On June 28th 2012 the NBA future of Kendall Marshall appeared secure. He was a lottery pick taken by a team that needed him. Kendall Marshall, winner of the Bob Cousy Award for the best college point guard, was a perfect fit for the Phoenix Suns who were desperate for backcourt help. And so on that summer night in New York City Kendall Marshall was walking on air.
Different than so many others celebrated that night, Kendall had never been the best player on his college team, nor had he been the most athletic, the most explosive, the best scorer; that made it even sweeter defying the odds. He had worked for this moment and had given a lot of sweat equity in a lot of gyms. He devoted himself to a lot of practices, a lot of sticking with it even when the results sometimes said he should quit.
But while the draft of 2012 validated Kendall Marshall the college player, the NBA devalued Kendall Marshall the basketball player. His career began to separate as he began a circuitous NBA journey that had him crisscrossing the United States from the desert to the northeast to Hollywood and now to the lakes of Wisconsin.
But no amount of creativity could have designed a roadmap that was filled with this many forwards and reverses. For what would happen to Kendall Marshall in a span of two NBA seasons happened to only one other player (Thomas Robinson) in his lottery class. The team that drafted him did not want him around.
The Suns took Kendall with the #13 pick but by the time January rolled around they were in full fledge remorse mode. They did to Kendall what teams do to players they don’t believe in, they toyed with Kendall’s minutes. By January, their trust in him was hollow. He played 3 minutes against Brooklyn and he played 14 minutes against Dallas and the rest of his rookie season would remain erratic.
Kendall Marshall was traded to the Wizards in October of 2013, just sixteen months after he was drafted. He was ecstatic but only because he didn’t understand the NBA business ethic. Kendall was still a romantic player who believed in his own ability. He falsely speculated he was coming back to where he was raised to be cheered on by his family; he even bought them tickets.
But the Wizards were disinterested in Kendall Marshall’s dreams. The truth was that Kendall was only in the Marcin Gortat deal to make the money work. As soon as they could the Wizards waived him. Out of a job he started over again and went to the D-league which was where Kendall Marshall’s luck began to turn.
It started with misfortune, that of the Lakers, who lost Jordan Farmar to injury. The Lakers were running Xavier Henry at the point, something he had not done since high school. So the team with the most television exposure- and criticism- brought in a player with the least amount of television exposure.
It wasn’t a shock that Mike D’antoni wasn’t a believer in the new point guard. Two years earlier D’antoni had to be forced to play another point guard, Jeremy Lin.
D’antoni when asked why he didn’t start Kendall said, “Because (Xavier) Henry is better.”
In his first seven games with the Lakers Kendall Marshall played in 4 of them. He had a total of 21 points, 10 assists and 8 turnovers.
Christmas came and went and so did New Years. And then on the 3rd of January Kendall Marshall started as point guard for the Lakers. Kendall Marshall did this: 20 points. 15 assists. 1 turnover.
In his next start, against the Denver Nuggets he had 17 assists but shot 30%.
It is the Kendall Marshall blessing and the Kendall Marshall curse, this divide and conquer aspect to his career. Yes, Kendall can deliver the ball on time but he can’t score himself.
One month passed and Kendall was either hot or cold. He had 5 points and 3 assists against the Chicago Bulls. He had 14 points and 17 assists against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Depending on Kendall for consistency became an exotic exercise in futility. You would be right some of the time but wrong most of the time. It was nothing more than a guessing game.
Kendall had 6 games for the Lakers in which he had 15+ assists. And he had 18 games for the Lakers in which he scored 5 points or less.
Simply, he is in the wrong era, a point guard who only wants to be a point guard which would be fine except every other point guard in the Western Conference can score.
Kendall was born to play basketball in a cyclical era when explosive athletes have the ball in their hands and Kendall has the ball in his hands too but he is noticeably slower than everyone else. He can’t get into the paint and operate the offense and he can’t score. He puts his team in a disadvantage on offense and on defense he can’t compete.
With the Lakers not landing a max player Kendall’s position on the team felt secure, it felt a lot like last year’s climbing a tough hill. And then the Lakers landing Jeremy Lin.
Lin isn’t a great point guard but everything Kendall Marshall can’t do, Lin can do. Lin can get into the paint. Lin can score. Lin can make pressure baskets at the end of the games. Lin can drive and finish at the rim- it is what he does best.
The presence of Lin knocked Kendall Marshall down one slot in the rotation. Okay. Fine. Kendall saw himself as the second point guard, the back up. And then Jordan Clarkson, a teammate of Kendall Marshall’s in the NBA Summer League, left no doubt about who the 2nd guard in the rotation was going to be.
In Summer League Clarkson dominated every possession he played by getting into the paint and to the rim. He had a nice pull up jumper. He was athletic and explosive in the mold of a Russell Westbrook, high risk, high reward. Clarkson took terrible shots and he took great shots and he dunked the ball and his energy and athleticism were shocking compared to Kendall’s average speed and athleticism.
Kendall was looking more like the third guard in the rotation when the Lakers waived him on Friday. The Lakers fully expected Kendall to clear waivers, meaning, like Phoenix, they devalued Kendall too. The Lakers didn’t bargain on another team having interest in Kendall Marshall.
The Milwaukee Bucks put a dent in the Lakers plans.
Jason Kidd, one of the greatest point guards to play in the NBA, will coach Kendall Marshall in 2014-15. Just as Kendall’s luck changed in December of 2013 it has changed again.
Milwaukee is a miserable team and that won’t change much. They have a lot of young players that have to grow, they have an immature player in Larry Sanders, their starting point guard is Brandon Knight and their coach- regardless of how you judge his recent Machiavellian tactics for power- is still Jason Kidd, greatest point guard after Magic Johnson and Bob Cousy but a second year coach nonetheless.
Kendall will get time to play and he will get Kidd to mentor him and he will do it in Milwaukee where no one really cares what Kendall can do or what he can’t do. The microscopic lens that encompasses the Lakers will be gone.
But this is what I can’t get out of my head. If Kendall Marshall’s circle trip- the west to the east to the west to the Midwest- is a testament of anything it is his durability. There are certain players who are like glass. And there are other players who are like iron, who, come hell or high water, land on their feet. They were born on a sunny day. No matter what happens to them, good on earth will find them. They continue to prosper and perhaps this is all that Kendall Marshall’s career will be known for, the good fortune following the unlucky breaks.
After all, how many players can tell this particularly story and it not be a lie. How many can say I played with Steve Nash, I was in the locker room with him and on the plane with him? How many can say I was coached by Jason Kidd, he taught me basketball?
Kendall Marshall can.