Archives For October 2012

The Lakers loss last night offered varying levels of frustration for everyone. In case anyone thought otherwise and needed proof, there’s no flip to switch from preseason to regular games, there’s only a path to travel to try and get better as a group. And while there were some very good individual performances, the group as a whole didn’t do well. Thus the team is zero and one to start the year.

There are a few takeaways from last night that deserve mentioning because they’ll serve as the back drop for tonight’s contest.

First is that the Lakers’ biggest issues, despite popular belief, are actually on the defensive side of the ball right now. The Lakers big men were slow in their rotations to confront dribble penetration. This was compounded by the fact the guards in front of them allowed too many opportunities for those big men to be late. As individuals, Howard did not yet look himself in stepping up to protect the rim while Gasol took some poor angles in P&R defense that left holes in the middle of the floor that the Mavs exploited.

The Mavericks also did the opposite of what teams used to do to the Lakers on defense. Rather than attack the center in the P&R, they went away from involving Dwight in any on ball actions where he could thwart an initial drive attempt and instead picked on every other Laker. Gasol, Hill, and Ron all had to be the hedge/recover man in this action and all were taken advantage of on more than one occasion. With Howard reacting slowly on the back end, this led to trouble.

Offensively, the Lakers still lacked balance. Ask Steve Nash and he’ll tell you that he could have been more aggressive in attacking with the ball rather than initiating the Lakers’ sets via quick passes to the wing and floating on the weak side. Nash did start to attack late in the game but by that point the deficit was too large and the rhythm of the game favored the Mavs. Doing more of that earlier — while still not abandoning the actions that allowed Gasol and Kobe to thrive — is something that Nash is burdened with nightly. It will be this way all season and his ability to carry that burden will often dictate how the offense looks. Not to put it all on Nash, but when he’s in the game he may be the most important Laker simply because he’s driving the car.

Tonight then, the Lakers have another challenge waiting for them. They visit an arena that they typically leave as losers and do so on the second night of a back to back against a team playing in their home opener. Add in the fact that the Lakers will get every team’s best effort and tonight is a challenge regardless of what quality you deem the Blazers to be.

With that in mind, here are a few things to look for tonight:
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Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  October 31, 2012

“Best thing you can do is get rid of it some dark night.” So said Jack Buggit to Quoyle in the Pulitzer-winning novel ‘The Shipping News’. That in reference to a wallowing cockeyed skiff that hapless Quoyle had been suckered into buying. There were certainly those who expected that a winless preseason would instantly shapeshift at last night’s opening tipoff. I didn’t and so I’m not particularly disappointed. It was a start, with another 81 games to go in the regular season. But never mind me – ready for the early exit polls?

Brian Kamenetzky at ESPN’s Lakers Now, gives a rapid reaction to the season opener, noting that there’s plenty of ire to go around.

C.A. Clark at Silver Screen and Roll says it’s not really the new offense that did the Lakers in last night, but the lack of defense.

Jay Caspian Kang at Grantland, on hitting the panic button.

Sam Amick for USA Today says the pressure’s building on Mike Brown.

Zach Harper at CBS Sports writes that the Lakers fail to show an identity as they fall too the Mavericks.

Sean Deveney at AOL Sports opines that day one of the Princeton offense isn’t at all pretty.

Ryan Ward at Lakers Nation brings us the wisdom of O’Neal & Barkley, “the Lakers must win now!”.

Eric Pincus at the L.A. Times offers a preview of tonight’s match against Portland, wondering if the Lakers can break their losing streak of 11 (including the preseason and the final two games of last season).


Okay. The last cut may be a bit too much. Eleven game losing streak? C’mon Eric! So look – it wasn’t the most inspiring first page in a storybook ride to glory. There’s an obvious reason that none of the above writers seemed to get. Robert Sacre never got off the bench. I’m sure Coach Brown realized this when he watched game tape this morning. Tonight’s another learning opportunity as the Lakers face the Trailblazers. Ready for things that go bump in the night?

