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Darius Soriano —  October 23, 2013

After Tuesday’s win over the Jazz, the Lakers only have a single preseason game remaining before the regular season begins. One more game to evaluate players, try personnel combinations, switch up rotations. One more game before the final roster is cut down. One more game where the reasoning of it’s only the preseason applies.

In a way, the win over the Jazz perfectly summed up what could be — and in a way, what I’m sure some people hope will be –provided by the Lakers during the regular season.

Some of the bench and role players looked very good. Jordan Farmar had an excellent night, buoyed by his furious 2nd half where he scored all of his team high 20 points. Wes Johnson finally brought his practice performance to the actual game, scoring 14 points and grabbing 6 rebounds while flashing the length and athleticism that were a key reason for his signing. Jordan Hill looked solid as a back up C, working the glass in his typical fashion, contesting shots at the rim, and even showing nice ability to occupy defenders (and score) when diving to the cup out of the pick and roll. Add in Xavier Henry’s continued aggressiveness and some good all around work by Shawne Williams on both sides of the ball and there is a sense that this is the type of performance the team thinks it can get from these guys.

On the other hand, this game also offered a reminder of some of the things that can bring the Lakers down over the course of the year. Chris Kaman, while ill and not technically injured, missed the game — something that will probably happen on more than one occasion considering he hasn’t played in all 82 games since his rookie season. Steve Nash played through an issue with his neck in the first half, but sat out the second half as a precautionary measure. Steve Blake started the game at SG and played his typically scrappy style, but had issues defending the bigger (and very skilled) Gordon Hayward which, at times, compromised the team’s defensive integrity. This team will have it’s down moments simply because the individuals that make up the rotation all have their flaws.

The hope, of course, is that the roster is constructed in a way that allows for some of those players to have their down moments and that the teammates who stand next to them will pick up the slack. Against the Jazz, that happened. Kaman sat, but Hill played well in his stead. Nash sat out the 2nd half, but Farmar exploded for 20 points and ran the offense competently. As the night went on, players found ways to help the team in ways that contributed to a win. The Jazz aren’t some powerhouse that will challenge for a playoff seed (quite the opposite, actually), but the Lakers, as a team, still did what was needed of them to pull away and win the game.

The regular season will need more of that. We’ll see if the way this team fits together allows it to be possible over the long grind of the regular season. Now, on to the news of the day:

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From Ramneet Singh, Lakers Nation: When Mike D’Antoni first joined the Los Angeles Lakers, not many people saw his offensive system working well with the aging roster. Despite the backing of the front office and even the players, D’Antoni just could not get his style of play to function in Los Angeles. D’Antoni spoke to the Los Angeles Times, and he talked about what he expects from the team this upcoming season. Although D’Antoni wants to keep it a high-paced offense, he understands what the players are and aren’t capable of. Which kind of pace does D’Antoni envision the Lakers running this season? “It won’t be crazy,” he said, “but we want to push it and get a nice pace. We want to get some easy buckets before the defense sets up, so we’ll be up in the top five probably in pace, but it won’t be breakneck speed.”

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: The day before Luke Walton made his television debut as an on-air analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet, the Los Angeles Lakers’ broadcast channel, this month, Walton ran into a familiar face who was exiting the gym just as he was entering it to work out. Phil Jackson wanted to make sure Walton knew what he was doing. “He pulled me aside and said, ‘Let me tell you a story,’” Walton told ESPNLosAngeles.com during a recent sit-down interview at the Time Warner Cable studios. Jackson recalled the time during New Jersey Nets training camp prior to the 1978-79 season — Jackson’s 11th in the league — when the rigors of NBA practices were causing him constant pain, and he wondered if he was coming to the end of his career. “The coach kind of told him, ‘Look, I think it’s time for you take that next step and maybe get into coaching. Your body is not really working for you right now,’” Walton said Rather than hang it up then and there, Jackson worked through his troubles and got himself ready to play. Next thing he knew, teammate Bob Elliott went out with a season-ending injury in November and Jackson was back in the mix.

