On March 18 of last season, Darius Morris didn’t get into the game until the last three minutes of the Los Angeles Lakers’ blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns. Coach Mike D’Antoni stuck to a seven-man rotation on the second night of a back-to-back, and Morris didn’t figure into his plans.
Two days before that, Andrew Goudelock was playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and picking apart the Lakers’ D-League affiliate, the L.A. D-Fenders, with 33 points and 12 assists in a 15-point win.
Five weeks later, Morris and Goudelock made up the Lakers’ starting backcourt for Game 3 of their first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs. They put up an admirable effort -- Goudelock finished with 20 points and three steals, Morris had 24 points and six assists -- but the Spurs still embarrassed the Lakers, winning by 31 points on the Lakers' home floor.
They ended it with two former second-round picks playing close to 40 minutes apiece in a playoff game.
Even with the rash of injuries the Lakers experienced last season -- trainer Gary Vitti said it was the worst string of bad luck he’s seen in his 20-plus years with the team -- the Lakers clearly had to address the guard position in the offseason.
Part of that process was upgrading from Morris (who remains an unsigned free agent after L.A. cut ties with him) and Goudelock (who signed a one-year deal to play in Russia after shining with Chicago’s summer league team).
Here’s a look at how the Lakers’ depth chart at guard should shake out next season:
1. Kobe Bryant
Even as a 35-year-old coming off of Achilles surgery and entering his 18th season in the league, Bryant is still the sun the Lakers' planet revolves around. He’ll be looked to to jump-start the Lakers' offense, whether in scorer or facilitator mode (hopefully more of the latter), and instill the belief that L.A. can actually accomplish something in 2013-14 outside of jockeying for draft lottery status. While Bryant will still surely play more than any other guard in the Lakers' lineup next season (when he's ready to return from his injury), it will be up to D’Antoni to manage his minutes better than last season. Bryant played 38.6 minutes per game in 2012-13, including an average of 45.6 minutes in his final seven games leading up to the injury. Just like the sun sets, Bryant and D’Antoni will have to figure out a way to pace themselves, perhaps by borrowing a page out of Gregg Popovich’s book and sitting Bryant on the second night of back-to-backs like the Spurs often do with Tim Duncan.
2. Steve Nash
Not only is Nash older than just about every player in the league -- he’ll turn 40 during the season -- he’s older than some of the top executives, as the Denver Nuggets hired 36-year-old Tim Connelly to be their general manager in the offseason and the Suns, Nash’s former team, brought on 33-year-old Ryan McDonough as their GM. Nash has already proved to be an ageless wonder, however, and as long as he can put his hip and groin injuries behind him, he will be relied upon to run D’Antoni’s offense the way the two hoped could have happened last season. Just like Bryant, however, there should be a minute cap for Nash. He averaged 32.5 minutes per game last season with only Blake providing consistent relief. The addition of Jordan Farmar, who at 26 is nearly a decade and a half Nash’s junior, will make it easier to cut into those minutes.
3. Jordan Farmar
Once upon a time, Farmar left a Lakers team that had won back-to-back championships because he didn’t want to continue to play behind an aging point guard in Derek Fisher. This time around, Farmar is joining a Lakers team that suffered back-to-back early exits in order to -- wait for it -- back up an aging point guard. Despite that, it seems like a natural fit for Farmar to return to the Lakers and play in a system that is better suited to his dribble-drive game than Phil Jackson’s triangle offense ever was. He will play both the 1 and the 2 at times and could really show his value if Bryant misses any portion of the season while still in recovery.
4. Steve Blake
Blake is the incumbent here, but it will be difficult for him to maintain his primary backup spot if Farmar comes in and performs to the best of his ability. The good news for Blake is there will always be time for him and his brand of hard-nosed, on-ball defense, and if D’Antoni gives Bryant and/or Nash the second night of back-to-backs off, there could be major minutes to be had. Plus, D’Antoni told ESPN 710 radio in Los Angeles that he plans to play an 11-man rotation. If the coach follows through with that plan, there will certainly be a role available for Blake.
5. Nick Young
Young has played shooting guard for the majority of his six-year career, but the Lakers think he’s capable of playing small forward. “Nick’s size, ability to create his own shot and athleticism make him a versatile player who will give our lineup multiple looks on the floor,” GM Mitch Kupchak said in the news release announcing Young’s signing mere minutes before the team used the amnesty clause to waive Metta World Peace. So, while Young will inevitably get some time at guard, he’ll more than likely be the team’s starting 3 when the season opens up.
6. Jodie Meeks
Meeks’ role will likely be hit-or-miss -- he’ll stay in when he’s hitting his shots and sit when he’s missing them. Like Blake having his value challenged by the addition of Farmar, Meeks will have to fight against becoming redundant with the addition of Young.
7. Xavier Henry
Henry, a former lottery pick by New Orleans in 2010, has the right frame at 6-foot-6 to play swingman, but hasn’t gotten the rest of his game together enough to stick in the league yet. Henry has a training camp invite with no guaranteed money, according to a league source, so his first priority is making the team, let alone cracking the rotation.