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Media day came and went for the Lakers on Saturday, offering a slightly different scene than the one last year where championship expectations came not just from the players, but from many of the reporters in attendance. This year, though, much has changed. Not only did a certain free agent Center choose to bolt town, but the remaining core from that “big four” are all looking to bounce back from injuries and recapture their games (and to a certain extent, their reputations).

The players are seemingly embracing the shift in expectations and seem bent on proving that they not only have game left in their tanks, but enough of it to make some noise in a crowded western conference. But before they can get on the court to play, they all shuttled around the practice facility and talked the talk. Here are stories from the start of camp…

Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times has a full breakdown of media day, where he observes that there are more questions than answers.

At ESPN LA, Dave McMenamin notes that Kobe Bryant is feeling good, but still doesn’t have a timeline for his return.

Meanwhile, Eric Pincus of the Times, explains that one way to help limit Kobe’s minutes when he does return is via strong play from the team’s trio of point guards. This is something I’ve written about as well (at least in relation to Jordan Farmar).

Speaking of Kobe, he seems cognizant that coming off his injury he may have to play fewer minutes, but also draws inspiration from Peyton Manning and Mariano Rivera as guys who came back strong off their own injuries in recent campaigns. J.A. Adande has the story.

While Kobe heals, Pau and Nash say they’re both healthy. And Pau seems very excited that he’ll be back at Center and looks to get back to the form he showed in season’s past. That said, Pau will ease his way into camp and start out not practicing fully even though he’s been fully cleared for basketball activities.

Nash, meanwhile, will be practicing, but acknowledges that he is open to taking more time off during the season, even if that means missing games (ala how Gregg Popovich rests Tim Duncan and crew during the grind of the 82 game campaign).

The guy who will make those decisions on Nash is, of course, Mike D’Antoni. The head coach sat down with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com for a wide ranging interview that covered a ton of ground. It is well worth your time.

Of course, media day wouldn’t be complete unless questions were asked about Dwight Howard. Kobe, in classic form, had the answer of the day.

Lastly, as camp opens, Kevin Ding offers five things fans will know as camp opens. This is an interesting list with notes on Nash, Farmar, Wes Johnson, and Chris Kaman.

From Kevin Ding, Bleacher Report: Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak addressed the media Wednesday in advance of Mike D’Antoni opening his first Lakers training camp Saturday, and the strongest statement Kupchak made was in pushing his one element of continuity. Kupchak wouldn’t specify when, but he expressed confidence Bryant will return without any hint of injury—and still be “the Kobe that we know and love” who is unwavering about shooting with the game on the line. Kupchak returned to referring comfortably to Bryant as the Lakers’ “best player.” As for the future, Kupchak again accented the continuity. “Kobe has made it clear that he intends to retire in a Lakers uniform,” Kupchak said. “And I know as an organization, we feel the same way.” Bryant will likely accept a substantial pay cut after this season as he looks to position the Lakers for impact free-agent signings in 2014 or ’15. But Kupchak has been consistently on record as saying it’s far more difficult to bring star players in than keep star players you already have. “The rules have been created where it’s going to be tough to get players to move,” he said Wednesday. “It really is.”

From Eric Pincus, LA Times: Pau Gasol has returned to Los Angeles after spending the summer in his native Spain. The veteran forward/center has been sidelined since May, recovering from procedures to alleviate tendinosis in both knees. Just recently he resumed basketball activities after a lengthy period just on the treadmill, in the weight room or pool. Gasol visited with Dr. Steve Yoon of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic on Thursday for a checkup. Apparently the results were favorable.

From Dave Mcmenamin, ESPN: The Lakers, meanwhile, are taking their time in opening up contract extension talks with Bryant until they can see what type of player he will be when he comes back. Bryant is in the final year of his current deal, which will pay him $30.45 million. “There have been no contract extension talks,” Kupchak said. “I would suspect that at some point this season we’ll sit down. Whether it’s Kobe and I or Kobe and his representative, Rob Pelinka, and talk about a road map for the future. But Kobe has made it clear that he intends to retire in a Laker uniform, and I know as an organization we feel the same way.” Kupchak said that waiting on the extension also benefits Bryant, who can use the time to determine how much he has left as a player. “If you think for a second if Kobe can’t play at a high level, or up to his expectations, that he wants to continue to play, I don’t think that’s in his DNA,” Kupchak said. “So, I think it makes sense for him and for us to get him back on the court and to get a feel or a gauge of how much longer he wants to play and at what level.”