From Ben R, Silver Screen & Roll: In the past six years, there have been no shortage of superlatives that could have been used to describe the players who have manned the five for the Lakers, and it would not be overly remiss to describe them as the driving force, Kobe Bryant notwithstanding, of the team’s recent success. The ability to field either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum at the center spot at any point in a game was an enormous advantage that most teams were simply not equipped to deal with; adding Lamar Odom to the mix made it emphatically the league’s best frontcourt rotation when everyone involved was healthy and provided enough quality depth to get by when it often was not. In a league that was steadily moving towards the perimeter and becoming smaller, the Lakers prided themselves on being able to exert their will down on the box.

From Eric Pincus, LA Times: As the regular season nears, the Lakers will have to make some final decisions on the roster before opening night. “I think it’s 48 hours before the first game and I do think you get to work on weekends.  I think [theNBA] changed the rules,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said.  “I guess until Saturday, more or less.” The Lakers start the season Oct. 29 at home against the Clippers.  They currently have 16 players, which means at least one has to go. Given that both Shawne Williams and Elias Harris have $100,000 of their individual contracts guaranteed, both are favorites to stick.  The team has 11 guaranteed contracts — 13 if Williams and Harris are included with their partials. The solid preseason from camp invitee Xavier Henry suggests the Lakers have a clear 14 headed into cut-down day. Does the team go to the maximum 15 or keep an open roster slot at 14? “I don’t know,” D’Antoni said, deferring to General Manager Mitch Kupchak.  “We’ve got to figure out how many we’re keeping and what we’re doing.” Ryan Kelly, the power forward from Duke picked 48th overall in the June draft, is on the bubble.  If the Lakers take 15 players to opening night, he might have the slight edge over forward Marcus Landry.

From Phillip Barnett, Lakers Nation: With the recent news that the Clippers will cover up the Lakers banners during their home games, Mark Medina of the LA Daily News asked some of the Lakers their thoughts on the Clippers antics. “We got to talk to Doc,” Young said Sunday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “He can’t have that. We have to do something about that. […] “That’s a lot of pull y’all are giving Doc,” Young said. “He shouldn’t come and have that much pull. He should come and earn his keep.” The Lakers have earned the right to feature their banners and retired jerseys at Staples Center. The team’s history of bringing in great players and fielding competitive teams has allowed them to display their storied history in the building that they play in.

From Brett Pollakoff, Pro Basketball Talk: Kobe Bryant changed the avatar on his Twitter account Friday to “1225,” and while we could speculate on whether or not that means he’s targeting a return date of Christmas Day against the Miami Heat from his torn Achilles injury, the reality is it was likely done as a personal motivational tactic. ESPN ranked all of the players in the league from 1-500, an exercise in futility that is arbitrary at best and, like anything involving opinions, clouded by personal biases. But it does generate a buzz of fan discussion in the weeks leading up to the start of the season, and coming from the Worldwide Leader, it garners plenty of attention from the players themselves. Bryant was ranked 25th, after finishing 12th in the voting last season. It’s a precipitous drop, considering what Bryant is capable of when healthy. But with his return date from injury an unknown, along with just how close to his old self Bryant will be once he does make it back, it’s at least somewhat understandable.

From TheGreatMambino, Silver Screen & Roll: Much has been made about the 2013-2014 Los Angeles Lakers defense–or perhaps lack thereof. From Nash and Kobe on the perimeter, to a small forward TBD and Pau’s diminishing returns as a paint protector, there are serious questions as to whether or not we’re looking at a bottom-5 NBA defense. This all in mind, what hope, if any, do you see of the Lakers creating an at least adequate defensive scheme? In what way could their defense be good to great?

