Archives For July 2011

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen & RollGasol’s place in the team hierarchy, in all facets of the game, was unchanged from prior seasons.  What changed was how important his role became.  What changed is how reliant the team became on what Pau Gasol brings to the table.  And in the end, what changed was the team’s inability to deal with the fact that Gasol couldn’t cook every night. Pau Gasol was central to the team’s performance, and the team failed miserably.  It doesn’t take an advanced level of cognition to come to the conclusion then that Pau deserves a lion’s share of the blame for the season’s flameout.  For that reason, many of you were particularly looking forward to the review of Pau’s season, I suspect out of some love of bloodsport, but you will most likely be disappointed if you were anticipating a bloodbath.  After all, Pau Gasol had many labels over the course of this season; MVP Candidate, Possible Narcoleptic, Resurgent Force, Tired Ninny, Insecure 2nd Banana, and Tin Man (Wizard of Oz burrrrrn).  But the final, and most apt, label given to the big Spaniard, the one that has stuck with him all offseason, is Scapegoat.

From Roland Lazenby, HoopsHype: The NBA lockout will end someday, and when it does Los Angeles Lakers fans may well find themselves wishing it hadn’t. Fans will discover they’re witnessing the new Lakers, the ones run by Jim Buss and built to cater in every facet to seven-footer Andrew Bynum, a nice enough 23-year-old kid with a dubious medical past and an even more suspect future. Yes, aging star Kobe Bryant will still be a part of the equation, but he was put on notice over the summer when Jim Buss hired new coach Mike Brown without so much as a brief discussion with Bryant. The message is clear: Brown is Bynum’s coach, and the team belongs to the young center as well. “It’s obvious that that is what’s going on,” said one longtime Lakers insider. “Jim Buss is setting up Drew.” That process began last season when assistant Chuck Person was given the freedom to restructure the Lakers’ defense around Bynum, never mind that the club was the reigning two-time NBA champion and seemed to have a defense that already worked quite well. After all, it was last seen stuffing the Boston Celtics in the second half of Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. The idea of the new defense, though, was to keep Bynum closer to the basket and to require less mobility from him (perhaps to help him avoid injury).

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: With New Jersey Nets star Deron Williams possibly sparking a wave of NBA players heading overseas during the lockout, the Los Angeles Lakers hired some basketball talent coming in the opposite direction from Europe. The Lakers hired famed Italian coach Ettore Messina, who will serve as a coaching consultant to new coach Mike Brown, the team announced Friday. “I am honored to have received this opportunity from one of the greatest basketball organizations in the world,” Messina said in a release. “I have great respect for coach Mike Brown and I’m excited to work with him and his staff.” Messina was hired for a full-time position and will be with the Lakers for all of their games and practices, both home and on the road. A source had told ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher last month that Messina would join the Lakers. Messina is coming off a two-year contract with Real Madrid in the Spanish League after completing a successful run at the helm of CSKA Moscow, winning two Euroleague championships and four Russian SuperLeague titles in four seasons with the team.

From Pedro Moura, Land O’ Lakers: A lightning-quick 5-9 college guard named Casper outplayed Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden. Former NBA Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans’ team lost handily to a team with no current NBA players. But the highlight of Saturday’s Drew League play at Colonel Leon H. Washington Park in Florence was even more … righteous. The man the locals call Jesus provided the most entertaining action of a thoroughly entertaining eight-hour Saturday at the Drew League, coming in from the free-throw line to pick up a teammate’s errant shot attempt and tip-reverse-dunk it in for a miraculous, monstrous slam that had the crowd buzzing for a good 10 minutes. It was emblematic of what people have come to expect from the Drew League, generally considered one of the top summer-league outfits around. “You can’t find this level of basketball anywhere in the U.S. besides here,” says Jesus, also known as Davide Patten, an Orange County native who played collegiately for Pepperdine and Weber State and now plays professionally in Mexico. “This is fantastic basketball.”

