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It seemed like a perfectly normal play. Isolated on the right wing, Randle looked his man up and down then took off using his quick first step to his right hand with a power dribble. Halfway through his move, he seemed to lose his balance, but still exploded towards the hoop, only to miss the shot and have his momentum (and what looked like a defender slightly riding him) take him to the ground. As the camera panned to the other direction, however, I noticed that Randle had not motioned to get up like most players would in that instance. Play continued the other direction and Randle still had not returned to the defensive side of the floor. On twitter, I wondered if he were hurt:

Of course, we have learned that Randle was hurt. On what can only be described as a freak of a play, Randle suffered a broken tibia on the drive. Reports from Ramona Shelburne this morning confirmed the injury:

If the four to six month timeline holds up, Randle’s rookie season is essentially over. Sure, he could be back in March or April, but that would be right at the tail end of the year with little to play for. Better to just sit him, let him have the entire year to rehab and regain strength and come back next year as strong as ever. That’s the hope, of course.

Hope is an interesting word here and is one of the reasons I did not (really, could not) write about Randle’s injury earlier. You see, hope is what Randle represented for me (and probably every other Lakers’ fan too). Hope of development from raw, yet skilled, big man to key contributor. Hope of the next great franchise player. Hope of turning games into watchable events from ones that, on many nights, would likely be the opposite. As I wrote in my season preview, watching this young man mature and grow with an eye on if he could develop into a mainstay contributor was enough reason to watch this team every night.

Those hopes, however, have been dashed. At least for this season. And that, all by itself, has made this season less fun in an amount wholly disproportionate than losing one player should.

As much as it’s easy to feel bad for myself or for other fans, those feelings pale in comparison to what I feel for Randle. In his first regular season professional game, with his mother in the stands, Randle made a play he’d made a thousand times before and had his leg crumple beneath him. As teammates surrounded him in attempts to check on and console him, reports on the ground say he was in severe physical pain. I can only imagine the emotional toll was (and remains) just as severe. In those moments, I would think it’s all too easy to drift into a spiral of negative thoughts — questioning not only your season, but your career. How could you not as medics need to stabilize your leg with an air cast just to be able to lift you onto a gurney to wheel you out off the court. It makes me sick for him just to type the words.

The Lakers now have multiple responsibilities. Yes, they have a season to play and owe it to themselves and the fans to go out and compete every night. Days will turn into weeks and then into months and the games will go on with winners and losers. The players who remain must leave those who cannot join them in the fray behind and compete for each other on the floor; to do their best by competing hard every night. On the other hand, they must remember Randle — a 19 year old rookie — and be there for him in a time that will surely produce some of the most difficult moments of his young life. While the team must play the games without him, the Lakers as an organization must be there for him to help him through this time by trying to ensure not only his physical, but his emotional well being. He will need a support system and the team must be a key part of that.

I spoke of hopes dashed earlier, but really they are just shifted. The new hope is that whatever greatness that was (potentially) pegged for Randle has only been delayed. In his rookie season, James Worthy suffered a similar injury (he spoke about this after the game) and noted that he turned out okay. Before Blake Griffin even played a regular season game his rookie season, he had surgery on his knee that cost him that first year. Three games into Michael Jordan’s second season, he broke his foot and missed all but 18 games. Jordan’s injury wasn’t as severe as these others (including Randle’s) but I include it here as a reminder that injuries happen and players recover to have long, full, and, hopefully, historic careers.

So get well soon, Julius Randle. Your team will miss you. Us fans will miss you. But you’ll be back and hopefully better than ever.

What’s that you say? The NBA is back? THE NBA IS BACK.

While my expectations for this Lakers’ season aren’t what you could call optimistic, that doesn’t change the fact that today is one of the best days of the year for me. Few things can compare to a fresh campaign with a new team to watch and fresh stories to tell.

With that, I’m going to keep this short and sweet so we can all just relax and wait until the games tip. First things first, let’s get some of the news of the day out of the way:

While the news of Lin starting is only a recent development over the last couple of days, I am quite happy that Scott has put him with the first group. The reserves can certainly benefit from Lin’s playmaking and ability to organize the offense and that, in and of itself, may have been reason enough to keep him coming off the bench. But the starters can benefit from those skills too and with this team short on talent I’d like to see the best players on the floor as often as possible (within any minutes restrictions, of course) to try and impact the game. Lin should be playing 30+ minutes a night and that should allow him overlap with both units and allow him to help both groups offensively.

As for Henry and Price, it’s nice to have both available, though it’s doubtful either will have much impact in this game. Price may serve as Lin’s backup and having his defense on the floor would be nice in certain situations. But I would just as well have Clarkson play some back up PG minutes (12-15 of them, depending on how long Lin can go) and call it a night. Henry, however, isn’t likely to see any time at all after not practicing over the last couple of weeks and not seeing any action this preseason. That said, with Young, Ellington, and Kelly (who could serve as a SF this year) also out, Henry could find his way to the floor in an emergency situation.

