After Julius Randle’s injury on opening night, writing a game preview seems sort of trivial. But the games will go on and the Lakers, even down their prized rookie and as shorthanded as ever, travel to Phoenix to play their second game in as many nights in an opponent’s home opener. The lack of rest (both physical and mental, considering the Randle injury) and the fact that the Suns are opening their season are two variables that would have made this game challenging already, but when combined with the fact that the Suns are the superior team the Lakers are facing a steep climb.

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It seemed like a perfectly normal play. Isolated on the right wing, Randle looked his man up and down then took off using his quick first step to his right hand with a power dribble. Halfway through his move, he seemed to lose his balance, but still exploded towards the hoop, only to miss the shot and have his momentum (and what looked like a defender slightly riding him) take him to the ground. As the camera panned to the other direction, however, I noticed that Randle had not motioned to get up like most players would in that instance. Play continued the other direction and Randle still had not returned to the defensive side of the floor. On twitter, I wondered if he were hurt:

Of course, we have learned that Randle was hurt. On what can only be described as a freak of a play, Randle suffered a broken tibia on the drive. Reports from Ramona Shelburne this morning confirmed the injury:

If the four to six month timeline holds up, Randle’s rookie season is essentially over. Sure, he could be back in March or April, but that would be right at the tail end of the year with little to play for. Better to just sit him, let him have the entire year to rehab and regain strength and come back next year as strong as ever. That’s the hope, of course.

Hope is an interesting word here and is one of the reasons I did not (really, could not) write about Randle’s injury earlier. You see, hope is what Randle represented for me (and probably every other Lakers’ fan too). Hope of development from raw, yet skilled, big man to key contributor. Hope of the next great franchise player. Hope of turning games into watchable events from ones that, on many nights, would likely be the opposite. As I wrote in my season preview, watching this young man mature and grow with an eye on if he could develop into a mainstay contributor was enough reason to watch this team every night.

Those hopes, however, have been dashed. At least for this season. And that, all by itself, has made this season less fun in an amount wholly disproportionate than losing one player should.

As much as it’s easy to feel bad for myself or for other fans, those feelings pale in comparison to what I feel for Randle. In his first regular season professional game, with his mother in the stands, Randle made a play he’d made a thousand times before and had his leg crumple beneath him. As teammates surrounded him in attempts to check on and console him, reports on the ground say he was in severe physical pain. I can only imagine the emotional toll was (and remains) just as severe. In those moments, I would think it’s all too easy to drift into a spiral of negative thoughts — questioning not only your season, but your career. How could you not as medics need to stabilize your leg with an air cast just to be able to lift you onto a gurney to wheel you out off the court. It makes me sick for him just to type the words.

The Lakers now have multiple responsibilities. Yes, they have a season to play and owe it to themselves and the fans to go out and compete every night. Days will turn into weeks and then into months and the games will go on with winners and losers. The players who remain must leave those who cannot join them in the fray behind and compete for each other on the floor; to do their best by competing hard every night. On the other hand, they must remember Randle — a 19 year old rookie — and be there for him in a time that will surely produce some of the most difficult moments of his young life. While the team must play the games without him, the Lakers as an organization must be there for him to help him through this time by trying to ensure not only his physical, but his emotional well being. He will need a support system and the team must be a key part of that.

I spoke of hopes dashed earlier, but really they are just shifted. The new hope is that whatever greatness that was (potentially) pegged for Randle has only been delayed. In his rookie season, James Worthy suffered a similar injury (he spoke about this after the game) and noted that he turned out okay. Before Blake Griffin even played a regular season game his rookie season, he had surgery on his knee that cost him that first year. Three games into Michael Jordan’s second season, he broke his foot and missed all but 18 games. Jordan’s injury wasn’t as severe as these others (including Randle’s) but I include it here as a reminder that injuries happen and players recover to have long, full, and, hopefully, historic careers.

So get well soon, Julius Randle. Your team will miss you. Us fans will miss you. But you’ll be back and hopefully better than ever.

The Lakers lost their opening day game against the Houston Rockets, 108-90. But something far worse had happened.