– Dave Murphy

The Lakers didn’t exactly open their season as spectacular as their off-season was as they fell to the Dallas Mavericks 99-91. It was a night where they couldn’t consistently get stops, shot 3-for-13 from three and an abysmal 12-for-31 from the free throw line. Like much of the pre-season, this team just didn’t seem in sync at any time during the game on either end of the floor and the final score was a direct product of their inability to become a cohesive unit.

Instead of breaking down the big-picture aspect of tonight’s loss, the FB&G staff decided to collaborate on tonight’s recap and take looks at individual players. Each of us decided to play closer to one or two guys throughout the course of the game and write down some thoughts on the guys.

Darius on Point Guards: Nash definitely didn’t look as comfortable tonight in sorting out his niche in the Lakers’ offense. Early in the game he did a very good job of getting the Lakers into their sets and that was reflective in how the ball was moving and how efficiently the Lakers were scoring the ball. As the game went on, however, the sets started to break down and Nash became more of an off the ball worker than I think anyone would really want him to be. In the final minutes of the game he attacked more frequently by starting possessions with the pick and roll, but he needed to try and find a better balance by running that action a bit more throughout the contest.

Two other notes on Nash: 1). He looked to be bothered by the ball pressure the Mavs were using against him throughout the game. Dallas used both Darren Collison and Roddy Beaubois to pick up Nash at three-quarter court and that really slowed down Nash and led to the Lakers getting into their sets much slower. 2). Nash working off the ball did have some benefits. He occupied his man well and help rarely came off him, allowing the Lakers bigs more room to operate in the post. That said (and as I mentioned earlier) there was a bit too much off the ball work for Nash tonight.

Blake had a nice game and showed that he’s got a good handle on initiating the Lakers’ sets. He was assertive in trying to turn the corner when he ran the pick and roll and used his dribble judiciously to try and get into the creases of the D. That said, Blake still is not as aggressive as he needs to be in seeking out his own shot. He turned down at least two open jumpers in favor of taking a dribble that allowed the defense to recover to him. Blake did have at least one bad turnover where he kept the ball on the right side of the floor only to throw a late skip pass that got intercepted but overall I thought he did well in running the team when he was on the floor.

Where neither PG was that great was on defense. Nash found himself on his heels a lot against Collison and Beaubois both in the half court and in transition. Both Mavs PG’s tried to attack Nash in space and it ultimately allowed them to find their rhythm on offense which led to them hitting shots at a pretty high rate. Blake wasn’t much better than Nash in this respect. In the end, the Lakers’ PG’s played good position defense for the most part but also had too much trouble marking their man when on an island. Whether or not this becomes a trend remains to be seen but today’s results will only encourage more teams to attack them, and the Lakers, in this way.

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There are three games on the docket tonight — opening night for the association! — and the Lakers just so happen to be headlining in the 7:30pm PST slot (though Heat/Celtics certainly intrigues). The opponent is the Dallas Mavericks who, like the Lakers, are a dramatically changed team heading into this new season.

This Maverick team actually looks nothing like the one that won the championship just two seasons ago. The Mavs followed up the departures of Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barrea from a season ago with Jason Terry (Celtics) and Jason Kidd (Knicks) leaving this past off-season. The only meaningful pieces from that title team that remain are Dirk and Shawn Marion.

Into the mix, however, are some quality players to replace the departed. Darren Collison is now the lead guard and he’ll be joined in the backcourt by O.J. Mayo. Up front, the Mavs added Elton Brand via an amnesty waiver claim and picked up Chris Kaman as a free agent. Those four, Vince Carter, Brendan Haywood, Brendan Wright, Dhantay Jones, Roddy Beaubois, and the aforementioned Dirk and Marion form the (rather large) core of a team that the Mavs hope can again contend for a playoff spot and make a run.

That’s a ways off however, as it’s only October. It may also be wishful thinking. Dirk is currently out recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks (and as many as 6 weeks). Chris Kaman is also on the mend with a strained right calf but should be back after only a couple of games. Losing so much front court talent — especially Dirk — leaves the Mavs incredibly thin in the front court, to the point that they’ll likely start Eddy Curry at Center tonight. Yes. Eddy Curry. Add in any residual affect from waiving Delonte West and the Mavs are a question mark tonight and for the first part of the season. Which, in the crowded West can spell doom.