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: We know Kobe Bryant isn’t going to be ready to go at the start of training camp — he has yet to fully run on a treadmill at 100 percent, let alone get on the court and make cuts or do other basketball moves. Team officials dodge the timeline question but are understandably cautious. Kobe says he thinks he will be ready to go in the Lakers season opener Oct. 29 against the Clippers….We’ll see, he’s coming back from a ruptured Achilles and those can be tricky. The Lakers are trying to get him right and not rush him back, but I’m not about to question the will power, pain tolerance or healing powers of Kobe Bryant.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak doesn’t expect Kobe Bryant to try to play a particular way in order to make the Lakers more attractive to free agents next summer. “Kobe is not going to play to lure somebody to Los Angeles,” Kupchak said Wednesday, addressing the press in advance on Saturday’s media day. “He’s going to play to try to win games. If the way he plays helps lure players to Los Angeles, then so be it. But trust me, in January, February and March, that’s not what he’s thinking when there’s a game being played.” The Lakers have a massive amount of cap space stored for the summer of 2014 when they figure to be major players on the free agency market. Whether Bryant is the one doing the recruiting or not, the Lakers will have to start to bring in fresh blood as their three best players — Bryant (35-years old), Steve Nash (39) and Pau Gasol (33) — are all far closer to the end of their careers than to the beginning. Kupchak does not seem too worried about getting those players, whoever they might be, to come to L.A. despite the fact that the team was unable to convince Dwight Howard to stay earlier this year, and despite the fact that executive vice president Jeanie Buss’ memoir, “Laker Girl,” suggests the relationship between she and her brother, fellow VP, Jim Buss has been strained.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: One more interesting note: I asked Kupchak how many players the Lakers plan to carry this year, and he indicated management could be more inclined to carry a 14th or even 15th player into the season. Obviously, the team’s injury situation plays a role in that decision. If the vets are still a little tender, more bodies are needed to limit their minutes and facilitate effective practices. But the Lakers also have a bunch of players in on cheap deals, representing some of their best access to young, potentially useful talent. It’s worth the modest investment to see if one or two might pan out over the course of the year. All in all, very good news for the make-good guys in camp, and something to watch as the preseason plays out.

From Phillip Barnett, Lakers Nation: On April 12, Kobe Bryant suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in a game against the Golden State Warriors. The next day, Bryant had surgery to repair the torn ligament, and has been rehabbing ever since. The usual timetable for a return after an Achilles tear is nine-to-12 months, a during the summer there were reports that Bryant was shattering the return time from such a severe injury. In an interview with The National, a website in Dubai, Bryant says that he’s looking to be ready for Opening Night. Addressing his Achilles injury, Bryant said he was getting stronger every day. “Now it’s about cutting the recovery time, I should be OK [for the start of the season],” he said. It’s unclear whether or not Bryant will actually be able to be back at full strength by the start of the season, which is just over a month away. Bryant still isn’t able to jog and put all of his body weight on the injury as he’s still a few weeks away from being able to move away from the anti-gravity treadmill.

From Brett Pollakoff, Pro Basketball Talk: Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak knows Kobe Bryant professionally as well as anyone at this point, considering that he’s been in the team’s front office for every one of Bryant’s 17-year career in Los Angeles. So while Bryant’s will to win is unparalleled in today’s NBA, Kupchak knows that he won’t change his game for anyone — especially potential stars looking to Los Angeles as a potential destination in free agency next summer. Simply put, Bryant is not going to showcase a certain, more appealing style of play in hopes that it may entice free agents to sign up to play by his side. “Kobe is not going to play to lure somebody to Los Angeles,” Kupchak said Wednesday, addressing the press in advance on Saturday’s media day. “He’s going to play to try to win games. If the way he plays helps lure players to Los Angeles, then so be it. But trust me, in January, February and March, that’s not what he’s thinking when there’s a game being played.”