With that news out of the way, I turn my focus to tonight. Well, mostly tonight.

The Rockets come in as one of the top five to six teams in the West this year. They have all-NBA players in Dwight Howard and James Harden, brought in Trevor Ariza to replace Chandler Parsons, and are expecting growth from Patrick Beverly and Terrence Jones among others. If all goes right for them, they can press for a top four seed in the conference and can bubble up from fringe contender to conference finalist where anything can happen. They will represent a huge challenge for the Lakers in this game. And while some of that will mitigated through the adrenaline of a home opener on the first night of the season, talent will usually trump all and Houston has more of that than the Lakers.

This will be a trend for the Lakers this year and you will likely be able to lift sentences from that paragraph above and drop them into any game preview I write all year. But, in saying that, I think it is important that fans understand that even in a season that will challenge our patience, that we try to enjoy the journey and take what positives we can from the process of what this season will offer.

Rooting for the Lakers this year will be less about the big goals of a playoff berth or a parade at the end of the season and more about the little things that might occur in any given game or over the course of the season. Enjoy Kobe Byrant’s skill level and shot making. Enjoy the growth of Julius Randle and his multi-faceted offensive game. Enjoy how Ed Davis moves defensively and how he challenges shots at the rim. Enjoy Jordan Hill’s hustle and offensive glass work. Enjoy Jeremy Lin’s fearless drives to the cup. Enjoy Nick Young…well, being Nick Young.

Maybe your list is different. But these are the things that will keep me afloat this year and keep me invested in what happens next and how the team is coming together. The season will be long and, at many times, frustrating. But over the course of the year try to find the things that keep you happy and looking forward to the next moment. The Lakers won’t always be bad (seriously, they won’t be) and, if history has any part in determining the future, things will start to look up in the coming years.

So, in saying that, enjoy the ride you guys. Another season is upon us. Basketball is back. This really is the best time of the year.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm tip time on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

The 2014-15 Lakers are something of a mystery to me. Not because I do not know what they are or what they are trying to do, but because when you strip them down to their individual pieces it is somewhat difficult to see a coherent plan. This is a team trying to walk a very narrow line. A line that is nearly impossible to navigate in today’s NBA; a line that offers such confined parameters to define success that most organizations would not even venture down this path.

On the one hand, there is a clear thought process being disseminated by the front office and newly installed head coach Byron Scott. This team is competing for something. If not a championship, then for a playoff berth. For relevancy. The message and logic is fairly easy to see and simple when stripped down: take Kobe Bryant, pair him with Steve Nash (though that has already not worked out) and Carlos Boozer, flank them with veterans like Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Ronnie Price and Wes Johnson and give them a head coach like Byron Scott. This group will focus on defense and use an opportunistic but mostly methodical offensive approach and try to grind out wins.

On the other hand, however, this team has another vision entirely. A disastrous season last year led to lottery pick Julius Randle being snatched up. Jordan Clarkson was nabbed in the 2nd round to offer another promising talent who has the potential to be a nice contributor in time. Last year’s rookie Ryan Kelly was brought back after showing flashes of a well rounded offensive game and skill level not often present in a player his height. Free agency brought in Ed Davis — a former lottery pick in his own right who has always been a strong per-minute stat stuffer but has suffered for minutes on teams with more talent in front of him. This group of players are ones who need minutes and long leashes to develop through their mistakes.

Objectively speaking, these two groups of players really do not belong together. They are a hodge-podge of disparate talent with skills that do not entirely mesh nor fit together. In an ideal world, this team would travel in one of the aforementioned directions and sell out towards an achievable goal within that framework. If they wanted a veteran team, they could have built fully around Kobe, used their draft pick as leverage to try and acquire a more proven player, and pawned off any of their other younger assets to add more serviceable veteran pieces. If they wanted to skew younger, they could have let their own veteran free agents walk, chased some of the restricted and unrestricted free agents who have not yet reached their prime, and used those players to flank Kobe until his contract comes of the books.

Instead this front office tried to take a little from both sides¬†and is likely to suffer from it. They are neither old nor young, neither experienced nor naive to the rigors of an NBA season. Finding success in this approach will be difficult considering the talent at their disposal and the coach leading the way. This isn’t about optimism or pessimism, these are the realities of the situation.

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Much like when the NFL preseason reaches its final game, the real dress rehearsals for the Lakers are behind them. So while tonight offers the last game action before the regular season begins on Tuesday, this contest won’t actually be treated as the lead-in to that night. As with the previous game, Kobe will sit out and I would expect there to be plenty of minutes available to the reserve group that features Julius Randle, Ed Davis, and Jeremy Lin.

