying shooting guard Klay Thompson away from the Warriors in exchange for the No. 7 overall pick in the Draft. The proposed deal would be part of a bigger three-way trade that would send Minnesota’s Kevin Love to Golden State. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has the story:

The Lakers are interested but the deal has been put on hold because of a difference in opinion within the Warriors’ organization whether or not to keep Thompson while trying to obtain Love.

The Lakers are debating what to do with the pick if they hang onto it. They have sold or traded every first-round pick they’ve had since 2007 and do not have one next season because of the Steve Nash trade.

They are pondering whether to go with a power forward or point guard. They have narrowed their focus to big men Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh or point guards Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton.

When free agency begins July 1, the Lakers will have only three players making guaranteed money next season — Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. Point guard Kendall Marshall has one year left on a non-guaranteed contract.

A player on the rise such as Thompson would obviously provide more immediate return than an amateur player with no NBA experience.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Greek team Panathinaikos to make run at Jimmer Fredette? … Lakers would consider drafting EmbiidAndray Blatche opts out of his contract with Nets … Clippers assistant coach Alvin Gentry will join WarriorsClippers trio will opt out of final year … DeMarcus Cousins urges Rudy Gay to opt in and stay with Kings.

Pick-and-roll Data Likes The Suns

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On the Washington Wizards’ first possession of their big, triple-overtime win in Toronto on Thursday, John Wall and Marcin Gortat ran a side pick-and-roll. The same primary action produced two big free throws in the final minute of the second overtime and a huge three-point play in the third OT.

SportVU cameras captured every pick-and-roll run in the 63 minutes of basketball at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday. The folks at STATS LLC have been tracking pick-and-rolls via SportVU this season, opening a new door as we look to learn more about the game, and have provided some of the data to NBA.com.

Note: All pick-and-roll stats included are through Wednesday’s games.

Heading into Thursday’s game, Wall and Gortat had run almost 200 more pick-and-rolls than any other combination in the league. They’ve been a pretty solid combination, with the Wizards scoring 1.06 points per possession when the pair ran a pick-and-roll. That mark is a notch better than the league average of 1.03 (on pick-and-roll possessions) and ranks 87th among 209 pairs of teammates who have run pick-and-rolls on at least 100 possessions.

But there’s a big difference between a Wall-Gortat pick-and-roll and a Wall-Nene pick-and-roll, which has produced just 0.85 points per 100 possessions. That’s one reason why Washington ranks 29th in pick-and-roll efficiency (better than only the Milwaukee Bucks).

Wizards’ most-used pick-and-roll combinations

Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Wall Gortat 784 731 772 1.06
Wall Nene 349 324 275 0.85
Beal Gortat 240 226 224 0.99
Wall Booker 147 139 128 0.92
Beal Nene 121 116 110 0.95
Wall Ariza 111 111 119 1.07
Ariza Gortat 113 108 105 0.97
All other combinations 1,295 1,249 1,077 0.86
TOTAL 3,160 3,004 2,810 0.94

Wall has been more likely to pass to Nene than Gortat, but that hasn’t been a good idea, as Nene has shot just 16-for-48 (33 percent) on those plays.

John Wall pick-and-roll partners

Screener Scr. P&R Poss. JW FGM JW FGA JW FG% JW PTS Pass to S S FGM S FGA S FG%
Gortat 784 731 74 183 40.4% 171 188 42 85 49.4%
Nene 349 324 24 71 33.8% 56 129 16 48 33.3%
Booker 147 139 15 49 30.6% 33 34 6 13 46.2%
Ariza 111 111 14 23 60.9% 41 29 5 9 55.6%
Seraphin 85 81 4 11 36.4% 10 27 3 15 20.0%
Others 149 143 6 22 27.3% 17 25 2 10 20.0%
TOTAL 1,476 1,386 131 337 38.9% 311 407 72 170 42.4%

You see that Wall has shot worse when he’s come off a Nene screen, perhaps because Gortat sets a better pick and/or because Nene’s defenders are more mobile and able to defend Wall on a hedge or switch.

The Wizards will miss Nene, who’s out six weeks with an MCL sprain, but mostly on defense. The Wizards have allowed slightly less than a point per possession when he’s been the big defending a pick-and-roll. They’ve been almost seven points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.

Offensively, they’ve been a point per 100 possessions better with him on the bench. And their pick-and-roll game might actually get better in these six weeks without him.