What’s not so much of a question is this Lakers’ team. Well, at least not a question in the same way. The Lakers’ injured star, one Kobe Bryant, has labeled himself 85% and, barring any setbacks before tip time, is likely to play tonight. He of course will be joined in the lineup by a bunch of other guys you’ve heard of because they’re quite famous. If you want to know more about them, simply read our season preview or any other number of things that have appeared at this site since early July. Really, go click away. We’ll still be here when you get back.

Tonight though, the journey begins. The Lakers are a bit banged up and would do well to try and get up early on an undermanned Mavs team, especially with the Blazers waiting in Portland to play spoiler in their home opener tomorrow night. That back to back would go over much smoother with a bit of rest.

A win would also be nice simply because this team hasn’t had one in a while. The last W the Lakers put up was in Summer League and those games count even less than the preseason games that don’t matter at all. Before that, go back to the playoffs of last season where the Lakers took one game off the Thunder. That was in May.

But this is a new year and it promises to be well worth our time while also keeping our attention. So, tune in (7:30pm PST tip time, TNT) and enjoy the start of the season. We’ve been waiting a long time for this, might as well enjoy it.

boardwalk empire

I wanted to do something different with my season preview this year. With the Lakers being the team from Hollywood, I wanted to take some inspiration from my television screen. I chose one of my favorite shows on right now, Boardwalk Empire. What follows are quotes from what’s been one of my favorite episodes this season, Spaghetti & Coffee. Hope you like it…

Gyp Rosetti: “What’s that? A gun? I gotta gun. I gotta gun, he gotta gun, he gotta gun…everybody got guns!”

If there’s a moment that defined last season for me, it was watching Mitch Kupchak in the stands in Oklahoma City standing there stone faced as the clock ticked down towards the Lakers’ getting eliminated. Kupchak looked…well…like a man who knew his  team was not good enough and that he would need to do something about it.

Fast-forward to today and Mitch Kupchak is a man that is no longer outgunned. In acquiring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard without giving up — outside of Andrew Bynum — any players of substance, Kupchak pulled off a pretty remarkable feat. He rebuilt the Lakers on the fly and positioned them to contend this season and for several more to come (should Howard re-sign at the end of the year).

And it wasn’t just the big names that he hauled in. He inked Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks as free agents at bargain prices. He retained Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill to bring back two younger players who still have promise and can grow. These four players should all be contributors in a revamped rotation that, while not sexy and still lacking a spark plug in the classic sense, is much better than the group of reserves that was trotted out last season.

This is not a perfect group of guys. The top of the roster is aged and the bottom still has some dead weight, but ultimately Mitch Kupchak reloaded this roster in a way that puts them right in the mix for a championship. I’m shaking my head at the notion as I type. He really did it.

Mickey Doyle: “You what’s goofy? Cash business like this? At the end of the day, I still have empty pockets.”

But in assembling such a high profile roster, the Lakers are paying a pretty penny in payroll. This season’s commitment is $100 million before a cent of luxury tax payments or revenue sharing goes to the league. Next year, the payroll has the potential to go down in terms of what the players make but overall spending will only go up due to the increase in luxury tax rates implemented in the new collective bargaining agreement.

There is relief down the road when Kobe, Pau, Ron, and Blake’s contracts come off the books all at the same time. But those contracts expiring only swap financial pressures for those associated with building a new roster that may be without one Kobe Bean Bryant (as well as Pau and Ron who, by any measure, will be vital to this team’s success).

Long story short, the Lakers have an open window to compete but it’s being propped open by a large wad of cash. At some point, that money — even with a ridiculously rich television contract — will not be enough and the strategy of spending to get where this team needs to go will be reevaluated. So, enjoy the splurging while you can. This is a super-team in the truest sense with talent other franchises could only dream of. But it’s being held together by the pocketbook of the Buss family and that will not last indefinitely.

