Archives For Morning Links

The biggest news surrounding the Lakers this weekend was the imminent departure of long-time team trainer Gary Vitti. To be clear, the news that the 2015-16 season would be Vitti’s last run with the purple and gold was reported in mid-April, but Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reinvigorated the discussion with a recent feature on the 30-year franchise mainstay. The piece chronicles Vitti’s run with the team and highlights some of the key moments during his tenure. Among the many revealing quotes, one of the more interesting bits involved how Julius Randle’s injury last season affected Vitti’s departure:

So much has happened the last few years, so little of it positive. Vitti even called it “a nightmare.” Few would disagree, the Lakers continually losing Bryant and Steve Nash to injury, along with a slew of games.

“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”

Vitti connects with his players like few other trainers in the league and since joining the Lakers in 1984, there is perhaps no player he has bonded with more over the years than Kobe Bryant. Now, as both their careers may be coming to a close, Vitti revealed that the two recently shared some thoughts on the upcoming season:

“He was asking about our young kids, and I said, ‘You cannot believe how quick and athletic Jordan Clarkson is. He looks fantastic,'” Vitti said. “I said I personally thought D’Angelo Russell is going to be a star. He makes hard things look easy when he has the ball in his hands.

“Then Kobe said to me, ‘Well, then who’s going to play [small forward]?’ I looked at him and I said, ‘You.’ And with absolute, 100% confidence, he said, ‘I can do that.'”

Can Bryant, soon to turn 37, really do it? His last three seasons were cut short by injury and he became a part-time player last season, sitting out eight of his last 16 games for “rest” before sustaining a torn rotator cuff in January. He is under contract for one more season at $25 million.

“When Nash retired, that didn’t mean he couldn’t play in an NBA game. The problem was how much time did he need to get ready for the next game.” Vitti said. “He had lots of issues that prevented him from playing an NBA schedule.

“That’s going to be the big question with Kobe, and we’re just going to have to feel it out. It’s been a while since he’s played. We just need to see.”

There’s a lot of good stuff there, but what is of most immediate interest to Lakers fans is Kobe’s apparent willingness to step into the small forward role for his (maybe) final season. For more insight on how that transition could look for Bean, our own Darius Soriano covered it yesterday. Give it a look as well.

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The Lakers introduced their three summer acquisitions — Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass and Lou Williams — on Wednesday and the press conference was captivating…okay, not so much. But, seriously, when looking past the now infamous “silent treatment” and the disappointing fact that Bynum’s jersey number has yet to be retired (Damn you, Hibbert.), there are some real takeaways that can emerge from these traditionally cliché pressers.

For the Lakers, the biggest observation (pun intended) was some of the revealing quotes from Roy Hibbert both during the presser and afterwards with individual reporters. To provide some insight into Hibbert’s presser we’ve collected bits from a few articles on it over the web and ordered them in a cohesive manner. Read away:

From Blake Schuster of the Indy Star:

Former Indiana Pacer Roy Hibbert was introduced as the newest member of the Los Angles Lakers on Wednesday and seemed eager for a fresh start.

The center said it was a “no-brainer” to waive his no-trade clause  with the Pacers — reportedly sacrificing $2.2 million — to play in Los Angeles and acknowledged Indiana’s plan to go younger and play faster played a role in his decision.

“You have to embrace change,” Hibbert said. “They wanted to go in a different direction. It’s a business and you have to understand that.”

Per Bill Oram of the Orange County Register:

To Larry Bird and others in charge in Indiana, Roy Hibbert was a lost cause. A lumbering center with little offensive game and a disinterested temperament, they were happy pawning him off for nothing more than a future second-round draft pick.

The Lakers, however, view Hibbert as a player who can not only regain his standing as an All-Star big man, but anchor their anemic defense, which last year ranked second-worst in the NBA.

“I expect to play at an All-Star defensive level, and everything else will come,” Hibbert said Wednesday.

From Anthan Pandian of CBS Sports:

To ensure that he will “play at an All-Star defensive level,” Hibbert has lost 16 pounds (all that jiu jitsu worked out). Hibbert is hoping that he will now be able to play faster.

Smart thinking by Hibbert, who was an All-Star in the 2013-2014 season, but he may have a tough time becoming an All-Star in the West as players like Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis seem entrenched at the big man spots. However, Hibbert should excel with the Lakers, improving their low-ranking defense.

From Mark Medina of the LA Daily News:

“Kareem reaches out to me, comes to watch my workouts and we stay in touch for the most part,” Hibbert said. “He gives me little tidbits, I worked with him a lot last year during the summer and he keeps up with me. So, he always gives me some advice, gives me some things to work on and I always ask him questions.”

It seems a stretch to say that Hibbert will suddenly unleash Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook. Hibbert has averaged 11.1 points through seven NBA seasons in Indiana.

[…]

Yet, Hibbert credited Abdul-Jabbar for teaching him various techniques regarding his spacing, defensive presence, mental preparation and off-court issues.

