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With Kobe Bryant sidelined at least 6 weeks and all three point guards on the shelf injured, the Lakers needed to add a warm body who can initiate an offense and soak up some minutes at the lead guard spot. Late Thursday night, they have done just that, adding 2nd year point guard Kendall Marshall.

Marshall was the Suns’ 1st round pick last season (13th overall) but sat behind Goran Dragic and Sebastian Telfair nearly all season. Heading into this year, he was looking to establish himself as a rotation player but with the Suns trade for Eric Bledsoe, and the regime who drafted him shown the door, he was traded as part of the Marcin Gortat to the Wizards deal that got Phoenix a first round pick in the upcoming draft. The Wizards, however, promptly waived him as they too were comfortable with their point guard rotation of John Wall and Eric Maynor.

Marshall then took his talents to the D-League, catching on with the 76ers affiliate Delaware 87ers where he averaged 19.7 points and 9.6 assists in nearly 37 minutes a game over the 7 contests he played.

On the surface, this signing fits right in with what the Lakers have done in the past year. Marshall has a nice pedigree as a prospect but, for a variety of reasons, hasn’t really shown he’s capable of playing in the NBA to this point in his career. His shooting numbers in his lone season with the Suns were not good and the fact that the Wizards waived him outright is a bit of a red flag. All that said, much Al Davis and Bill Parcells used to say in the NFL, at some point someone thought this kid was a real talent and guys like that are worth taking a chance on. Especially when the price is a minimum contract for a team desperately in need of a player at his position.

As for what Marshall can do on the court, there’s really not much to go on. Theoretically, he’s a very good set up man who has excellent court vision. He offers good size and while he’s not a great athlete, he is smart and knows where to be and when to be there. Whether that can translate into actual production on both ends of the floor remains to be seen, but even if you have doubts about this (which I do), the fact is that Marshall is young enough and still a developing prospect. Taking a chance on him being able to turn into someone who can play 10-15 minutes a night while the other point guards heal is more than worth it.

If you’re looking for a sliver of hope with Marshall being able to see court time soon, two factors work in his favor. First is that his D-League numbers, while not amazing, show he has some talent. His overall field goal percentage (41.3%) is low, but he’s shown an ability to hit the three ball (19-41 from deep in those 7 games) and his passing — his best trait by far — has translated to very good assist numbers. The other good thing about Marshall is that when he was drafted by the Suns, Alvin Gentry was still their head coach. Gentry was one of Mike D’Antoni’s top assistants with the Suns and when he took over as the head man, he essentially kept the offense intact. This should mean that Marshall has had some exposure to at least some of the principles of what the Lakers’ do on that side of the floor and that should help him transition.

Again, though, these are all just hopes. Marshall was a lottery pick from a big college program and that works in his favor. He was also traded away by the team that drafted him a year ago and promptly waived by the team that acquired him. I’m sure the Lakers hope they’re getting the guy with the ACC pedigree and elite passing skills who has a developing offensive game. On the surface it’s doubtful that ends up being the case, but based off the chances they took on Xavier Henry and Wes Johnson that have worked in their favor, maybe they catch lightning in a bottle a third time. Considering their depth issues at that spot, there’s certainly no risk in trying.

Well, when it rains, it pours for the Lakers. Steve Nash has been hurt. Jordan Farmar is out for a few more weeks with a torn hamstring. That left Steve Blake as the only legitimate healthy point guard for the Lakers.

Let’s make that zero. Here’s the official Lakers Twitter account.

Yikes.

Steve Blake has been one of the positives for the Lakers this year, carrying over his play from late last season when he basically carried the Lakers in the last week of the regular season. He’s easily having a career-high thus far with 7.7 assists per game to go with his 9.8 points per game and a career-best 3.3 rebounds per. While he’s not shooting well from the field overall (.398), he is shooting a tidy .400 from behind the arc.

Blake has been playing with a sore elbow since he hurt it against Sacramento in November 24th. He had unknowingly been playing with that torn ligament; we all thought him playing through a hurt elbow wasn’t such a huge deal at the time. But now that it’s known, he probably won’t be playing until late January at the earliest.

It’s a big blow for the Lakers because now they don’t have any true point guards; we still don’t know when Steve Nash is coming back. I assume Kobe Bryant will be starting at the 1. Xavier Henry will continue to play back-up point guard. But the Lakers will probably look into signing (or trading for?) a PG.

This is not ideal for the Lakers. Get well soon, Steve Blake.