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From Mark Bresnahan, LA TimesThe Lakers are clearly favored to win the Western Conference thanks to Oklahoma City’s stunning trade of guard James Harden. Just don’t tell them. “Let’s not fall into that stupidity from our end,” Pau Gasol said. As if expectations of the Lakers couldn’t get any larger, they just did. Oklahoma City broke up the core that went to the NBA Finals last season, concluding that its small-market budget couldn’t afford another large contract in addition to ones given to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in recent years. So the Thunder sent Harden to Houston for oft-injured shooting guard Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb and three future draft picks. Durant assessed Saturday’s trade with a one-word post on his Twitter account: “Wow.” Dwight Howard was slightly more analytical a day later. “He was a valuable piece in Oklahoma and I think they’re going to miss him a lot,” the Lakers center said.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: The question posed to Mike Brown is to describe Dwight Howard’s first weeks of practice, how the latest in the long line of great Lakers centers looks, whether the mighty expectations might actually be met. The words come to exist like popping corn inside Brown’s head, slowly but soon rapid-fire — because there are just so many descriptions the Lakers’ coach feels compelled to share in his answer. When you’re up close and you see,” Brown answers, “his power, his size, his strength, his agility, his quickness, his explosiveness, his skill set on a daily basis, it just amazes you that somebody can be that big and strong and do the things that he can do — athletically and physically.” Brown reaches for another word — “special” — to boil it all down. And that’s the one to explain why the Lakers pursued Howard for more than a year in a trade from Orlando before finally landing him in August, the latest monumental change of both earth and sky in Lakerland.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los AngelesWith the 2012-13 NBA season just a day away, the Los Angeles Lakers still do not know if Kobe Bryant will be in the opening night lineup. Bryant did not participate in practice Monday, marking the seventh straight day he was sidelined with a strained and bruised right foot that he hurt during the preseason while tripping over a Sacramento Kings player’s foot. Bryant will be a game-time decision Tuesday when the Lakers host the Dallas Mavericks. Bryant underwent an MRI late last week that merely confirmed a strain and contusion of Bryant’s foot, Lakers spokesman John Black said. Two Lakers sources told’s Ramona Shelburne Monday night that Bryant has made “progress” in the last few days, but there is still uncertainty over whether he will be able to play Tuesday night. Bryant posted on his Facebook page Monday night that he was “getting stronger” and added, “I will know more after shoot around tomorrow am. It’s still painful to raise up on my toes but, it’s strong. The decision to be made is whether the injury can heal while playing on it or if it will make it worse.”

From Brian Kamenetzky, ESPN Los AngelesWith the regular season opener against Dallas a little more than 24 hours away, it’s in that spirit I make the following 12 predictions about the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Which will be proven correct? Correct adjacent? Wrong, whether mildly or absurdly? We’ll know in six to eight months, give or take.

From Serena Winters, Lakers NationAt practice Monday, Mike Brown announced that Kobe’s play on opening night will be a game time decision. With Kobe out a seventh consecutive day (foot), Dwight Howard still not 100 percent in terms of endurance, and Jordan Hill sitting out another day at practice, the Lakers will be looking to their bench more than ever. Unfortunately, it sounds like the bench still has a lot of work to do, and only about 20 hours until their first regular season game against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday evening.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen & RollWhat we hope is a triumphant new area in Lakerdom kicks off Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and to get ready for this matchup I’ve been trading Q’s and A’s with Kirk Henderson of our excellent sister site Mavs Moneyball. My responses to Kirk’s inquiries will be up on Tuesday over there. In the meantime you can read Kirk’s game preview here, and below are his responses to a few questions of mine about the state of the Dallas franchise.

-Ryan Cole

After a nearly flawless off-season, we saw all of the Lakers flaws come to the forefront during the pre-season as the Lakers went 0-8 as Mike Brown tried to work around a new offensive system, new personnel, injuries and a roster that was simply too long with too many fringe guys. In the midst of the new personnel and injury reports was the Lakers newest big man who reportedly has biceps the size of ostrich and a smile as broad as his shoulders. More importantly, however, he jumps like a small forward and moves his feet like a shooting guard. Dwight Howard only played in two pre-season games, but how he’s played on the defensive end has already gotten my wheels turning about how the rest of the Lakers are going to have to defend differently with Howard on the floor.