From ESPN.com: Kobe Bryant often is compared to some of the greatest players in NBA history. But in what he describes as “the last chapter” of his storied career, Bryant hopes to mirror someone who has never played professional basketball — Floyd Mayweather Jr. The 35-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star, who is attempting to bounce back from Achilles surgery, compared himself toMayweather in a recent interview withSports Illustrated. “Maybe I won’t have as much explosion,” Bryant told the magazine. “Maybe I’ll be slower, maybe I’ll lose quickness. But I have other options. “It’s like Floyd Mayweather in the ring. There’s a reason he’s still at the top after all these years. He’s the most fundamentally sound boxer of all time. He can fight myriad styles at myriad tempos. He can throw fast punches or off-speed punches, and he can throw them from odd angles.”

From Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated: In an age when athletes aspire to be icons, yet share the burden of success with all their best pals, Bryant looms as perhaps the last alpha dog, half greyhound and half pit bull. No one handles him. No one censors him. He shows up alone. “What am I trying to be?” he asks. “Am I trying to be a hip, cool guy? Am I trying to be a business mogul? Am I trying to be a basketball player?” He doesn’t provide an answer. He doesn’t have to. It’s been obvious since he was 11 years old in Italy and a club from Bologna tried to buy his rights. The gym was the place he could go at 4 a.m., “to smell the scent” and pour the fuel. Bryant wonders whether his sanctuary is finally closing, and if so, how he will cope without it. He recognizes what many around him do not: The persona, lifelike as it may be, is only partly real. Beneath it is a three-dimensional figure, with the same vulnerabilities as anybody else, plus the will to overcome them. “I have self-doubt,” Bryant says. “I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it. You rise above it. … I don’t know how I’m going to come back from this injury. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be horses—.” He pauses, as if envisioning himself as an eighth man. “Then again, maybe I won’t, because no matter what, my belief is that I’m going to figure it out. Maybe not this year or even next year, but I’m going to stay with it until I figure it out.”

From Ramneet Singh, Lakers Nation: Not so long ago, Dwight Howard was preparing for his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and almost everyone in the NBA had the Lakers going to the Finals. However, fast forward a year, and now Howard is in Houston and there are a lot of doubts lingering with the Lakers. Over the summer, Howard decided to join the third team in his NBA career by leaving Los Angeles and joining the Houston Rockets. For the first time in history, a high profiled name willingly left the Lakers and chose to sign with another team. Howard spoke to the media recently, and the Los Angeles Times writes that Howard believes it took guts for him to leave the Lakers:

From Ben R, Silver Screen & Roll: One of the main elements of the offensive revolution that Mike D’Antoni helped to usher into the NBA was a paradigm shift in traditional positions. Guys who were once treated as too short or not sufficiently bruising enough to play in the frontcourt suddenly found roles as players who were too quick and accurate from range for their usual counterparts to cover. In the modern NBA, it is increasingly difficult to play fours incapable of stretching the floor at least out to fifteen feet or so, as well as checking the pick-and-roll ably on the other end. The recent success of the Miami Heat, a team that routinely trots out LeBron James, Shane Battier, and other players that would have emphatically been considered small forwards ten years ago at the four, is testament to how this has become the new norm.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: It wasn’t strange to see the Lakers waive Darius Johnson-Odom. He was a long shot to make the team. The weird part was the time and place of it. The Lakers announced the transaction with 36 hours left in their China tour. Johnson-Odom flew on the Lakers’ charter to Beijing last week, played in their game Tuesday against Golden State and was scheduled to leave with them after Friday’s rematch against the Warriors. A harsh move by the Lakers, 6,000 miles from Los Angeles? Not quite. Johnson-Odom agreed to terms with a Chinese pro basketball team, signing a contract worth $400,000, according to a person familiar with the situation. Johnson-Odom had been weighing the offer for about a week and made up his mind after the Lakers strongly suggested he wouldn’t make their roster this season. They waived him Thursday so he could sign with the undisclosed Chinese team. Johnson-Odom’s play wasn’t spectacular — a 3.7-point average in three exhibition games — and he was cut from the team for the second time after being drafted 55th overall by the Lakers in 2012.

