All The Way From El Segundo

Dave Murphy —  October 12, 2013

The Los Angeles Lakers traveled to China yesterday for the first time as a team. It’s a pretty big deal on a lot of levels. As part of the NBA Global Games, the Lakers will play two matches against the Golden State Warriors. The first takes place in Beijing on Tuesday, October 15. The second will be in Shanghai, three days later. There will be ample time to take in the sights and culture, including of course, the Great Wall of China. Many of the players will be accompanied by family. The NBA represents big money in China as well as a genuine love of the game.

Kobe Bryant knows China well, having traveled there on behalf of Nike for eight consecutive years. He was also a member of the U.S. gold medal team in Beijing in 2008. The team’s head physical therapist, Dr. Judy Seto, offers a nice perspective, not only on Bryant’s immense popularity but on the country itself.

Trips like this can serve as important bonding opportunities. With the on-court chemistry displayed so far in the young preseason, it may be icing on the cake. The team certainly doesn’t have the superstar panache of last year’s edition. They also don’t have the divisiveness that arrived with a player who could have been the future of the franchise. The franchise may have dodged a bullet when he continued on his way.

Despite the enduring presence of Pau Gasol, the current Los Angeles Lakers may not seem like a multicultural juggernaut. They are long removed from the days of the linguistically challenged Slava Medvedenko. And, the second coming of The Machine never came to pass.

Still, an international flavor does exist. It starts at the top and I don’t mean Jim Buss.

Mike D’Antoni began his pro basketball career in the NBA as a point guard. He moved to Italy five years later, leading Olimpia Milano to five Italian League titles and two Euroleague titles. He transitioned to seven successful years as a coach in the Italian league. He also met a kid named Kobe while playing alongside Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant in Milan. As D’Antoni recalls, young Bryant used to shoot baskets on court during halftime and “we’d have to beat him off the court to start the second half.”

Pau Gasol of course hails from Spain. He’s a bit of a national treasure there. He’s also pretty well liked in the states. We all know about last year’s challenges. The relationship between Gasol and D’Antoni has mellowed since then, with the coach recently making it clear that he considers Pau to be a better post player than the guy who drifted through last season. Gasol played for FC Barcelona Basquet for three years before joining the NBA. He has also played regularly with the Spanish national team, including three Olympics.

Representing the pacific northwestern soccer and hackysack contingent, Steve Nash grew up in British Columbia by way of Johannesburg, South Africa. The northern province may not exactly evoke Euroleague vibes but it does offer rainy mountainous fjords and over 6,000 islands. Nash is the oldest active player in the NBA at the moment. Most basketball fans would like to see him healthy and playing well again – a Steve Nash no-look pass is a beautiful thing.

What about the rank and file players? Robert Sacre is the other guy from British Columbia, by way of New Orleans. Sacre moved to Canada at age 7 with his mom Leslie, a Canadian who played college ball at LSU for the Lady Tigers. His father, Greg LeFleur was a tight end in the NFL with the Eagles, Colts and Cardinals. Sacre, one of two Gonzaga products for the Lakers, was the last pick in the 2012 draft and has managed to stick.

Xavier Henry was a nice surprise in his first two preseason games. Since then, not so much. Henry was born in Belgium due to the fact that his dad was playing pro basketball there at the time. The Henry family eventually returned to their Oklahoma roots – Xavier was a prep superstar and would eventually be selected as the 12th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. He’s one of several lottery draft busts seeking redemption, or at least a spot on the roster.

Elias Harris represents a different kind of draft prospect, as in the kind that didn’t get picked at all. Growing up in Speyer, Germany, his first love was soccer. He was steered toward basketball by his father, a 6-4 wing who played pro ball in Europe. Elias Harris played for the German national team and came to the U.S. to play for Gonzaga. He’s an athletic hybrid forward and plays hard, but is only averaging 11.3 minutes a game in preseason.

There’s also the guys who didn’t grow up internationally but have spent some time overseas. Chris Kaman has played for the German national team, including the Beijing Olympics, through some teutonic bloodline. Jordan Farmar grew up in Los Angeles but spent the past two seasons playing in Israel and Turkey. Darius Johnson-Odom played for Spartak St. Petersburg of Russia and Marcus Landry will be revisiting familiar territory during the Lakers’ China trip – he spent part of last year with the Shanghai Sharks.

As far as I know, neither Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Shawne Williams or Ryan Kelly have an international basketball story. As of today, they’ll be spending some quality time in China, the world’s most populous country, often referred to as the cradle of existing civilization.

