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Records: Lakers 11-41, Last in the West; Spurs 42-8, 2nd in the West
Offensive ratings: Lakers 97.2, 29th in NBA; Spurs 109.2, 3rd in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.2, Last in the NBA; Spurs 94.7, 1st in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert
Spurs: Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won two games in a row, beating the Wolves in LA and the Pelicans in New Orleans to start this road trip. The wins were highlighted by strong play from Kobe Bryant, but he did not win these games on his own — not even the Wolves game where he posted a 38-5-5 line that was as throwback as they come.

No, the team has been getting good efforts from multiple players, especially offensively. Julius Randle has been a double-double machine while shooting a strong percentage, D’Angelo Russell has been doing good work in the post while also knocking down outside shots, Jordan Clarkson has been consistent and a top scoring option, and Lou Williams has provided efficient scoring by getting to the line and creating shots in isolation.

More to the point, this is the team many optimists saw as the best version of the Lakers for this season. Factors — up and down play from the youngsters, Kobe’s on and off health and struggles with finding his legs, not being able to compensate for really bad defense — has limited how often we have seen this type of play. But the team has gotten it these last two games and it’s led to wins and some entertaining basketball.

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The Lakers start a 4 game road trip tonight in New Orleans, a trip which will double as a Kobe retirement tour at every stop. So, expect there to be some tribute videos and electric environments full of fans for both teams eager to say their goodbyes to #24. With this, of course, comes some distractions, even if only small ones.

This isn’t the biggest deal, but it it’s not nothing either. Kobe will be showered with good vibes and the rest of the team will have to try and channel that energy into positive performances. Because no matter how the game goes, Kobe will get his cheers. I’ve no clue how his teammates fell about this — I’d imagine it’s a bit cool to see — but hearing “oohs and ahs” when one guy touches the ball or takes a shot regardless of result has to at least be strange.

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Coming into this season, his 3rd with the Lakers, Nick Young was put on notice. He ended his second season with the team firmly in Byron Scott’s doghouse and the only way out of it was to no longer play like Nick Young. Scott said he wanted Young to play better defense, to exercise more discretion offensively, and to be a more serious player. If he did these things, he might see more playing time. If he didn’t, well, the wood has a way of speaking to a player, as this coach is fond of saying.

So, what did young do? He tried to improve in the areas the coach asked him to. At the start of the year was often seen trying on defense and taking less crazy shots in isolation. While he wasn’t a playmaker, he was more willing to move the ball and resembled more of the player he was under Mike D’Antoni; more of the player who the Lakers thought they were keeping on when he resigned after his first with team.

It turns out, though, that really didn’t last. Since the first 10-15 games of the season, Young’s shooting has fallen off, his effort on defense has been spotty, and he has fallen into the trap of looking for his own shot — especially when working in isolation. A tiger doesn’t change its stripes, after all.

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Records: Lakers 9-41, Last in the West; Timberwolves 14-35, 14th in the West
Offensive ratings: Lakers 96.6, 29th in NBA; Timberwolves 101.7, 23rd in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.2, Last in the NBA; Timberwolves 105.3, 22nd in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Anthony Brown, Randle, Hibbert
Timberwolves: Rubio, Wiggins, Tayshaun Prince, Gorgui Dieng, Karl Anthony-Towns

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have tied their franchise worst 10 game losing streak. They have also lost 14 of their last 15 games and 16 of their last 20. I could go on, but you get the point. The losing has been bad and, to make matters worse, the L’s have been by large margins.

All of the losing has stirred up the ongoing themes of player development and what is the best way to handle the rotations with all these losses piling up. After all, if the team is losing, why not change things up and start to focus more on the young players? Byron Scott says D’Angelo Russell will be inserted back into the starting group eventually, hinting it will happen after the all-star break. That hasn’t appeased many people, though. In fact, Scott has come under fire recently, from former UCLA star and current Clipper announcer Don McLean, for how he has handled Russell’s development this season.

Excellent summaries of this very public spat can be found here, by Dan Devine and here by Kurt Helin so I will spare you the specifics. They also offer some very level headed thoughts on the matter so I would read what they have to say. Really, go do it, we’ll be here when you get back. My thoughts on this are pretty simple, but can best be summed up with a few short bullet points:

  • I don’t know what Scott says or does behind the scenes in supporting and developing players, so it’s important to acknowledge that we can only know so much.
  • What we do know is heavily influenced by Scott’s public comments.
  • Scott’s public comments, about Russell specifically, have skewed negative multiple times over the course of the season.
  • Some of Russell’s recent comments imply he’s struggling, not only in his play but in his understanding of how to improve and with the lines of communication between himself and the coach.
  • The foundation of any good player/coach relationship is communication. The foundation of any good coaching is communication.
  • If Byron Scott is struggling to communicate with Russell or any of the other players — young or veteran — he must find a way to break through that. Communication is a two-way street, but if your tactics are not working with a player, finding ways to make it work are more on the coach. This is especially true with young players who need more guidance and direction, especially in their first couple of seasons while they are learning the league.