Julius Randle, the Lakers’ first round pick, seems to be done for the year with a broken leg. It seemed like a throwaway play after he was pushed to the floor (by Donatas Montiejunas). And then suddenly, we were getting the bad news about his leg. Looking at the replays, his leg was already dangling by the time he jumped off. It was bad news for the Lakers and especially bad for Julius Randle. I can hardly think of any worse starts to your NBA career than breaking your leg in your first game. Speedy recovery to Randle and hope that his career flourishes afterwards.

As for the game…

For the most part, it wasn’t pretty as the Rockets went at them to draw fouls and sank multiple three-pointers. We all know that new Laker coach Byron Scott seems to be allergic to three-pointers. I don’t know if he is trying to set the game back 30 years but the fact is that ignoring the three completely isn’t going to win you an NBA game in 2014.

Kobe Bryant (19 points), for the most part, looked like the Kobe of old (trying to be careful with my word usage here). He had his usual post game and was draining those midrange jumpers. But other than that, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Laker that played outstanding. Carlos Boozer made seven of his 13 field goal attempts but we know that he spends a lot more time working on his yelling game these days. Jordan Hill did have double-digit boards but he missed a few bunnies. Jeremy Lin was a turnover machine and the other guys like Wesley Johnson, Julius Randle, Xavier Henry, and Ronnie Price didn’t do much. Ed Davis had a decent game in the minutes he got but not enough to make a huge impact on the game.

The Lakers did try to attack the rim but with Dwight Howard inside, they couldn’t do much. They increasingly got tentative in the first half; possessions got longer and they didn’t seem to have much of a plan after getting stopped initially. The Lakers did cut the game down to single digits with Howard in foul trouble but James Harden (32 points) got more aggressive and started drawing fouls (questionable or not) to get to the stripe.

I mentioned the three-pointers. Rockets were making them as if they were going out of style while the Lakers almost treated the shots behind the arc like it was Ebola. The Rockets made 12 threes compared to the Lakers’ three. That’s a 27-point difference right there. Plus the Lakers only attempted nine threes. The Lakers don’t exactly have sharpshooters (Price comes to mind) but they should set it up where their best three-point shooters take the shot (Wesley shot 37 percent last season and Lin shot 36 percent). The Lakers and Rockets had a little drama in the fourth quarter when Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard exchanged words after a rebound. We were all jonesing to see a fight but, unfortunately, Randle’s injury really put a damper on everything.

It’s difficult for the Lakers (and the Lakers fans) to move on with this news. Nevertheless, they go to Phoenix to play another game tomorrow night.

Speedy recovery, Julius Randle. We’re all thinking of you.

What’s that you say? The NBA is back? THE NBA IS BACK.

While my expectations for this Lakers’ season aren’t what you could call optimistic, that doesn’t change the fact that today is one of the best days of the year for me. Few things can compare to a fresh campaign with a new team to watch and fresh stories to tell.

With that, I’m going to keep this short and sweet so we can all just relax and wait until the games tip. First things first, let’s get some of the news of the day out of the way:

While the news of Lin starting is only a recent development over the last couple of days, I am quite happy that Scott has put him with the first group. The reserves can certainly benefit from Lin’s playmaking and ability to organize the offense and that, in and of itself, may have been reason enough to keep him coming off the bench. But the starters can benefit from those skills too and with this team short on talent I’d like to see the best players on the floor as often as possible (within any minutes restrictions, of course) to try and impact the game. Lin should be playing 30+ minutes a night and that should allow him overlap with both units and allow him to help both groups offensively.

As for Henry and Price, it’s nice to have both available, though it’s doubtful either will have much impact in this game. Price may serve as Lin’s backup and having his defense on the floor would be nice in certain situations. But I would just as well have Clarkson play some back up PG minutes (12-15 of them, depending on how long Lin can go) and call it a night. Henry, however, isn’t likely to see any time at all after not practicing over the last couple of weeks and not seeing any action this preseason. That said, with Young, Ellington, and Kelly (who could serve as a SF this year) also out, Henry could find his way to the floor in an emergency situation.

With that news out of the way, I turn my focus to tonight. Well, mostly tonight.