From Tom Ziller, SB Nation: A week into the 2011 NBA lockout, franchise owners and their high priest, commissioner David Stern, are still having trouble convincing the world that the 30 NBA teams are collectively losing hundreds of millions of dollars every year. It just doesn’t make sense, and a small army of skeptics continues to look for the keystone that will unlock the league’s financials and show what a scam this all is. But really, it might not be a scam. These dudes might actually be losing their shirts. (That raises a whole series of questions about Stern’s job performance, of course.) But one thing owners still can’t explain away is the impact of rising team values, and as an avatar for this trend, huge recent purchase prices. The rising team values in the NBA are a two-pronged attack on the owners’ position. Most nakedly, it’s another cannon blasting at the claim that this is not a profitable league. Ratings soar, the gate soars, merchandise soars, team value soars … and y’all can’t turn a profit? PFFFFT. Maybe that’s overly simplistic, but it’s an easy line of thought to grok. The other more powerful prong is that it diminishes the pleas of the owners to something like sniveling.

Growing up a Laker fan, I’m a fan of the big man. I was weaned on the graceful stylings of Kareem and spent my early adulthood reveling in the brute force of Shaq. In recent years, the fluidity and precision of Pau Gasol and the youthful power and growing polish of Andrew Bynum have given me much joy. I’ll always have a special place in my heart and root for the behemoths of this game.

So today, I’m saddened that the league has lost one of its giants to retirement. Yao Ming will no longer be a member of the league that we all love so much, calling it a career today. The lower leg injuries proved to be too much to overcome.

Though he never wore a Laker jersey, Yao was one of my favorite players. His determination and competitiveness were traits that I admired. I’ll never forget him dragging his leg up and down the floor in the 2009 playoffs against the Lakers. Not wanting to exit a game that meant so much to him and his mates, he persevered through what turned out to be a broken foot, trying to will and skill his team to a needed win. His Rockets ended up losing that series to our Lakers, but my ongoing respect for him was set in stone that night.

His skill level was off the charts. Men his size weren’t supposed to have such touch. Yao could make spot up twenty footers look like pop-a-shots. His jump hook from either block was nearly impossible to defend. He shot turn around jumpers over both shoulders, many dropping through the hoop from that high release point that defenders could only look up to. And his passing was simply superb. He delivered all variety of dimes to his teammates, dropping lead bounce passes to baseline cutters or hook passes to ‘mates diving down the middle of the paint.

Defensively he had his weaknesses in hedging and recovering on pick and rolls and he suffered guarding the quicker face up five men on the schedule that would isolate and try to drive by him. But he protected the rim well, contesting all comers even if it meant being on the wrong side of a poster. What I appreciated most about his defense was that he tried hard to be a great defender even though he was clearly limited by his foot speed and stamina.

But what Yao will always be remembered for was his sheer enormity. Nearly every coach I’ve ever had has said that “you can’t teach size.” Phil Jackson once said that “there are only so many dinosaurs”, and once claimed that if he could have his pick of any player to start a team with in the league, he’d choose Dwight Howard. The true big men that have skill and can play the pivot are a rarity, something that the greatest professional coach ever understood clearly.

Even though we’ve seen this coming for a couple of years, it doesn’t make this any less of a sad day for the true hoop heads around the world. Yao was one of a kind and blessed the league with skill, heart, and class both on and off the court. I’ll miss him and his game and wish him nothing but the best in his post basketball life.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: With the lockout now six days in the books, the world has waited for an NBA player to apply pressure by committing to an overseas squad. Sonny Weems fired the first warning shot, but was mostly met with responses along the lines of “Who is Sonny Weems?” On Thursday, however, things got a little more interesting.  ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher confirmed reports that All-Star point guard/theoretical Nets building block Deron Williams has agreed to play for Besiktas in the event of a prolonged lockout. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Turkish roundball circuit, this is the same team that briefly employed Allen Iverson.) With an agreement also in place with Hawks backup center — and serial head butter — Zaza Pachulia, Besiktas coach Ergin Ataman is apparently confident enough to shoot the moon:

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Deron’s deal, which reportedly will pay him $200,000 a month plus perks, allows him to leave the Turkish club and return to the NBA as soon as the lockout is over. Any deal for Kobe would contain an identical out-clause. Not surprisingly given the present circumstances, deals to bring NBA stars over to Europe raise their share of complications. One is that FIBA, the governing body of international basketball, generally requires a player to obtain a letter of clearance before switching leagues. The letter would certify to the player’s destination league that he’s not under any remaining contractual obligation to the league he’s departing. It’s not at all clear, however, that the NBA is willing to provide letters of certification for its players during the lockout. For what it’s worth, according to Mark Stein of ESPN the NBA players’ union is taking the position that during the lockout, neither NBA nor FIBA has the right to block the movement of NBA guys to other leagues.