Top of the list

The Dallas Mavericks have been the most prolific pick-and-roll team in the league, but the Phoenix Suns have been the best, scoring 1.09 points per pick-and-roll possession, just a hair better than the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, team

Team Screens Scr/100 Rank P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Phoenix 2,640 47.8 24 2,162 2,362 1.093
Houston 2,480 44.2 27 2,091 2,282 1.091
Portland 2,805 49.7 23 2,295 2,499 1.089
Oklahoma City 2,834 50.0 22 2,354 2,554 1.08
New York 2,782 51.9 16 2,292 2,452 1.07
Miami 2,768 54.0 12 2,145 2,294 1.07
Dallas 3,955 69.6 1 3,031 3,226 1.06
San Antonio 2,752 50.7 20 2,224 2,361 1.06
Indiana 2,420 44.6 26 2,015 2,139 1.06
Toronto 3,529 66.2 2 2,696 2,848 1.06

Scr/100 = Screens per 100 possessions

The Suns’ success starts with Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, the aggressive ball-handler and the 6-foot-11 floor spacer. They’ve been the league’s top pick-and-roll combination among those with at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, tandem

Team Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
PHX Dragic Frye 425 392 510 1.30
MIA Wade Andersen 131 124 160 1.29
OKC Durant Collison 119 114 143 1.25
OKC Westbrook Durant 156 148 185 1.25
NOP Holiday Anderson 130 125 156 1.25
SAC Thomas Gay 168 165 202 1.22
POR Batum Lopez 183 180 220 1.22
POR Williams Lopez 121 111 135 1.22
IND Stephenson Hibbert 147 144 175 1.22
OKC Durant Perkins 209 196 238 1.21

Minimum 100 pick-and-roll possessions

Dragic has run almost the same amount of pick-and-rolls with Miles Plumlee (407 screens on 390 possessions) as he has with Frye (425, 392). But the Suns have  scored only 1.03 points per possession on the Dragic-Plumlee pick-and-rolls. Clearly, Dragic prefers to have a screener who pops out for a jumper, rather than one who rolls to the rim.

On those 390 Dragic-Plumlee possessions, Dragic has passed the ball 232 times, but only 59 times (25 percent) to Plumlee. On the 392 Dragic-Frye possessions, he’s passed the ball 234 times, and 113 of those passes (48 percent) have gone to Frye.

Overall, the Suns have been efficient when Dragic has the ball, scoring 1.16 points per possession from his 1,238 pick-and-rolls. That’s the best mark among 46 starting point guards and other high-usage perimeter players who have been the pick-and-roll ball-handler for at least 300 possessions. And who’s next on the list might surprise you.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, ball-handler

Ball-handler Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss. Top Partner Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss.
Goran Dragic 1,172 1,361 1.16 Channing Frye 392 510 1.30
DeMar DeRozan 690 793 1.15 Amir Johnson 261 303 1.16
Kevin Durant 732 813 1.11 Serge Ibaka 284 286 1.01
Jeremy Lin 528 586 1.11 Dwight Howard 166 181 1.09
LeBron James 659 729 1.11 Chris Bosh 188 225 1.20
Damian Lillard 1,121 1,238 1.10 LaMarcus Aldridge 441 526 1.19
Dwyane Wade 469 516 1.10 Chris Bosh 155 144 0.93
Jrue Holiday 783 859 1.10 Anthony Davis 245 256 1.04
Monta Ellis 1,451 1,583 1.09 Dirk Nowitzki 500 554 1.11
George Hill 619 672 1.09 David West 258 279 1.08

Among 46 starting point guards and other perimeter players in the top 25 in usage rate.
Top partner = Player with whom he’s run the most pick-and-rolls.

DeRozan’s numbers seem a little fluky. He’s shot just 41 percent out of pick-and-rolls, has recorded an assist on just 5.8 percent those 690 possessions (the fourth lowest rate of the group), and averages less than one secondary assist (where his pass directly leads to somebody else’s assist) per game. But he has drawn fouls on 9.4 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions, a rate on par with that of LeBron James.

