In Kobe Bryant’s 3rd game back from his Achilles injury, he is being forced into the role of point guard, as Steve Nash, Steve Blake, and Jordan Farmar are all out with various injuries. Blake is out at least 6 weeks, while Farmar is out at least another two. Steve Nash is a whole different story and can’t be relied upon at this age to contribute. Kobe struggled again against the Thunder, particularly with his turnovers, producing 7 in only 23 minutes of playing time. With a roster spot available, it seemed like an obvious conclusion that the Lakers would sign a temporary point guard, but thus far the team hasn’t shown any willingness to sign a ball handler.
The first reason the team is reluctant is Xavier Henry. With the return of Kobe, Xavier has seen his minutes cut down a bit, but he is clearly one of the Lakers best offensive weapons. Despite his free throw struggles, Henry can get to the rim almost at will and is great at drawing contact. Against the Thunder on Friday night, Henry got to the line a season high 16 times, converting 9 attempts. Although Henry isn’t a traditional point guard, he is effective enough at driving to the hoop to open up the defense a little bit. Despite this, Henry isn’t able to run D’Antoni’s offense the way Nash, Farmar, or Blake were capable of. While those players were able to probe and kick, Xavier tends to probe and attack.
The second reason the Lakers remain reluctant is the salary cap. Right now the Lakers are over the luxury tax line and any additional players signed would essentially cost double what their contract states. It is disappointing the Lakers have put paying an additional $2-3 million as more important than having a ball handler out on the court at all times. Any sort of point guard the Lakers would be interested in signing would come as a minimum salaried player, so any sort of financial concerns from a team with a $5 billion TV deal seem cheap at this point. If the Lakers still are having point guard troubles/injuries come January 5th, expect the Lakers to sign a veteran to a 10-day contract instead of committing for the entire season.
The third reason the Lakers have been reluctant to sign a free agent point guard is due to the lack of intriguing options. The potentially best point guard option, DJ Augustin, just signed with the Bulls for the rest of the season, leaving the free agent cupboard incredibly bare. The Lakers could choose to sign a non-traditional point guard like Leandro Barbosa or Rodrigue Beaubois, but those don’t necessarily guarantee the offense will run any more smoothly (although Barbosa does have experience with D’Antoni). They could sign a re-tread like Chris Duhon or Darius Morris, but neither of those names get anyone excited. The free agent pool is littered with these types of players, none of whom you look at and definitively say “this person helps.”
Until Jordan Farmar returns, the Lakers will be left playing Henry/Kobe at the point guard position. While not ideal, it could end up being a good thing. Prior to all of the point guard problems, the Lakers were a .500 team, who have now lost 3 straight games. For those of you who are fans of tanking, this is one of the best results that could happen. Steve Blake was perhaps the Lakers best or 2nd best player so far this season and his production is being replaced by absolutely nothing. So instead of the Lakers being cheap, perhaps they just have ping pong balls in mind.