From Adrian Wojanarowski, Yahoo! Sports: From across the world, preening over the improbable signing of All-Star point guard Deron Williams, Turkish basketball coach Ergin Ataman was polishing the pitch of his life. “We want Kobe Bryant now,” Ataman told Yahoo! Sports by phone on Thursday. Ataman is the coach of Besiktas of Istanbul, and his basketball club sees the NBA’s owner lockout of players as a once-in-a-forever chance to transform this fledgling franchise’s global image. Once Besiktas was able to convince Williams to make the leap, the team is now determined to make the boldest play of all for Bryant.

From Sam Amick, Sports Illustrated: Don’t go buying your Euroleague Pass just yet, NBA fans. Or even the Eurocup Pass, for that matter. Deron Williams’ Turkish adventure is likely to be an aberration. When news spread of the New Jersey point guard’s decision to play for Besiktas during the lockout, there was immediate speculation that he could be the first of many stars to take their talents overseas despite the significant risk in making such a move. But numerous agents who spoke to weren’t ready to deem Williams a trendsetter, with his deal considered unique because of an opt-out clause which allows him to return to the NBA when the lockout is lifted. “I think it’s an interesting move,” said agent Marc Cornstein, whose client, former Boston center Nenad Krstic, opted to sign a two-year, $9.8 million deal with CSKA Moscow in June rather than wait on an NBA free agency period that won’t begin until after the lockout ends. “I’m sure it sent shock waves through the basketball world.

From Sam Amico, Fox Sports: This probably wasn’t what David Stern had in mind when he fought for the globalization of pro basketball.  But now that the league is shut down with a lockout, Deron Williams’ decision to play in Turkey could be just the beginning. Williams is an All-Star guard with the New Jersey Nets. In case you haven’t heard, he has agreed to play for Turkish club Besiktas while the NBA owners and players association wait to reach a deal. Usually, these types of things have a snowball effect. After all, who doesn’t succumb to peer pressure — or in the minds of pro athletes and their agents, a really bright idea. By playing in Turkey, Williams can start playing (and getting paid) in late September. Even Stern has admitted the league can’t really object.

From Howard Beck, NY Times: Deron Williams is set to become the biggest N.B.A. star to play in Europe — a development that is bursting with intrigue, risks and caveats. Williams, the Nets’ star point guard, has agreed in principle to a one-year deal with the Turkish club Besiktas, according to the team’s coach. His commitment would begin Sept. 1 — when the N.B.A.’s lockout would be two months old — and the deal includes an escape clause allowing him to return when the lockout ends. “It’s the biggest signing in the history of European basketball,” Ergin Ataman, Besiktas’ excitable coach, said Thursday. The agreement was confirmed by Misko Raznatovic, a European agent who works with Jeff Schwartz, the Los Angeles-based agent who represents Williams. Ataman and Raznatovic first met last month in Istanbul to discuss possible deals involving N.B.A. players. Reports have pegged Williams’s salary between $200,000 and $350,000 a month, or $2 million to $3.5 million for the 10-month Turkish league season. Raznatovic said that Williams, 27, would get between $1 million and $5 million, plus a car, housing and the tax breaks associated with playing overseas. He will also be provided with a security guard, driver and personal assistant, all of them available 24 hours a day. Ataman later told that Williams’s deal would be paid for by a sponsor.

From Eddie Maisonet, Ed The Sports Fan: In my heart of hearts, the one person I honestly feel took “The Decision” harder than anyone outside of dudes who write in Comic Sans MS font is Month Williams. People can talk about how much the economy was affected both positively and negatively pre and post “The Decision” you could also debate the way we view Month Williams has been affected in the same manner. From being just another dude in Milwaukee who was low-key one of the most under appreciated players in the league to being traded to Cleveland and instantly being the second best player on the squad on a title contender. This is the boost any player would want…right?

If you haven’t heard by now, current Suns shooting guard Mickael Pietrus wants to play for a championship contender and says Kobe wants him on the Lakers.