The Rockets come in as one of the top five to six teams in the West this year. They have all-NBA players in Dwight Howard and James Harden, brought in Trevor Ariza to replace Chandler Parsons, and are expecting growth from Patrick Beverly and Terrence Jones among others. If all goes right for them, they can press for a top four seed in the conference and can bubble up from fringe contender to conference finalist where anything can happen. They will represent a huge challenge for the Lakers in this game. And while some of that will mitigated through the adrenaline of a home opener on the first night of the season, talent will usually trump all and Houston has more of that than the Lakers.

This will be a trend for the Lakers this year and you will likely be able to lift sentences from that paragraph above and drop them into any game preview I write all year. But, in saying that, I think it is important that fans understand that even in a season that will challenge our patience, that we try to enjoy the journey and take what positives we can from the process of what this season will offer.

Rooting for the Lakers this year will be less about the big goals of a playoff berth or a parade at the end of the season and more about the little things that might occur in any given game or over the course of the season. Enjoy Kobe Byrant’s skill level and shot making. Enjoy the growth of Julius Randle and his multi-faceted offensive game. Enjoy how Ed Davis moves defensively and how he challenges shots at the rim. Enjoy Jordan Hill’s hustle and offensive glass work. Enjoy Jeremy Lin’s fearless drives to the cup. Enjoy Nick Young…well, being Nick Young.

Maybe your list is different. But these are the things that will keep me afloat this year and keep me invested in what happens next and how the team is coming together. The season will be long and, at many times, frustrating. But over the course of the year try to find the things that keep you happy and looking forward to the next moment. The Lakers won’t always be bad (seriously, they won’t be) and, if history has any part in determining the future, things will start to look up in the coming years.

So, in saying that, enjoy the ride you guys. Another season is upon us. Basketball is back. This really is the best time of the year.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm tip time on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

The 2014-15 Lakers are something of a mystery to me. Not because I do not know what they are or what they are trying to do, but because when you strip them down to their individual pieces it is somewhat difficult to see a coherent plan. This is a team trying to walk a very narrow line. A line that is nearly impossible to navigate in today’s NBA; a line that offers such confined parameters to define success that most organizations would not even venture down this path.

On the one hand, there is a clear thought process being disseminated by the front office and newly installed head coach Byron Scott. This team is competing for something. If not a championship, then for a playoff berth. For relevancy. The message and logic is fairly easy to see and simple when stripped down: take Kobe Bryant, pair him with Steve Nash (though that has already not worked out) and Carlos Boozer, flank them with veterans like Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Ronnie Price and Wes Johnson and give them a head coach like Byron Scott. This group will focus on defense and use an opportunistic but mostly methodical offensive approach and try to grind out wins.

On the other hand, however, this team has another vision entirely. A disastrous season last year led to lottery pick Julius Randle being snatched up. Jordan Clarkson was nabbed in the 2nd round to offer another promising talent who has the potential to be a nice contributor in time. Last year’s rookie Ryan Kelly was brought back after showing flashes of a well rounded offensive game and skill level not often present in a player his height. Free agency brought in Ed Davis — a former lottery pick in his own right who has always been a strong per-minute stat stuffer but has suffered for minutes on teams with more talent in front of him. This group of players are ones who need minutes and long leashes to develop through their mistakes.

Objectively speaking, these two groups of players really do not belong together. They are a hodge-podge of disparate talent with skills that do not entirely mesh nor fit together. In an ideal world, this team would travel in one of the aforementioned directions and sell out towards an achievable goal within that framework. If they wanted a veteran team, they could have built fully around Kobe, used their draft pick as leverage to try and acquire a more proven player, and pawned off any of their other younger assets to add more serviceable veteran pieces. If they wanted to skew younger, they could have let their own veteran free agents walk, chased some of the restricted and unrestricted free agents who have not yet reached their prime, and used those players to flank Kobe until his contract comes of the books.

Instead this front office tried to take a little from both sidesĀ and is likely to suffer from it. They are neither old nor young, neither experienced nor naive to the rigors of an NBA season. Finding success in this approach will be difficult considering the talent at their disposal and the coach leading the way. This isn’t about optimism or pessimism, these are the realities of the situation.

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