Archives For pau gasol

And with that simple announcement, Pau Gasol is a Laker no more. It is fitting that the man from Spain, where this happens yearly, has decided to join the Bulls.

In reality, we have known for some time that this day was coming. On his own website, after the season, Pau said that money would not matter as much as the chance to compete for and win championships. While the Lakers could offer the cash they cannot offer the high level team needed to advance deep into the playoffs. Gasol knows this just as well as we do and while his decision was surely difficult, you have to imagine this fact proved to be the tipping point.

As for whether or not the Lakers will get one last parting gift from Pau via trading him to Chicago, that seems unlikely.

Once acquired for expiring contracts, unproven talent, and draft picks while also being the key player who was to net the Lakers Chris Paul, Gasol now parts the team on his own terms and leaves them empty handed. The circle of NBA life is funny that way.

While the latter stages of Gasol’s time with the Lakers was somewhat tarnished by trade rumors and having his role jerked around, he will forever be remembered by me as a true warrior who gave his all to the organization to help it reach the top of the mountain. The Lakers don’t win their 2009 and 2010 championships without the Spaniard’s overall brilliance, without him being the inside foundation to complement Kobe’s wizardry from the wing. That duo formed one of the league’s best tandems, torturing opponents with diverse and immense skill and iron willed determination that spearheaded three straight trips to the finals and back to back championships.

Just as Kobe and Pau’s skills meshed masterfully, so did their personalities. Pau, by default is an introspective, and even polite, person. His more calm and patient demeanor played off Kobe’s more outwardly fiery personality perfectly and allowed them (along with Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom) to provide a full scope of leadership that those teams needed. They also, of course, found a perfect partnership in the most simple thing of all: a shared love of the game. During time on the bench or at glimpses behind the scenes, you would often see those two going over strategy and planning how to dissect a defense in order to get a key basket. And while there were times that Kobe could be hard on Pau publicly (his “big boy pants” comment comes to mind) these two were mostly on the same page, speaking the same language of winning basketball players.

Those days are over now, though. Fisher and Phil have long been gone. Odom too. Role players like Ariza and Ron, Farmar and the Machine came and went. But there was always Pau. But now he is a Bull.

And while Kobe will have new teammates, in a way he is now alone.

I, for one, will still root for Gasol and wish him nothing but success. The memories he brought me are simply too good for me to ever think of him negatively. I will always remember his chemistry with Kobe, how he instantly connected with Odom, how he took to the Triangle like a fish to water, and how he always seemed to take everything in stride like a true professional. Yes, he spoke his mind and could needle people in the press with the best of them, but even in these times he spoke with an elegance and grace and calm knowing that was respectful and measured.

I am sure he will do the same in Chicago. And will be watching from afar hoping he brings their fans some of the same joy he brought me.

Friday Forum

Darius Soriano —  April 25, 2014

The Lakers may not be playing, but I hope you are still tuning into the playoffs to check out the action. The games are fantastic and the road teams are showing that the value of home court only means something if, you know, you can win at home. The only favored team to win both games at home has been the Heat with every other team managing only a split — at best.

Those last two words needed adding because of the Rockets’ inability to win either of their home games against a very game Blazers’ team. Portland has cracked down defensively on James Harden while mixing up their coverages on Dwight just enough to keep him off-balance. On the other side of the ball LaMarcus Aldridge is dominating offensively, using his size advantage over Terrence Jones to score inside and work the glass while using his quickness and feathery jumper to torch Omer Asik and Dwight Howard when the Rockets try a bigger defender. Aldridge’s 89 points over the first two games have been the difference in the series to the this point and he has looked like the best player on the floor over the series’ first 96 minutes.

The Rockets aren’t alone as the only upper seed proving vulnerable, however. The top seeded Pacers trail the Hawks 2-1 and look to be in real danger through three games. Unable to establish their bully-ball offense in the paint with a struggling Roy Hibbert, their lack of wing creators outside of Paul George and (sometimes) Lance Stephenson are proving to be a big flaw. On the other side of the ball their defense continues to struggle, having difficulty containing Jeff Teague who is terrorizing the paint while his big men create alleys for him by spacing the floor to the 3-point line. The soundbites out of Indy are that adjustments are in order, but when a team has built its entire identity playing one way I wonder how easy it is to change gears and find success doing things so differently.

In the West, the Thunder also find themselves down 2-1 to the Grizzlies. Memphis has done an excellent job of getting OKC to play at a slower tempo, protecting the ball and running down the shot clock to limit the Thunder’s open court chances. Defensively they are showing a variety of different looks, but mostly are just playing hard nosed position D and capitalizing on the lack of creativity Scott Brooks is showing schematically and with his rotations. So many of the Thunder’s sets devolve into isolations or simple P&R’s with little movement on the weak side that the Grizz are able to anticipate where the ball is going and make crisp rotations to thwart those sets. Further, until guys like Fisher, Caron Butler, Thabo, and Perkins can prove capable offensively, Memphis will simply continue to crowd Durant and Westbrook to force them into tough situations. Much like in Indy, the Thunder (and head coach Scott Brooks) need to find some adjustments in either scheme, player rotations, or both to get this figured out or we may see an upset out West that few people (if any) saw coming.

This is just a sampling of the action, though. And while watching these games is a bit of a downer knowing that the Lakers are nowhere to be found, these games are still well worth your time. Not just because of the quality of play, but also because the fallout from these series may very well affect what the Lakers can do this summer in terms of coaching and free agency. Now, on to the links…

The other day I wrote about coaching changes and how Mike D’Antoni’s fate has yet to be decided (while adding it may be some time before it is). That is still the case, even though his brother Dan will leave his staff to coach at Marshall University. Dan, like Mike, went to school at Marshall.