The bad news is that Kobe will not play in Friday’s game versus the Kings. When he announced the release of his new kicks, he also broke it to the press that he had ruled himself out for a return in Sacramento.

The good news, however, is that Kobe practiced today for the 3rd consecutive day and had no limitations. Further good news is that while he acknowledges there are still things for him to shore up physically, he also says (in the video above) that he is moving to the point where he is more day-to-day and game-to-game than he is forecasting a return at some point in the distant future.

The possibility is quite real that he returns against the Raptors on Sunday to make his season debut in front of his home crowd and against the franchise he had one of his greatest career accomplishments ever. It would be a fitting return if Kobe could make his first appearance of the season at Staples in a more than winnable game. It would also help if he got back sooner rather than later considering the back court injuries the team is dealing with.

In any event, enjoy the clip at the top of this post. Kobe talks about his injury, his path of recovery, what motivates him today, and what he plans to give on the floor in his final 2+ seasons (hint: everything he has).

As we told you earlier today, Kobe Bryant signed a contract extension to remain with the Lakers for another two seasons beyond the current one. The extension will reportedly pay Kobe a total of 48 million dollars and will keep him as the highest paid player in the NBA over those two seasons.

I am of two minds about this extension.

First, I am happy for Kobe and for the idea that he will remain a Laker through what will likely be his final two seasons as an NBA player. I have said this often, but there is a special relationship fans have with players of Kobe’s status. As a franchise icon and a player whose place in history is cemented among the all time greats, I appreciate that he will only wear one uniform for his entire career. He joins West, Magic, and Baylor as other Lakers who are able to make this claim and that, to me at least, is worth celebrating. I’m sure Spurs fans want the same for Duncan and that Mavs fans want the same for Dirk. When you have a legend who has given so much to an organization, it is only natural to want that player to end his career where it started. With Kobe, it looks as though we will get that and I am happy this will be the case.

My second thought, however, is that this is a lot of money to commit to Kobe even when considering all he’s given to the organization and the legacy he’s built in Los Angeles as a Laker. This isn’t to say Kobe isn’t worth that money. A player is worth what the market will pay him and in this instance, the Lakers – even if they were bidding against themselves – were willing to pay Kobe this amount. So, he’s worth that. Considering the late, great Dr. Buss once went on record saying Kobe is worth upwards of $75 to $100 million to the Lakers’ brand, it’s hard to argue he shouldn’t seek a salary that somewhat reflects that value respective to the collective bargaining agreement. What he signed for is what he can earn, so in that regard he did what he was supposed to do.

The question, however, is whether this is what the Lakers were supposed to do under those same rules that govern the league and that is where this gets dicier.

Forget for a second Kobe’s rehab from his torn achilles. Forget his age and the number of minutes he’s played in his career. Forget everything I wrote just two paragraphs ago and simply focus on the fact that under the new CBA, it is very difficult to build a roster when a player is making as much money as Kobe will make. It’s not impossible, but it is harder.

The new CBA dictates that luxury tax paying teams have fewer exceptions in which they can sign players. It dictates that when you are a tax paying team, you shell out substantially more money for every dollar you are above the tax line. It dictates when you do this repeatedly, the penalties go up exponentially and make it extremely difficult to be profitable while still fielding a roster that demands the type of money you end up paying to be a tax paying team. When the rules of the new CBA came out, the Lakers were very clear in setting expectations for future spending, declaring that they would try to avoid playing the repeater tax and would be more fiscally responsible in this new world. By signing Kobe to this contract, they’ve not gone back on that, but they have made their future ability to build that competitive roster more difficult.

It is obvious to say, but it must be said, Kobe’s extension makes building a top tier roster harder.

Next year, the Lakers were slated to fall well underneath the salary cap, with the potential to sign multiple top tier free agents in an effort to rebuild quickly. Kobe was always viewed as a part of that plan, but the assumption was that his salary would be much less than what it will be and that it would aid in that proposed rebuilding rather than be a potential obstacle in it. This contract, however, makes Kobe one of those assumed top tier (and highly paid) players and removes a hefty chunk of cap space the Lakers could have used to sign an additional player (or two). This may not end up being the worst thing in the world, especially if Kobe can return to top form and produce at a level that mirrors what he did, say, last year. I cannot speak to the odds of that happening, but I can say the hope was the organization would build in a fail-safe for it not occurring by paying Kobe less than what they will and, thus, making it easier to sign more reinforcements to offset any dip in production from #24. That, however, will not be the case.