It isn’t a secret that Kobe has lost a step on the defensive end of the floor despite the fact that he continues to rack up All-NBA defensive team awards. However, even when Kobe was at the apex of his defending abilities, he always had the tendency to creep into the paint and try to sit on passes or help out post defenders leaving his man open for jump shots. The Lakers have been burned time and time again by perimeter defenders getting sucked in too deep only to have the ball kicked out to a wide open Jason Terry or Shane Battier. Derek Fisher had this problem, Steve Blake has this problem, and I’ve noticed that Steve Nash has also had this problem in his eight games as a Laker. With Howard in the middle now, more than ever, the Lakers perimeter defenders should be encouraged to stay home on their man and force guys to beat them off the dribble instead of giving up wide open jump shots because Dwight can jump like a small forward and move his feet like a shooting guard. This first video is a perfect example of the good Howard will bring to the defense being negated by the bad habits that the Lakers perimeter defenders are going to have to change to maximize Howard’s talents.

Howard’s man, Jason Thompson, clears out from the left wing to the right block to create an ISO for Demarcus Cousins. Howard follows Thompson but stays help side to help out on any penetration. As the play progresses, Howard keeps an eye on both his man and the ball as Steve Nash comes down from the wing to unnecessarily front Thompson. This is problematic for two reasons: 1) Howard is already between Thompson and the ball, which makes Nash’s action redundant and 2) Nash is essentially using Thompson to set a screen on himself should the ball be kicked out to Isaiah Thomas, his assignment, in the corner. Tyreke Evans comes around Cousins and receives a handoff and drives baseline with Artest trailing and out of position to make a play. Dwight slides over and makes a great play on the ball as Thompson is boxing out Nash. Unfortunately, Evans recovers the block and kicks it out to Thomas who receives the pass and is already in rhythm to shoot the ball by the time Nash gets his first foot out of the paint. Nash exudes tons of effort to try and get back out to Isaiah but his efforts are futile. Splash.

While some of the faces to this Lakers team are new, the problems presented are not. The Lakers were consistently burned by kick out jump shots last season and it’ll likely continue to be a problem this year. However, this year that issue seems more correctable with Dwight, rather than Andrew Bynum, in the middle. A lot of this preseason has been focused around this team “gelling” together and this concept has been discussed about the offensive end of the floor ad nauseam. What hasn’t been discussed nearly enough is how they’re going to need just as much time to gel on the defensive end of the floor. Just like they’re going to have to break some bad habits and get used to the Princeton Offense, they’re going to have to do the same with Dwight in the middle as he corrects a lot of mistakes around the perimeter — but only if they’re making the correct mistakes.

As fantastic as Howard is on the defensive end, he can only do so much which is why the Lakers are going to need to play tighter coverage around the perimeter. Dwight can help clean up guys getting blown by or a defender losing his man on a back cut, but he [probably] can’t clean up a skip pass that leads to a wide-open corner three or a kick out from the post to the wing. Take the following for example.

The play begins with Kobe guarding Tyreke Evans, who kicks the ball to the corner and runs a cross screen action with Thomas Robinson in the paint. Kobe haphazardly follows Reke into the screen while watching the ball and follows the first body he feels behind him instead of finding his guy then getting back into a help position. Dwight does his job and stays with his man as neither screen was any good. As the double-cross screen is happening, Isaiah Thomas dumps the ball into James Johnson on the right block (being guarded by Artest). As he turns to face the rim, Robinson begins to clear out (taking Kobe and Howard with him) and Reke cuts through the wide-open for what should be an easy layup. Instead, Howard comes back across the lane and blocks the shot as its on its way up.