Some more notes from this list…

  • It’s interesting that James has had good success with Chris Bosh, but Dwyane Wade hasn’t. Wade has actually shot better (18-for-32) than James has (14-for-31) coming off Bosh screens, but Bosh has shot better when receiving a pick-and-roll pass from James (15-for-22) than he has when getting one from Wade (9-for-25). The shooting numbers, of course, are some small sample sizes.
  • Of the 46 pick-and-roll ball-handlers I looked at, the most likely to shoot is Tony Wroten, who has taken a shot on 31.0 percent of the screens he’s come off of. Next on the list are Nick Young (30.7 percent), Reggie Jackson (30.0 percent), Jamal Crawford (29.6 percent) and Rudy Gay (29.6) percent.
  • The players least likely to shoot are Kendall Marshall (12.4 percent), Patrick Beverley (12.9 percent), Mario Chalmers (14.5 percent), George Hill (15.9 percent) and Ty Lawson (16.3 percent).
  • James (20.1 percent) is less likely to shoot than Chris Paul (21.3 percent), Dragic (21.7 percent) or Wall (22.1 percent).
  • The guy most likely to pass to the screener is Stephen Curry. Of Curry’s 830 passes out of pick-and-rolls, 56.3 percent have gone to the screener. Next on the list are Russell Westbrook (55.3 percent), Michael Carter-Williams (52.1 percent), Deron Williams (50.7 percent) and Kyrie Irving (48.7 percent).
  • The guy least likely to pass to the screener is James Harden (27.2 percent). So when they come off pick-and-rolls, Curry is twice as likely to pass to the screener than Harden is. After Harden comes Carmelo Anthony (27.4 percent), James (28.0 percent), Jrue Holiday (29.0 percent) and Tyreke Evans (30.3 percent).
  • Six of the 46 have shot better than 50 percent when coming off a pick-and-roll: Chalmers (54.8 percent), Dragic (53.2 percent), James (52.5 percent), Wade (51.3 percent), Kevin Durant (50.2 percent) and Tony Parker (50.2 percent).
  • Get this: Durant has recorded an assist on a higher percentage of his pick-and-roll possessions (13.0 percent) than James (10.3 percent) and more than twice as often as Paul George (6.0 percent).

Location is key

SportVU keeps track of where every pick-and-roll takes place. As you might expect, the closer to the basket the screen is set, the more likely the offense is to score. The most efficient pick-and-roll spot on the floor is at the high post (around the foul line, inside the 3-point arc), which produces 1.05 points per possession.

But high post pick-and-rolls account for only 4 percent of all pick-and-rolls. The most common location is the top of the key, which sees 41 percent of pick-and-roll action. Next is the wing (foul-line extended), which sees 28 percent and the “sideline point” area (out by the coach’s box line) at 25 percent.

Pick-and-rolls by location

Location Most PCT PPP Best PCT PPP Worst PCT PPP Lg. avg. PPP
Center Point NOP 53% 1.05 POR 42% 1.12 MIL 41% 0.90 41% 1.02
Wing CHI 39% 1.05 GSW 16% 1.11 ORL 19% 0.93 28% 1.02
Sideline Point DAL 32% 1.10 OKC 31% 1.17 WAS 25% 0.92 25% 1.03
High Post PHI 7% 1.03 HOU 3% 1.31 GSW 3% 0.80 4% 1.05
Corner MIA 7% 0.97 MIN 2% 1.28 BOS 3% 0.76 3% 0.99

PCT = Percentage of total pick-and-rolls run from that location.
PPP = Points per possession on pick-and-rolls run from that location.

We’re just scratching the surface here. And that’s the issue with SportVU. There’s so much data to digest, it has to be compartmentalized and put into the proper context. But we’re really starting to see how much it has to offer.

Next week, I’ll take a look at pick-and-roll defense. (Hint: Indiana good, Portland bad.)

Marshall – Seriously – A Deadline Winner

The Lakers are carving out a bigger opportunity for Kendall Marshall (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images).

The Lakers are carving out a bigger opportunity for Kendall Marshall (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images).

Mitch Kupchak said the strangest thing.

It was Thursday afternoon next to the court of the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo, Calif., in the work room/holding tank for the media, a chance to debrief the general manager once the trade deadline passed relatively quietly with Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill still on the roster despite being linked to every team in every league on most every continent, including a few in Antarctica.

Kupchak was asked about the deal that did happen, Steve Blake to the Warriors for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks the night before.

“Steve Blake has been here almost four years and as a person and player, we loved him, but our shortage of point guards about a month or so ago led us to Kendall Marshall,” Kupchak began. With Kendall and Jordan (Farmar), and of course Steve Nash is back there and Steve Blake, it really got to the point where we needed to free up some time in the backcourt to look at Jordan and give Kendall the time that he’s earned, and let’s review and evaluate where we are with those two players.”

Kupchak went on to say it would be a chance to look at a couple younger players, Bazemore and Brooks, as the Lakers prepare for a summer of roster upheaval and emphasized Blake to Golden State was not a cost-cutting move. But, again: “…we needed to free up some time in the backcourt to look at Jordan and give Kendall the time that he’s earned.”

The same guy who was unwanted at the start of 2013-14 by the new GM in Phoenix one season after arriving as the No. 13 pick in the draft, who was forced on the Wizards as salary-cap balast to make get Marcin Gortat to Washington and then quickly cut by the Wiz, who was in the D-League and free to be claimed by anyone, and who got a call from the Lakers only after the previous five tries at a starting point guard ended in injury. That Kendall Marshall.