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: When we last left the Los Angeles Lakers, a painful season was mercifully being put to an end at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. But the past is the past. A new season is right around the corner. Hope springs eternal, right? A lot has changed in Laker Land in the five months between the Spurs series, which ended in a 21-point loss to complete the sweep on April 28, and when training camp opens up Saturday. Most notably, the will-he-or-won’t-he game the team played with Dwight Howard ended with the Lakers stranded on the dance floor as Howard made his Texas two-step to the Houston Rockets. Beyond that, L.A. said goodbye to key contributors Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark, and hello to a handful of hopeful replacements in Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar and Wesley Johnson. With that said, it’s time to count down to training camp. Let’s take a look at the 10 storylines to keep in mind as the Lakers open up the 2013-14 season.

From Eric Pincus, LA Times: The Lakers rarely pick in the first round of the NBA draft. The only player on the roster who was drafted by the Lakers in the first round was Jordan Farmar (26th overall pick in 2006), and he was picked up this summer as a free agent. Technically even Kobe Bryant was acquired in a 1996 trade with the Charlotte Hornets (now New Orleans Pelicans).  The last first-rounder taken by the Lakers who actually joined the team immediately was Javaris Crittenton in 2007. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak has acquired a number of high-drafted players who have yet to truly make their mark in the league. “A lot of time a general manager or a team won’t pick up the fourth-year or the third-year option, only because they haven’t had enough of a look at the player,” said Kupchak on Wednesday.  “Sometimes those guys are better off with the second team they’re with.

From Ryan Ward, Lakers Nation: At 34 years-old, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers sustained the most severe injury of his NBA career. With a torn Achilles tendon, Kobe was sidelined for the remainder of the last season while the team was attempting to lock up a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Ultimately, the Lakers played their way into the postseason without Kobe in the lineup, but were swept by the San Antonio Spurs and faced a lot of uncertainty heading into the off-season. The major concern was Kobe’s health and whether or not he’d be able to return at some point next season or if he’d be able to continue playing at an elite level. While making an incredible recovery from surgery to repair the torn Achilles, Kobe has been doing his best to prove to all the doubters that he’ll be back to form much earlier than anticipated. One of Kobe’s attempts to prove he was making considerable progress in his recovery was jumping off a 40-foot high dive into a pool.

From Eric Pincus, LA Times: To make the playoffs, the Lakers need to be better than seven teams in the Western Conference. In the first three of 14 entries, the Lakers were ruled better than theNew Orleans Pelicans and Phoenix Suns but not as good as the Oklahoma City Thunder. Are the Lakers better than the San Antonio Spurs? Tony Parker is often be overlooked on the list of top point guards, but he shouldn’t be. The Lakers, like most of the league, always seem to have problems covering Parker. The Spurs were seconds away from winning the NBA title last season and Parker was a major reason why. Last season he averaged 20.3 points a game with 7.6 assists. San Antonio also has Corey Joseph and Patty Mills behind Parker. Steve Nash, at his best with the Phoenix Suns, was almost always stymied by the Spurs in the playoffs. The Lakers have better depth at the point than they did last year with Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar — more than the Spurs can boast.
From Kelly Dwyer, Yahoo Sports: Earlier in the offseason, we fretted over the prospect of Kobe Bryant returning too soon and shouldering too heavy a burden as he recovered from his Achilles tear from last April. Bryant is no stranger to playing through significant pain, few NBA players in history have gutted through more, but a tear like this (especially at an age like Bryant’s) is a significant departure from the broken fingers and fluid-filled knees that Kobe has had to deal with in seasons past. Second to Kobe, only one man knows Bryant’s body better. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti has been a Kobe confidante since his rookie season in 1996-97, and despite some misgivings over Bryant’s social media-related offseason choices, Vitti says Bryant is taking an exacting, intelligent approach to what will be a career-altering rehabilitation.
From J.M. Poulard, Bleacher Report: Steve Nash did not play up to his capabilities in 2012-13 with the Los Angeles Lakers. There are a couple of things he can do to bounce back in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. The biggest obstacle Nash faced in his first season in Los Angeles was a lack of touches. D’Antoni ran the offense through Kobe Bryant and tasked him with most of the playmaking responsibilities. That meant Bryant was responsible for setting up Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Thus, because Bryant handled the ball most of the time, Nash was relegated to the role of floor spacer. Synergy Sports tells us that 17.8 percent of his field goals came in spot-up situations. That is the highest share of these types of shot attempts Nash has recorded since Synergy Sports began tracking the stat in 2009-10.