What can’t be overstated enough is how he’s going to change the complexities of this defense simply by his ability to move in ways that Andrew Bynum could not. Two years ago, I wrote a bread down post after Chris Paul picked and rolled the Lakers defense to death, and said if Andrew Bynum could continue to move his feet like he did in this single play, then the Lakers defense would be much improved. Of course the Lakers went on to win that series but their defensive efforts were not improved as they were eliminated in four games by another team who abused P&R sets. Now, the Lakers do have a guy who has the ability to hedge on the P&R, move his feet and recover on P&Rs and made Steve Nash look half way decent on one action that the Kings ran.

That was a fantastic example of how the Lakers perimeter defenders can take advantage of Howard’s range on the defensive end. After the Howard hedge, Nash was able to get back in front of Jimmer both times he received a screen. Also, Kobe was in a good spot defending Francisco in the corner. He still got sucked in trying to help in the paint, but as the P&R action was happening he kept one eye on Garcia and had only one foot in the paint, giving him a short enough distance to where he could effectively close out on a shot if the ball was swung to the corner. Even Pau did a great job of playing the back side of the cutter while Howard recovered from the hedge then used his length to close out on DeMarcus Cousins’ 17-footer.

It’s going to be a long process getting all of the guys on the same page on the defensive end of the floor, but this team is definitely better off with Howard prowling in the paint and beyond altering shots, correcting mistakes and finishing possessions with rebounds. I’m looking forward to seeing what ways the perimeter guys adjust to playing with a defensive force behind them, starting with their opening night game on this Tuesday.

The Pau of Los Angeles

Danny Chau —  October 29, 2012

I’d like to welcome Danny Chau as a contributor to FB&G. He’ll be joining us from time to time to write on the Lakers, basketball in general and, if we’re lucky, what he ate for lunch and where he got it. Danny brings a unique and incredibly thoughtful writing voice to the game we love and his L.A. roots make him well versed on what the Lakers mean to the city and the league at large. We’re lucky to have him. You can find more of Danny’s work at Hardwood Paroxysm and you can follow him on twitter here. His first effort is on Pau Gasol. Enjoy.

A nationally broadcasted Lakers game wouldn’t be complete without the panned-out shot of the ubiquitous Hollywood sign, standing tall and inert as it has been for almost 90 years. Hollywood is the spiritual home of the Los Angeles Lakers, a team with a history of blockbusters and A-list celebrities — and that doesn’t count the stars who attend home games. The team is one of the most recognizable in all of sports, and the idea of Hollywood is one of America’s most important and enduring cultural exports. It’s a symbiotic relationship that begets continued dominance.

With the introduction of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Lakers have their highest-profile team in almost a decade. The team, if the Hollywood spirit is still alive and well, will be among championship favorites just from the breadth of their star power. And in one fell swoop, Pau Gasol, once the team’s unquestioned second option, becomes the fourth player mentioned in any Lakers conversation. Naturally, he takes it in stride. After all, after a couple years of dealing with serious trade rumors and internal strife, it’s probably a blessing just to be standing as a Laker.

But Gasol’s relationship with dominance—and with those who expect him to dominate—has been tenuous at best, nonexistent at worst. Three consecutive trips to the Finals (with each one incrementally better than the last) as Kobe Bryant’s right hand man can do wonders for a player’s image, but Gasol has found out how soon the heaps of praise can wither when expectations are stacked too high. In four years time, he shed the “soft” label and then, once again, emerged as one of the softest players in the league. This is no small feat given the timeframe.

However, it seems most can agree that Gasol’s role in on this season’s team will be a positive for all parties involved. But if Kobe, Dwight, and Steve keep the team Hollywood as Hell, where does that leave Pau? I suppose with the rest of Los Angeles — a county that doesn’t always have the luster of its internationally-recognized focal point, but one with a compelling collective narrative all its own.

Los Angeles is a sprawl — as iconic as New York but nowhere near as condensed.  It’s a result of centuries of various ethnic migrations and subsequent white flight. Good, bad, or neither, it’s how the county became the cultural jigsaw it is today. Each city is its own archive; many of which are part of a grander story of how the underrepresented can still cultivate vibrant communities in spite of external forces. It’s a collection of compartmentalized clusters loosely sutured together by the freeway system.

