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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.

 

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: Brian Shaw stepped out of the visitors’ locker room and into his past at Staples Center. After so many years as a Lakers player and assistant coach, he was on the other side of the scorer’s table Sunday for an exhibition game, his first as a head coach. Shaw was hired by the Denver Nuggets after interviews with countless teams over the years to be a head coach. Of course, he hoped to get a chance with the Lakers last November after they fired Mike Brown. Shaw was an assistant with the Indiana Pacers at the time. “There were some opportunities that I would’ve loved to jump at,” he said before the Nuggets’ 97-88 victory over the Lakers.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Hopefully this is nothing too serious. Wesley Johnson needed a fresh start and he was getting one with a Lakers team that has minutes to give out off the bench if you can earn them. Johnson on paper should fit well in a Mike D’Antoni system and all the reports out of Lakers training camp are that he was impressing coaches and teammates. Then in Sunday’s exhibition loss to the Denver Nuggets, Johnson left the game in the first quarter with what is being called a “strained left foot.” He did not return and will have an MRI Monday, reports Dave McMenamin at ESPNLosAngeles.com. “There was some burning sensation in his foot,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We’re hoping [it is] not bad.” Johnson was the No. 4 pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves but after two seasons they let him go. He played 50 games for the Suns last season, averaging 8 points on just 40.7 percent shooting and 32.3 percent from three — he has primarily been a spot up shooter who doesn’t shoot all that well. He played better defense in Phoenix, but we wouldn’t call it lock down. We’d call it okay.Which means Johnson has a lot to prove in Lakers training camp if he wants to get consistent run this season. A foot injury certainly would be a setback. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: With Kobe Bryant (temporarily) some 6,000 miles away in Germany andDwight Howard (permanently) some 1,500 miles away in Houston, Pau Gasol had plenty of room to operate on the court for the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Gasol had 13 shot attempts in 23 minutes in the Lakers’ 97-88 loss to the Denver Nuggets. While he didn’t shoot the ball all that well (4-for-13 for 13 points) in his preseason debut and the first organized game he’s played in more than five months, just the sheer amount of touches was a welcome change for the 13-year veteran. ”I think that’s a good indication of how much liberty and how much my teammates also trust me to make plays and make shots and then, when the defense collapses, find them,” Gasol said after the game.

From Sean Highkin, USA Today: As part of USA TODAY Sports’ NBA season preview coverage, Adi Joseph and I recently finished ranking all 30 teams by “watchability.” The Los Angeles Lakers came in at No. 24, the reasoning being that Kobe Bryant’s return date is still unknown, and after losing Dwight Howard, they simply weren’t going to be very good. Not good enough to merit 29 nationally televised games, anyway. After two preseason games, it’s evident that we made a big mistake. To be clear, the Lakers aren’t going to win more than 35 games or so, and will probably miss the playoffs, unless Kobe somehow plays on opening night and hasn’t lost a step. But Lakers fans are going to have a lot more fun watching this team than they did last year’s. The main reason: Nick Young. The Lakers signed “Swaggy P” to a two-year minimum contract over the summer, hoping he could provide some scoring help for a roster that struggled in a big way to put points on the board when Kobe went down. But he’s going to give them so much more than that.

 

From Ross Gasmer, Lakers Nation: Incredibly enough, we’re just three days away from Lakers basketball as they’ll play their first preseason game of the season on Saturday against the Warriors. While Pau Gasol and Steve Nash will be limited, game one of the preseason should allow players like Shawne Williams, Elias Harris, Chris Kaman and Wesley Johnson a chance to prove themselves. Every Wednesday this preseason, regular season and hopefully in the playoffs, I’ll be rolling out a trending up and down article about which Lakers are heading in the right direction and those heading the other way. Here’s who’s trending up and down after a few days of practice ahead of the first preseason game.

From Drew Garrison, Silver Screen & Roll: The Los Angeles Lakers will be without Dwight Howard going forward, in case you hadn’t heard. This will hurt most on defense, where the team ranked 20th in the league with Howard as its anchor. The Lakers won’t be able to replace Howard’s presence, but increasing Jordan Hill’s role with the team should be the first adjustment Mike D’Antoni makes. His defensive mobility and elite rebounding talents make him a valuable player for the Lakers. Hill isn’t a natural fit in D’Antoni’s offensive schemes. He shot just 35 percent from 16-to-23 feet last season, leading to D’Antoni urging him to work on his stroke during the summer. But what he can do for the Lakers defense makes him more valuable than a few percentage ticks from the elbow. His footwork, positioning and rebounding allow him to make a major impact on that end.

From Mike Bresnahan and Eric Pincus, LA Times: The doors opened to Lakers practice and the media spilled onto the sidelines to watch a bunch of players shooting, none of them named Kobe Bryant. Turned out he had done a little work earlier. Bryant is now shooting without jumping, the latest step in his return from a torn Achilles’ tendon. There’s still no timetable for his return, and he hasn’t started to run on the court. For now, he’s simply Set Shot Bryant. ”He’s just going up on his tiptoes,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said Wednesday. “I don’t think he was jumping. It wasn’t flat-footed, but it was set shooting.” Bryant hasn’t spoken to reporters since last Saturday and is required to give interviews only once a week while injured, as per NBA rules. It’s unlikely he’ll play any of the Lakers’ eight exhibition games, and his status remains unclear for the season opener Oct. 29 against the Clippers. ”As soon as he can be ready, he’ll be ready,” D’Antoni said.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: Mike D’Antoni had been the Los Angeles Lakers’ head coach for less than a month when he got into a heated exchange with a reporter after the Lakers lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 11 of last season, their fifth loss in six games at the time. The exchange was prompted by questions about his approach to coaching defense. D’Antoni seemed to have the spat fresh in his mind when a different reporter asked him after practice Wednesday what percentage of training camp he spends on defense versus offense. ”I would say 99.9 (percent) on defense and 0.1 on offense,” D’Antoni said with a sarcastic smile. “Does that satisfy you guys?” He was making a joke with the over exaggeration, but the truth is, the coach actually has been making an effort to get his team to understand that their success this season will start with stops on the defensive end. ”It seems like he’s harping a little bit more on defense now,” Shawne Williams, who played for D’Antoni in New York, told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “He’s spending more time on defense. It used to just be a lot of offense and he used to try to tell us, ‘Defense comes from within,’ but now, everything starts with defense and then we let that dictate the offense.” Seven seconds or less? More like consecutive stops or else.