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Friday Morning Reading

Darius Soriano —  November 21, 2014

The Lakers continue their road trip tonight, bouncing to their second Texas city in three days with a visit to Dallas to face the Mavs. We’ll have a preview up for you a bit later today, so in the meantime you can enjoy some reads from around the web on the suddenly streaking Lakers (hey, when you’ve won 2 in and only had a single win in 10 tries before that you are streaking).

We start off with some pieces on Nick Young’s return:

From Mark Medina of the LA Daily News: Amid all the Lakers’ gloomy circumstances, an important figure arrived to help the team temporarily stop worrying about their issues.

It started with Nick Young talking trash during his first morning shootaround since breaking his right thumb six weeks ago by proclaiming himself as the game’s best three-point shooter ever.

It continued with Young’s 17 points off the bench both securing a Lakers’ 114-109 victory Tuesday over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena and ensured more offensive balance outside of Kobe Bryant.

It ended with Young taking nearly complete credit for the Lakers (2-9) ending a four-game losing streak and picking up their first road win of the 2014-15 season.

“It’s like my swag rubbed off on everybody,” Young said. “It’s unbelievable.”

But in a way, it actually is believable.

From Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report: Bryant and Young might never win a championship together either, but their relationship of one-plus years already works as a testimonial for how a big-grinning, fun-loving goofball can be a teammate Bryant adores.

Bryant sought out Young in particular for an extra high-five and hug before leaving the court Wednesday night. Before that, Young had already chest-bumped every other member of the Lakers organization he could find, his head held noticeably high.

“I’m very happy to have him back,” Bryant said.

The Lakers were 1-9 without Young, who tore a ligament in his right thumb trying to steal the ball from Bryant in practice (and good-naturedly absorbed Bryant’s ribbing that he shouldn’t have been reaching on defense or challenging a body that Bryant told him is “made of steel”).

With Young, the Lakers are 2-0.

“I leave a presence,” Young said. “I’m like Michael Jackson, Prince, all those other guys.”

From Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk: Nick Young became the latest to receive a warning for flopping on Thursday, for a play that occurred in the Lakers’ Tuesday night win over the Hawks. Except this one, which can be seen in the video clip above, doesn’t feel like it’s all that worthy of the additional scrutinization.

Young falls down after attempting a three-pointer with Kyle Korver in the vicinity, but just because the referees blew the call and awarded Young three free throws doesn’t mean he intentionally fell down in an attempt to deceive them.

From Michael Colangelo of Fields of Green: Struggling teams usually don’t receive as much exposure as their more successful competitors, but the Lakers are proving their brand can overcome that hurdle. There are multiple reasons for this. The Lakers still draw a sizable audience on television, which is why the NBA has scheduled 28 nationally televised Lakers games this season. To put that in perspective, LeBron and the Cavs are scheduled for 29, Oklahoma City (pre-Durant and Wesbtrook injuries) for 32 and the defending champion Spurs for 25. The NBA knows fans still watch the Lakers, and the league wouldn’t schedule high-profile games if it feared low ratings. In contrast, the woeful Boston Celtics — a large east coast media market, 17 NBA championships and a recognizable name — are scheduled for only four nationally televised games.

From Baxter Holmes, Ramona Shelburne, and Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles:  Is Jeremy Lin right when he says communication and trust top his list for the Lakers’ problems?

Holmes: Absolutely. A large part of that stems from many new players playing in a new system, but it doesn’t help that Kobe has, up until their win at Atlanta, largely eschewed his teammates on offense. As Boozer said after the Hawks’ win, when they all touch the ball, they all feel involved and engaged, which leads to them playing more like a team on both ends but especially on defense. Scott has also noted that the bigs haven’t communicated well with the guards on defense, which he said has led to several lapses.

Shelburne: Yes, but not in the way that quote read. When Lin said “communication” and “trust” were the Lakers’ biggest issues, that was code for Bryant not keeping his teammates feeling involved in what the team is doing. He just didn’t want to say that out loud and cause a larger rift. Whether Lin is right is debatable. Bryant is a smart basketball player who knows how to win games. He also has heard he shoots too much for 19 years. It’s not as if he doesn’t recognize the drawbacks of that style of play. He’s playing that way because he didn’t have faith in his teammates to score. That’s the real trust issue. And it can only be corrected by guys like Lin and Boozer proving Bryant wrong and scoring the way they’re capable of.

Markazi: This team has a lot of problems, but if we start with the premise that the guys in the locker room are the guys that they will have all season and not worry about the future then yes, communication and trust are two big problems. The Lakers can worry about their more pressing problems for a legitimate point guard and center in the offseason. The only way the Lakers can improve their communication and trust is by moving the ball around and playing together, which, of course, hasn’t always been the case so far.

