More than any of the other candidates who could have gotten the Lakers’ head coaching job, Byron Scott will get an extended honeymoon period. While I have expressed my thoughts on more than one occasion about how much Scott’s history as a Laker should matter, the fact is that it does. It mattered to the front office when they made their choice to hire him and it matters to fans now.

More than what matters to fans or Jim Buss or Mitch Kupchak, though, what matters to the players is most important. They’re the ones who will follow Scott into the battle or tune him out. They are the ones who must buy in to what he’s selling in terms of philosophy and then go out on the court and execute his schemes. And of all the players, the one who matters most here is Kobe Bryant. He’s the leader of this team on the floor and if he’s on board the other’s will follow him.

Continue Reading…

The wait is over.

THE WAIT IS OVER.

On Monday the Lakers will open training camp, hosting their annual media day. The media masses will come (though fewer than normal, I’m sure) to listen to the players speak on expectations, what they hope to get out of the year, and how they’ve put on 15 pounds of muscle (or, in some cases, lost 15 pounds). They’ll gather to hear new coach Byron Scott talk in reserved, yet optimistic tones, about where he thinks this team will go and how he believes they can surprise people by defying expectations. Everyone — especially Kobe — will talk about the work to be done and growing as a team and we will soak it all in because we have been waiting for what feels like an eternity for basketball to come back.

In reality, though, this is the least interesting part of what is beginning. Most every player has been through this multiple times and knows the drill. Nothing — or at least very little — of substance will be said. The more important thing is that the work will begin and this team will take its first steps towards becoming…whatever it is they will become. We all have our opinions on that, of course, but even what I (or you or anyone else) predicts ends up being 100% accurate, it will all have to play out on the floor with the players trying to follow what the coaches tell them to do.

Even in saying all that, the story lines heading into camp are many and real. So, let’s look at 10 questions for this team at the dawn of this new campaign:

Continue Reading…

Yes, it has been a long summer but the wait is almost over. Training camp is nearly here and the Lakers will soon hit the court, trying to absorb Byron Scott’s schemes while learning each other. Just like the last two seasons, the roster has turned over by half and that type of change takes time to adjust to. Two of those changes have occurred this week when the Lakers signed two guards to help on the wing and provide a roster in transition more veteran players who will challenge for minutes on the perimeter.

The first player added is Wayne Ellington, a 5 year pro out of the University of North Carolina. His Tarheel roots probably helped him get a contract from Mitch Kupchak, but what likely aided him more was the half a season he spent in Cleveland playing under Byron Scott. In those 37 games Ellington played over 25 minutes a night and put up double digit points on on 44% shooting from the floor. This stretch should not be glorified as some extreme run of great play, but it does constitute the best stretch of Ellington’s career even if his three point shot was not falling at his normal accuracy.

That last point is most important. Over his 5 year career, Ellington shot over 39% from deep in 4 of those seasons. His career mark of 38.6% from behind the arc is well above the league average and would make him the Lakers’ best shooter from deep should he find his way to the final roster. What the Lakers are surely hoping, then, is that Ellington finds his range from deep while also being able to duplicate the 49% shooting from 2 point range that he did in that half season in Cleveland. That level of play would be very close to what Jodie Meeks provided last season (40% from 3, 51% from inside the arc). Of course, I’m sure the Mavericks were hoping the same thing last season, but Ellington never found his way into Rick Carlisle’s rotation managing to only appear in 46 games while playing less than 10 minutes a night. In other words, while the skill is seemingly there it remains to be seen if he can earn a role on this team. Even if Scott knows what he’s capable of.

The other key signing is Ronnie Price, whom the Lakers inked to a contract on Wednesday. Price came into the league in 2005 and has bounced around the league, spending time in Sacramento, Utah, Portland, Phoenix, and Orlando. For his career, Price has mostly been a 2nd or 3rd string point guard who saw minutes due to his competitiveness and willingness to play hard. His statistics will not wow you — he’s a career 38% shooter while hitting less than 30% of his shots from deep — and hasn’t really proven to be a guard who can create for others or himself offensively.