In any event, there’s really no point in getting too deep into this specific game. I’ve no clue if the Kings are going to take this contest seriously or not, but I know the goal for both sides is to leave the game as healthy as they entered it so they can proceed with prepping towards their respective season openers. While there are always things to learn about your team with habits to form and trends to evaluate, this contest isn’t really about those things. No, get in and get out with a healthy team and move onto the real games.

With that, I leave it to you all in the comments to discuss whatever you see fit.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Maybe it was always going to end like this for Steve Nash. After years of having his back issues controlled and managed by the Suns training staff, maybe it was destiny that his career would end with him no longer able to manage physically and unable to stand the rigors of the game he gave so much to. Or maybe that collision with Damian Lillard really did change the course of these final moments of Steve Nash’s career, robbing him (and Lakers’ fans) of that last brilliance he had to offer. We’ll never really know, I guess. And that’s what makes today extra frustrating for everyone. For you, for me*, for the Lakers organization, and especially for Steve Nash.

I think it’s that last part that is often easiest to forget. While fans, many right here in the comments of this site, have blasted Steve Nash — cursing him for his injury, the draft picks the Lakers surrendered to acquire him, the fact he hung on trying to play rather than retiring after dealing with this issue for nearly two calendar years — it’s Nash who is probably most frustrated. For an entire career Nash was the player who took the limitations of his body and stretched them to seemingly impossible lengths to be one of the league’s best players. And now, for the past two seasons, he’s seen it all deteriorate; seen what he was always able to control and manipulate betray him in ways he probably never imagined. The amount of frustration that led to for us fans pales in comparison to what he experienced, I’m sure.

A great career is over now. And it ends not on the terms of the athlete, but on the terms of a bad back and malfunctioning nerve endings. Father time remains undefeated. I, for one, sympathize. Nash was always a player I loved to watch. What he brought to the floor offensively was poetry; it was art. His game was a derivative of Magic’s — it was cunning, passing, skill, and feel combined with an outward desire to simply win. It honestly makes me sad to discuss it all in the past tense.

But that is where we are now. We must all move on. In a way, this happening now, before the season, makes things easier for the Lakers. There will not be the “will he or won’t he play” question with Nash from night to night. There will be no waiting for him to return or relying on him to produce when he does. There is only adjusting to life without the player and slotting everyone into their roles under this new reality. The team has already gotten used to it this preseason so moving into the regular season it won’t be too much different.

We will see more Ronnie Price and Jordan Clarkson than expected a month ago. And Jeremy Lin will now move into the primary point guard role, even if (for now) he’s not the “starter”. Kobe will take up more ball handling responsibilities and will have to be both the “big” who posts and the wing who creates out of the pick and roll for himself and others. We will also (hopefully), over the course of the year, get to see more of Julius Randle the offensive creator who can operate as the fulcrum of an offense — even if only for limited stretches.

As for the other roster ramifications, unless Nash retires or the Lakers waive him he will retain a roster spot on the team. They currently have 15 players (not counting training camp roster invites who are strictly filler) and, thus, a full roster. Nash going down makes Ronnie Price a sure thing to make this team (if he wasn’t already), leaving only Wayne Ellington as a question mark**. The Lakers can file for an injured player exception which could net them up to $4.85 million to chase a player to help off-set their loss, but they will need a create a roster spot if they attempt to add a player with that newfound cash.

These are answers to be determined down the line, though. For now, this team will operate with what they have and determine what they need later.

*I know many fans will be bitter about Nash and I understand that perspective. The roots of the Nash acquisition were born from “the Veto” where Lamar Odom’s inclusion in the Chris Paul deal set off a domino effect that led to shoving him off to Dallas which created the trade exception used to absorb Nash’s salary. When losing Odom’s leadership is combined with draft picks the Lakers used to tempt the Suns to make the deal and the salary they paid him to only play 65 games over his 3 year contract, this trade will go down as one of the worst in Lakers’ history when judging it simply off of assets sent out versus the level of production Nash provided. I, however, will always look at the Nash trade as a perfect example of the process versus results argument. The results, of course, were awful. But the deal, at the time, was easily defensible and I was on board with it from the moment it was announced. Nash, though aged and with flaws defensively, was coming off an all-star campaign and another 20 PER and near 50/40/90 shooting season. He was not “prime” Steve Nash, but he was a productive player who would team with Kobe, Pau, and Dwight to form a short term super team that could compete for a title. Ten times out of ten any team in the Lakers’ situation makes that trade and I can’t use revisionist history to say they should not have done it. I wish it had gone differently, but I am not alone there.

**I don’t have a very good feel for whether Ellington will make the team — injuries to Nick Young and Xavier Henry leave the team thin on the wing, but Jordan Clarkson may be seen as a viable option until those guys return — and a final decision on him may simply come down to whether the front office and coaching staff want the extra body or the flexibility that comes from an open roster spot. Since his contract is not guaranteed, he may end up making the opening night roster only to be cut down the line when Young and/or Henry are ready to play.¬†