Not that it isn’t deserved – 28 games, 17 starts, 45.6 percent from the field, 47.6 percent on threes, 10.7 points, 9.8 assists, 2.77 turnovers. The Lakers absolutely should take a longer look. What a new layer, though, to a serpentine story that has been well-chronicled.

Only now it has gotten to where a team is creating avenues to rely on him more, not even a season after Marshall was stamped across the forehead as unwanted. Shooting was always one of the concerns, and he will challenge for the league lead if he reaches the qualifying minimum by the end. The lack of athleticism has always been a red flag, and look who has the sixth-best assist-to-turnover ratio.

In reality, Marshall could have had a clearer path to more playing anyway. “Steve, the season is going nowhere fast and we know what you can do. We’re going to play Kendall more.” Path cleared. (It’s the same finesse job in a lot of places. The Kings say trading Marcus Thornton to the Nets opens more minutes for Ben McLemore. Or they could have just played McLemore more with Thornton on the roster and probably not hurt their championship hopes too much.)

This time, it is another tangible level of the Marshall recovery, no matter the semantics, in continuing to prove most every team wrong for letting him go unclaimed in the D-League. The next step is getting serious guaranteed money somewhere next season, not a partial to serve as a training-camp sparring partner, the best he likely would have hoped for until this star turn with the Lakers as a reminder of why he was a lottery pick as the best passing point guard in the 2012 draft that suddenly doesn’t feel so forever ago.

Nash, Blake To Return Vs. Wolves

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Steve Nash is back. Steve Blake is, too. It’s been a long time and a lot of losing for the purple-and-gold since either guard last took the court. But tonight at Minnesota, the two Steves will be in the starting lineup for the 16-31 Los Angeles Lakers.

Nash, who turns 40 on Friday, has played in just six games this season and has been out since Nov. 10 battling nerve damage stemming from the fractured leg he suffered early last season. Blake played in 21 games before a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow took him out on Dec. 21.

Backup point guard Jordan Farmar is also expected to suit up tonight for the first time since Dec. 31. He’s been out with a hamstring injury.

L.A. wasn’t exactly barnstorming the league on Blake’s last day with a 13-14 record, and Kobe Bryant only days earlier having fractured his knee after playing just six games in his return from the Achilles injury. Since Blake last touched a basketball in a game, the Lakers have gone 3-17.

Blake was having a fine season, averaging 9.8 ppg and 7.7 rpg. While he was only making 39.8 percent of his overall shots, he was hitting 40.0 percent from beyond the arc. There’s no reason to think he won’t pick up where he left off and give the Lakers’ offense, 12th in points per game in the Western Conference, a boost.

As for Nash, there’s just no telling what to expect.

There’s also another angle to the return of the two Steves: emergency replacement point guard Kendall Marshall. The 2012 lottery pick castoff of the Phoenix Suns was plucked from the D-League and has performed admirably in a tough spot. He’s averaged 10.5 ppg and 9.6 apg.

He loses his starting job and a lot of minutes, too. How much better will the Lakers be? Obviously they’ll be more competitive with more NBA-tested players handling the ball. But, don’t expect this group to rocket up the standings even when (and if) Kobe make his return sometime after the All-Star break.

As for Marshall, he’s been a great story of perseverance. Hopefully, he won’t just get lost on coach Mike D’Antoni‘s bench.

Lakers Give Marshall A Second Chance

Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Lakers

Kendall Marshall is making the most of his time at the helm for L.A. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

DALLAS – All week in Reno, Nev., the D-League Showcase has provided some 200 basketball players — some former NBA first-rounders, some with legitimate NBA service time and many more who fell through the cracks — a stage to perform in front of a horde of NBA team decision-makers.

Kendall Marshall is not among them. He almost assuredly would have been as a member of the Delaware 87ers if not for an unbelievable string of injuries to all three of the Los Angeles Lakers’ point guards. On Dec. 21, the Phoenix Suns’ No. 13 pick in 2012, who was traded to Washington on Oct. 25 and waived that day, became the Lakers’ emergency plan.

“Honestly,” Marshall told NBA.com Tuesday night, “I’m just thankful for the situation I’m in. I’m trying to make the most of it, trying to get better and find a way to help this team.”

Instead of playing his heart out during this five-day stretch in northwest Nevada on a shoestring D-League salary of about $25,000, Marshall is auditioning nightly — strange to say of a lottery pick one year removed, but altogether true — in front of league executives on the biggest stage. And as of Tuesday he’s doing so on a fully guaranteed contract for the remainder of the season at about a half-million dollars.

Still, it guarantees nothing beyond a few more weeks, perhaps more, of genuine playing time for the former North Carolina Tar Heel, a heady although not overly athletic, smooth-passing point guard aptly nicknamed “Butter.” Soon Steve Blake will return from an elbow injury. Jordan Farmar will come back from a hamstring injury. Steve Nash is targeting a February return.

