Wednesday night was all about the future for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Staples Center faithful bid a not-so-fond farewell to despised former center Dwight Howard as he returned for his first appearance as a member of the Houston Rockets. More importantly, Lakers management traded veteran point guard Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks, per Yahoo! Sports and the Los Angeles Times, via Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated.
This was a classic deal between a contender and a non-contender. Golden State needed a capable backup for Stephen Curry, and the Lakers needed a shot of youth and potential.
The key to the deal for Los Angeles will likely be Brooks, the third-year guard who was once considered a real up-and-comer. Once again, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni will have a chance to revive the career of a talented young player, just as he has done this season with Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson and Kendall Marshall.
In fact, the Brooks/D'Antoni connection made so much sense that Basketball Insiders' Lang Greene predicted it one month before it actually happened.
Basketball writers were immediately excited about the idea, including USA Today's Sean Highkin, SB Nation's Ian Dougherty and Bleacher Report's Ethan Norof:
Of course, this excitement is based a two big assumptions:
- That Brooks was ever that good to begin with.
- That players actually develop under D'Antoni, and not simply put up hollow numbers in his run-and-gun system.
And both of those assumptions are debatable to various degrees. The most important question that must be asked is: What would it mean for Brooks to realize his potential?
The Book on Brooks
For a player compared to Kobe Bryant, Brooks wasn't selected terribly high in the 2011 NBA draft. The Boston Celtics chose him No. 25 overall and shipped him to the then-New Jersey Nets for JaJuan Johnson and a 2014 second-rounder.
Brooks showed promise in his first season, which was the franchise's last in Jersey. Amid the depressing atmosphere of a 22-44 team packing for Brooklyn, Brooks was given ample opportunity to prove himself.
Brooks started 47 games for the Nets, averaging 12.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 42.8 percent shooting (31.3 percent from three) in 29.4 minutes per game. He did indeed finish 10th on the 12-player Rookie of the Year ballot—ahead of Kemba Walker (who is now a far superior player) and Josh Selby (who is now out of the league).
It was in the summer of 2012 that the legend of MarShon Brooks really took off. He tied a single-game record by scoring 34 points in the Orlando Pro Summer League. Ralph Warner of Complex Magazine wrote a piece on Brooks after he scored 97 points in two games at the Dru Joyce Summer League:
While everyone's focusing on [Deron Williams] and Joe Johnson, Brooks could play a pivotal role in the Nets battling for New York basketball supremacy...Scared yet, Knicks fans?
If Knicks fans were scared at the time, they didn't stay that way for long. Brooks struggled with the increased expectations—both for him and his team—during the 2012-13 season.
Though Joe Johnson's arrival forced Brooks back to the bench, he was still supposed to be an integral scorer on the Nets' second unit. But things never quite clicked for Brooks on the new-look Nets, and his minutes-per-game average dropped all the way down to 12.5.
A Second Second Chance
The Lakers trade marks the second time in 12 months that Brooks has been traded to a rebuilding team helmed by a coach with a reputation for turning around guards.
The Boston Celtics were tanking this season the moment they traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn for a package of players and picks that included Brooks. Here Brooks had a chance to play for a team far more interested in developing young players than in winning and to play for a coach in Brad Stevens who performed a miraculous turnaround on guard Jordan Crawford.
But Brooks never fit in with Boston from the start. He couldn't beat out the likes of Jeff Green and Courtney Lee during training camp, and the Celtics declined to pick up his fourth-year option before the season.
After he failed to play in the season opener, Brooks tried his best to strike a positive chord, per the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn:
Last year, I got caught up at being mad at Coach, mad at the rotation, and then when it was my opportunity to play, I’m playing against myself. So I’m just going to stay level-headed, cheer on my teammates.
If it comes Game 5 or Game 15 or Game 20, I know I’m going to get my opportunity. It’s definitely going to be tough if I get to Game 20 and I haven’t played an NBA game in a while.
But Brooks would only play 73 minutes for the Celtics before being shipped to Golden State. All told, he has played only 88 minutes on the season.
The D'Antoni Effect
If you play for D'Antoni, you're going to put up numbers. It was true when he had future Hall of Famer Steve Nash running the point, and it's just as true now that he has former D-Leaguer Kendall Marshall.
The Lakers have already played 54 games this season, which means Brooks will have only 28 chances to prove himself before he becomes a free agent. If he wants advice on how to hit the ground running, he might want to talk to Marshall, who scored 20 points and dished 15 assists in only his fifth game under D'Antoni.
Those are the kinds of numbers a guard can put up in the D'Antoni system. It is the reason that Chris Duhon, and not legends like Walt Frazier or Earl Monroe, holds the New York Knicks' single-game record for assists (22 on Nov. 29, 2008).
But D'Antoni's players haven't won many games since he left Phoenix, and the league is wise to the fact that his players' numbers are inflated. Duhon was a seldom-used bench player for the rest of his career. Nate Robinson, a guard who averaged 17.2 points per game in one season under D'Antoni, was nearly out of the league before resurrecting his career under Tom Thibodeau, a defensive-minded coach.
If anything, D'Antoni has a better track record of developing big men. Two bigs, Amar'e Stoudemire and David Lee, made at least one All-Star team after leaving the D'Antoni system. And Hill has been the Lakers' most consistent player this season, despite the flashy numbers put up by players like Marshall.
The Lakers should give Brooks a chance, since the kid clearly has some talent. They have nothing to lose at this point. He might even put up a few 20-point games before the season is out. But if he doesn't play consistent basketball, Brooks might be out of the NBA by the summer.
* All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.