From Brett Pollakoff, Pro Basketball Talk: The vast majority of days that I work in arenas covering live events, I am not subjected to filing a game story on deadline. It’s by far the worst part of the industry, and it’s what many of the best writers covering the NBA face on a daily basis out of necessity as part of their gigs working for newspapers around the country. The online model is quite different, and the details will be spared here and saved for another time. But immediacy is rarely required unless something monumental occurs, so usually the first story can wait for some depth, context, and texture from the players involved speaking in post-game locker rooms long after the final buzzer has sounded. On the afternoon of Sunday, April 28, however, there was no reason to wait. The Lakers were getting predictably shellacked in Game 4 of their first round playoff series against the Spurs, and the game was effectively over early in the second half. The brief initial story was done before the final buzzer, and only a couple of minor details needed to be included for the sake of accuracy.

From Elizabeth Benson, Lakers Nation: While the Lakers are preparing for two exhibition games in China this week, the major focus remains on Kobe Bryant and his Achilles recovery. After all, the Lakers’ performance this season will most likely be determined by when Kobe returns and how effective he will be after suffering the most serious injury of his career. Last week, Kobe revealed that he had been given the green light to increase his workouts and conditioning process, and he also claimed that he needed three weeks of intensive conditioning to get back into game shape. In Beijing, Kevin Ding talked to Kobe about his progress with his Achilles. Bryant shared: “I haven’t had any pain or any soreness whatsoever. It’s kind of a flexibility thing, and getting the range of motion back—feel like you can bend without having to lift the heel up. After months of the tendon being compressed, now you have to work to stretch it out a little bit.”

From Brett Pollakoff, Pro Basketball Talk: Last season: It was supposed to be yet another year spent contending for a championship for a storied Lakers franchise that already has 16 of them. L.A. loaded up with free agent talent in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, and was on paper the team most believed would stand in the way of a second straight Miami Heat title. Instead, it was a season full of drama and disaster. The Lakers were decimated by injuries to nearly anyone that mattered, Howard struggled to embrace head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system and playing alongside Kobe Bryant, and the team snuck into the playoffs only to be swept in the first round by the Spurs. If all of that wasn’t bad enough, Bryant went down with a torn Achilles injury near the end of last season that will have a lingering effect on the team entering this one.

From ESPN.com: With an injured Kobe Bryant on the bench, the Los Angeles Lakers will be looking at different player combinations when they play the Golden State Warriors. “We have guys competing for jobs,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said at practice Monday. “They’re trying to earn jobs. So it’s a hard time for these players but they’re doing well.” Although he made the trip to China, Bryant has not yet returned to game action as he continues to recover from a torn Achilles tendon and ailing right knee. The China trip is part of the NBA’s Global Games, an effort to promote the league’s global brand. The league played its first international game when Washington visited Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel in 1978. By the end of this season, the NBA will have played nearly 150 of them, including 18 during the regular season. Pau Gasol said the Lakers have enough on offense to make up for Bryant’s absence.

From Drew Garrison, Silver Screen & Roll: We’re here because we love the Los Angeles Lakers — well, most of us — and we’ve been accustomed to winning championships being the source of joy. The reason the purple and gold play professional basketball is simple — to be the best in the league and add to that majestic championship tally. Hate to break it to you, but this current Lakers squad isn’t likely to add to the banners hanging in Staples Center. And that’s fine. It’s hard to appreciate the little things when the big picture is blocking the view. Last season was a reminder that not all big productions turn into box office hits. It happens. What we’re left with are the props, gag reels and a few actors who were left behind in Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. The rest are the extras who are sticking around to earn their pay check and become the first group of Lakers to wear “Hollywood Nights” jerseys. And that’s fine too.

 

Friday Forum

Darius Soriano —  October 11, 2013

The Lakers played their last preseason game in the U.S. for a little while on Thursday, losing to the Kings 104-86 in a pretty uneven performance on both sides of the ball. The first half offered some positives offensively, some struggles defensively, and some pretty good individual performances. The second half offered a decline in all facets on both sides and included Steve Nash going to the locker room with a sore ankle. The end result was a blowout loss, but the players and coaches took it all in stride and seemed to brush it off as another brick in path towards the season.