He will play hard, however, and that is fine if he’s your insurance guard who will clearly be below Lin and Nash on the depth chart. If I had my way, he’d also be behind Clarkson as I do believe the rookie guard should get chances to see game action and be put on a track of development this year. Whether Scott agrees with this remains to be seen, but Price’s veteran status and willingness to mix it up with any opponent will surely earn him his coach’s respect. That said, as much as playing hard is a skill, Price doesn’t have many others beyond that and while I’d have no qualms if he made the final roster I would start to question things if his presence negatively impacted that of other guards (namely, Clarkson) in the process.

Also worth mentioning is that signing both Price and Ellington brings the Lakers’ roster to 15. And while they also added 4 more players on Wednesday (brining the roster to 19 players), those guys are essentially camp invites who have little chance of making the team. Ellington and Price, though, look to have a path to being on this roster opening night. I did not expect the Lakers to carry 15 players into the season and that may well change before the first game tips off, but as the roster stands now it looks more and more likely my initial thoughts were incorrect.

We will see how this all plays out, though. Camp will be here very soon and, with it, more information as to how the roster will shape up will be out our disposal. Finally.

This has seemed like the longest summer ever. While we got some FIBA World Cup basketball to somewhat satiate our thirst of some roundball, it was mostly anti-climactic as the Spanish team failed to advance to the finals and give team USA a proper challenge for the gold. The result was an american romp and me sitting here longing for actual basketball to fill the void.

Which brings me back to the Lakers. Camp is almost here and the team has been coming together recently for workouts and scrimmages. The team is not yet fully formed — there will be more additions, even if only camp bodies — with much work to do on both sides of ball, learning schemes and getting comfortable in how to play together. They will battle the reality that they are simply not as talented as most of the teams in the league while simultaneously trying to prove critics (like me) wrong.

The simple theatre of how this team comes together will be enough for me to watch, but it won’t be the only reason. With that, here are the 5 things I am most looking forward to this season:

1. Kobe’s return. I could pretend to write with some authority about what Kobe will be this season, but it would all be a front. Before his achilles injury, Kobe’s career track was on the same path of guys like Kareem, Karl Malone, and John Stockton. Those players proved to be high caliber contributors well past their prime years, posting PER’s above the league average while contributing to winning teams and padding their career totals. Now, though, Kobe is all question marks. He admits he’ll be a different player, but does so with a defiance that has marked his entire career. The message seems clear: doubt me at your own peril — have you not learned that yet? Watching what he does, how he does it, and how effective it makes him will be the number one storyline all season. Combine that with the reality that he is a legend who is playing in his final games and it will be must watch TV. I, for one, cannot wait.

2. Julius Randle. The last Laker draft pick who came in as highly touted and with as much hope surrounding him was James Worthy. For Randle, though, I’d settle for a guy who performed as well as Eddie Jones did in his rookie campaign. Jones averaged 14 points that season and was named 1st Team All-Rookie. He dazzled fans with his bouncy legs and highlight finishes. He also competed hard on both ends of the floor and showed a professionalism that reminded of past Laker greats. Randle has the talent, work ethic, and opportunity to do the same. Yes, he has some veterans in front of him and a coach that will make him earn his time on the floor, but nothing worthwhile is ever just given. Randle will need to prove he was worth the pick that was used on him. Considering he feels he should have gone higher, he should have the proper motivation to do just that. I can’t wait to watch the rook do his thing.

3. Jordan Clarkson. There is really no good reason for me to like Clarkson as much as I do. As I’ve said before, it really is not rational. While he clearly has some talent, he’s also a second round pick with two veteran point guards in front of him who his head coach will cater to. He has a steep learning curve to be an NBA level point guard and will likely struggle to find the time on the floor he needs to develop. His jumper is not as good as it needs to be at this level and you have to seriously question if his athleticism is good enough to overcome that fact at this stage of his career. To all that I can simply say I do not care. I mean, watch:

I love the way he moves on the floor. I love his body control around the rim. I love that he finds a way to get to the spots he wants to and has the ability to do something with the ball once he gets there. Whether he ever becomes a rotation player will depend on so many factors I can’t even begin to name them all. But I will be rooting hard for this young man.