By the time a player makes it to the NBA, he’s been a star somewhere. There’s only so much room at the top of the pyramid however, success is often a matter of fitting in. Kobe Bryant will be back in action at some point and will no doubt take his rightful place – he’s one of the game’s true giants. As for the team on whole, they’re arguably entering their most transitional period in a generation of basketball.

Regardless of expectations, the Lakers enter this season with an unfamiliar narrative – nobody seems to be talking conflict, or at least it’s not coming from the players. Basketball is a melting pot, regardless of whether you come from Belgium, the Berry Capital of Canada or downtown Memphis. On the floor there are only the painted lines and players, one ball to be shared or fought over, the sound of whistles and shoes and the swelling noise of the crowd. You find your home on the court and that means the road as well.

17 players will enjoy their week in China, all the way from El Segundo. When they return, there will be another roster cut and a couple more exhibitions. And then the season’s clock resets.

Dave Murphy

Posts

33 responses to All The Way From El Segundo

  1. Well at least a few guys got a free trip to China before nut cutting time.

  2. nice piece Dave, it´s always good to get background info on the players too.
    by the way, Shawne´s play so far seems to be doing your piece at `Searching…´ justice!

  3. Long term strategy vs Short term fix. This is a dilemma the Lakers will be facing this year. Amidst turmoil from last season, with its free agency hand being forced by one Dwight Howard leaving for Rocketown, the Lakers now have a decision to make.

    The number of teams with open cap space are becoming limited. There are teams with the big-ish trade exceptions remaining and there are those that have big expiring contracts. These are potential trade partners and these are real possibilities.

    For the first time in a very long time, the Lakers have a unique opportunity to: 1. Have an excuse for a .500 team or worse; 2. Be under the luxury tax and a chance to reset its repeat-offender status.

    At the same time, the Lakers are not openly tanking and they seem to have the focus of surprising everyone in the league – including themselves.

    So how does this bid for Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill and possibly Pau Gasol? There’s good reason to keep everyone amidst uncertainty, but thats also the same reason you need to look at long-term strategy in the process. On a year where expectations are lower than usual, if not the lowest it has been in 15 seasons-plus, why not use the year to execute a plan that would enable us to compete for the next 15 after this?

    Next season when the Lakers will have an estimated 50 million in cap space (less Kobe and Pau’s possible contracts) the team is allowed to spend this on a number of free agents but the CBA will not allow it to exceed the lux tax) and thus allowing the Lakers to have a clean slate in terms of the repeat offender. The following season, when Steve Nash inevitably calls it quits there’s some 10-12 million more to spend.

    (edited for trade speculation)

  4. PB, I’m liking how Shawne’s playing too. He still needs to get his timing and endurance but I’m hopeful.

  5. Good summary of the Lakers’ international connections, Dave. It shows how truly global the NBA–and basketball in general–has become.

  6. Who is Chris Kamen?

  7. The question should be why is Chris K on a toboggan and smashing his finger at the Great Wall in China. Smart?

  8. Okay, 8 comments and no one has ripped D’Antoni yet. Is that a FBG record Darius?

  9. Scorcher

    Out of sight out of mind .

    Point is this year does it matter? How many games would Phil or Pops win with this roster? For this team Mike is fine. Average coach for an average team. 45 wins ok. 52 and he is coach of the year. On pace for 32 and fired by Jan.

  10. Ian R – okay, you got me. I misspelled Kaman’s name. My apologies to the basketball universe. And Kaman of course.

  11. Dave

    I get pelted on misspells daily. Perhaps the fact that some of us are often on the road with little time to check has something to do with it. Thancs!

  12. Keno,
    Lol, that’s more like it. my guess, I say 38 wins with a ton of injuries. (unless the lakers go on full tank mode)

  13. Warren came out guns ablazing about Laker money issues. But nobody else wanted to follow suit so far.

  14. Nova: I guess you could say we’ve gone over it a few times.

    Anyone: Why wouldn’t the team officials recognize the potential for mishap and forbid the players from sledding?

    And finally: Why do I feel sanguine about this season? Because the team isn’t very good and as a Laker fan since the twilight days of Wilt and Jerry, I’ve had so much to cheer for that I can’t get too down about the certainty of a rebuild. I’ll watch the young guys and see if any exceed our hopes. I’ll admire Kobe’s will to overcome a career killer injury–whatever the outcome. I’ll thrill for the surprise victory over better teams, hope (maybe) for an exciting trade deadline deal, and if we fail to make the playoffs, I’ll wear my lucky purple and gold gear for the lottery show. Yep, it’s going to be an interesting journey–I’m all in.