For Marshall, the time is now. In his first two starts, the 6-foot-4 southpaw unleashed flashbacks to Linsanity with a combined 32 assists and 29 points. In eight games, including starting the last four after point-guard fill-in Xavier Henry went down with his own knee injury, Marshall has 56 dimes. A quick study in coach Mike D’Antoni‘s point-guard friendly offense, Marshall is averaging 9.1 ppg, 7.0 apg and 3.0 turnovers. Before a brutal 2-for-13 (1-for-6 on 3-pointers) shooting night in Wednesday’s loss at Houston, L.A.’s ninth in 10 games, he had shot better than 56 percent overall and made half of his 22 3-point attempts.

Considering he jumped head-first into a bare-bones Lakers lineup, Marshall’s performances have ranged from impressive to steady, and have, at the least, provided the Lakers’ offense with structure and some rhythm. He had managed to keep his turnovers down until the last two games with six in each, but some of that falls on teammates unable or unprepared to handle his thread-the-needle passes through traffic.

His best game remains his first as a starter on Jan. 3 when he outplayed rookie and No. 9 pick Trey Burke, scoring 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting, with 15 assists and six rebounds to beat Utah and snap the Lakers’ six-game skid.

And think about this: Marshall has gone from averaging 14.6 mpg in just 48 games as a rookie last season with Phoenix to playing 37.6 mpg in seven games with Delaware to now having logged more than 38 minutes in three of his four starts with the Lakers.

“He’s passing the ball, he’s finding a lot of seams,” said Henry, who grew up playing against Marshall in AAU tournaments from the time they were 9 years old through high school. “As our only true point guard right now he’s moving the ball pretty well and getting us into stuff fast. That’s good for us because we have a lot of guys that can score and play the game, but we don’t have that true point guard right now because everybody’s injured.”

The Suns envisioned Marshall, ironically, to be Nash’s replacement and as something of a Nash starter kit — crafty, smart, good floor vision, excellent facilitator. Marshall doesn’t possess tremendous speed or athleticism and when new management took over in Phoenix last offseason they weren’t enamored with him. They already had Goran Dragic, then drafted super-athletic Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin and traded for Eric Bledsoe to run new coach Jeff Hornacek‘s up-tempo attack.

At the Las Vegas Summer League in July, Goodwin outplayed Marshall and the writing was on the wall.

“I thought there was a chance I might be traded,” Marshall said. “I didn’t know they would wait until right before the season started. Obviously, the timing was unfortunate. The whole situation was unfortunate.”

Phoenix packaged Marshall with center Marcin Gortat in a trade with Washington just days before the season opened. Marshall’s agent called him 45 minutes after he found out he had been traded to tell him the Wizards would waive him.

Marshall, 22, was out of the league. With rosters set and no offers forthcoming, he signed with Delaware, the Philadelphia 76ers affiliate in the D-League, after Thanksgiving. The weeks in between went by brutally slow as he simultaneously concentrated on picking up his career while trying not to become negatively consumed by his circumstance.

“You want an honest answer?” Marshall said when asked who or what he leaned on during that time. “Vine, the social media site. I met a lot of friends on there that half of them didn’t even know I played basketball. So it was cool to interact with people that I wasn’t constantly hearing about what I was going through. So honestly that’s what kept me positive throughout that couple of weeks of not being in the league.”

Now comes the question of whether he can stick in a league predicated on athleticism and at a position dominated by speed.

“I joke with him all the time about how he can’t jump and stuff like that,” Henry said. “He’s not the fastest guy, but he just plays it smart, he knows what he has to do to complete his task. He’s smart with the game of how to make things happen. That’s what he does.”

Added Marshall: “Fifty percent of this league doesn’t get by on their athleticism. A couple of guys we played against [Tuesday at Dallas]; Dirk [Nowitzki] never relied on athleticism, Jose Calderon has never relied on his athleticism and they found a way to be successful. It can be done. But it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it and finding ways to do it.”

That’s the opportunity Marshall has in front of him, not in Reno for Delaware, but on the NBA stage for the Los Angeles Lakers. His audition will continue until likely the Lakers’ regulars return and reclaim their spots.

“My only objective right now is to help this team,” Marshall said. “That’s all I’m worried about is finding ways to win games and continue to get better.”

L.A.’s Stunning Role Reversal


VIDEO: Lakers at Bucks, Dec. 31, 2013

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Happy New Year, Mike D’Antoni. A”We Want Phil” chant, however silly, percolated through Staples Center in L.A. on Tuesday as the glamorous-turned-anonymous Lakers faded to black again in an ugly loss to the now seven-win Milwaukee Bucks.

