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JORDAN STILL UP IN THE AIR AS FREE AGENCY LOOMS, FARMAR TRIES TO FIND OUT IF HE IS RIGHT FIT FOR LAKERS.

Byline: RAMONA SHELBURNE

He's 23, which means a lot more of his NBA career is still ahead of him.

But then again, like any other 23-year-old, he's anxious to start going as far as he can go.

Anxious.

That's the right word to describe Lakers guard Jordan Farmar's mental state this year. Not frustrated. Not annoyed. Just anxious to find out where he fits into this league and how good he can be if given the opportunity to start, but still happy to be an important part of what looks to be another championship contender in his hometown.

"I'd definitely love to be able to play more, to start," said Farmar, who is averaging about 17 minutes a game as Derek Fisher's primary backup. "But this is the sacrifice you make to be home and to be a champion.

"I'm not thinking about (next year). I can't think about it. If I'm not their guy, that's up to them. That's on the business side. I'm just thinking about what I can do now to help this team win and improve."

As a fourth-year player, Farmar is in the final year of his rookie contract. If the Lakers decide

in the offseason to extend a qualifying offer to him, they will have the right to match any free-agent contract he receives from another team.

All of those decisions, on both the Lakers' side and Farmar's, will in part be based on a set of other unrelated decisions that still have to be made.

Namely, whether Phil Jackson returns as head coach and continues to run the triangle offense; whether Fisher, who is also in the final year of his current contract, remains with the team; and how much Farmar's game develops this year.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak insisted those are three separate decisions, which is true. But it's also another way of saying the team is going to take as long as possible to evaluate Farmar's talent and development before making a final decision on how he fits into their future plans.

"We're not going to evaluate a player solely on the basis of the offense we run now because we may not run the same offense tomorrow," Kupchak said.

"Jordan is very close to spreading his wings and I know that's what he wants to do, but he's only 23 years old ... and we have the ability to watch him for another year and track his development."

What's become relatively clear is that Farmar's style isn't a perfect fit for the triangle right now, but that he's still a good enough basketball player to help the Lakers this year.

How good he can be in another system will be a league-wide debate this summer, when Farmar becomes a restricted free agent.

One general manager said he thought Farmar could definitely start for about half the teams in the NBA and that he will draw a lot of interest this summer because of the lack of top point guards entering the next NBA draft and dearth of young, free-agent options on the open market.

But the GM is not sure the former Taft High of Woodland Hills and UCLA star will be an elite point guard such as Steve Nash, Deron Williams or Chris Paul.

"Jordan is a very talented basketball player and he's good enough to contribute and play the role that they need," the general manager said. "But from an individual perspective, he'd be far better off in a more conventional offense.

"He's a great pick-and-roll player, he likes to make shots and make decisions. The triangle is a lot of pass, cut, move. ... What he does well, there isn't a lot of room for in the triangle.

"But he's a good enough basketball player where he can assimilate and he does enough of what they need that he's valuable."

Farmar is valuable because Fisher, who is 35 years old, is admittedly closer to the end of his career than the beginning and the Lakers other point-guard option, Shannon Brown, hasn't shown yet whether he's capable of taking over as a starter, even though he's probably a better fit for the triangle than Farmar.

Though he made a point to say he wasn't complaining, even Farmar admits that the triangle offense isn't the perfect fit for his skill set.

"I've definitely had to be a professional and adapt to it," he said. "Even if you're not ideal for it, you get a lot minutes and when you're a guard, you can find a way to be successful in it."

In the past few weeks, Farmar's production and efficiency has stepped up considerably since Jackson began allowing Farmar to freelance a bit more, rather than confining him to the principles of the triangle.

Of course, that also coincided with the return of Pau Gasol from a hamstring injury, which meant Lamar Odom returned to playing with the second unit.

Farmar also has been effective playing alongside Brown in the Lakers backcourt. So far in December, Farmar is averaging 9.6 points and shooting 51 percent in 19 minutes a game. In November, he averaged just 6.6 points and shot 39 percent.

"I just felt there was some misfunction or distraction with that (second) unit for a while," Jackson said. '

"I think I told you guys (reporters) that things had to change. So we tried something different. I haven't seen a huge jump ahead, but I have seen some significant motion and positive action in that direction, so I stayed with it."

The question is, will the Lakers stay with Farmar after this season?

Here's betting they use every possible second they can before deciding.

ramona.shelburne@dailynews.com
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 13, 2009
Words:950
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