From Ryan Ward, Lakers Nation: The Los Angeles Lakers may finally be starting to get players back healthy with Xavier Henry potentially being the first of six injured players to return to the floor. Henry went down with bone bruise in his knee back on Dec. 29 against the Philadelphia 76ers and now appears to be nearing a return. Although Henry seems to be on pace to get back on the floor sooner rather than later, the Lakers newcomer will miss the next two games according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Along with Henry nearing a return, Kobe Bryant will be re-evaluated sooner than expected. Bryant was supposed to be re-evaluated at some point in February, but now will be checked after the current road trip comes to an end. Jordan Farmar is another Laker that might be back in the lineup in the coming weeks. Farmar will re-evaluated in mid-February for a hamstring injury.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: When the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat take the floor Thursday, four of the last five NBA championship-winning teams will be represented. But with the Heat coming off three straight Finals appearances and two straight titles, the Lakers’ back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010 seem like a distant memory. So much has changed within the Lakers organization since 2010 — Phil Jackson’s retirement, Mike Brown’s dismissal, Mike D’Antoni’s hiring, Dr. Jerry Buss’ death, Dwight Howard’s departure, Kobe Bryant’s torn Achilles, etc. — but perhaps the most dramatic is that a team that once defined itself by the precepts of Jackson’s triangle offense now finds itself playing so-called “small ball.”

From Dan Feldman, Pro Basketball Talk:  Strangely, Kobe Bryant was recently held up as an example for why Jabari Parker should return to Duke for a second season. Kobe, of course, went to the NBA directly from high school and has had an extremely fruitful career, both financially and in terms of on-court success. But I guess he was only a low-rotation backup as a rookie, or something. Only the most twisted reading of Kobe’s career would indicate his bypassing of college wasn’t a roaring success. Just take it from Kobe himself.

From Eric Pincus, LA Times: Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he expects Kobe Bryant to make a strong return before the end of the season. “I think that he’s going to be able to perform at a high level. People are going to be surprised,” Jackson said in an interview Wednesday on Fox Sports Live. Jackson noted that Bryant’s game will need to evolve as he works his way back post-injury. “I think post-up game and screen roll is going to have to become … a major part of his game. I don’t think he’s going to be able to just break [players] down [off the dribble],” Jackson said. “Defense becomes the biggest problem …. as you get old.” With the Lakers (16-26) struggling, Jackson said Bryant should sit out the rest of the rest of the season if he’s not healthy by April.

 

From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN LA: Don’t get too used to Kobe Bryant as the Lakers’ point guard. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said Monday that Jordan Farmar would “probably” start at point guard when he is able to return to the court. Farmar has missed five games after suffering a torn left hamstring in a December 1 loss to Portland, but has already resumed shooting and basketball-related activities. He will be re-evaluated after the Lakers return from their four-game road trip on Wednesday.

From Drew Garrison, SB Nation: Pau Gasol had a down year in his first season under head coach Mike D’Antoni. Some players enjoy bounce-back years after spending a summer rehabbing and preparing for a fresh start. Gasol has not. Instead, he’s shooting a career-low 42.8 percent from the field on a career-high 16.8 attempts per 36 minutes. Pau’s nosedive last season has only become steeper, and the tension between D’Antoni and Gasol is firing back up one cryptic quote at a time.

From Corey Hansford, Lakers Nation: Anytime Kobe Bryant goes to the ground, the entire Lakers fan base collectively holds their breath. Bryant went down holding his knee in the third quarter after appearing to hyperextend it while attempting to drive around Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen. While Bryant did eventually return to the game, he could be seen grimacing and flexing his knee throughout the remainder of the night. After the game Bryant, spoke with reporters and explained what happened, via Time Warner Cable Sportsnet:

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: If this were college football, it would’ve been the Injury Bowl. The Memphis Grizzlies played without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, a big problem it turned out, while the Lakers continued to play NBA games without any healthy point guards. When it was over, the Lakers would have been the ones joyfully hoisting a brass trophy of a guy on crutches. Or parading around with a priceless crystal sculpture of a swollen ankle. They outlasted the Grizzlies, 96-92, Tuesday night, adding just enough feel-good indicators to finish their trip with a 2-2 record. Tempering potential enthusiasm, the Lakers played against only one of Memphis’ three solid players, and Zach Randolph had an awful shooting night (seven for 22) at FedEx Forum. But Kobe Bryant had his best game since coming back from a torn Achilles’ tendon and Pau Gasol stepped into the past with a memorable night in the post.

From Dan Feldman, Pro Basketball Talk: Chris Kaman, after doing it with the Mavericks last season, knows playing on a one-year contract comes with all kinds of complications. Before the season, he said: “There’s just so many things that can happen, and the biggest one is that you’re on a one-year deal and you’re worried about it the whole time and it stresses you out.“But you’ve got to just play basketball. That’s what I’ve been doing for 10 years and that’s what I’m trying to focus on doing now.” Easier said than done.