A season that is fast approaching, by the way. Tip off for the first game that counts is a mere 18 days away. Less than 3 calendar weeks to get the house in order and present the best group they can to compete when the contests really matter. How good this team will be seems to be a question with an evolving answer — there’s hope inside the locker room that improved chemistry and upgrades in athleticism will make a real difference. On the outside, however, the prognosticators still aren’t convinced. Thing is, though, is that all the words spoken by the players and coaches or those written by scribes who cover this team (both from afar and who see them every day) doesn’t change the fact that the results will be determined on the floor. In the end, the words don’t matter. Only the actions on the floor do.

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From Serena Winters, Lakers Nation: Kobe Bryant spoke to the media at the Los Angeles Lakers training facility for the first time since Lakers media day on Wednesday afternoon, right before the team hopped on a plane headed to Las Vegas. The Lakers are just under three weeks away from opening night. Will Kobe be ready to suit up? “I haven’t said anything and I just keep it all open right now. I don’t know why you guys are so hell bent on timelines it’s like the most ridiculous thing, it’s entertaining. When I’m ready, I’m ready.” Though Kobe wasn’t ready to give a yes/no answer, his conversation with the media this afternoon led to some telling hints about his progression. First, we learned that Kobe is running at 100 percent on the anti-gravity treadmill, which means that Kobe is able to run at his full body weight. Kobe said he’s most concerned about his physical shape, noting that muscle endurance, after being out for six months, takes time. “The explosiveness. The muscle endurance, which takes a little time. And then, you know, I gotta get my fat [expletive] in shape too. Six months of eating whatever the hell I wanted to eat and not running and stuff has caught up to me a little bit so I gotta get in shape.”

From Brett Pollakoff, Pro Basketball Talk: Kobe Bryant has returned from Germany, after embarking on a journey there five days ago to undergo another round of Orthokine treatment to his knee. It was a maintenance procedure following something similar he underwent twice in 2011, and whether or not he personally informed Mike D’Antoni of his trip has essentially nothing to do with Bryant’s timetable for returning to action. Bryant joined his teammates on the bench in Ontario, CA for the Lakers’ preseason game against the Nuggets, and while he didn’t speak to reporters, he did appear briefly for an interview on the Time Warner Cable telecast.

From Eric Pincus, LA Times: At 39 years old, how much does Steve Nash have left to offer? After an injury-ridden debut season with the Lakers, the veteran point guard isn’t entirely sure. “We’ll see. I’ve got to go out and find what kind of player I am now,” he said after practice Wednesday. “Even I’m still trying to figure out, after all the injuries and everything.” Nash broke his leg in the second game of the season. Hip, hamstring and back problems lingered, eventually knocking him out of action again late in the year. Off-season rehab has gotten him back to health, but he said he still doesn’t quite feel like he did a few years ago. “It’s been a difficult 12 months of injuries and stuff,” he said.  “[I’m] a little bit [limited] but not necessarily anything that I can’t overcome.”

From ESPN: Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced on Thursday that he’ll no longer be part of ESPN’s NBA coverage because of his other commitments. Johnson, a five-time NBA champion, three-time MVP and member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, joined the network in 2008. He appeared on ESPN and ABC as a studio and game analyst. “We appreciate Magic’s contributions and wish him well in his future endeavors,” John Wildhack,ESPN’s executive vice president, production, said in a statement. “We are in the process of determining our NBA commentator roles for the upcoming season.” Earlier this week, ESPN announced the hiring of former 76ers coach Doug Collins as an analyst on a number of NBA shows. Collins was expected to work alongside Johnson on those shows. “I love ESPN. Unfortunately, due to the nature of my schedule and other commitments, I don’t feel confident that I can continue to devote the time needed to thrive in my role,” Johnson said in a statement. “I will always feel a strong connection to the ESPN family and I enjoyed working with them very much.”