  15. Stuck in moderation . . . I feel like a character in a Kafka novel.

  16. bryan s. “and finally”… well said; totally agree! GO LAKERS FOREVER!

  17. bryan s. “and finally”… well said; totally agree! GO LAKERS FOREVER!

  18. I know its Laker Nation and all but what does everyone think of the trade speculation (again) about Gasol for a scoring point guard?

    I’d rather the lakers trade for a 3 like Danny Granger or Deng if anything…just my two cents…I’d rather ride it out with Farmar starting which he should probably do anyways…

  19. dave m: approximately 521 years before lakers went to china,

    this man was in route to america.

    happy columbus day !

    Go Lakers

  20. LakerFanatic,

    No. The Lakers are not trading Pau Gasol–let alone Pau Gasol for a point guard. They already have 3 pg’s on the team. That is what they call “idle specultation.”

    Meanwhile, on a more interesting note, I read (or thought that I read) early this morning that Kobe had actually participated in yesterday’s practice with the team. But now I can’t find the link. Was I still bleary-eyed from having recently wakened? Was I hallucinating? If anyone can find that link, that would be great.

    Kobe could be back sooner than the pessimists have been thinking. Of course…we’ll just have to wait and see.

  21. @LakerFanatic: I thought all the talk from the media day was that Pau was going to feature heavily in the offence this season. I think the FO is committed to giving Pau the post again and seeing what happens… That kind of move would also leave us with a gaping whole up front. Just hoping there can’t be a repeat of last season’s injury crises.

  22. We need a 3 a lot more than a pg at this point. Leave Pau alone; Gasol is going to return to all-star form this season. Also watch out for Chris Kaman, Farmar and Swaggy-P. Playoffs or not this team will play team ball and be fairly competitive.

  23. Mid-Wilshire,

    No, you’re not hallucinating. Kobe hasn’t practiced with the team on court yet, but he seems to be getting close. He was running on the concourse of the Beijing MasterCard arena where the Lakers practiced.

    http://probasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/10/14/kobe-bryant-practices-with-lakers-in-china/

  24. Mid-Wilshire:

    The link below and quote from same is the closest I’ve seen to that sentiment. I think this is an article from today

    +++++++++++++++++++++++

    http://www.cbssports.com/nba/eye-on-basketball/24078588/kobe-bryant-says-he-could-play-in-a-playoff-game-right-now-is-close-to-full-practice

    “In the land where they worship him for his work ethic, Kobe Bryant said Monday that the long rehabilitation from his Achilles tendon tear has reached the point where “if today was a playoff or NBA Finals [game], could I play? Probably.”

    Bryant said he intended to test himself in part of Lakers practice and formulate a better idea from it how close he is to starting full practice.

    “I feel pretty damn good, so I’m going to get out today and try to move around on the court,” he said”

  25. Damn, when was the last time I saw a thread where comments were more being an optimist rather than bashing..

    WTF! as I wrote this comment I stopped. Some earthquake here in the Philippines..

  26. Vhan – Agreed, nice to see the optimism.

    I think management is optimistic about the team until the results on the floor force their hand. If everything falls into place this has the ingredients for a magical year.

    If the wheels fall off before the trade deadline it will be interesting to see what the FO does. Lot’s of basketball before then, though. Go Lakers!

  27. Dr Flapper might be right…Kobe on opening night…will give the team an emotional start….All he has to do is play 15 or so minutes and start to get in game shape….why not?

  28. gene,

    Heck, I’d love to see him play for even just a few minutes–like David Lee did in the playoffs last spring for the Warriors. It would be an inspirational moment for the ages. :)

  29. Warren,

    I think the Lakers would love to discard Blake, Hill and maybe Meeks to get under the cap. But, I think that would be hard to pull off trading piece meal without taking money back. I only see trading Gasol as a simple route to cost cutting. However I wouldn’t really want to do that. I think odds are the Lakers won’t get under the cap this year. But if they could pull it off it would really be amazing.

  30. Vasheed, like I said only a few teams left with a big trade exception and pure cap space to spare.

  31. Ryan Kelly seeing his 1st floor burn of the preseason.

  32. Least impressive in China.
    Meeks everything
    Blake shooting
    Hill offense
    Nash passing

  33. Actually think Gasol is going to be traded at the deadline…too valuable of piece…19 million coming off the books for a 1/2 season rental and a skilled player who a team can audition and then if they like can resign him…

    Lakers usually trade players at the right time and don’t hold on to them too long (Shaq and Bynum come to mind)…if the Lakers keep him through the entire contract he is definitely retiring a Laker unless he gets lowballed or someone just offers him a lot more money.