From Phillip Barnett, Lakers Nation: During the Lakers 2002 championship campaign, they had to go through the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference Finals before they were able to finish off their three-peat with a sweep over the New Jersey Nets. That WCF against the Kings would prove to be the Lakers toughest test as the Kings would take the Lakers to an epic seven game series that saw Robert Horry’s most famous shot and Shaquille O’Neal calling the team the “Queens.” Lots has changed since then, the Lakers would go on to win two more titles while the Kings have been a lottery team for seven of the 11 years. The vitriol between the two teams has cooled down tremendously since the series, and even the the players in the series don’t seem to hate the other team quite as much as they did over a decade ago. This hasn’t been anymore evident than in the recent news that O’Neal has become a minority owner of the team,according to USA Today’s Sam Amick.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Mike D’Antoni leaned heavily on Steve Nash last season, when he could. A broken leg and an assortment of other injuries kept Nash down to 50 games last season, but when he did play he averaged 32.5 minutes a game. Up from the season before. With the Lakers moving this season toward a more pure version of what coach Mike D’Antoni wants to run (after having to modify it heavily due to Dwight Howard and the rest of an ill-fitting roster last season) we could see more Nash. But with Nash at age 39, turning 40 during the season, Lakers trainer Gary Vitti suggested maybe a reduction in minutes, as he told Mark Medina of the Daily News.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: Forget all that stuff about Kobe Bryant returning from an Achilles’ tendon injury this season. It’ll happen at some point. The real question involves next season. He might not return at all to the Lakers. Bryant is entering the last nine months of his contract, a season worth $30.45 million before he can become a free agent in July. He has known only one team in his 17-year career and often says he’ll be a Laker for life, but will that be the case? The Lakers haven’t opened contract negotiations with Bryant, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, taking a wait-and-see approach as he recovers from his injury. Bryant, 35, has done incredible things for the franchise, pushing it to five championships and two other NBA Finals appearances in his 17 seasons. His jersey is continually among the league’s top sellers, his first name easily recognizable even with non-sports fans.

From ESPN News Services: Jeanie Buss, the chief of the Los Angeles Lakers’ business operations and fiancee of Hall of Famer Phil Jackson, wrote in an upcoming update to her “Laker Girl” memoir that she felt the hiring of Mike D’Antoni as head coach last year instead of Jackson was “a betrayal.” Buss, in an excerpt published Sunday in the Los Angeles Times, wrote she felt she “got played,” referring to the decision ultimately made by her brother Jim, which she has said took her and Jackson by surprise and had been an unsettling experience. “Why did they have to do that?” Jeanie Buss wrote in the November edition of the book first published in 2010. “Why did Jim pull Phil back into the mix if he wasn’t sincere about it? …”Phil wasn’t looking for the job, and then he wasted 36 hours of his life preparing for it when they were never in a million years going to hire him anyway.”How do you do that to your sister? How do you do that to Phil Jackson?”