Being that this is the off-season, I’m taking all reports like this with a grain of salt. The whole shaker, even. Pietrus is unhappy with his role in Phoenix and could easily be voicing his discontent in a French paper to try and stir up his cause to either get more run (whenever the season begins) or find a new home where he’d prefer to play. He could also just be dropping a juicy quote in a foreign periodical because that’s what foreign born players do in the off-season. Needless to say, I don’t expect Pietrus to be playing in Los Angeles next year.

However, Piertrus’ quote – whether true or not – raises a more serious question for the Lakers going into next season. Namely, who is going to back up Kobe Bryant?

Now that Shannon Brown has opted out of his contract, the likelihood of him returning to the Lakers is relatively low. Sure, it could happen. But the prospect of him finding a long term deal or a role on a team that doesn’t involve backing up one of the best players in the game is pretty strong. If I were an odds maker, I’d say it’s a 25% chance (or lower) that Shannon returns to the Lakers. Even if the Lakers think they can get Shannon back, they need a contingency plan in case he bolts anyway.

Mind you, there are internal options. Devin Ebanks showed promise in limited minutes and was told to improve on his guard skills with the implication being he could see more time as a shooting guard. The Lakers drafted a combo guard in Andrew Goudelock who was a prolific college scorer and would likely be more comfortable as a scorer off the bench than a PG anyway. Plus, Darius Morris is a bigger PG and that gives the Lakers flexibility to play Fisher or Blake as SG’s next to him with the possibility that the bigger rookie guard the opposing SG. These options, however, involve relying on young players to produce right away – a tough predicament considering we don’t even know how good they are at this point.

There are always the veteran options on the team as well. I pointed out that Fisher could play next to Morris, but he could just as easily play next to Blake in a small back court. Fisher already defends some SG’s around the league and his lack of quickness is less exposed on SG’s than the speedy PG’s that populate the NBA. The Lakers could also ask Artest to slide over to SG as he did in Houston and Sacramento during his time with those teams. However, these options also have their limitations and relying on either as the primary solution isn’t exactly comforting.

This then leaves the Lakers with acquiring a player from outside the organization to fill this hole. But the uncertainty surrounding the new CBA creates the problem of not knowing how the salary cap will work which dominoes into not knowing what the rules surrounding free agency or trades will be. That’s a lot of unknowns for what will be a vital hole to fill.

As we stand now, this isn’t so much a pressing issue as it is a festering problem that will need resolution eventually. The Lakers will need a replacement but will need to find one in an environment that is to be determined while staring at several less than inspiring in house options. In the current locked out world of player/owner negotiations, this may seem trivial. But if the last lockout taught us anything it’s that the league can go from a standstill to business as usual in a day. And at that point, the Lakers – like every other franchise – will need to fill its holes in preparation for a new campaign.

*I’ve always thought one of the great testaments to a player’s game is when an incoming draftee is labled the next version of you. I remember when Billy Owens was called the next Magic Johnson or when countless players were called the next Michael Jordan. Well, we’re now at the point where prospects are being called the next Kobe Bryant. And while smart analysis says otherwise and even the player himself has shied away from the comparison, it gives me a little smile to hear that monicker tossed out there. To me it means that a player’s imprint on the game is so strong that others see those qualities in up and coming prospects. This just serves as another reminder to appreciate what we have in #24 while we have it.

*Speaking of Kobe, an interesting read on his father Joe “Jellybean” Bryant.

*Derek Fisher is a natural leader and, I think, the best representative the players union could have in the negotiations with the league. Go check out what he had to say about the lockout and the state of the negotiations with the owners. A part of his interview that I found particulary interesting:

Like I just stated, progress is made the more times you have the opportunity to sit down and work with each other. Progress isn’t always similar to the game of basketball. … Trying to just tell how somebody played based on their stats or how many points they scored isn’t always the true value of that person’s game. In this process, just because we don’t have a deal done right now, doesn’t mean the months that we’ve put into this process prior to now have been wasted.

This exact description is how I’d probably talk about Fisher’s value as a player too. It’s not always the boxscore that tells the story, but the little things that ultimately lead to the victory. Here’s hoping Fish can come up clutch in these negotiations the way that he has in so many big games.

