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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Besides continuing to bring in free agents to fill out the roster heading into training camp, the only thing left for Byron Scott to do this off-season is to finalize his coaching staff. While Scott hinted that one of those hires may be his son, it looks like the first name to be added may end up being someone different:

For those unfamiliar with Kokoskov, Stein offers a bit of background too:

Besides serving on Brown’s staff last season, Kokoskov has 15 years of NBA experience, serving as an assistant on some very good teams. From his bio on NBA.com:

During his tenure on an NBA bench, Kokoskov’s teams have made six conference finals appearances, two NBA Finals trips and have earned one NBA championship. 

Kokoskov joined the Suns after five seasons with the Detroit Pistons (2003-2008), reaching the conference finals in each campaign and earning the 2004 NBA title. Prior to joining the Pistons, Kokoskov served as an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers from 2000-03 under then-head coach Alvin Gentry, becoming the first full-time, non-American assistant coach in NBA history. Kokoskov later became the first non-American assistant to win an NBA championship and also the first to serve on an NBA All-Star Game coaching staff. 

He also has a background at the NCAA level and is well regarded internationally:

He owns the distinction of being the first European coach to hold a full-time position with an NCAA Division I-A school when he served as an assistant at the University of Missouri during the 1999-00 season under Quinn Snyder and with current Milwaukee Bucks General Manager John Hammond. A native of Belgrade, Serbia, Kokoskov owns extensive international experience as a head coach and assistant coach. He was an assistant with the Serbian national team at the 2004 Athens Olympics under renowned European coach Zeljko Obradovic. Kokoskov has enjoyed six successful summers (2008-13) as the national team head coach for the Republic of Georgia. His team has twice qualified for the European Championships during his tenure, something the nation had never done previously. In 2012, his work with the national team earned him the Order of Honour, Georgia’s highest civilian honor. 

While I cannot speak to Kokoskov’s coaching philosophy or what type of schemes he like, I can say that he has been a part of some very good teams while serving on the staffs of some very good coaches. When you add that to his success as a head coach internationally, this looks to be a good hire by Scott, should it be finalized.

If you are an NBA fan, you are familiar with Allen Iverson’s famous rant on practice. In response to a report that Iverson had missed a session (and his coach’s criticism that came with it), he vented to the press and delivered the now famous quotes. While that clip will never cease to make me smile, we must not forget that for all intents and purposes, Iverson was wrong in the big picture. His coach at the time, Larry Brown, came from the Dean Smith tree of coaching that emphasized “playing the right way” and establishing good habits in, yes, practice. Iverson, acknowledged those things, but still turned the moment into a half joke-half serious retort to the idea in principle, going so far as to rhetorically ask how he can make his teammates better by practicing.

I take this trip down memory lane not to beat up The Answer or to try and tarnish the rep of a guy who I used to love to watch compete. No, I bring it up because I was thinking about A.I.’s one time rival, Mr. Kobe Bean Bryant and one of the ways he can most help this year’s Lakers.

In a recent sit down with Dave McMenamin, Nick Young waxed on many topics, including growing up in Los Angeles, his “legend” status as a competitor in the famous Drew League, and returning to the Lakers to try and build on his strong individual campaign last year. He also talked about Kobe and offered these very nice words on his teammate:

“He’s been great, really. He’s been like my mentor, really, right now. He’s been calling, texting me, talking to me, motivating me. I think that’s big. Growing up, who would have thought Kobe would be the one doing all that? I didn’t ever think I’d be working out with Kobe or talking to him.”

Kobe “the mentor” is an idea that comes up periodically from both current and former teammates. Often times it’s framed in the exact manner that Young did, almost in a “who’d have thunk it?” way or as a means of contrasting what is the more general view of Kobe as a teammate. More often than not, we think of Kobe as a guy who will get in teammates faces and tell them the things they don’t want to hear, rather than the nurturing type who builds guys up. He has gone on record as someone who leads through confrontation, after all, so it’s not a surprise that conventional thinking exists.

No leader is any one way all the time, however, so this isn’t a matter of style or tactics or, even, effectiveness (which I’d argue Kobe very much is). It’s a matter of presence. Last year, Kobe was not around. While he was with the team during his comeback from his achilles injury, his presence faded after fracturing a bone in his knee that kept him out after his brief six game return. The longer his absence from the court went, the less and less Kobe was around the guys, either on the bench at the games or at the practices to serve as an example and voice of leadership.

In a way, his absence from the practice court reminded me of the 2011 season. That year, the Lakers were coming off back to back championships and three straight runs to the Finals. Kobe had suffered through knee issues most of the year before and had to have his knee drained on more than one occasion during the playoffs that saw the Lakers dispatch the Celtics in seven games to claim the championship. In 2011, then, Peter Vescey, at that time of the New York Post, broke the news that Kobe Bryant had not been practicing due to recurring issues with his knee. In typical Kobe fashion, he was defiant about his injury, but still acknowledged that his lack of practicing had an impact.

Following the disappointing end to that season, Kobe spoke about this during his exit interview, which Brian Kamenetzky (then with ESPN) captured and discussed:

That Kobe was unable to practice with any consistency is no secret. Asked about how it impacted the team, Bryant said he was disappointed in how the team reacted, believing the players didn’t quite have the same intensity as they otherwise might have, since “big brother” wasn’t on the floor to keep them in line. They could take “days off.” There’s probably some truth to that, but the larger issue is how hard it is for a team to gain continuity on both sides of the ball when the main cog is rarely on the floor to practice. Particularly offensively, where the Lakers struggled to create good looks deeper into games. It wasn’t something that could be avoided — Kobe wasn’t sitting on the sidelines to protect a pedicure, but a bum knee — but was a factor for sure.