 

From Ryan Cole, Lakers Nation: Charles Barkley is widely known amongst Lakers fans for having a strong disdain for the the franchise and the team. He’s never been shy to mention how he feels about this team. In the summer he said that Dwight Howard did the right thing leaving Los Angeles because he felt that the Lakers are in no position to win now or in the immediate future. And on the eve before the start of the NBA regular season, he publicly blasted the Lakers on Monday Night Football by saying they wouldn’t come close to making the playoffs. Well Chuck was back at it again tonight when he joined Ric Bucher and Chris Townsend on 95.7 The GAME. He was asked about how he thinks the Lakers will fare with Kobe Bryant coming back. This is what he said: “The Lakers gonna stink with him, or without him,” Barkley said. “They’re not a good team, and they won’t be a good team.”

From David Murphy, Bleacher Report: For the first 19 games of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Mike D’Antoni was having a field day with a team that might be described as a bunch of perfectly agreeable misfits—and then the Black Mamba returned. What will the relationship between D’Antoni and Kobe Bryant resemble for the rest of the season, partnership or power struggle? The eternal optimist would say the former—if these guys survived last year’s train wreck together, then this season should be a piece of cake. Bryant’s finally back on the court after a long layoff from a devastating injury, and now it’s time to rock! Or is it? A small difference of opinion recently materialized concerning the team’s record before Bryant’s return to action. It was enough to get people talking.

From Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There are the assumptions and the speculation, that the Kobe Bryant extension increases the possibility Bryant favorite Pau Gasol will get an offer to remain a Laker and that obviously he will jump at the chance because Gasol as a free agent, hat in hand, will be a sad sight. And then there is the reality: Gasol, he made clear to NBA.com, could be the one to decide to break up. While he is definitely interested in staying and his affection for the organization is obvious, the 33-year-old power forward about 6 1/2 months away from free agency said his hopes to win another championship will weigh heavily on what he does in July and possibly greater than the opportunity to stay in a familiar setting or even money. Especially since there may be another familiar setting out there.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: Nobody on the Los Angeles Lakers was kidding themselves by thinking Kobe Bryant’s return would suddenly vault them from a team flirting with .500 to a squad shooting straight for the top of the Western Conference standings. “Of course we want to win, but we definitely know it’s going to be different,” said Xavier Henryafter L.A.’s 114-108 loss to the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night at Staples Center, their second straight defeat since Bryant’s comeback. “Everybody in the world knows it’s going to be different.”

Wednesday Storylines

Darius Soriano —  December 4, 2013

The Lakers are two days into their four day break from game action and the major story of the off period is injuries. Jordan Farmar is set to miss a month due to a torn hamstring. Meanwhile Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol are both nursing sprained ankles, though will play through the pain. Those three represent a major chunk of the Lakers’ production and having them out or at less than their most effective selves will hurt the team’s chances on any given night, irrespective of opponent.

On a somewhat brighter note, both Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant practiced on Tuesday, though with different results in their respective returns. Kobe Bryant, by all accounts looked like Kobe. Mike D’Antoni said he “looked good” while Pau said Kobe was sharp and guessed that #24 had been doing a lot of work on his own to try and get back to game form. There were even reports of a steal and dunk in the scrimmage portion of the workout where Kobe raced up coourt and threw down a left hander.

Nash, on the other hand, was not up to the same standard as his backcourt partner. The Canadian was only a partial participant in the practice session and didn’t really scrimmage — at least not at the same level as Kobe. After the workout Nash didn’t entirely rule out playing on Friday, but did call it unlikely. Kobe, didn’t speak to the press about his status, but the hope remains he could make his debut against the Kings in three days.

**

Mike D’Antoni called Kobe’s return to practice today a “big step forward”. Dave McMenamin has the story.

McMenamin also writes that with Kobe and Nash getting closer and the Lakers sitting with an even 9-9 record, the Lakers get to restart their season with reinforcements on the way.

Speaking of Kobe getting closer, Kevin Ding discusses the superstar guard’s unending drive to evolve and, thus, improve.

On the flip-side, Ding also wrote on Pau Gasol’s twisted path from championship big man to a player who likely doesn’t have a future in Los Angeles.

Jordan Farmar may be out for a while, but remains optimistic about his recovery.

For Steve Nash, it’s a bit more complicated, as Eric Pincus reports. While he was encouraged by his return to practice, anytime you hear a player say he can’t have an urgency while adding “”If I race to come back … and it’s not quite right, I could be out forever or for months”, it’s not such a good thing.

Getting back to Kobe, this is a couple of weeks old, but one hoops fan (and not necessarily a Kobe one) writes how not having Kobe around made him realize how much he took him for granted.

**

Where the Lakers’ mixture of players hurting and healing leaves the rest of the team is pretty much the same place that fans are — guessing.

The Lakers have overachieved to this point, but have done so mostly on the strength of different performers raising their games from night to night. An Xavier Henry career high is followed by one from Wes Johnson. Jodie Meeks is hot one night and Steve Blake the next. Hill, Farmar, Gasol, or Nick Young bring their ‘A’ game and suddenly the Lakers are a .500 team looking to make some noise. But as the injuries pile up, one has to wonder how much more stepping up guys can do.

Getting a guy back who is used to putting his mates on his shoulders would certainly help, or at least that is the hope…