*Speaking of the lockout, both sides are in the wrong here and would do well to seek out a compromise rather than a full out win. That said, if you’re a Laker fan, you should probably be rooting for the players to get as much of a win as they can in these negotiations. Because if the owners get their way, the Lakers will be hit hard by several of the parity seeking proposals currently on the table.

*Last lockout note: when it comes to the league’s financials, one of the sides isn’t telling the truth.

*Last night I was watching NBA TV and they were showing the Jordan “Flu Game” from the 1997 Finals. Rewatching that game two things were abundantly clear. First, Scottie Pippen was a major key to every bit of success the Bulls had on both sides of the floor. He handled the ball, ran the break, finished inside off drives, posted up, guarded mutliple positions, and showed unparralelled help defense ability. Such a fantastic player.

Second, I’m going to miss the Triangle Offense. Watching the Bulls zip the ball around, run all the actions of Tex Winters’ sets, and get the type of looks that allowed them to erase a huge first half deficit was a sight to see. With Phil retiring (again), the only team left running the Triangle is Minnesota. But with Ricky Rubio coming over and Rambis’ job security twisting in the wind, that won’t last long.

*Happy 31st Birthday to Pau Gasol. Shall your time in Spain and play with the Spanish National Team get you prepared for next season’s chase towards the title (whenever that comes).

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Tuesday morning on ESPN’s First Take, one topic debated by Skip Bayless and Jemele Hill was the barnstorming tour potentially spearheaded by Kobe Bryant and his agent Rob Pelinka. The plan, as first reported by the L.A. Times, would involve The Mamba and several other Pelinka clients playing a few exhibition games in China, presumably inside the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai. (A double marketing opportunity for L.A.’s favorite art thief crime-buster!)  Hill and Bayless both took issue with this plan for reasons ranging from the consideration owed to each player’s NBA team to the “money grab” element to, very specifically to Kobe, the physical risks. On all counts, I think the panelists are overreacting.

From Tim Harvey, Lakers Nation: “Basketball, unlike football with its prescribed routes, is an improvisational game, similar to jazz. If someone drops a note, someone else must step into the vacuum and drive the beat that sustains the team.” — PHIL JACKSON, ‘The Last Season’. This is it; no album, no movie. The greatest figure in the game during the 90’s not named M.J. has hung up his smart shoes and dry erase board. No more smells of incense in the locker room, no more meditation at half-time. Next season in locker rooms throughout the NBA, from the STAPLES center to the staples of other teams, a calm will have left the building. We aren’t talking about the lockout, but the retirement of the greatest coach in NBA history after the cigar smoke had cleared out gardens and arenas in the United States. Phil Jackson in a chilled out press conference said farewell to ‘The Last Season’. Autobiography or no autobiography, it was written.

From Actuarially Sound, Silver Screen and Roll: The next player up in our player report card series is Derek Fisher. Fisher’s season was everything we have come to know from the tough veteran. He provided solid three-point shooting, low turnovers, and tough physical defense on bigger guards. Unfortunately he also provided extremely poor shooting on anything that wasn’t an open three and matador defense against smaller and quicker guards, all things we have come to expect. It was really a year very much like the last, and therein lays the problem. The Lakers have been looking for the heir-apparent to Derek for more than a few seasons now and yet are no closer now than three years ago. Derek Fisher led the team in three point shooting (minimum 10 attempts) by hitting just under 39.6% from behind the arc. He bounced back from the 35% he hit last year and produced a percentage right in line with what he did the first two seasons back with the Lakers. Unfortunately that was the only place on the floor he could make a shot.

From Ben R, SIlver Screen and Roll: After the passing of another season, Andrew Bynum remains the most polarizing figure in all of Lakerdom, not only for his actions on and off the court, but for the unique place he holds in the team’s future. Only 23 years old after six seasons in the league, Bynum is the exception among a group of veterans gradually moving towards the wrong side of 30, and one of the few pieces that could conceivably be considered a future building block as the team transitions from the Kobe era. The fruit of the Lakers‘ only trip to the lottery since the 1994 draft, when the Lakers took Eddie Jones, Bynum has changed dramatically from the skinny 17 year old who still remains the youngest player ever to play in an NBA game.