From TheGreatMambino, Silver Screen & Roll: For the past decade and a half, this specific post has been, quite frankly, really, really boring. “Kobe Bryant will be the Lakers‘ starting shooting guard. He is going to play 35+ minutes a night and he is going to be amazing. Let’s hope that _____ can shore up anywhere between 10 and 13 minutes a night when the Mamba rests and recharges for a fourth quarter surge.” And Kazaam! One 7-foot genie later, we’re done. But with one wrong step on a scoring drive six months ago, this post became infinitely more intriguing. Perhaps not just for now, but for the foreseeable future. Kobe Bryant most likely will not be LA’s opening night shooting guard for the first time since 2006, as he rehabs from a ruptured Achilles tendon. The team has still not given out a specific time table for the two-time Finals MVP’s return, but the usual recovery schedule from such an injury is anywhere from six to nine months. You’re on the clock, Mamba.

 

From Gabriel Lee, Lakers Nation: The grass is always greener on the other side, as they say. The biblical tale of the Prodigal Son exemplifies that euphemism. For those unfamiliar with the parable, here’s a quick synopsis: a young man asks his wealthy father for his share of the inheritance. He goes out to a distant country and exhausts whatever money he was given. With no money and remaining, he decides to return home to beg for his father’s forgiveness. To the son’s surprise, his father welcomes him home by celebrating with a feast. We’ve all been in that position of the son as humans. Our innate sense of self-belief leads us to rebel against our parents early as a teenager, eventually move out because we’re tired of our folks, and later seek a sense of fulfillment in the workplace through seeking new opportunities. Sometimes these risks paid off in spades, at others we’ve all fell flat on our face; but without taking these risks where would the fun lie in life? Luckily, nothing you ever do in this life is put to waste. You learn something from each experience and gain a sense of humility along the way. Enter Jordan Farmar. The point guard, who was born and raised in California, very recently completed a journey eerily similar to the son from the biblical parable.

From Actuarially Sound, Silver Screen & Roll: The advancements made in statistics and data analytics in the NBA has been revolutionary. The movement is beginning to leave the traditional box score as a mere relic of the past as terms such as “efficiencies” and “rates” have now become more commonplace. It is no secret that the progress made has been mainly tied to the offensive end, where the individual contribution can be more easily measured. This isn’t to say the defense hasn’t seen any progress; the movement to defensive efficiency is a vast improvement over the old-school metric of opponent’s points per game. However many of the defensive metrics are still quite lacking because it is no easy feat to disentangle the individual contribution to the team’s results. I recognize the immense challenge facing those who try to tackle the measurement of individual defense and thus won’t criticize the current lack of individual defensive metrics. What I do take issue with is our measurement of team defense because the way we are doing it now is quite flawed and the remedy is quite simple.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: No matter how dreadful the upcoming season might be, Lakers fans don’t have to hold their breath. Chris Kaman will do it for you. He can stay submerged in water for 2½ minutes thanks to years of free diving in the ocean. No, Kaman isn’t your normal NBA center. Never has been. Never will be. Now he’s Lakers property for a year. It will be a fun ride this season, at least in front of Kaman’s locker before and after every game. Listen to him talk and you think a dark, low-level cloud will appear over his head and start a downpour. He sold his Manhattan Beach home over the summer and was unexpectedly contacted by the Lakers a week later. He signed with Dallas a year ago, eager to play for Mark Cuban and with Dirk Nowitzki, but ended up barely playing toward the end of the season. And a prowler broke into his house there while he and his wife were sleeping.”It still stresses me out to leave her at home,” he said.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: Los Angeles Lakers forward Wesley Johnson underwent an MRI on Monday that revealed he has a strained tendon in his left foot. Johnson was held out of practice Monday, and the Lakers are calling his status day to day. The Lakers play the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday in Ontario, Calif., in their third preseason game of the exhibition schedule. The fourth-year forward exited the Lakers’ 97-88 loss to the Nuggets on Sunday with 3:59 remaining in the first quarter after feeling a “burning sensation” in his foot, according to Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. Johnson finished with only two points and three rebounds while shooting 1-for-5 from the field with two turnovers. It was Johnson’s second straight underwhelming performance of the preseason, at least statistically, after being considered a breakout player during training camp.