From Corey Hansford, Lakers Nation: Everyone in America remembers where they were on November 7, 1991. On that day, Magic Johnson announced to the world that he had contracted the HIV virus and would have to immediately retire from the NBA, ending one of the most illustrious careers in the history of the league. Despite announcing his retirement, Johnson’s name was already on the All-Star ballots that had been sent out to all NBA arenas, leading to Johnson being voted as a starter for the Western Conference despite never stepping on the court. Many people were against Johnson playing, most notably Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone and even Johnson’s former Laker teammates Byron Scott and A.C. Green, as they were unsure whether or not they could contract the HIV virus if Johnson were to suffer an open wound while playing.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: This is why there is drug testing in the NBA. Not that Metta World Peace is on drugs or needs them to say something outrageous. Never has and never will. He was certainly excessively boastful of what the Lakers could and would do when he was a member of that team. This summer the Lakers decided to amnesty him but that doesn’t mean he’s given up the over-the-top Lakers predictions — he made another one to ESPNNewYork.com. “I think the Lakers are going to go to the NBA Finals,” World Peace said during a signing for his children’s book “Metta’s Bedtime Stories” in downtown Manhattan on Wednesday.”

From Eric Pincus, LA Times: Veteran point guard Steve Blake says he believes that the Lakers will exceed expectations this season. “I’m still a little bit surprised about how negative people are on us right now,” Blake told Mike Trudell of Lakers.com on Tuesday. “If you speak to most of the players, we’re all pretty optimistic,” Blake said. “I think the fact that people don’t believe in us this year might give us an advantage somehow.” Blake has joined nearly the entire roster in informal workouts at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo. Two still out are Kobe Bryant, recovering from an Achilles injury, and Pau Gasol who is in Europe (primarily Spain) while rehabbing his knees. It’s unclear if either will be ready by opening night on Oct. 29.

From Kevin Ding, Bleacher Report: The first words Kobe Bryant ever said to me came with a sideways smile. “I look forward to reading your criticisms.”Bryant was 20, nearing the end of his third NBA season with stardom and backlash already his reality show. He stood, spoke and soon laughed in front of his locker at The Forum, the Lakers’ old home, in 1999. Already cocksure then, still cocksure now. Today he’s 35, and we’ve been together every step of that way…with an awful lot transpiring in what has to be considered one of the most interesting lives you’ll ever see play out. And in all honesty, there are not many people in my life I understand better than him.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: Pretty much any fan of the Los Angeles Lakers will tell you that the last three seasons haven’t been very fun, with the 2012-13 season falling much closer to painful than joyful on the experience scale. “We were stacked and it was an epic failure,” said Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist and Lakers super fan, Flea, in a recent podcast with LandOLakers.com. “For me, it was the most disappointing Lakers season of all time and not even close to any other season.” From the embarrassing ending to Phil Jackson’s final campaign, to the uninspiring Mike Brown era (L.A. topped 100 points just 24 times in the 71 regular-season games he coached), to the utter disaster of last season, the return on investment of time, money and emotion spent by Lakers fans has not resulted in any sort of payoff. I know what that life’s all about, having grown up as a Philadelphia sports fan. Losing and frustration and disappointment come with the territory.

From Eric Pincus, LA Times: The Lakers signed free-agent forward Marcus Landry to a contract Monday. Landry was a standout on the Lakers’ summer league squad in Las Vegas, averaging 15.2 points and 4.2 rebounds a game. While a deal wasn’t signed until Monday, Landry and the Lakers had reached a tentative, unbinding agreement on a “make-good” contract in late July.  The 27-year old, 6-foot-7 forward tweeted his intentions almost two months ago. Landry will make $788,873 for the season, if he makes the team.The Lakers now have 15 players on the roster, the maximum allowed for the regular season. The team is expected to bring 16 to 20 players to training camp, including second-round draft pick Ryan Kelly (48th overall). Landry previously played for Coach Mike D’Antoni in New York for the Knicks during the 2009-10 season.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Kobe Bryant’s psychology is such that when his teammates struggle on offense he quickly fills that void — he believes he is a better offensive option even if the defense is focused on him than a passive or cold teammate. That has led to some bad choices and miraculous shots over the years. Now at age 35 coming off an Achilles injury, can Kobe change is ways? It’s not me asking that question (well, not alone anyway), it is Laker legend, broadcaster and Hall of Famer James Worthy. He spoke with Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “One of the biggest challenges for Kobe this year is, can he step back?” Worthy said. “He’s been in the league for 17 years, has a lot of miles on the body and has had a lot of injuries. Can he find a game that will allow other guys to flourish?”