Again, I do not know what is happening behind the scenes, but there needs to be improvement here. And, yes, I’m putting the onus on the coach to make those inroads. Especially when what I am seeing, publicly, implies he has room to improve his approach.

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Over at SB Nation, Tom Ziller did his yearly rankings of the top 100 pending free agents. It’s a must read for anyone interested in what player movement might be coming this summer and how teams’ dollars will be allocated in the search for outside roster help (non-trade variety). I’d suggest giving the entire entry a read, especially since the Lakers are primed to be major players in the FA market with, potentially, $60 million to spend on reinforcements.

But my focus isn’t on who the Lakers might target from outside their roster, but instead on one of their own core players who enters free agency: Jordan Clarkson. The 2nd year guard ranks 21st on Ziller’s list and has the following entry attached:

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Records: Lakers 9-40, Last in the West; Hornets 22-25, 10th in the East
Offensive ratings: Lakers 96.9, 29th in NBA; Hornets 102.6, 15th in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.4, Last in the NBA; Hornets 102.5, (T) 13th in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Anthony Brown, Randle, Hibbert
Hornets: Kemba, PJ Hairston, MKG, Marvin’s Room, Spencer Hawes

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have now lost 9 games in a row or, said another way, have managed to lose as many games in a row as they have won all season. The 9 game streak is the 2nd longest in team history, but a loss tonight would tie that record. If you’re wondering the last time the team lost 9 games straight it was…last season. So, yeah, Byron Scott holds a couple of dubious distinctions in the form of consecutive losses (both for the Lakers and the NBA) and can add to his legend tonight.

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The Lakers, after a deflating and bad loss against the Bulls on Thursday, are back in action on Friday against the Clippers. The loss against the Bulls was the Lakers 8th straight, their longest of the season, and only enhanced the struggles the team has been dealing with lately.

After the game Byron Scott railed on his team, questioning how important the game was to some of his players, again noted that his team did not come out ready to play, and threatened making lineup changes (again) to find players who would compete each night.

I’d go off on some long rant right now on how these comments can, by some, be interpreted as another deflection by the coach; that when your team isn’t ready to play, it reflects as much on the guy in charge (if not more) as it does on the players; that the next time this coach takes some ownership over his team’s struggles to “compete” it will be the first (second, maybe?), but I won’t write more than that single sentence. Why bother.

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On D’Angelo Russell…

Darius Soriano —  January 29, 2016 — 21 Comments

I have many thoughts about D’Angelo Russell. Most of them good, some of them concerning, all of them pitted against the backdrop of his age, the direction the league is headed, and his current position on this specific version of the Lakers.

That’s a mouthful, I know.

In a shade under 4 weeks, Russell will turn 20 years old. In NBA years, he is a baby. And while he possesses a polished game, it sometimes only takes a light wipe to pull away some of that veneer and see all that he currently is not. And when playing for an organization that is not used to the types of lows currently experienced and in an era of instant gratification/reward seeking, the breaking down of what Russell isn’t has become a favorite pastime for some.

I am not completely exempt from this. I look at Russell and have concerns. He has a laid back demeanor that can, visually, influence how hard I think he’s playing — especially defensively. There are some bad habits I see nightly. Not running back hard on defense. Not defending with assertiveness. Relaxed hands when guarding on the ball. Lack of effort to fight on the glass when switching in the P&R. Not enough…well, effort. I see it.

Then I reflect. These are flaws, but they seem to be habits that can be broken. I watch guards who came into the league young and see where they are now and understand that the things I don’t like now are things which can be learned and executed as a career advances. I remember that he’s not yet even 20 and I know through good teaching and a want to be better, improvement comes over time. That doesn’t just apply to basketball.

I also see all the good in this kid’s game. All that skill. The ball handling — which could be tighter, but is still excellent. The shot making and pure stroke. The feel for passing and how defenses move. The ability to not only see the pass, but execute it on time and on target. The desire to lead. The recognition of the moment and the visual uptick in wanting to do more in games that are tight, late. And then I remember that he’s not yet even 20 and that through good teaching and a want to be better, improvement comes over time. And that, in this case, it does apply to basketball.

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