From Sam Amick, Sports Illustrated: When the last NBA lockout was finally lifted in 1999, Larry Brown was among the lucky ones. The then-Philadelphia coach had veterans like Matt Geiger and Eric Snow to help in the most unusual of offseasons, imploring young players to stay in shape while they were unable to communicate with the coaches and trainers who would typically keep them on task. Not every coach was so lucky. Then-Cleveland coach Mike Fratello said goodbye to one version of Shawn Kemp in the summertime and said hello to a much-bigger version six months later, when the then-29-year-old who had signed a seven-year, $98 million deal in 1997 reportedly arrived at training camp weighing more than 300 pounds and was never the same in the years to come. With the lockout officially in effect, Kemp is the cautionary tale that is now a concern for executives and coaches around the league in this restrictive and unforgiving labor landscape.

From Lisa Dilman, LA Times: So, what exactly is a locked-out draft pick, one without the protective cushion of past six-figure paychecks, supposed to do in this summer climate of NBA uncertainty? Craigslist, you say? Have hoop, will travel. Well, one problem. Local listings in June featured one job teaching basketball to children at apartment communities for $15 an hour and another casting for a short comedy commercial “spoofing LeBron James.” (Oddly, basketball skills were not required for that half-day shoot, paying $75.) At least those gigs, unlike many listings, actually paid. Kidding aside, the serious issue in the early days of the NBA lockout is that the recently selected draft picks are the most immediate and visible victims.

Coming into this off-season, the Lakers are in an interesting place as a franchise. Without making a single move, they’re still contenders to win the title, possessing top shelf talent at multiple positions and all with championship experience. That said, their dismissal from the playoffs has led to questions about the viability of this roster and the critique that improvements need to be made for them to not only compete next year, but for years to come.

Improvement of this kind can normally happen three ways. The Lakers could either make a trade for (or sign in free agency) younger players that still possess a high enough talent level that the roster is still competitive or they can hope that some of the younger players on their roster take a step forward in their development to go from non-contributors to viable rotation players. With the lockout in full effect, option one is off the table. There will be no trades or free agent signing period without a collective bargaining agreement in place and, furthermore, once a deal is in place who knows how restrictive the rules will be for the Lakers to actually improve their roster through these avenues.

That leaves us with option two and the improvement of young players on the roster. Currently, the Lakers have 4 players – all of them 2nd round picks – that we’re all hopeful could become contributors down the line. Both Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter were on the roster last season and showed varying degrees of effectiveness in the limited minutes they earned. Both obviously have strides to make as players, but both also flashed enough skill to prove that they belong in the league. And then, of course, there are the two 2nd round picks from this past draft. While I’m not looking for them to earn many minutes next season, both Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock are intriguing prospects that bring specific skill sets that are needed additions on the current roster.

For these 4 players, the summer is normally the time that we get to see, first hand, how their development is coming. And with that, get our first hints at whether or not they are improving at a rate that equates to them potentially contributing next season.

Only, with the lockout, that chance is now gone. Over at Land O’ Lakers, the Kamentzky brothers spoke with Andrew Goudelock and he explained how the lockout affects him:

It’s tough for me because I don’t get to be in a summer league, and be able to show myself, and showcase my talents during the summer session. But it’s my job to stay in shape, keep playing, and get ready for when it’s over.

For Ebanks and Caracter this lack of summer showcasing could hurt them even more. They both already have a season under their belt and both have been tasked with coming into this next season with improved games. In exit interviews, Ebanks was asked to work on his ball handling and jump shot in order to potentially earn minutes at shooting guard. Meanwhile, Caracter must prove that the commitments he made to improving his body are sustained and that he can continue to grow as a defender and rebounder at this level. Neither player has a guaranteed contract for next season and now neither has the ability to show the Lakers that they’ve taken the steps forward that they’ve been asked to take.

The fact is, all of these players have holes in their games but don’t have an opportunity to show the Lakers that those weaknesses are getting smaller. And that means that the Lakers have no clue if the young players they have in their pipeline are potential contributors or even worth a roster spot. And or an aging team that could use an influx of youth, that’s a problem.

Granted, the Lakers can still win with their veteran laden roster doing most of the heavy lifting. But, a touch of youth and athleticism wouldn’t hurt. And with the lockout taking away these players’ chances to show that they could be a part of that solution, both the players and the organization suffers.

