TORONTO -- Kendall Marshall walked into a hotel room in Rio Grande Valley in early December. This wasn't when or where he was supposed to start his second season. Not even 18 months removed from the Phoenix Suns selecting him No. 13 in the 2012 NBA Draft, he was the new starting point guard for the NBA D-League's Delaware 87ers. His new head coach, Rod Baker, wanted to talk to him.
"Glad you're here. I believe you can help us, hopefully we can help you," Baker told him. "We'll do everything that we can to get you back to where you want to be."
More on Kendall Marshall
More on Kendall Marshall
Marshall stopped him right there. He knew Baker from the season prior when the Suns assigned him to the Bakersfield Jam, where Baker had been an assistant coach.
"Listen, coach, I appreciate what you're saying. But that was kind of part of my problem last year," Marshall told him. "I found myself worrying and concerning myself too much about things that I had no control over. I'm just going to come down here and I'm going to work as hard as I can to help us win games. The rest of that stuff will take care of itself."
In Marshall's first D-League stint, he was a lottery pick who'd just played a total of 34 minutes in his first month in the NBA. He was assigned to Bakersfield a day after finally scoring his first points as a pro, getting double-digit minutes in that game only because his team lost by 40. It would be difficult not to look at it as a demotion.
In his second stint, he was playing for another job.
"He was a completely different guy," Baker said.
A month after that meeting in Rio Grande Valley, Marshall took the court at Staples Center as a starter for the Los Angeles Lakers. Regular Laker point guards Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake were all hurt. So were Kobe Bryant and Xavier Henry, shooting guards who head coach Mike D'Antoni had pressed into point guard duty. Marshall knew he'd be playing heavy minutes.
Playing with freedom he'd never been afforded in Phoenix, Marshall accumulated a smooth 20 points, 15 assists and six rebounds in 40 minutes, all career highs. He also shot 8-for-12 from the floor, 2-for-3 from the three-point line and turned the ball over just once. The Lakers won handily.
That he was able to come through like that was shocking to many who had written him off, but not to those who know him best.
When UNC's Larry Drew II left the Tar Heels in February of 2011, Marshall was their only option at point guard as the team prepared to face Florida State. After blowing out the Seminoles, Marshall walked off the court to a standing ovation and the crowd chanting his name. He was the new owner of North Carolina records for assists in by a freshman and assists in an ACC game.
"He just went crazy from there," Bullock said.
Marshall's putting up nutty numbers in Los Angeles, too. His 9.6 assists per game are second in the NBA to only Chris Paul. Outdated scouting reports say he's not a shooter, but he's making 45.5 percent of his three-pointers. That's second to only Kyle Korver.
Marshall is averaging 39 minutes per game as a Lakers starter, but that doesn't even begin to describe how much they've depended on him to run the show. In the 17 games since Marshall joined the rotation, Los Angeles has shot 47 percent from the field and 38.5 percent on threes when he's on the court, with an offensive rating almost on par with D'Antoni's seven-seconds-or-less Suns squads. When he's on the bench, those marks drop to 34.5 percent and 27.4 percent, and the offensive efficiency is significantly worse than that of the lockout year Charlotte Bobcats.
"This league is all about opportunity," Marshall said. "When you get an opportunity, you have to take full advantage of it."
The chance Marshall needed wasn't going to come in Phoenix. On Oct. 25, days after the Suns' final preseason game and days before the start of the regular season, Phoenix's new front office traded Marshall to the Washington Wizards.
The Virginia native initially thought he'd get to play close to home. Instead, the Wizards cut him.
"There was a two-day frame where I wasn't returning calls to my family, I wasn't talking to my agent, I wasn't talking to friends," Marshall said.
Marshall had spent his summer working on his body and his jump shot. Now two teams had decided that, at 22 years old, it wasn't worth investing in his development.
All Marshall could do was draw on the positivity from those close to him and keep pushing. He enlisted the services of a Phoenix-based trainer, and being in the gym helped. When no other NBA team picked him up by late November, he entered his name into the D-League player pool.
"The way I saw it was just facts," Marshall said. "I was out of the league."
The 87ers, an affiliate for the Philadelphia 76ers, claimed him. In his first game for them, Marshall dropped 31 points, the most he'd scored since high school, plus 10 assists and nine rebounds. On more than one occasion in Delaware, Baker looked over to Marshall on the bench to put him back in and Marshall said to let one of his teammates play a little bit longer. He wasn't in the D-League to pad his stats and he was serious when he told his coach he'd do what was best for the team.
Being a former lottery pick didn't mean Marshall was off to himself all the time, either. He knew some of his teammates from AAU and college ball, and he enjoyed spending time with guys who had the same aspirations. It didn't hurt that he's always been the sort of guy scorers love to play with, dating back to when his pinpoint passing has made him the No. 1-ranked fifth grader in the country.
"He was amazing," Sevens forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo said. "He was really funny. He was like probably one of the best playmakers I ever played with and one of the best teammates I ever had."
When the Lakers called Marshall up, Baker was happy for Marshall, but sad for his team. Yet he knew from the moment Marshall arrived that his time there would be short-lived.
Before making the decision to sign Marshall, Los Angeles general manager and North Carolina alum Mitch Kupchak had several conversations with UNC head coach Roy Williams, who raved about him on and off the court.
"I do truly believe that Kendall flourishes more in a system where they do go up and down the court because he's probably the best passer in a fast break situation that I've ever coached in 26 years as a head coach," Williams said. "He wants to win, he appreciates getting the ball to other people, he's the most unselfish player you can be and he does have a great, great knack of finding the open guys in open court situations."
Williams couldn't be prouder. Kupchak recently told him that Marshall has been exactly what Williams said he'd be.
It's not just the front office that sings his praises. Lakers forward Ryan Kelly appreciates that Marshall is always talking about the team they're about to play, sharing what he knows about certain players and their tendencies. Kelly was Marshall's rival at Duke, but now it's easy to like him.
"Every time on the court, he tells me to shoot it when he passes," Kelly said. "And that's always a nice thing to hear. I don't shoot it every time, but that's the confidence you want to be given from your point guard. That's something special."
In the Lakers' locker room, Marshall will make every effort not to talk about himself. He's on a team that has lost six straight games, 12 of its last 14 and 18 of its last 21. To reporters, he is the bright spot, the success story. As they approach and prompt him to talk about what he's been doing, he will credit his teammates and coaches for being so welcoming.
When he's done taking questions about his unusual journey and perseverance, he'll put his headphones on. You might hear him rapping along to a song called "No Days Off." Marshall hasn't forgotten any of the steps that led him here, and he'll do all he can to stay where he is.