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From Phillip Barnett, Lakers Nation: Chris Kaman returned to Lakers practice yesterday after missing nine days with a stomach virus. Kaman, like Nash, will play in tomorrow’s season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers, but is still unsure on whether he’ll start. Shawne Williams has been starting in his place while he dealt with his illness, which begged the question of how often the Lakers would go with small-ball lineups. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has played with smaller lineups throughout his coaching career, and used them in the Lakers last two preseason games against the Jazz with success. According to the LA Daily News, Kaman, hasn’t been the biggest fan of smaller lineups. “It was never my style of basketball,” Kaman said. “I remember playing against Phoenix back in the day with those smaller lineups. It was hard to guard those teams. We’ll see. It depends defensively who we’ll go against. Against DeAndre [Jordan] and Blake [Griffin], it’ll be hard to go small, but we’ll see.”

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: The optimism surrounding Los Angeles Lakers veterans Steve Nash and Pau Gasol has gone in split directions since training camp opened last month. Gasol came in unsure if he would be able to participate because of offseason procedures on both of his knees, but ended up leading the team in scoring (13.7 points) while chipping in 6.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game in the preseason. Nash came in saying how improved his body was after missing 32 games last season because of a broken leg and hip and groin injuries that stemmed from it, but he was extremely limited during the exhibition schedule, averaging just 4.0 points and 3.6 assists in 18.4 minutes. ”I feel better than what I expected,” Gasol said after practice Sunday ahead of the Lakers’ regular-season opener Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers. “I’m really happy with how I feel right now. Now it’s just a matter of we have a tough start, very demanding, a lot of games in a short period of time to start off. But hey, that’s what the NBA is about sometimes and you got to get through it.”

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: The latest installment was unveiled in the Steve Nash Injury Watch. It’s “very possible” the 39-year-old point guard will sit out the second night of season-opening back-to-back games, Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said Sunday. Somewhere you can hear Nash’s fantasy value drop. More important to the Lakers is real-life value and what they can squeeze out of him this season, which begins Tuesday against the Clippers and Wednesday at Golden State. Nash looked solid in off-season scrimmages before training camp but since then hadn’t completed a full practice because of nagging ankle and neck soreness. It’s not uncommon for aging players to sit out a night in back-to-back situations. San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich has done it with veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

From TheGreatMambino, Silver Screen & Roll: International trips have concluded, training camps are closed down and the buzzer for the collective amateur hour known as preseason basketball has sounded. The 2013-2014 Season is upon us, and we here at Silver Screen & Roll couldn’t be happier that real, honest to goodness NBA basketball is upon us. So let’s get down to the most important questions. Where will the Lakers fall in the Western Conference this season? Will they make the playoffs? If yes, what will be the biggest factor that propels them there? If no, what will be the largest component of them missing the postseason for just the fifth time in franchise history?

 

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: Kobe Bryant’s absence from the court is immeasurable when it comes to the total package of the will and mental toughness he brings to the equation, but two tangible statistics help tell the story of his void that the Los Angeles Lakers are trying to fill: 38.6 minutes and 20.4 shot attempts per game. Those were Bryant’s averages last season. Nick Young has had no problem volunteering for the extra shot attempts, leading the Lakers with 80 shots through their first seven preseason games (18 more than the next closest Laker in Pau Gasol), but he also has spent most of his time playing small forward. And that’s still only 11.4 shots per game for Young, about half of Bryant’s total. As for Bryant’s minutes, will Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni simply spread them out to the rest of the roster? ”Yeah,” D’Antoni said after L.A.’s 108-94 win over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night at Staples Center, their best showing of the preseason. “Unless somebody grabs it. That could happen. We’ll just keep monitoring things. There’s  a lot of guys that deserve to play.”