So, while we sit back and evaluate the lockout from the perspective of the union and the owners, the terms of the new CBA, and if there will be an agreement before the season starts, it’s also good to remember that the time we’re losing now is also important. This time of the year is when young players prove themselves, but this year, the question of whether or not they’re improving will remain unanswered.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: As part of a continuing series, NBA players share the various ways growing up in L.A. shaped their games. Growing up in L.A., University of Michigan point guard Darius Morris was exposed to a wide spectrum of the city’s culture. The Lakers’ second-round draft pick first grew up in Hawthorne, but his family uprooted to Redondo Beach and then Carson in an effort to find better educational opportunities for their children. Darius eventually received a scholarship to Windward, a small private high school in Mar Vista, but remained a fixture at various parks across L.A. He led Windward to a state championship while making a name for himself among his local peers.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Derrick Rose could lead a barnstorming tour of NBA players through China. So could Kobe Bryant. A few agents out there are pitching the idea of a lockout tour of China this fall and it is gaining momentum for the players. But they better check with the Chinese government first. Because while it sounds like a money-making idea over here, over there things are viewed differently. Over at — the best English blog about what is happening with basketball in China — they interviewed Matt Beyer, who works for North Head, a public affairs consultancy that represents a few NBA athletes in China. While to us the barnstorming tour seems like a no-brainer, selling it to the Chinese Government requires a very different mindset.

From Tim Harvey, Lakers Nation: “It’s about time,” Kobe Bryant said just weeks before Jerry West received his over-due immortalizing in bronze, as the logo’s statue was unveiled during the 2011 All-Star game at STAPLES. From one shooting guard to another, the Mamba recognizes Mr. Clutch’s greatness. Why wouldn’t he? If it wasn’t for Jerry West, Kobe Bryant would be wearing teal and white instead of purple and gold, and who knows what would have resulted there (am sure in some ways some of the same for Kobe at least). Mr. Clutch himself has imprinted more than his likeness for the NBA’s logo. He has also made many big plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. On and off the court.

From Marcel Mutoni, SLAMOnline: Pau Gasol is the most high-profile NBA star to claim he’d play overseas during the NBA lockout, telling the press in Spain that he’d consider playing in his home country, or perhaps even China. According to the Los Angeles Lakers’ star big man — who will play in the European Championship in September — Spain is his first choice, but there are other options. Pau Gasol wasn’t done making news, however, as he also expressed a strong desire to see his brother Marc play for a team other than the Memphis Grizzlies. The AP reports: Gasol says “if there is a lockout, Spain would be the first choice — I wouldn’t say only one, but the first” on Friday. China, he adds, has “great potential” as an alternative to Spain. Gasol says sitting out a season would be too “weird” especially as the NBA is coming off a “great year” with the Dallas Mavericks beating the favored Miami Heat in the finals. As for brother Mark’s future, Gasol would like to “see him with a franchise that has better options” than the Memphis Grizzlies.

From Mark Heisler, LA Times: Oh, no, am I here all alone? Actually, the world didn’t end when the NBA locked its players out. The NBA didn’t even end, even if it felt as if was about to as darkness moved across the land. I have nothing against doomsday scenarios … but if that’s all that’s out there, something had better be coming to an end, or it’s just the media chasing its tail again. With months of this idiocy left, let’s see how close we can come to some actual perspective: Who’s pushing this, owners or players? The owners, seeking a monster giveback. Before this they would fight for six months over 5%. The owners started this seeking 14%. How about the players breaking faith with the fans? Not. For all the flak players inevitably get, because they’re the ones living out fans’ dreams, they’re not asking for a single thing and have accepted the fact they’ll take a cut … just not the one the owners have in mind.

From Elliot Teaford, LA Daily News: The Lakers would neither confirm nor deny a report Friday that Kobe Bryant underwent a procedure last month in Germany he hopes will improve the strength in his aching right knee and enable him to avoid a fourth surgery since 2003. Teams are forbidden by the NBA from discussing their players in any way, shape or form in the wake of Thursday’s lockout by the owners. The league reportedly will fine teams up to $1 million for even speaking of their players. In fact, websites of all 30 teams underwent dramatic makeovers after the lockout began, with almost all references to players removed. Interviews, videos and photographs of players have been taken down, but rosters and statistics remain intact.