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Wednesday Storylines

Darius Soriano —  October 2, 2013

Basketball, even if in the remedial form of training camp, is back. Players are on the court participating in drills, scrimmaging, and soaking up what the coaches tell them in the hope of applying it in game situations — or, for the fringe roster players, in the hope that they can show enough to even make the team. At its essence, this is the time of the year where teams start to forge their identities and build the foundation for what they’ll be over the course of the season.

Also at its essence, the opening of camp is a time of optimism. Whether you have championship aspirations or have a bottom dwelling team who will contend for the prize of a top draft pick, every roster is full of hope. It can come in the form of a superstar player raising his game to even higher levels, a reclamation project showing some of the talent that always seems to land him another chance, or a rookie flashing that lottery talent that can be nurtured into the base of a special player down the line.

In this regard, the Lakers are no different than any other team. Internally they’re seizing on the doubt that outsiders cast on them and using it as fuel for what they hope can be an expectations defying run. They too have a mix of stars looking to rebound and regain past glories and enough reclamation projects and redemption stories to fill a 100 media notebooks. Right now the stories are ones of confidence; of the early signs of something special. Whether these storylines endure the toll of a grinding season remains to be seen. Only time will tell. But today, hope lives. On to today’s reads…

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From Phillip Barnett, Lakers Nation: One of the most ubiquitous sports debates revolves around the greatest basketball player of all time. It’s a difficult one because every decade adds or takes something away from the game, making it hard to compare players across eras. We can go back and watch the games, but different players found success against different competition in different ways. Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the best basketball player of all time, but he isn’t nearly the most winningest player of all time (Bill Russell) and trails Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in all time scoring. Then there are guys like Kobe Bryant, who is regarded as the best player from the Jordan era, and LeBron James, NBA’s reigning NBA and Finals MVP.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: Perhaps partly because Dwight Howard is out of the picture, perhaps partly because Pau Gasol is far healthier than last season (OK, mostly because Howard is out of the picture), Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni has made an about-face from his initial coaching instincts when counting on Gasol’s services. Remember when Gasol was benched late in games last season? Or relegated to sixth man status? Or positioned on the perimeter when he was on the court and encouraged to attempt the most 3-pointers of his 12-year career? Not the case anymore. Just three days into training camp, D’Antoni has already named two definitive starters while Kobe Bryant is out: Gasol at center and Steve Nash, his longtime pupil, running the point. And expectations are high for the former four-time All-Star in the middle.

From Ben Bolch, LA Times: It’s a line Steve Nash would rather leave off a resume that includes two most-valuable-player awards, 10,249 assists and a record 90.4% accuracy on free throws. He’s now the oldest player in the NBA. “It’s not a privilege I ever really dreamed about,” the 39-year-old said Saturday while encircled by reporters during Lakers media day. “It’s pretty strange and I guess surreal in a way.” That would make it like everything else Nash has experienced since becoming a Laker. Weird has become the new normal for a usually durable player who last season appeared in only 50 games because of injuries and was transformed into a hybrid shooting guard even though he’ll enter the Hall of Fame as one of the all-time-great point guards. Nash’s first season as a Laker included one perplexing development after another. Instead of running the pick and roll, he would largely linger on the perimeter to stand and wait. As opposed to making jaw-dropping plays, he was more likely to be involved in bickering-with-teammate exchanges. Rather than leading his team deep into the playoffs, he was spearheading the charge into the trainer’s room.

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen & Roll: For centuries, before the existence of radar, before radios and satellites and cell phones and airplanes, the only way to get from one part of the world to another not connected by land was to pile into a ship and set sail across the ocean. A few days out, you could not see the land from whence you came. All you could see is a vast expanse of blue, spread out in all directions. Voyages often took months; months with nothing to do but handle your daily responsibilities, months in which your routine is all you had. Imagine the boredom of being stuck in a confined space with the same hundred or so individuals. Imagine the insanity of having to do the exact same thing you did the day before because there are no other options. Imagine the fear of not knowing when, or even if, your journey might finally come to an end.