From Ramneet Singh, Lakers Nation: The Los Angeles Lakers brought back Jordan Farmar over the summer as a reliable point guard that helped them win two consecutive titles in 2009 and 2010. Farmar took a brief hiatus from the NBA by playing overseas, and now the guard has returned to the league better than ever. Farmar will be backing up Steve Nash this upcoming season, and the Lakers will surely benefit from his young legs and explosiveness. The Lakers are a fairly old team, and they will be using Farmar very often when playing some of the tougher teams in the Western Conference. Lakers Nation reporter Serena Winters spoke to the former UCLA Bruin about how much he grew as a player after staying overseas (video below).

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Lakers fans could have watched their team’s preseason win over Utah Tuesday night with a sense of optimism. Jordan Farmar looked good in the second half running the offense, Wes Johnsonlooked comfortable in the system on his way to 14 points, Xavier Henry was attacking, Jordan Hilllooked solid in the paint. You could extrapolate out from that things aren’t as bad as some pundits predict for the Lakers. That’s not what Tracy McGrady saw.

From Ben Bolch, LA Times: Kobe Bryant didn’t join his teammates on the bench Tuesday night, preferring the sanctity of theLakers’ locker room to courtside at Staples Center. It was impossible to tell if he was stewing after NBA general managers knocked him down a notch in their assessment of the league’s top shooting guards, but it’s not out of the question given his recent reaction to other perceived slights. Bryant changed his Twitter avatar to “1225,” presumably in response to ESPN ranking the Lakers as the 12th-best team in the Western Conference and Bryant as the 25th-best player in the NBA. What’s another jab, besides extra inspiration? ”I like it because Kobe always finds ways to motivate himself and to keep those things in mind,” Lakers center Pau Gasol said after the Lakers’ 108-94 exhibition victory over the Utah Jazz, “so it kind of pushes him to push himself harder and be better.”

From Ramneet Singh, Lakers Nation: When Mike D’Antoni first joined the Los Angeles Lakers, not many people saw his offensive system working well with the aging roster. Despite the backing of the front office and even the players, D’Antoni just could not get his style of play to function in Los Angeles. D’Antoni spoke to the Los Angeles Times, and he talked about what he expects from the team this upcoming season. Although D’Antoni wants to keep it a high-paced offense, he understands what the players are and aren’t capable of. Which kind of pace does D’Antoni envision the Lakers running this season? “It won’t be crazy,” he said, “but we want to push it and get a nice pace. We want to get some easy buckets before the defense sets up, so we’ll be up in the top five probably in pace, but it won’t be breakneck speed.”

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: The day before Luke Walton made his television debut as an on-air analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet, the Los Angeles Lakers’ broadcast channel, this month, Walton ran into a familiar face who was exiting the gym just as he was entering it to work out. Phil Jackson wanted to make sure Walton knew what he was doing. ”He pulled me aside and said, ‘Let me tell you a story,’” Walton told ESPNLosAngeles.com during a recent sit-down interview at the Time Warner Cable studios. Jackson recalled the time during New Jersey Nets training camp prior to the 1978-79 season — Jackson’s 11th in the league — when the rigors of NBA practices were causing him constant pain, and he wondered if he was coming to the end of his career. ”The coach kind of told him, ‘Look, I think it’s time for you take that next step and maybe get into coaching. Your body is not really working for you right now,’” Walton said Rather than hang it up then and there, Jackson worked through his troubles and got himself ready to play. Next thing he knew, teammate Bob Elliott went out with a season-ending injury in November and Jackson was back in the mix.

From Ben R, Silver Screen & Roll: In the past six years, there have been no shortage of superlatives that could have been used to describe the players who have manned the five for the Lakers, and it would not be overly remiss to describe them as the driving force, Kobe Bryant notwithstanding, of the team’s recent success. The ability to field either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum at the center spot at any point in a game was an enormous advantage that most teams were simply not equipped to deal with; adding Lamar Odom to the mix made it emphatically the league’s best frontcourt rotation when everyone involved was healthy and provided enough quality depth to get by when it often was not. In a league that was steadily moving towards the perimeter and becoming smaller, the Lakers prided themselves on being able to exert their will down on the box.

