There is no running away from this structurally flawed season. No pretending it did not occur. Not when the Lakers plan an encore- one more go round of old age and ineffectiveness. Steve Nash and Kendall Marshall, the two worst point guards in the Western Conference, are the first of the decisions that have been made, according to the Los Angeles Times. Yes, these less than point guards will return to the Lakers in the coming season. And yes the misery will continue. The Steve Nash day to day soap opera, the Kendall Marshall getting beat by every point guard in the Western Conference and throwing up bricks, all of it will be documented for another 82 games. Alas, they are quite a coalition. The Nash/Marshall collective represents everything that is wrong with the Lakers from an organization model: displaced loyalty, blind trust and the selling of mediocrity.
This is pretty much how it always goes. Whenever there is an insufferable season there are questions about personnel that are addressed. But before those can be answered there is another question at hand about identity which really is much more important: who are you? Are you deathly serious about winning again? If the answer is yes then the obvious beginning is at ground zero. This is not a level for heroes or misfits or romantic stories of saviors but for the practicalities. Things must make sense. Things must fit into the current paradigm of success: point guard play, rim protection, rebounding. But there was a reason the Lakers were an unmitigated but historic disaster this season, a reason that started at the top where decisions were made and trickled down all the way to the bottom to the coaching staff and the players. Details were overlooked. Pride got in the way. Worse still, there was a little bit of bad luck. Time ran out. And the Lakers had no point guards on the roster who could score when they had to, who could control the game from the opening tip to the final seconds, who limited turnovers and carried their team, whose toughness was the dividing line between winning and losing, who everyone had faith in and who was at the top of their opponents game plan: you must stop him. At best Steve Nash and Kendall Marshall were patchwork guards made for teams more interested in getting into the draft lottery just to see what they could acquire for the future. They were too flawed as players to drive a team to the playoffs. When it was all said and done, what was accomplished?
Change can have a purpose. That the Lakers are unwilling to change what is their holiest failure is their greatest irony and it defines this season just as it characterizes what the organization has become. There will be no fixing what began the nausea in the first place and the nausea is the very thing that is driving a wedge between fans and the front office. Don’t think you can fool us. We know what a point guard looks like. Contending is light years away with a 40 year old point guard who will be 41. Nothing much happens when something devolves in front of you. It is hard to look at sometimes, like a car crash. The body of Steve Nash is a forever puzzle, a Humpty Dumpty scattering of shells the wind tosses around. He is put back together again seemingly with glue and water and then he fails apart again. He is put back together again with glue and water and then he falls apart again. He is put back together again…you get the point. It is one thing for the NBA game to have passed a player by, for his skill set to no longer be relevant for the current game itself. And it is quite another thing for a player’s body to be in shut down mode. There is a reason 40 year old men aren’t active point guards, even those without a history of inflammation. But this is so Steve Nash. He has had back problems all of his career but what is new is this on again off again lack of consistency. He was once a great player (four years ago) but now he fights just to have a glimpse of his former self show up in games so he could use it as a mirror. It is a hit or miss proposition. Any contact can throw him into another two month training regimen to try to get it right one more time. How many games can the Lakers pencil in him for in 2014-15? How much will they depend on him? How can he possible defend Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook and Step Curry?
To compliment Steve Nash who will be 41 in 2015 is a slow, can’t shoot point guard who racks up assists. The more assists Kendall Marshall gets the more the Lakers lose. Case in point: He had 17 assists against Denver. The Lakers lost. He had 16 assists against Cleveland. The Lakers lost. He had 14 assists against Orlando. The Lakers lost. He had 13 assists against the Pacers. The Lakers lost. He had 17 assists against the Thunder the Lakers lost. He had 16 assists against the Rockets. The Lakers lost. He is a high volume assist player but a low volume shooter. And on the NBA level not a winner. It is the Carmelo Anthony argument but in reverse. Carmelo scores a lot of points, never passes and his team loses. Kendall Marshall always passes, is a terrible shooter and his team loses.
Kendall has played in 45 games this year. In 31 of them he has a negative +/- meaning the team is performing worse when he is on the floor. Part of the reason is because Kendall is a specialist. Someone who can get assists but can’t do much of anything else. He can’t stop dribble penetration. He is too slow on screens. He is not a point guard who rebounds or who has a midrange. He overdribbles on the perimeter. And sometimes he appears helpless. He is the last of the players on the floor you would call the leader. He shoots 39% on his 2 point shots which means defenders can ignore him coming off of pick and roll. He is not quick enough to get to the rim. His passes are sometimes volleyballs. He turns the ball over. His decisions are not quick. He plays better without creators than with creators. And defensively he is a liability. He cannot guard the opposing team’s point guard. He switches onto the shooting guard which is a instant mismatch and puts the Lakers defense out of balance from the start.
This is an era in which the point guard position has changed from a floor leader to a do everything player. The point guard does not have to be your best player, though that would help. He just has to be your most important player. Everywhere up and down the Western Conference are point guards that can score. They get into the paint. They finish at the rim and through contact. They are efficient pick and roll players because of their explosiveness. They make two point shots and draw defenders to them which opens up the lane and court for everyone else. Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, those are the point guards in the Lakers division. And the Lakers answer back with a D-league point guard, one who was traded and then waived.
Of course this is a money move, nothing more. Low rent players who are expendable when the spending really happens in the summer of 2015 are the players who won’t deliver much in 2014. The Lakers have lived through this once; here we go again. There is nothing remotely interesting about knowing the game is already handcuffed before it even starts because your point guard can do nothing about Ty Lawson or Chris Paul or Jrue Holliday. Basketball, for better or worse, lives and dies with its matchups. These scoring, explosive point guards are not going away. Next year add Tyler Ennis and Dante Exum to the mix. This season was bad enough to suffer through. Perception is never the same as history and that is the way it should be. Just as greatness can become a legacy so can defeat and that happens quickly. Before you know it the tides are rising. The waves crash. Will the Lakers survive it? Will anything change between now and October? So far the answer is no.