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Kobe Bryant and I are the same age (he also, coincidentally, shares a birthday with my older brother). Some 19 years ago when Kobe stood at a podium with his Oakley sunglasses propped up on his forehead to announce that he was taking his talents to the NBA, I too was transitioning to that next phase in my life and preparing to go away to college. After it was announced that this high school kid would be a Laker, I, naturally, took a great interest in his career.

In the nearly 19 years that Kobe has worn a Lakers’ jersey so much has occurred it’s nearly impossible to recount it all. Airballs in Utah, ridiculous shots in Portland on the last day of a season, a championship celebration in Orlando, a fractured hand, a hurt shoulder, a ruptured achilles…it all blends together like a desert landscape viewed through the window on a long car ride. I’d pick out one moment, but I don’t have a favorite uncle; my family is my family.

The new moments, though, act as a reminder. They jog the memory and turn history into today’s celebration, recreating the feeling from many years ago by rekindling the flames of past accomplishments. Especially when today’s acts truly are a culmination of what is, essentially, a life’s work.

We’ve known this moment was coming for some time. But actually watching it happen, for me at least, was still a tremendous moment. The combination of longevity and production needed to reach such heights astounds me. The fact that the guy who did it is that same guy who, as a kid, had those Oakley’s sitting on his forehead makes it that much more special.

Kobe will never quite be the player many want him to be. As his efficiency wanes, his personality shows more hard edges, and his team suffers more losses than wins another type of validation will come for that sect. And as the complexities of his game, leadership, and overall status as a player are pushed to the middle of the spotlight both sides of the argument will meet with loud voices and even louder arguments trying to get to the bottom of what it all means.

For me, though, there will be none of that. And there especially won’t be some long discussion about Michael Jordan, measuring sticks, and how achievements do or don’t stack up. Kobe is one of the greatest players I ever saw grace a basketball court. Where he falls in that discussion matters less to me than the fact that he is part of that conversation. Far from perfect, but a provider of more moments worth celebrating than not. And, really, what more could you ask for?

The man harnessed his skill through immeasurable work to achieve at a level I never would have expected. He did it his way, for better or for worse, and nearly two decades later is still out there giving it his all. And while many would have hoped for a different route, it’s hard to argue with the path traveled considering there really wasn’t a road map to follow.

With the recent news of Xavier Henry joining Steve Nash and Julius Randle on the shelf for the season, the Lakers have begun to explore their options on adding a player who could help. Well, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo, the Lakers have settled on a familiar name:

Lakers fans are familiar with Earl, of course. He damn near became a household name in his lone season with the Lakers, getting thrust into the lineup after injuries ravaged the team’s front court (sounds familiar!). Playing stretch PF under Mike D’Antoni, Clark easily had the best season of his career. His ability to stretch the floor offensively and multi-skilled game was a nice fit for that system and that coach, who paired him next to Dwight or Pau and let him work on the perimeter as a floor spacer and then use his athleticism to do work closer to the basket as a slasher and finisher in the open court. Earl flourished in that role and turned that production into a free agent deal with the Cavs for four-times what the Lakers likely would have wanted him to sign for.

In Cleveland, however, Clark never found the same magic he had under D’Antoni. While his three point shooting numbers held steady, the rest of his game did not translate as well to Mike Brown’s more methodical approach. Clark did not even finish his first season with the Cavs and was traded to the 76ers and promptly waived. Since then, Clark continued his vagabond career suiting up for the Knicks and getting claimed off waivers by the Rockets, but never finding a home. Now he’s back in LA.

While I do not want to be too down on Clark, I wouldn’t expect the same type of success that had fans making “Earl-sanity!” comments on this site two years ago. Clark is, theoretically, being brought in to play small forward where he can provide depth now that Henry is out. Clark has the perimeter skills and, as noted by Woj, he has been producing some gaudy scoring numbers in the D-League. But unless his game has moved forward in the two years he’s been gone (which is possible), I expect Clark to still have some issues playing against like sized and athletic players who are used to guarding on the perimeter.

In saying all that, though, I am happy to see Earl get another shot in the league. Hopefully he does well and can find a landing spot in the years to come that find a way to maximize his game. He certainly has talent and a unique skill set for a player his size.

The Lakers really can’t escape the injury bug this year. Steve Nash is out for the year with his recurring back/nerve root issues. Prized rookie Julius Randle is also out for the year with a broken leg. Ryan Kelly is on the shelf once again with his hamstring issues. And now, Xavier Henry may also be out for the year after hurting himself in a 3-on-3 drill in Monday’s practice. From the Lakers’ twitter account:

Byron Scott is hopeful it is not that serious, but at this point that likely is just hope. If Henry’s MRI confirms the tear he will not play again this season and the Lakers have suffered another blow to their already depleted roster.