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If those didn’t leave you feeling encouraged enough about LA’s newest big man, we are doubling down on Hibbert news because, upon doing some research, I discovered a blog post from 2008 that examined the Georgetown offense, anchored by none other than Roy Hibbert.

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The Lakers Summer League team wrapped up their stint in Las Vegas over the weekend, and despite their 1-4 record, the team displayed notable flashes of a potentially prosperous future for the purple and gold. Now, fans understandably remain restless about the team’s disappointing performance and with that, Silver Screen & Roll’s Harrison Faigen provided perspective on their struggles (Hint: It’s OK):

They may have a fire to win and improve that goes beyond their years, but Russell is just a 19-year-old rookie that still wants to use a Gatorade bottle as a microphone to ask questions to Clarkson in a post-win media scrum. Randle is basically a rookie after barely playing more than 10 regular season minutes last year. Clarkson is 23, but is only a year removed from being the 46th overall pick in the NBA draft. While this core may have plenty of promise, the reality is they require some patience while they grow.

Madsen was quick to blame the team’s sluggish start against New York on it being a “mistake” to give the team a day off on Sunday. He may be right, but just as responsible was the Princeton offense the team was attempting to quickly implement and run to effectiveness despite very little practice time. The fact that grind-out halfcourt possessions is pretty much the opposite of what this team’s strengths should be only made it harder to witness.

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In the interest of Summer League, the team’s most consistent performer was, without question, Jordan Clarkson. Last week, we recommended a piece that focused on his transition into a combo-guard role for the upcoming season (which you can read here). Now to continue with the theme of his development, Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney detailed how Clarkson’s proficiency as a midrange shooter is bucking a trend of the new, long distance-oriented NBA:

Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson has a counterpoint game. While the broader trends of the league encourage guards to drive headlong to the rim or launch up three-pointers at will, Clarkson has carved out an immediate, intentional niche from midrange. In doing so, the 23-year-old works as something of an exploit. Modern NBA defenses are built to take away specific kinds of shots. Clarkson operates in a way that mines that give and take, stepping into the wide open midrange shots that many defenses naturally concede.

“It’s all two points,” Clarkson said. “Getting there and getting to those spots is definitely an emphasis because I think they’re easy shots for me.”

The majority of NBA teams now guard pick-and-rolls with some variation of a “drop” scheme—in which the big man defending the screener hangs back around the foul line—specifically because the midrange pull-up is a hard shot to hit consistently. It can be rushed. It can be crowded. By default it returns fewer points per possession than a three-point jumper or an attempt from the restricted area, which is why those spaces on the floor are now defensive priorities.

For more on Clarkson and how he is aiming to build upon his success last season, Mark Medina of the Daily News took an in-depth look at Clarkson’s growth from last year’s draft up to this year’s showing in Vegas. The piece details a few specific measures Clarkson is taking to improve upon each aspect of his game, and yes, that includes expanding his range:

DiFrancesco said Clarkson has added 10 to 15 pounds in muscle, increasing his weight from 180 to between 190-195 pounds. Clarkson has completed various strength exercises two days a week, including chin-ups, bench presses, squats, dead lifts and band resistance drills, and focuses two other days on leg exercises.

The Lakers believe this will make Clarkson more equipped to defend stronger guards, finish with more efficiency and minimize injury to any tendons.

Meanwhile, Clarkson narrowed his focus with Hanlen on three things nearly every day.

To improve his outside shooting, Clarkson altered his balance by jumping straight up and tweaked his release point by raising his right elbow.

To improve his pick-and-roll execution, Clarkson has dropped his hips and relaxed his chest so that he can move at a more methodical and efficient pace.

To improve his finishing at the rim, Clarkson has varied his attempts with both hands.

If interested in more on Clarkson’s background, work ethic, the pre-draft process and his honest perspective on last season, the above pieces certainly deserve a read.

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The Summer Lakers were eliminated from the Las Vegas Summer League Playoffs on Wednesday after falling to the Dallas Mavericks 88-86. One would not be wrong to consider the team’s showing in Las Vegas quite disappointing. Be it the Russell turnovers, Randle’s rust, or an overall lack of chemistry, the talented group just wasn’t the cohesive unit we had hoped it would be.

So, given the current uneasiness of Lakers fans, our friend Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk clarified that the team is currently undergoing a rebuild and in such a process, composure is key:

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The Lakers finished up their first three games of the Las Vegas Summer League on Monday with a 1-2 record and amidst the many storylines, the main conversation has surrounded the play of second overall pick D’Angelo Russell. Russell’s numbers have not been anything to rave about nor have we seen much of what was highlighted prior to the draft. His apparent slow start has gotten Lakers fans antsy, but a piece by Nate Parham for Warriors blog Golden State of Mind can calm the minds of Laker faithful as he chronicles how Russell’s natural gifts and unbelievable poise flashed glimpses of potential greatness. Here’s a brief look:

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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.