Lakers beat Suns, 115-99, but what’s ahead is the real story
The Phoenix Suns were in town and handed the Lakers much more to ponder beyond another surprisingly rare and easy victory.
The Suns couldn’t control Chris Kaman, lost Sunday’s game by a 115-99 score and offered the perfect time to explore some big-picture questions involving their past employees.
What will the Lakers do with Coach Mike D’Antoni?
What will happen with Steve Nash, who won two NBA most-valuable-player awards in Phoenix under D’Antoni? And what of Kendall Marshall, a first-round bust of the Suns who found plenty of playing time with the Lakers?
The answers in quick succession as of now — undetermined, staying and staying.
The Lakers have a dilemma with D’Antoni, who coached the Suns for five successful seasons. They still owe him $4million next season and don’t want to look like a franchise with a coaching turnstile.
But Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol don’t support his small-ball offense and Lakers fans don’t support him, period.
So the team will decide fairly quickly after the April 16 regular-season finale — pay him to not coach the team, just like Mike Brown, or try to make it work next season.
General Manager Mitch Kupchak said last week he thought D’Antoni was “doing a great job under the circumstances,” but how great would obviously be revealed in coming weeks.
Nash sat out another game, which is no longer surprising for a player who appeared in only 12 this season.
For financial reasons, the Lakers currently plan to keep him next season, The Times has learned, eating the remainder of his contract ($9.7 million) in one swoop instead of waiving him and spreading the money out over three years.
It would give them more money to spend in the summers of 2015 and 2016, when they figure to be active players in the free-agent market amid such possible names as Kevin Love, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
So the Lakers will take the 40-year-old Nash into next season and hope he can play more than a handful of games.
They also plan to keep Marshall, the 13th selection in the 2012 draft, whom they signed as a free agent a little more than three months ago. He averages 8.9 assists, but his shooting accuracy has dropped every month: 57.1% in four December games, 43.5% in January, 39.8% in February and 33.7% in March.
The key for Marshall, 22, is his relatively inexpensive non-guaranteed contract — $915,243 next season in a league in which the average salary is about $5.5 million.
Marshall needed to develop a “grittiness” like slow but determined veteran point guard Andre Miller, D’Antoni said.
“He gives up a lot of foot speed, but you’ve got to [overcome] it by angles and you’ve got to do it by anticipating,” D’Antoni said of Marshall. “What he does, he does really well. He just can’t have a day where you’re not thinking real hard, because you’re not going to make it up with your physical speed.”
D’Antoni also had some thoughts on the injury-prone Nash. “He’s 40 years old, playing what he loves, so I’m pretty envious. I don’t feel sorry for him,” he said. “He could have quit early like everybody else did. I think it’s just remarkable.”
As for his own job security, D’Antoni said last week he wouldn’t be caught looking wistfully into a mug of hot chocolate while pondering his future.
The Lakers (25-48) certainly weren’t pining for themselves after a fruitless trip in which they fell to the NBA’s worst team (Milwaukee) and suffered their worst loss ever to Minnesota, 143-107.
Kaman had 28 points, 17 rebounds and six assists Sunday while the Lakers actually played defense after surrendering almost 120 points a game in March. Kaman earned a standing ovation when he checked out of the game in the final minutes.
“Well, we have to put a little more effort on him,” Suns Coach Jeff Hornacek said. “He just backed our guys down and shot a ball in a hole.”
Marshall had 13 points and 11 assists against his former team and Jodie Meeks scored 22 points.
Gerald Green had 22 points for the Suns (44-30), who wanted to win to keep Dallas and Memphis at bay in the chase for seventh place in the Western Conference.
The Lakers are reduced to being spoilers in the playoff race. They did their job expertly Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org
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