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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. 

Yes, it has been a long summer but the wait is almost over. Training camp is nearly here and the Lakers will soon hit the court, trying to absorb Byron Scott’s schemes while learning each other. Just like the last two seasons, the roster has turned over by half and that type of change takes time to adjust to. Two of those changes have occurred this week when the Lakers signed two guards to help on the wing and provide a roster in transition more veteran players who will challenge for minutes on the perimeter.

The first player added is Wayne Ellington, a 5 year pro out of the University of North Carolina. His Tarheel roots probably helped him get a contract from Mitch Kupchak, but what likely aided him more was the half a season he spent in Cleveland playing under Byron Scott. In those 37 games Ellington played over 25 minutes a night and put up double digit points on on 44% shooting from the floor. This stretch should not be glorified as some extreme run of great play, but it does constitute the best stretch of Ellington’s career even if his three point shot was not falling at his normal accuracy.

That last point is most important. Over his 5 year career, Ellington shot over 39% from deep in 4 of those seasons. His career mark of 38.6% from behind the arc is well above the league average and would make him the Lakers’ best shooter from deep should he find his way to the final roster. What the Lakers are surely hoping, then, is that Ellington finds his range from deep while also being able to duplicate the 49% shooting from 2 point range that he did in that half season in Cleveland. That level of play would be very close to what Jodie Meeks provided last season (40% from 3, 51% from inside the arc). Of course, I’m sure the Mavericks were hoping the same thing last season, but Ellington never found his way into Rick Carlisle’s rotation managing to only appear in 46 games while playing less than 10 minutes a night. In other words, while the skill is seemingly there it remains to be seen if he can earn a role on this team. Even if Scott knows what he’s capable of.

The other key signing is Ronnie Price, whom the Lakers inked to a contract on Wednesday. Price came into the league in 2005 and has bounced around the league, spending time in Sacramento, Utah, Portland, Phoenix, and Orlando. For his career, Price has mostly been a 2nd or 3rd string point guard who saw minutes due to his competitiveness and willingness to play hard. His statistics will not wow you — he’s a career 38% shooter while hitting less than 30% of his shots from deep — and hasn’t really proven to be a guard who can create for others or himself offensively.

He will play hard, however, and that is fine if he’s your insurance guard who will clearly be below Lin and Nash on the depth chart. If I had my way, he’d also be behind Clarkson as I do believe the rookie guard should get chances to see game action and be put on a track of development this year. Whether Scott agrees with this remains to be seen, but Price’s veteran status and willingness to mix it up with any opponent will surely earn him his coach’s respect. That said, as much as playing hard is a skill, Price doesn’t have many others beyond that and while I’d have no qualms if he made the final roster I would start to question things if his presence negatively impacted that of other guards (namely, Clarkson) in the process.

Also worth mentioning is that signing both Price and Ellington brings the Lakers’ roster to 15. And while they also added 4 more players on Wednesday (brining the roster to 19 players), those guys are essentially camp invites who have little chance of making the team. Ellington and Price, though, look to have a path to being on this roster opening night. I did not expect the Lakers to carry 15 players into the season and that may well change before the first game tips off, but as the roster stands now it looks more and more likely my initial thoughts were incorrect.

We will see how this all plays out, though. Camp will be here very soon and, with it, more information as to how the roster will shape up will be out our disposal. Finally.

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.

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.

If you ask most basketball fans the question above, the answer will probably be skeptical at best and sarcastic laughter at worst. Kobe may have made a career out of turning doubters (either real or perceived) into believers, but this time it is different. A torn achilles and a broken bone in the knee while attempting to come back from said achilles injury will do that.

One report, though, is making it seem like those doubts may be miscast. From Lyle Spencer of Sports on Earth:

On the heels of an invisible 2013-14 campaign that clearly unhinged the Lakers, Kobe Bryant is back to being Kobe Bryant, from Kupchak’s observation point. And that is the best news in months for the faithful, whose trust in the purple and gold is being severely tested.

“My window overlooks the court, and he comes in to work out from time to time,” Kupchak said. “You would not know he’s in his mid-30s. You wouldn’t know he hurt his knee and had a torn Achilles. There’s no limp. He’s got a hop in his step. He’s working hard.”

And more from Kupchak:

“I’m not worried,” Kupchak said. “Kobe looks great. He’s had two rough years. The Achilles was a freak thing, and the knee — I’m not sure anybody can predict that kind of thing.

“He’s actually been healthy since May. He’s ready, motivated. And he’s engaged.”

First off, let me get the obligatory “what is he supposed to say?” comment out of the way.

Kupchak is the General Manager and, while he’s often more blunt and honest than others around the league who hold his title, it’s not in his best interest to say anything besides what he did. Not to mention the cynic in me remembers when Dwight Howard was coming back from back surgery and all you heard from Lakers’ practices was that Dwight was looking very good and surprising people with his progress. Then, when the season started, he was clearly still hampered and not performing anywhere near the level he’d shown in previous seasons.

The flip-side, of course, is that Mitch is just being his normal, straight shooting self. I have seen enough press conferences and interviews with the man to know that he can speak in riddles with the best of them, giving non-answer-answers while ducking and dodging questions like an agent in the Matrix. So, while acknowledging above that there’s no reason for Mitch to say something negative about Kobe’s progress, there’s also no need for him to be so positive either. If he wanted to, he could have just provided some bland, understated response and gone about his business.

That’s not what happened, however. And while I do not want to spend too much time dissecting and parsing his words, I do find it interesting that he spoke in the terms he did when he could have provided a much more vague update and gotten away with it easily.

Of course, what is said in a random interview given by the GM in August will matter much less than what happens on the court, from the player, come late October — or, better yet, in the middle of a 4 games in 6 nights stretch come February. Kobe, for whatever flaws fans and analysts want to point out, has made a career out of giving great effort most every night and turning those stretches of the season where other players start to coast into his personal proving ground of greatness.

How he manages those stretches this season and whether he is up to the challenge of being “Kobe” night-in and night-out, is what it will all come down to. And, when viewed through that prism, that skepticism mentioned at the top of this post will live on. With it being very real this time. It sure would be nice, though, if Kobe had one more “prove them wrong” run in him. Time will tell.