Henry was re-signed this past summer with the hope that he could contribute to a wing rotation that, save for Jodie Meeks’ departure, was retained from last year. However, summer knee surgery and issues with his back had kept Henry out of training camp. And while he saw game action earlier than expected after going to Germany for regenokine treatment, he’d not yet found a consistent role on the team as he tried to work his back into playing form.

In the past couple of weeks Henry had played for the D-Fenders (the Lakers’ D-League affiliate) in the hopes of finding his rhythm and getting back into game shape, but now his season looks to be over.

As for what this means for the Lakers, they almost surely will now need to sign another wing if for no other reason than they need another body. Without Henry and with Kelly still injured, the Lakers’ only healthy perimeter players who can play either SG or SF are Kobe, Nick Young, Wes Johnson, and Jordan Clarkson. Lin could also be slotted into the SG spot, but considering the Lakers are also shallow at PG, they need another body regardless. The Lakers recently held a workout that involved former Nugget Quincy Miller, but no moves were immediately made. They may need to revisit those options now.

But those are the team logistics. Really, today’s news isn’t so much about that but instead about Henry. I truly feel bad for him as he’s worked extremely hard to try and get his career back on the track he was on when drafted with the #12 overall pick in 2010. That process really began in earnest last season when he had a nice season with the Lakers under Mike D’Antoni. The Lakers brought him back with the hopes that he’d continue his growth this year. Now, however, he’s likely out for the year, on an expiring minimum contract, and looking at one of the more grueling recoveries you can face in sports.

Hopefully he’s back as good as new next season. I will be rooting for him, that’s for sure.

I don’t think Steve Nash owes anyone any explanations about how hurt he is or what he’s going through physically. While an instagram video of him hitting balls at the driving range caused a stir, it’s only a certain type of irrationality that would equate hitting a golf ball to being able to play basketball in the NBA. Yet, after some loud criticism and questions about how healthy Nash really is have persisted, Nash took to his facebook page to explain what he is going through physically. Below is his full statement — one he called an “Open Letter to Lakers Fans” on twitter — from his page:

I definitely don’t want to be a distraction, but I felt it best everyone heard from me in my own words.

I have a ton of miles on my back. Three buldging disks (a tear in one), stenosis of the nerve route and spondylolisthesis. I suffer from sciatica and after games I often can’t sit in the car on the drive home, which has made for some interesting rides. Most nights I’m bothered by severe cramping in both calves while I sleep, a result of the same damn nerve routes, and the list goes on somewhat comically. That’s what you deserve for playing over 1,300 NBA games. By no means do I tell you this for sympathy – especially since I see these ailments as badges of honor – but maybe I can bring some clarity.

I’ve always been one of the hardest workers in the game and I say that at the risk of what it assumes. The past 2 years I’ve worked like a dog to not only overcome these setbacks but to find the form that could lift up and inspire the fans in LA as my last chapter. Obviously it’s been a disaster on both fronts but I’ve never worked harder, sacrificed more or faced such a difficult challenge mentally and emotionally.

I understand why some fans are disappointed. I haven’t been able to play a lot of games or at the level we all wanted. Unfortunately that’s a part of pro sports that happens every year on every team. I wish desperately it was different. I want to play more than anything in the world. I’ve lost an incredible amount of sleep over this disappointment.

Competitiveness, professionalism, naiveté and hope that at some point I’d turn a corner has kept me fighting to get back. As our legendary trainer Gary Vitti, who is a close friend, told me, ‘You’re the last to know’ – and my back has shown me the forecast over the past 18-20 months. To ignore it any longer is irresponsible. But that doesn’t mean that life stops.

This may be hard for people to understand unless you’ve played NBA basketball, but there is an incredible difference between this game and swinging a golf club, hiking, even hitting a tennis ball or playing basketball at the park. Fortunately those other activities aren’t debilitating, but playing an NBA game usually puts me out a couple of weeks. Once you’re asked to accelerate and decelerate with Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving it is a completely different demand.

I’m doing what I’ve always done which is share a bit of my off-court life in the same way everyone else does. Going forward I hope we all can refocus our energies on getting behind these Lakers. This team will be back and Staples will be rocking.

When news of Nash needing to miss the season came out, I wrote about how fans are entitled to be disappointed in Nash’s Lakers’ tenure, but we should never lose sight of the fact that no one is more disappointed than Nash himself. He was the one putting in the work to try and return, the one whose body was failing him, who suffered a setback every time it looked like he might have turned a corner. To find out now that he has the types of ailments he has — ailments that, seemingly, could affect the quality of his life moving forward — it seems even more silly to try and take Nash to task for not being able to compete in the NBA for the team we root for.

Injuries happen. They suck and are a disappointment to everyone involved. For the team paying the salary, the fans who want to see this player on the court, and the player who wants nothing more than to compete with his teammates. For Nash, the Lakers, and their fans things didn’t go the way anyone would have wanted. And while I don’t think he needed to write what he wrote to explain things to fans (or anyone else) who questioned him, I am glad that he did set the record straight.

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.