From Eric Pincus, LA Times: As the regular season nears, the Lakers will have to make some final decisions on the roster before opening night. “I think it’s 48 hours before the first game and I do think you get to work on weekends.  I think [theNBA] changed the rules,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said.  “I guess until Saturday, more or less.” The Lakers start the season Oct. 29 at home against the Clippers.  They currently have 16 players, which means at least one has to go. Given that both Shawne Williams and Elias Harris have $100,000 of their individual contracts guaranteed, both are favorites to stick.  The team has 11 guaranteed contracts — 13 if Williams and Harris are included with their partials. The solid preseason from camp invitee Xavier Henry suggests the Lakers have a clear 14 headed into cut-down day. Does the team go to the maximum 15 or keep an open roster slot at 14? “I don’t know,” D’Antoni said, deferring to General Manager Mitch Kupchak.  “We’ve got to figure out how many we’re keeping and what we’re doing.” Ryan Kelly, the power forward from Duke picked 48th overall in the June draft, is on the bubble.  If the Lakers take 15 players to opening night, he might have the slight edge over forward Marcus Landry.

From Phillip Barnett, Lakers Nation: With the recent news that the Clippers will cover up the Lakers banners during their home games, Mark Medina of the LA Daily News asked some of the Lakers their thoughts on the Clippers antics. “We got to talk to Doc,” Young said Sunday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “He can’t have that. We have to do something about that. [...] “That’s a lot of pull y’all are giving Doc,” Young said. “He shouldn’t come and have that much pull. He should come and earn his keep.” The Lakers have earned the right to feature their banners and retired jerseys at Staples Center. The team’s history of bringing in great players and fielding competitive teams has allowed them to display their storied history in the building that they play in.

From Brett Pollakoff, Pro Basketball Talk: Kobe Bryant changed the avatar on his Twitter account Friday to “1225,” and while we could speculate on whether or not that means he’s targeting a return date of Christmas Day against the Miami Heat from his torn Achilles injury, the reality is it was likely done as a personal motivational tactic. ESPN ranked all of the players in the league from 1-500, an exercise in futility that is arbitrary at best and, like anything involving opinions, clouded by personal biases. But it does generate a buzz of fan discussion in the weeks leading up to the start of the season, and coming from the Worldwide Leader, it garners plenty of attention from the players themselves. Bryant was ranked 25th, after finishing 12th in the voting last season. It’s a precipitous drop, considering what Bryant is capable of when healthy. But with his return date from injury an unknown, along with just how close to his old self Bryant will be once he does make it back, it’s at least somewhat understandable.

From TheGreatMambino, Silver Screen & Roll: Much has been made about the 2013-2014 Los Angeles Lakers defense–or perhaps lack thereof. From Nash and Kobe on the perimeter, to a small forward TBD and Pau’s diminishing returns as a paint protector, there are serious questions as to whether or not we’re looking at a bottom-5 NBA defense. This all in mind, what hope, if any, do you see of the Lakers creating an at least adequate defensive scheme? In what way could their defense be good to great?

From ESPN.com: Kobe Bryant often is compared to some of the greatest players in NBA history. But in what he describes as “the last chapter” of his storied career, Bryant hopes to mirror someone who has never played professional basketball — Floyd Mayweather Jr. The 35-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star, who is attempting to bounce back from Achilles surgery, compared himself toMayweather in a recent interview withSports Illustrated. “Maybe I won’t have as much explosion,” Bryant told the magazine. “Maybe I’ll be slower, maybe I’ll lose quickness. But I have other options. “It’s like Floyd Mayweather in the ring. There’s a reason he’s still at the top after all these years. He’s the most fundamentally sound boxer of all time. He can fight myriad styles at myriad tempos. He can throw fast punches or off-speed punches, and he can throw them from odd angles.”

From Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated: In an age when athletes aspire to be icons, yet share the burden of success with all their best pals, Bryant looms as perhaps the last alpha dog, half greyhound and half pit bull. No one handles him. No one censors him. He shows up alone. “What am I trying to be?” he asks. “Am I trying to be a hip, cool guy? Am I trying to be a business mogul? Am I trying to be a basketball player?” He doesn’t provide an answer. He doesn’t have to. It’s been obvious since he was 11 years old in Italy and a club from Bologna tried to buy his rights. The gym was the place he could go at 4 a.m., “to smell the scent” and pour the fuel. Bryant wonders whether his sanctuary is finally closing, and if so, how he will cope without it. He recognizes what many around him do not: The persona, lifelike as it may be, is only partly real. Beneath it is a three-dimensional figure, with the same vulnerabilities as anybody else, plus the will to overcome them. ”I have self-doubt,” Bryant says. “I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it. You rise above it. … I don’t know how I’m going to come back from this injury. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be horses—.” He pauses, as if envisioning himself as an eighth man. “Then again, maybe I won’t, because no matter what, my belief is that I’m going to figure it out. Maybe not this year or even next year, but I’m going to stay with it until I figure it out.”

From Ramneet Singh, Lakers Nation: Not so long ago, Dwight Howard was preparing for his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and almost everyone in the NBA had the Lakers going to the Finals. However, fast forward a year, and now Howard is in Houston and there are a lot of doubts lingering with the Lakers. Over the summer, Howard decided to join the third team in his NBA career by leaving Los Angeles and joining the Houston Rockets. For the first time in history, a high profiled name willingly left the Lakers and chose to sign with another team. Howard spoke to the media recently, and the Los Angeles Times writes that Howard believes it took guts for him to leave the Lakers:

From Ben R, Silver Screen & Roll: One of the main elements of the offensive revolution that Mike D’Antoni helped to usher into the NBA was a paradigm shift in traditional positions. Guys who were once treated as too short or not sufficiently bruising enough to play in the frontcourt suddenly found roles as players who were too quick and accurate from range for their usual counterparts to cover. In the modern NBA, it is increasingly difficult to play fours incapable of stretching the floor at least out to fifteen feet or so, as well as checking the pick-and-roll ably on the other end. The recent success of the Miami Heat, a team that routinely trots out LeBron James, Shane Battier, and other players that would have emphatically been considered small forwards ten years ago at the four, is testament to how this has become the new norm.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: It wasn’t strange to see the Lakers waive Darius Johnson-Odom. He was a long shot to make the team. The weird part was the time and place of it. The Lakers announced the transaction with 36 hours left in their China tour. Johnson-Odom flew on the Lakers’ charter to Beijing last week, played in their game Tuesday against Golden State and was scheduled to leave with them after Friday’s rematch against the Warriors. A harsh move by the Lakers, 6,000 miles from Los Angeles? Not quite. Johnson-Odom agreed to terms with a Chinese pro basketball team, signing a contract worth $400,000, according to a person familiar with the situation. Johnson-Odom had been weighing the offer for about a week and made up his mind after the Lakers strongly suggested he wouldn’t make their roster this season. They waived him Thursday so he could sign with the undisclosed Chinese team. Johnson-Odom’s play wasn’t spectacular — a 3.7-point average in three exhibition games — and he was cut from the team for the second time after being drafted 55th overall by the Lakers in 2012.

From Brett Pollakoff, Pro Basketball Talk: The vast majority of days that I work in arenas covering live events, I am not subjected to filing a game story on deadline. It’s by far the worst part of the industry, and it’s what many of the best writers covering the NBA face on a daily basis out of necessity as part of their gigs working for newspapers around the country. The online model is quite different, and the details will be spared here and saved for another time. But immediacy is rarely required unless something monumental occurs, so usually the first story can wait for some depth, context, and texture from the players involved speaking in post-game locker rooms long after the final buzzer has sounded. On the afternoon of Sunday, April 28, however, there was no reason to wait. The Lakers were getting predictably shellacked in Game 4 of their first round playoff series against the Spurs, and the game was effectively over early in the second half. The brief initial story was done before the final buzzer, and only a couple of minor details needed to be included for the sake of accuracy.