LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas Summer League is a familiar place for Kendall Marshall. He's a seasoned veteran compared to the undrafted rookies, second-round crap shoots, development league hopefuls and grab bag of basketball lifers trying to find their way into the NBA beside and against him this time around. In the air conditioned sanctuary for basketball fiends that is the Thomas and Mack Center every blazing summer, he's found his role with the Los Angeles Lakers -- and the NBA -- up in the air again.
It's the $1.8 million the Lakers paid to acquire Jordan Clarkson in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft. It's the addition of Jeremy Lin, a quality point guard who's proven to be a starting-level player. It's the fact that his meager -- for an NBA player at least -- $915,243 contract is fully unguarateed with no guarantee date, making him a clean waive should the Lakers feel the need to cut some excess fat at a position with multiple players filling the depth chart. It's the speed a team can move on from a player like Marshall, who must develop on both ends of the floor before being considered a bonafide rotational player in the league. There's even the off-chance he gets pushed down the rotation if Steve Nash's health takes a miraculous turn for the better.
Marshall knows all of this, and that's why he's trying to make the most out of the opportunity he has on the Lakers' Summer League squad. It's a chance to show growth as a basketball player, while giving him a blank canvas to fine-tune his game. His passing, which he says is a natural gift he's never once practiced to improve, is his greatest tangible skill. On one hand, that unselfishness and phenomenal court vision is what makes him such an intriguing player. On the other, opposing defenses can play off of him without the threat of him taking an open shot given space.
If defenders are gambling on Marshall in Vegas he wants to make them pay to play.
"I'm definitely focusing on [staying aggressive]. It's so easy for me to go out there and forget to shoot the ball because I love passing and running the offense so much. I'm trying to make it a consistent effort to stay aggressive," Marshall said when asked if he's deliberately looking for his own shot. It showed through the Lakers' third Summer League game. He didn't put up 19 points or tip in the game-winner like Clarkson, and he doesn't have all eyes on him like Randle, but he played well.
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He showed off his all-natural passing abilities and kept the offense moving as well as any point guard slapped into a Summer League lineup could. The passing was expected, but what stood out were the made stepback jumpers and willingness he showed to put up a shot if it was there for the taking. Even still, the eight field goals he attempted were only half of the 16 Clarkson notched.
It's a fine balance for Marshall, who is going against the grain that defines him as a basketball player, all while sharing the backcourt with another point guard that's played strong through three games and has taken the lion's share of minutes. Marshall may not be able to make that type of drastic transition in a single summer, but he knows the path he must take to cement his place among the 420 players across 30 teams guaranteed a roster slot each season. This isn't just about the Lakers, it's about forging a path to a sustainable career in the NBA and not winding up on the outside looking in. Again.
"Being a consistent threat and defensively making it tough on the other team's point guards. I'll continue to always focus on those two things. For me to stay in the league and be successful that's what I'm going to have to become great at," Marshall said when asked which aspects of his game he's trying to improve.
Summer League will pass and the NBA will go into hibernation, making these exhibitions in the desert all but a distant dream. Marshall's dream to make it in the NBA doesn't sleep, though. Once Vegas basketball ends he intends to stick around Los Angeles so he can work out with the Lakers' training staff and make use of their facilities. For now, though, he's busy guiding a team of vagabonds, a top-10 pick that had an impressive game in his second five-on-five contest in months, and a point guard that ultimately has his own ambitions to strive for.
What Marshall has that none of his Summer League teammates have is more than just a taste of what it means to be a part of an 82-game season grind in the NBA, though. It's the resilience he had to dig up after finding out his aspirations of making it in the NBA were on life support after an unsuccessful stint in Phoenix, a harsh reality check before ever slipping into a Washington Wizards jersey after being traded and waived, and a glorified pit stop with the Philadelphia 76ers D-League affiliate after he decided to work his way back into the league by starting at the bottom.
"You can't take this opportunity for granted. It was something that made me appreciate what I did have," Marshall said. "Basketball to me is my life, so I felt like a big part of my life was taken from me. I'm extremely blessed to be in the situation I'm in now and I just want to take full advantage of it."