Total bummer of a New Year’s Eve party.

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, of course, wouldn’t touch this sinking M*A*S*H unit with a bionic-kneed Andrew Bynum. At this point, any talk of the league’s worst teams has to include the purple and gold, who are 13-19, have lost six in a row (half of those by an average of 17 points) and show no sign of snapping back any time soon.

How could they snap back? Consider D’Antoni’s starting five in the 94-79 loss to Milwaukee: Jordan Farmar (who tore his left hamstring in the game and will miss a month), Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol. His available bench was limited to: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall, Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman (who has fallen so far he couldn’t even get in the game).

Look at it this way: These unidentifiable Lakers are closer to last-place Utah than to eighth-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings. That gap will either shrink or grow Friday night when the Lakers welcome the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – who, ahem, just beat L.A. in Salt Lake City a week ago.

When these two teams meet Friday, the most exciting player on the floor just might be Utah rookie point guard Trey Burke, who’s quietly making a major move in the Rookie of the Year race. No offense to the impressive Burke, but that’s how far the mighty Lakers have plummeted: A rookie on the opposing team — a team with 10 wins — is the most exciting player on the floor.

With Dwight Howard in Houston after turning his back on the Lakers in free agency, Kobe Bryant on the sidelines again with a fractured knee, Steve Nash still plotting some way to get back on the floor and Pau Gasol sniffling through recurring physical and emotional trauma, the Lakers’ star power is flickering like a faulty neon sign.

The Clippers, once known as the “other” L.A. team, are another story altogether.

We may never truly understand all the reasons that prompted outgoing commissioner David Stern, acting as the de facto head of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets two years ago, to veto the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade.

(Stern said in a statement shortly after the December 2011 trade that he nixed it “in the best interests of the Hornets” and that he decided, without influence from other owners, that “the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”)

But by now, we certainly grasp how drastically that decision altered both franchises’ outlooks. Remember, the Lakers thought they had Kobe’s future sewn up: CP3 in a deal that shipped out Gasol and Lamar Odom, followed by getting Dwight in a deal for Bynum. It’s hard to imagine a Kobe-CP3-D12 trio going up in flames like last season’s Howard-Kobe-Nash gathering did. Or like this season’s team has. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe to start this season and have gone 3-10 since his brief return and subsequent exit.

The Clippers (22-12) haven’t been nearly as consistent as coach Doc Rivers would like. But they are fourth in the West playing without injured sharpshooter J.J. Redick. They have won seven of their last 10. They’ll try to move 11 games over .500 Friday night at Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Off the court, the Clippers have been even better. Every second commercial on TV has Paul selling insurance with his equally assisting faux-twin brother Cliff, or a white-caped Blake Griffin saving us all from buying a lame automobile.

Meanwhile, the best news about the Lakers, off the court, is what they’re trying to do to fix their on-court woes. They are paying about $6 million more in payroll this season than their co-tenants, with close to $50 million wrapped up in Kobe and Gasol. The rest of the roster accounts for nearly $30 million. It’s why a rumored Gasol-for-Bynum swap with the Cleveland Cavaliers — followed by waiving Bynum — would be so attractive to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. It would wipe out millions in salary and costly luxury tax from the Lakers’ 2013-14 slate.

Whether that happens or not won’t change the Lakers’s fortunes any time soon. They’ll still be the talk of L.A. They are, after all, still the Lakers.

But until further notice, the star-studded Clips carry the bigger stick.


VIDEO: Bobcats at Clippers, Jan. 1, 2014

Kendall Marshall Tries To Stay Positive

Kendall Marshall looks to find NBA footing with the injury-riddled Lakers.

Kendall Marshall looks to find NBA footing with the injury-riddled Lakers. (Andrew Bernstein/NBAE)

HANG TIME WEST – The last three or four months, Kendall Marshall mentioned in passing, have been filled with ups and downs.

Wait.

There have been ups?

“The ups have been I’ve been having good workouts,” he said.

Even Marshall had to laugh at that.

A star at North Carolina, the Bob Cousy Award winner in 2012 as the top college point guard, the No. 13 pick in the draft that year, the potential replacement for Steve Nash in Phoenix, and in 2013 latching on to practices as an emotional wave.

Oh, and “I thought I played pretty well in the D-League. You have to find the positives throughout things and realize that it is still a blessing to be playing basketball for a living.”

That much is definitely true. Kendall Marshall is still playing basketball for a living. And he is very good at emphasizing the positives. It’s everything else that gets hazy.