Navigating through the county is a lifelong endeavor, and there are many who have made it their life’s work to map out as much of L.A’s everchanging landscape as humanly possible. Of course, food is a convenient way to experience much of L.A.’s cultural diversity. But it’ll take a drive. In the day time, head to the Harvard Heights district for a pupusa; at night, have as many tacos as you can handle from the taco tables that line Pico Blvd. Less than five miles away is Langer’s, where you will get some of the best pastrami anywhere on earth. Neighboring cities Gardena and Torrance are about 20 miles south, home to many stellar mom-and-pop ramen shops. A few miles east is Bludso’s BBQ in Compton, where I would suggest the Texas Sampler (bring a friend, or five) and the mac and cheese.  And I’d be thoughtless to neglect the San Gabriel Valley, my home, which in my unbiased opinion has the best regional Chinese and Taiwanese fare in America.

(Oh, and one of the best burritos I’ve ever eaten was from a small little shack in La Puente, an almost exclusively Latino community. It’s a family business owned and operated by a Korean father and son, obviously.)

It’s all worth taking in. It just requires time and patience and gas.

Pau is reading The Taoof Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Actually, he’s probably finished it by now. He’s not exactly taking up Daoist teachings from the source, but it’s a start. The core beliefs of Daoism center on the idea of flow and wu-wei, the way of being natural, of uncontrived action. Phil Jacksonsaid Gasol is the oil that makes the machine run. Kobe has said similar things in the past. Despite being lower on the chain of command, Gasol is the only player of the without a rigid set of objectives in the system. We have a good idea of what Dwight will bring to the team, and we know that Kobe, regardless of system, won’t be deviating far from what has made him the player he is. Nash’s historic shooting and pick and roll ability will both be viable at the beginning of any possession and as safety blankets when options begin to crumble. In an offense that won’t key in on strict sets and a defense with the most intimidating stopper in the league, Gasol will need to fluidly switch in and out of his many compartments to keep the Lakers steady. That means being a dual threat from the high post, defending the opposition’s best big man to give Howard the freedom to make plays elsewhere, and remaining aggressive on scoring opportunities.

A Gasol that can and does do everything on the court isn’t beyond the realm of possibility — he’s done it before. His game is understated; as understated as it can be when he’s basically good at everything. It’s easy to focus on Gasol’s startling passivity last year and how his role as a facilitator seemed to overshadow the rest of his game (never mind that Gasol averaged more shots a game than in any previous season as a Laker). With Andrew Bynum’s emergence over the last two seasons, Gasol adapted to the shift in focus in a sensible manner. Compartmentalizing his game allowed Bynum to blossom, but in sealing off portions of his game for the sake of continuity, he ceased to be the player the team needed. And when you’re playing alongside an obsessive maniac, dips in assertiveness are magnified. It’s baffling to consider Gasol the “glue guy” on this team when he is still among the league’s top talents, but he is. He’s the freeway system that can connect the team’s newfound diversity.

Pau is entering his fifth full season as a Laker, but there still seems to be a disconnect between the player he is and the player fans are expecting. In the new offense, perhaps Gasol’s freer role can serve as a reminder of why Gasol has been so integral to the Lakers’ success. With Howard and Nash soaking up a larger portion of the spotlight, it’s a good season to stop and appreciate the nuance of Gasol’s vision and footwork and balance. The team’s new look promises Michael Bay-esque explosions on screen. Gasol should ensure that the dialogue won’t be half bad either.

That Hollywood sign is why many come to Los Angeles, but you stay for the rest of it. Los Angeles is dense, but it rewards your effort. So take a drive. Maybe put on the new Kendrick Lamar album. The world of Los Angeles can’t be taken in all at once. There’s just too much there hidden from plain sight and so much left undiscovered. Absorb the experience in bits and pieces, and live without ever expecting to complete the jigsaw. If that sounds like an endeavor worth undertaking, then there’s one reason why Pau Gasol is worth rooting for.