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.