Further, with Kobe taking up such a large portion of the team’s cap, the ability to sign more than one top upper tier player goes down considerably. In fact, it eliminates it entirely. As it stands now, the Lakers will have room to sign one player to a max contract in the 20-22 million dollar range. They will also have their “room exception” (roughly the amount of the mini-mid level exception and an exception that allows teams who go beneath the salary cap to sign a mid-level player to a contract that pushes them back above the cap, but below the tax line) to sign another player who can contribute. Depending on what happens with Steve Nash (does he retire? does he get waived via the stretch provision?), the Lakers can have roughly 6 to 9 million dollars more in cap space, but those are not givens. This is to say nothing of what happens with the other slew of free agents on the team who the front office may want to keep on hand for future seasons.

All of this is to say that by signing Kobe to this specific extension, the Lakers have done two things that affect their planning for the next two seasons.

One is that they’ve locked up a player who they think will be a major contributor and, by doing that, have set the terms in which they can spend on the remainder of their roster. These aren’t necessarily bad things as they lock up a talent and they allow for crucial planning in terms of how much money will be available to spend on other players. Being able to target “free agent X” now while knowing what they can realistically spend on him is a good thing to know today. Especially considering the window of time to make those decisions AND still work on signing Kobe next summer was going to be relatively short.

Second, however, is that the Lakers are banking on Kobe being Kobe for two more seasons and that the investment in him at this amount is worth more than trying to sign multiple players at higher amounts while still trying to keep Kobe in the fold. This, of course, is complicated for a variety of reasons, but chief amongst them is the desire to keep Kobe in house and Kobe’s desire to maximize his earning potential (something he was honest about from day one). Maybe the Lakers could have played hardball with Kobe and tried to get him to sign for less. Maybe Kobe could have voluntarily taken less money to help out the franchise (this is a concept popular with fans, though as someone who doesn’t like anyone telling me I should say “no thanks” to money someone wants to pay me, I’m uncomfortable saying another person should – especially Kobe Bryant).

It’s also complicated by the idea that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Said another way, there’s no guarantee Kobe at a lower dollar amount gets the Lakers multiple top tier players. Don’t get me wrong, it makes it possible and that possibility is definitely important. But Kobe at 2 million dollars next season doesn’t guarantee the Lakers will suddenly sign LeBron and Chris Bosh. It’s nice to think of it that way, but that’s more wishful thinking than practical outcome.

In essence, what we see with this extension is the Lakers dealing with a franchise icon the best way they know how. They think he’ll be back performing at a high level and know that he is a major draw and money maker for the organization. For them, this is a win-win from that angle. But, what they’ve also done is made their future planning harder, even if they’ve made it clearer at the same time. This isn’t the type of contract you can simply hand out and hope things go well. There needs to be a firm plan (or at least a very clear vision) in place in how the rest of the roster will be built around a player making this much money. That would be true if the player we were talking about wasn’t named Kobe Bryant, by the way.

The fact that is the player’s name, however, means this decision carries extra weight. That can be both good and bad. We’ll see how the Lakers look next season and the ones beyond that to fully judge this deal. But, for now, what we know is that the front office has put their marbles in the Kobe Bryant basket. Historically, that has been a pretty good choice. Whether that’s true down the line, well, we’ll see.

Updates have been few and far between when it comes to Kobe’s progress in his achilles rehab. Outside of general soundbites about him being “ahead of schedule” countered with him saying he will not rush to return mixed with the occasional “if it were the playoffs, I’d play today” comments, we really don’t know how far along Kobe is or when he is slated to return to game action.

Today, however, Kobe took another, highly visible, step in that return when he practiced with the team:

Before we get too excited, we have no clue to what extent Kobe participated in practice or how long he will need to practice before he is ready to play in a game. Nearly three weeks ago, Kobe said that he would need roughly three weeks to get his conditioning in order to start to practice.

Per Adrian Wojnarowski, Kobe would hope to be able to play within two weeks of returning to practice, but there are still many details to work out and hurdles to clear in order to actually make that happen.

This is a big step forward, however. It is also the exact type of update fans have been thirsting for and after losing to the Grizzlies last night and falling to 4-7 on the year, it’s a nice pick-me-up to have #24 back on the practice court. We hope to have more updates on a projected timeline, what Kobe did in practice, how he looked doing it, and more soon. But for now, rejoice in this good news. We may not know how close he is to returning to the lineup, but we do know he is closer.