This upcoming season, Kobe faces multiple individual challenges. He is coming off major injuries and is staring at his basketball mortality while battling father time. Embedded in the fabric of these challenges, however, is the fact that he must still lead his team. And, in order to do so, he must be a part of the group and, yes, be in practices as the driving force behind creating the culture that Byron Scott is so fond of discussing.

There are complications, however. Even if disregarding the recent injury history, there is the fact that Kobe is…old. He recently called himself “70 in basketball years” and, while it’s a hyperbolic line that inspired a few chuckles, it’s also rooted in truth. After over 50K minutes combined regular season and playoff minutes, Kobe will need the proper rest to play at a high level. This rest needs to be given not only in games, but in practices as well.

Further, Byron Scott is not known for his lax practices. In fact, it’s the opposite. In a recent sit down with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, the question about how Scott liked to practice was barely completed before “Hard” was coming out the head coach’s mouth. He followed that up with a comment about needing to find a balance, understanding his players, and how he’d handle back to backs, but the implication was clear. Scott will work his players hard in practice in the hopes of drilling them on how things need to be done in game situations. As a Pat Riley disciple, we should not expect less.

For Kobe, then, how this plays out will be something to watch this year. If the team is going to achieve at the levels they hope to internally, Kobe will need to be front and center and providing an example, not just in the games, but in the practices. History has proven as much.

We are about six week away from the start of training camp and the Lakers are making moves to finalize their roster in the lead up to camp. While the team will likely carry as many as 20 players into the preseason, I expect the team to carry no more than 14 once the regular campaign starts.

Of those guys who I fully believe will make the final cut, one will surely be Jordan Clarkson, the rookie (point) guard who the Lakers selected with the 46th pick in this past draft. It was announced this week that Clarkson was officially signed to his rookie deal, a formality that many had been waiting for. The terms of the deal were not released, but per Eric Pincus of the L.A. Times and Basketball Insiders, Clarkson’s deal is a two year contract with the first season fully guaranteed at a shade over $500K and the second year not guaranteed at nearly $850K. Considering the Lakers paid $1.8 million for the right to even draft Clarkson, it’s no surprise that his contract is structured the way that it is.

I will admit, I have a slight irrationality towards Clarkson. His combination of size and athleticism paired with his good showing in Las Vegas on the summer league team, leave me thinking he has a future in this league. I have compared his game to Monta Ellis’ and while I don’t envision he will be as good as the former prep-to-pros standout, I do think Clarkson can find his niche as a combo guard who can score and run an offense capably enough to stick in the league for a long time. In a way, he’s a hybrid of two former Lakers’ 2nd round picks, bringing the size that Darius Morris offered and some of the scoring instinct that Andrew Goudelock displayed. What Clarkson has that neither of those two did is an NBA ready quickness (as well as more athleticism than either) — a trait that will surely help him as he adjusts to the pace and tempo of this league compared to what he saw in college.

With that tempo, Clarkson will need to adjust and learn how to run an NBA offense in a way that involves others rather than only looking for his own offense. He can likely survive as a scorer initially, but at some point defenses respond to what you are and you either adapt or fade away to the end of the bench as effectiveness wanes. I have hopes that Clarkson will overcome, but as a second round pick he has a lot of growing to do. I think he can do it, but as I noted before, I’m not fully rational about this one. Time will tell.

Though Clarkson inked his deal, the Lakers are still looking at other players at all positions. According to Sam Amick of USA Today, the Lakers worked out 8 players this week:

After missing out on LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in July, the Lakers held a free agent workout Tuesday in Los Angeles. The workout included forward Michael Beasley; big men Dexter Pittman, Greg Stiemsma, and Daniel Orton; and guards Bobby Brown, Toney Douglas, Ben Hansbrough and Malcolm Lee, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports.

The name that draws the most attention here, of course, is Michael Beasley’s. This is the 2nd workout the underachieving forward has had with the team. I don’t use that term to discredit Beasley, it is simply the most apt term to describe the former #2 overall pick who has burned bridges (and blunts) with nearly every team he’s come into contact with since he came into the league. Beasley possesses prodigious talent and an ability to let it escape him routinely via poor choices both on and off the court. There is a reason he’s unsigned at this stage of free agency and why he’ll be lucky to latch on with any team for a non-guaranteed minimum salary.

The others names on the list are a mix of big men who offer bulk and the hope of shot blocking and some nondescript guards. The name most people will recognize is Toney Douglass, the former Knick, Warrior, and Heat who will ply his craft in China in the immediate future. The name that interests me the most, however, is Ben Hansbrough, brother of former Pacer (and UNC College Player of the Year) Tyler Hansbrough. Ben went undrafted out of Notre Dame the year the Lakers selected the aforementioned Morris and Goudelock, taking his game to Europe rather than staying stateside. Hansbrough isn’t a very good athlete, but offers grit and and some shooting chops that could land him a gig in the NBA some day.

His name interests me, though, because even with Clarkson on board, the Lakers have to be exploring the idea of signing another point guard unless they want to go into the season having to either 1). depend on Steve Nash for minutes or 2). depend on playing Kobe or Xavier Henry out of position at PG for stretches. Some might be comfortable with just letting Clarkson play backup PG and that may very well be the plan. But one injury means the team is in the same hole they were last year with not enough guards on the roster and scrambling for answers via the D-League or street free agents.

We all saw how that worked out last year (no disrespect to Kendall Marshall), so the team will need to keep all their options open can continue to explore how to sure up the final roster as they transition from Summer, to camp, to the regular season.