From Matt More, CBS Sports: The big question for the Lakers, and one of the biggest questions for next season period, is when Kobe Bryant will return. Bryant has been aggressively rehabbing his torn achilles after surgery last spring in typical Bryant fashion. Kobe has said in recent days that the Achilles tendon feels “really, really good,” but also that he’s not sure if he’ll be ready for the season opener. Now the LA Times reports that while Lakers doctors say he’s “progressing,” the plan is for Bryant to miss all of the preseason, so his absolute earliest return would be opening night, October 29th vs. the Clippers.Kobe Bryant continues to move forward in his rehabilitation from a torn Achilles’ tendon, though the Lakers are unwilling to put an updated timetable on his exact return. “He’s progressing well and has met all the targets and milestones of his rehab, and we expect him to make a full recovery,” Lakers spokesman John Black told The Times on Monday. “One of the key issues is to make sure he builds up strength and endurance not only in his Achilles but also in his legs, knees, back and core.”

 

From Dan Duangdao, Lakers Nation: This past week, Gary Payton was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame. The one-time Laker averaged 16.3 points and 6.7 assists in his career and was the 1996 Defensive Player of the Year. Payton made three Finals appearances, where he eventually won his one and only championship with the Miami Heat in 2006. Another former Laker is also eligible for the Hall of Fame, and there is much debate about Robert Horry’s chances. While he didn’t put All-Star numbers like Chris Webber, Alonzo Mourning, Anfernee Hardaway, or Eddie Jones, Horry is considered one of the greatest clutch performers in the game. He wasn’t any ordinary role player as he has the fourth most championships in NBA History with seven and is one of only two players to win with three different teams.

From Marc Stein, ESPN:After two seasons in Turkey, former Lakers and Nets guard Sasha Vujacic is determined to force his way back into the NBA. Sources briefed on the Slovenian’s thinking told ESPN.com that Vujacic is working out feverishly in L.A. in hopes of landing an NBA roster spot following his stint with Anadolu Efes that began during the 2011-12 lockout. Word is Vujacic, now 29, has been playing well in L.A. pickup games and plans to stay stateside in pursuit of an NBA deal as opposed to returning to Europe. “He’s in the best shape of his life,” one source offered, “which is saying something because Sasha has always taken care of himself.” Vujacic last played in the NBA with New Jersey in 2010-11.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: When you talk about the guy whose game opened the door for Dr. J and eventually Michael Jordan and all that followed, it was Elgin Baylor. He would get the ball out at the top of the key and could blow by his defender to dunk going either way, or if you pulled back to stop the drive he would knock down the jumper. He was a gifted passer and one of the best rebounders at the three the position has seen. You want numbers? Baylor finished his career averaging 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds a game. He was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, 10 time All NBA First Team, and an 11 time All Star. He is in the Hall of Fame (plus went on to coach for four years and be the Clippers GM for 22 years, but that didn’t go as well as his career). Happy birthday to Baylor, who turns 79 today. Here is a look back at his game.

From Ben Golliver, Sports Illustrated: Kobe Bryant’s 2012-13 season ended in gruesome fashion when he tore his left Achilles tendon during an April game against the Warriors. Well, it actually ended after the Lakers’ All-Star guard walked back onto the court after a timeout to take two free throws following the initial injury.That decision to keep playing rather than head immediately to the locker room — not to mention the fact that he made both shots — will always have a place in Kobe lore. While speaking with Nike employees at the apparel manufacturer’s Oregon headquarters on Friday, Bryant explained what exactly was going through his mind at the time of the injury, which occurred as he attempted to drive to his left past Harrison Barnes.“When I first did it, right there, I was trying to feel if the tendon is there or if it’s gone,” Bryant recalled, in comments recorded by Nike. “I realized it wasn’t there. I was literally trying to pull the tendon up so hopefully I could walk and kind of hobble through the last two and a half minutes and try to play.” It’s safe to say that the free throws were just the beginning of his plan.