He never came close to succeeding Nash as Suns point guard. He never even came close to passing Goran Dragic on the depth chart. Marshall averaged 14.6 minutes, three points and three assists in 48 games as a rookie while shooting 37.1 percent in the continuation of a problem that concerned a lot of front offices weighing his draft stock. By summer, after Lance Blanks had been fired as general manager and replaced by Ryan McDonough, it had become obvious the new administration saw no future for Marshall in Phoenix.

He was sent to Washington as one of several pieces of cap filler that allowed the Wizards to acquire Marcin Gortat, then quickly waived. No one picked up Marshall. He waited and signed with the Delaware 87ers of the NBA Development League. No one grabbed him there for a while either.

Eighteen months after being considered a top prospect, a true distributor with the best passing skills in the draft class, two years of experience in a major program, natural instincts, the goal had become just to get on an NBA roster. It took the Lakers being down to Xavier Henry as their fifth point guard – with Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar injured and shooting guard Kobe Bryant, the emergency fill-in, also going down – for Marshall to finally get back to the majors.

His third game as a Laker, after one of staying on the bench against the Timberwolves and another of six minutes at Golden State, is tonight at Phoenix, but Marshall is insistent there is no grudge match. It’s the right approach, of course. He needs to make a point to everyone, not just the Suns, at a time in his life when it has been impossible to not look around and wonder who opened the trap door.

“No question,” Marshall admitted. “It was quick the way everything happened. You kind of look at yourself in the mirror and you know there’s things that you have to improve on. I did that and I’m going to continue to get better and find a way to help this team.”

The same questions remain as when he came out of college, or, actually, the same doubts around the league have increased after 2012-13 as Dragic’s backup in Phoenix. Marshall isn’t athletic enough, particularly a problem on defense but also for any team that uses an up-tempo offense. He can’t shoot well enough.

The goal, he said, is to prove his talents to the Lakers, not to all the other clubs that have taken a pass. That is part of thinking positive, that Marshall only tries to concern himself with the opportunity that is there. That is part of finding the ups.

The Lakers Are In Survival Mode


VIDEO: David Lee has 19 points, Andrew Bogut 20 rebounds as Warriors rout Lakers

OAKLAND – The Lakers’ Saturday night in Oracle Arena:

About 24 hours after defending power forward Kevin Love in Los Angeles, Wesley Johnson opened on point guard Stephen Curry, a sign of Johnson’s versatility but more a flashing red light about the state of the roster around him. Kendall Marshall went from being traded by the Suns to being unwanted and cut by the Wizards to unclaimed as a free agent to the D-League to signing Friday… to being sent in during the second quarter against the Warriors, an emergency acquisition to back up the point guard that had been backing up the emergency point guard. Chris Kaman got 17 shots, second-most on the team, speaking of flashing red lights of concern.

This is how it’s going to be for the Lakers. Beat the Timberwolves one night, lose 102-83 to the Warriors, hope Pau Gasol is back Monday at Phoenix after missing Saturday with an upper-respiratory infection, hope Jordan Farmar rides in later in the week as a hero – a point guard, a real point guard! – and mostly scrap around until Kobe Bryant returns from a fractured knee for the real gauge of where the team stands.

They are grinders now, trying to be plucky, needing to be resilient, wanting to be the contradiction of the team of future Hall of Famers that needs to get by. Not necessarily in on-court style, where the offense is often free flow, but certainly in attitude. Most nights will be about getting by.

It went well the last time under similar circumstances, the 10-9 record with Bryant recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon and Steve Nash with six games of fingernails down a chalkboard while trying to play through nerve damage in his back. Now, the Lakers get to go through it all again, with no sign of a Nash return and Kobe Watch II scheduled to last approximately six weeks. By that time, .500 and the playoffs within telescope range would be a major accomplishment.

“We’ve got to battle, and I thought we did today,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We ran out of energy. We’ll go to Phoenix and we’re going to battle. We’re not going to be smooth. There’s no way. We’ve got 15 point guards out. But it’s good enough to win, and we’ll go to Phoenix and try to get one.”

Three true point guards – Nash, Farmar, Steve Blake – plus Bryant, the shooting guard pressed into emergency duty as No. 4, just in time to also go down. But same difference.

Xavier Henry, another swingman, got the latest battlefield promotion. Marshall is the only true distributor on the roster, if he counts after going from Phoenix lottery pick in 2012 to unsigned free agent in 2013 before the Lakers out-raced nobody to pull him from the Delaware 87ers on Friday. When he got an early chance Saturday, more a sign of desperation than a show of confidence from D’Antoni, Marshall committed two quick turnovers in his first NBA non-exhibition game since April 17, lasted all of 2 minutes 54 seconds before being yanked, and stayed on the bench until the rout was on in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors, after coach Mark Jackson said he could not remember a team ever being down to its fifth starting point guard in an entire season let alone one 27 games old, seized right on schedule, as every team will attempt to do in kind. He sent defenders to pressure Lakers ball handlers just to cross half court, resulting in 24 turnovers that led to 28 Golden State points and allowed the Warriors to win easily despite shooting 38.8 percent.

