Tonight could be Jordan Farmar’s final game as a Los Angeles Laker. The hometown kid has spent his whole basketball career in the Golden State—he starred for Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Calif., and then spent two years running point at UCLA before being drafted by the Lakers—but Game 7 could be his curtain call in L.A.
The Lakers “point guard of the future” question has been asked about Farmar ever since he was selected 26th overall in the 2006 NBA Draft. In his rookie season, Farmar made history as the first player ever to play in a D-League game and an NBA game on the same day. (Yes, that was the obligatory sentence to make this D-League Digest worthy!) Prior to Farmar’s second year as a pro, the Lakers signed veteran Derek Fisher to solidify the backcourt with Kobe Bryant, relegating Farmar to another year of backup duty. However, Farmar’s numbers that season (9.1 points, 2.7 assists) suggested that he would someday take the torch from an aging Fisher.
But Farmar’s play regressed last season even as the Lakers won the 2009 NBA championship and another young guard (Shannon Brown) began to get some of the bench minutes Farmar had played during the previous season.
Heading into this season, one of the Lakers’ biggest question marks was point guard once again. Fisher, 35, was in the last year of his contract. Brown signed a new deal with a player option to opt out after the season. And Farmar was set to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. All three players have contributed in different ways to a Lakers team that has made three straight Finals appearances (Brown was not there in 2008). But Fisher’s age, Brown’s rawness, and Farmar’s inconsistency had everyone questioning which, if any, of the players had a future in L.A. beyond this season.
In Farmar’s defense, the triangle offense never seemed like the right fit for him. Unlike the pick ‘n roll offenses that many teams feature in the NBA, the triangle does not require a traditional point guard. Plus, Phil Jackson generally prefers bigger guards (think Ron Harper) whereas Farmar is just 6’2”, 180 pounds.
As the playoffs began, the questions remained. Farmar did play all 82 games this season, but came off the bench in all of them. In fact, he’s started just twice in his NBA career, both of which came as a rookie. His overall numbers were not as strong as his sophomore 2007-08 campaign; however, he did bounce back from last year by shooting better from the field and a career best 37.6 percent from 3-point range.
Meanwhile, Lakers fans from coast-to-coast were calling for Derek Fisher’s head as he struggled throughout the regular season. Many fans even pushed for a trade that would land Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich in L.A. In retrospect, it looks like the Lakers were smart to stand put. The trade never materialized and Fisher has rewarded Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak’s patience by exceeding everyone’s expectations this postseason as a steadying force beside Kobe Bryant.
But with every clutch play Fisher makes, the likelihood that Farmar is back in a Laker uniform next season seems to decrease. To his credit, Farmar has never complained about his role or lack of playing time during his years in Los Angeles. And his effort Tuesday night—highlighted by diving for a loose ball in the backcourt and later throwing down a fastbreak facial on Kevin Garnett—was one of the reasons the Lakers won Game 6 so handily. Still, it’s hard to imagine Fisher, Farmar, and Brown all back with the Lakers again next season, and Farmar seems most likely to be set free.
He’s extremely quick, and as the dunk over KG proved, he has great athleticism and leaping ability. The Lakers system just doesn’t let him showcase his strengths all that often, which is why it would make sense for Farmar to sign elsewhere. The league is as loaded at point guard right now as it has ever been in my lifetime, but I’m confident there are a few teams in the league that could find more time for Farmar han the 18 minutes per game he got as a Laker this year. Miami, New York, Toronto, and Indiana all spring to mind as destinations where Farmar could compete for a starting point guard spot.
Farmar’s future may not be as the Lakers starting point guard. That hometown dream may not come true, but his four years in Los Angeles should not be viewed as a failure. Playing behind Derek Fisher, Farmar has learned a lot about leadership. Playing with Kobe Bryant, Farmar has learned a lot about the work ethic it takes to compete at the highest level. And playing for Phil Jackson, Farmar has learned what it takes to be a champion.
I don’t know for sure that Farmar is gone next season; it’s just a hunch. I am, however, very confident that wherever Jordan Farmar is playing basketball next season, he’ll be a better player because of what he learned as a Laker. On a personal note, I hope he’ll be playing next season as a two-time NBA champion as well. If he and the Lakers bring the same effort and energy that he brought in Game 6 tonight in Game 7, I believe he will.