From Serena Winters, Lakers Nation: Injuries were the main topic of conversation at today’s Lakers practice. Head Coach Mike D’Antoni said both Steve Nash and Pau Gasol practiced in full for the most part yesterday, with the exception of a drill at the end of practice. The Lakers are currently holding two-a-day practices, but Nash and Gasol are the exceptions, practicing only once per day. D’Antoni said Kobe Bryant is in every film session and on the sidelines watching what’s going on. There was a general message, though, that the vibe around the Lakers practice facility was completely different than last year. D’Antoni said Steve Nash noticed it and told him the other day. “It feels good. Last year it was tough, just from the start,” said Nash. It was hard to feel a lot of positive energy. It always seemed like a challenge whereas this year it feels a bit more like a team.” Though Nash said he couldn’t predict how well the Lakers would do this year, there was positive energy all around.

From Brett Pollakoff, Pro Basketball Talk: As the Lakers opened training camp with media day on Saturday, the first questions posed to Kobe Bryant were ones about his recovery from the torn Achilles injury he suffered back in April near the end of the regular season. Bryant seemed to be in good spirits, and is feeling optimistic about the way his rehabilitation has progressed. But he wasn’t willing to set any kind of range in terms of a target date when we might see him back in action. From Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles: “I don’t think we really have a particular timetable as far as where I should be right now, but I’m feeling good,” Bryant said. The team’s original timeline for the recovery of Bryant, who had surgery to repair the Achilles in April, was six to nine months. “Everybody was really concerned about this injury, and so was I, but the procedure and the therapy right afterwards and things like that really got me ahead of the curve,” Bryant said. “So, it feels like the hard part’s over.”

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: Good news for the Lakers: Almost everybody on their team is in a contract year. Bad news for the Lakers: Almost everybody on their team is in a contract year. Such players have incentive to deliver with an added hunger, according to the long-held sports theory. But if the team starts to disintegrate in the standings, will individuals start jacking up shots to pad their stats? “They’re more professional than that. You’re not going to have any selfish play,” said Coach Mike D’Antoni. What if they start thinking dollars instead of sense? “They probably won’t be playing a whole lot. It kind of takes care of itself,” D’Antoni said. Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and Nick Young are the only Lakers with contracts after this season. Young holds a player option for a relatively small $1.2 million in 2014-15, meaning he’ll look for more money if he has a solid season. “Guys are going to go all out,” said Pau Gasol. “That’s the positive part of it. There’s no security for next season. You’re in a position to give it your best, give it your all, earn your next paycheck, next contract.

From Dave McMenamin ESPN LA: Ever since the Lakers tried to trade him to Houston in a three-team deal to acquire Chris Paul back in Dec. 2011, Pau Gasol has often felt like he’s been on borrowed time in Los Angeles. The trade rumors have swirled so much in the last couple of years that the four-time All-Star has taught himself to avoid fretting about the future and rather thrive in the present.  ”I’ve learned to live my life on a daily basis and try to have fun in the process,” Gasol said after the first of the Lakers two practices Sunday. That doesn’t mean the media thinks the same way. On just the second day of training camp, Gasol, who is in the final year of his contract with L.A. set to pay him $19.3 million this season, was asked about the possibility of staying on with the Lakers after 2013-14. ”If the team is interested, they will approach me and at some point there will be some kind of meeting,” Gasol said. “But I’m not sure when or how. I think it’s going to depend on how I perform during the season. The better I perform, I’m sure the more interested they will be to try to sign me, I guess.” Gasol averaged a career-low 13.7 points last year, his 46.6 field goal percentage was the worst mark of his 12 seasons in the league, and his 8.6 rebounds per game was his lowest average since 2007-08.

From Ben R, Silver Screen & Roll: Ever since Dwight Howard decided to leave the Lakers for Houston, analyzing the Lakers’ subsequent moves has mostly been a bit of a depressing exercise since the most likely outcome for next season is a bout of mediocrity. Most of the time in the NBA, mediocrity isn’t a productive way to spend your time. You aren’t maximizing your draft position to get the best possible player and if you don’t have existing young players on the roster to develop, you’re heading for a few years of maddening play in which you don’t have the pieces to compete and can’t bottom out to get them. The Lakers have compounded this issue by not having a first rounder in 2015, so their future fortunes are incredibly dependent on their 2014 draft pick and how they conduct their business in free agency in 2014 and 2015.

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.