“That’s awfully tough,” Jackson, a former veteran point guard, said of the position woes in the other locker room. “Awfully tough. It’s tough to respond to it as a coach, as a team. The benefit that they have is they have guys that are comfortable handling the basketball even though they are not point guards. Henry handling the ball. Nick Young, we know he likes handling the basketball. It’s tough, but they don’t run a traditional offense where you need a point guard. They’re doing a good job. Give coach D’Antoni credit. He’s doing a good job of mixing it up and putting those guys in position to be successful.”

Los Angeles is 13-14 and heading to Phoenix for a Monday game against a team that, it’s a safe bet, will go with a similar strategy to try to constrict D’Antoni as he returns to the scene of his greatest coaching success. The Lakers hope to do better at enduring this time. It’s just that they are not going to be smooth. There’s no way.

Blogtable: What’s Next For Lakers?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Kobe’s fate | Lakers’ plans | The blame game



VIDEO: The GameTime crew discuss effect of Kobe’s left knee injury

Given this news, what direction should the Lakers’ front office think about taking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Forget the short term. This season is all about plucky overachievement now, not unlike Chicago’s a year ago. Plenty of moral victories, unexpected contributions from unlikely sources and a rare stretch of underdog ball for one of the NBA’s Big Kahuna franchises. Longer term – as in starting next season – the Lakers need to transition to a player who is Bryant’s equal or better and assume that, at most, Kobe will be 1A to whoever makes up that tandem. There’s no belly or time for a methodical rebuilding in L.A. but there doesn’t have to be, given its pull as a free-agent destination. This just has an Oscar Robertson-needing-young-Kareem feel to it for me.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The short-term plan should just be going back to work, sharing the ball and returning to the scrapping style that had the Lakers with a .500 record at the time of Kobe’s return.  It’s all they can do.  The long-term plan has to re-visit the decision not to move Pau Gasol before he becomes a free agent.  He is the only serious trade chip the Lakers currently have and they need to start thinking ahead to acquire young talent rather than continuing to hitch their prayers onto an old body.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: As for the franchise’s thinking both short-term and long-term, I don’t think it changes anything. Obviously they’ll need a fill-in point guard with Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all out. Farmar is getting closer, but isn’t ready to play. A D-League guard such as former Suns first-round pick Kendall Marshall could be a short-term fill-in. Otherwise, this is their team, for better or worse, for the short-term. And that’s fine. This was not a title contender with or without Kobe, so let Mike D’Antoni coach these guys up, hope they can scrape their way to another 10-9 record or so without Kobe and see where they are when he’s ready to go. The reality is, and this has nothing to do with tanking, but if ever there was a year to have a season from hell, this is it thanks to the Draft we’ve all obsessed over for months already. The long-term goal was always to pursue free agents this summer and that will remain the plan. With any luck, Kobe is able to get fully healthy, the Lakers add a quality player in the Draft and then acquire more ammunition in July to give Kobe a two-year window to chase a sixth title.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Same as it was thinking before: Get the most out of this team as possible, hope the roster can keep the long-shot playoff hopes alive by staying close to .500 without Bryant just like last time, hope for a second-half push with Kobe back, and then have a championship summer. Consider trades, especially Pau Gasol, but don’t take on bad contracts just to get a deal and don’t cut into the war chest for July. All the things the front office knew before.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Same as they were before Wednesday. This team wasn’t going to be very good whether Kobe was healthy or not. They should certainly be exploring trades, looking to add assets (draft picks and/or young players), though they’re not likely to get much for anyone on that roster.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kendall Marshall is obviously their short-term solution to a point guard problem Kobe was supposed to solve with his return. You shouldn’t make any long-term decision when you are dealing with any sort of traumatic incident, and make no mistake, after they hit him with that $48 million extension the Lakers are surely feeling a bit emotional about the future. What makes the process tougher is that now they don’t have a healthy Kobe to showcase to free agents they needed to impress in the league up to this summer’s frenzy. Anyone they try to lure to Los Angeles will have to show up and face the prospect of an ailing and fading Kobe as opposed to the league’s most feared performer. Someone send Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family a jumbo supply of Maalox for Christmas, because it’s going to be a rough winter and beyond.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com: That Parker kid at Duke is pretty good! Seriously, there were those heading into the season advocating holding Kobe out as long as possible and, ahem, perhaps focusing more on future draft position and roster flexibility than on trying to be a marginal playoff team in a stacked Western Conference. If anything this latest injury should make that choice much easier.