4. Nick Young doing Nick Young things. I never thought rooting for this guy would be fun. But here I am, watching him do stuff like this and he’s just grown on me:

When he came to the Lakers I bought in to the worst conceptions of him as a player — the ball stopping, the lack of passing, the little to no effort at anything that didn’t involve him trying to get his own shot. After watching him for a year, those things definitely exist as part of his game. But watching him night in and night out also revealed a player who deeply loves the game, cares for his teammates, wants to win, and will actually try at other parts of the game when coached to do so. That didn’t always make him effective at those things, but watching him work at it and watching him have fun while trying was a joy in an otherwise awful season. I look forward to an encore campaign even though I admit I have no clue if he can actually pull it off.

5. Big men doing the dirty work. The Lakers’ history is littered with hall of fame big men. Jordan Hill and Ed Davis will not be mistaken for any of them. What they will do, however, is work their tails off to get that extra possession and make that extra rotation to try and challenge a shot at the rim. What they will do is roll hard to the rim and try to finish with authority. What they will do is bring the effort every night and play as hard as they can with as much skill as they can muster to try and impact the game positively. It will not always go smoothly and there will be times (lots of times) where I will miss the deft passing and smooth post play of the Spaniard, but I will love watching Hill and Davis (and Randle and, hopefully Boozer) go at it hard each night.

We are about 3 weeks from the start of training camp and, soon enough, we will have actual Lakers basketball to discuss. Until then, though, we are left speculating on who might fill out Byron Scott’s coaching staff, how the depth chart at each position might play out, and watching Nick Young randomly stop at a pick up game in New York and bury a step-back jumper while rocking some tight pants and shoes that look like Vans. Such is the summer.

What ends speculation, however, is when decision makers actually tell you what they plan to do. Recently, Byron Scott has been making the rounds with the media and, in the process, has been doing just that. Most recently he sat down with Mark Medina of the LA Daily News and covered a lot of ground, including a nugget about his initial plan regarding a starting lineup:

Scott will spend training camp figuring out his starting lineup, which he says will currently feature Nash, Bryant, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill. He is leaning toward starting Wesley Johnson at small forward because of his defensive potential and relying on Nick Young’s prolific scoring off the bench. Scott also reported Xavier Henry has not fully recovered from left wrist and right knee injuries.

While it would be easy to overreact to Scott saying he plans to start Boozer and Nash, it’s probably best to hold off on that. I thought mid-wilshire had a solid perspective in the comments by stating:

The question isn’t who starts but who finishes and who plays the most important minutes. Nash could start, say, and, in those games in which he does play, average only 15 mpg. The starting nod, then, would be largely symbolic. I wouldn’t get too upset over Nash and Boozer starting. Let’s wait and see how the rotations pan out. Then we’ll have something to talk about.

Beyond that, though, the idea of a healthy (crosses fingers) Nash and a veteran Boozer flanking Kobe isn’t the worst thing in the world — at least offensively*. Both offer a nice combination of scoring and passing ability and can provide the type of medium usage rates that can mesh with Kobe to form the trio of players who play with the ball in their hands most often while playing with more low usage players in Hill and Wes Johnson.

Further, the remaining players actually form a very interesting bench group:

PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Nick Young
SF: Xavier Henry
PF: Julius Randle
C: Ed Davis

Looking at that group, they all share some common traits most notably youth and athleticism. All are more likely to thrive in a more open court game and will be able to change ends well with an ability maximize their athleticism by attempting to get easy baskets. Things will get more interesting in the half court where Lin, Young, Henry, and Randle all project to do their best work with the ball in their hands, but that’s where coaching and execution of the scheme will come into play. If channeled well and operating on the same page, this group should still be able to move the ball and play an attack style against set defenses.

In saying all that, however, none of this is set in stone. Yes, Scott has said this is what he’s planning to do. But it’s early September. With a full training camp ahead, preseason games to play, and a feeling out period that will extend into the regular season, changes are still very much likely as realities set in.

Even in saying that, though, it is interesting to think about. Even if, as noted above, it’s not really about who starts but who finishes.

*I will be saying this a lot this year, but if the Lakers can have relatively good health, I don’t expect offense to be a major problem. The defense, however, is projected to be poor and any lineup with Kobe, Nash, and Boozer playing for an extended period of time will suffer on that end. Byron Scott’s biggest issue this year will be finding lineups to get enough defensive stops and throwing out a group that will have more than one player on the wing who will struggle to defend and having a back-line defender who is as challenged as Boozer is will be problematic.