I know many Lakers’ fans were hoping that it would be Mike who took that job, relieving himself of his duties and thus ensuring the Lakers would have a new coach next year. That didn’t happen, but it doesn’t mean a change still won’t come. If it does, here is a look at potential candidates from a list of next head coaching prospects.

Of the coaches on that list, one has a history with the Lakers and was, reportedly, thought of highly when with the team. Add those variables together and Quin Snyeder could make for an interesting candidate should the Lakers make a change.

One of the reasons the Lakers may make that change is because the players they have or want to keep essentially dictate it happen. And while folks usually point to Kobe Bryant as the key player in that discussion, #24 hasn’t officially gone on the record with anything stronger than a hint or innuendo speaking out against D’Antoni. The same cannot be said of Pau Gasol, however. The Big Spaniard said that in order to stay with the Lakers there would need to be “significant changes” while later openly discussing how he’s not the biggest fan of the style of play D’Antoni enjoys. I’m no expert in math, but I do know 2 + 2 = 4.

Pau also said that Kobe would be a main reason why, if he so chooses, would stay on with the Lakers by re-signing this summer. That’s not really surprising considering all that they have been through together as teammates for the past 6 seasons. That said, in practical terms, Pau saying that he’d stay on to play with Kobe also shows a lot of faith in the injured guard. Whether or not that is justified remains to be seen, but Kobe is reportedly back to work in his typical maniacal fashion to get back strong next season.

When Kobe does return how can he best be used on offense? Here is one take. (Thanks to friend of the site Dave Murphy for reaching out for some quotes on the subject.)

Last note on Kobe, here is a great commercial for the World Cup that he stars in.

And speaking of shooting guards, Nick Young’s future is at that position and not pitcher for the Dodgers.

The Lakers’ future is cloudy and there is still a lot to be determined. From what to do with their head coach to the draft to free agency, the potential for change is huge and there will be a lot of adjusting to do in the coming years. At the top I spoke about the playoffs and the hope is that the Lakers won’t just be back in that mix soon, but looked at as a favorite who can make some noise in their pursuit of another banner. Let’s just hope when that does happen, they look a little bit better than the Pacers do right now.

Here’s to you, Pau

Daniel Rapaport —  February 27, 2014

In all likelihood, Pau Gasol will play a maximum of 25 more games in the Lakers’ purple and gold. Pau’s contract, which pays him $19.3 million a year, will expire at the end of this season. He’s past his prime, sure, but he still has a ton to offer to a team who needs a skilled big man to push them over the hump (in his last 10 games, he’s averaging 19.6 points and 11.3 boards on 53% shooting). The Lakers have been ultra-prudent about keeping the cap sheet clear for the next few years in an attempt to make the rebuilding process a quick and relatively painless one. Pau will probably be a casualty of this strategy; the Lakers will look for younger players who will be able to produce at an elite level for years to come.

This season has been a disaster that’s been well chronicled on this blog and seemingly every form of basketball media. There’s been a lot to be disappointed about: the never ending injuries, the inability to compete in third quarters, the uncertainty of Kobe’s future to name a few. But for me, nothing has been more upsetting than watching Pau visibly disagree with Coach D’Antoni in a manner that is so distinctly un-Pau like. It’s the second consecutive year in which Pau has been dissatisfied with how he’s been used on the court, so this really isn’t anything new, but after the Pacers’ game was a new low. Though he tried to remain diplomatic, Pau essentially called out D’Antoni’s leadership ability and decision making when it comes to lineups. It seems the stress of losing constantly has worn on Gasol, who’s one of exactly two Lakers left over from the glory days of 2008-2010.

This isn’t the Pau I want to remember. Nope. Not interested in remembering Gasol as a complainer. Or as an over-the-hill big who shows flashes of his old greatness but appears at least a step slow. I prefer to remember #16 as the beast in the post that he once was, a player who could beat you with both hands, with his back to the basket, or torch a defense with a wet midrange J. I prefer to remember the Spaniard as the ultimate team-first guy who wouldn’t dare say a negative syllable about his team to the media. That’s the Pau I came to love.

This Pau:

I distinctly remember the day he was acquired. It was my seventh grade year, and as I came out of my pre-algebra class I saw my friend, a fellow Laker fanatic, literally screaming through the halls: “WE GOT PAU GASOL!!! WE GOT PAU GASOL!!!” The Lakers were off to a good start that year- the team’s promising young center, Andrew Bynum, was playing well before an injury (Bynum injured; who’d a thunk?) and Kobe was probably the best player in the world at the time. However, the Lakers weren’t anywhere near contender status. That all changed on February 3rd, 2008, when Pau came to Los Angeles. The Lakers made the finals that year, their first of three consecutive, and the purple and gold were back.

I genuinely fear that people will forget how good- and how instrumental to this franchise- Pau was. He was the undoubted second option on a team that won two championships and reached the finals three straight years. He made three straight all star teams from 2009-2011. Pau gave the 2012 USA team, who many believed could have given 1992’s Dream Team a run for their money, fits in the gold medal game to the tune of 24 points despite facing constant double teams.

Now, Pau’s on the trading block, or at least is reported by the media to be on the trading block, each and every season. He’s viewed as an overpaid cap-clogger who is probably a bit overweight and really doesn’t fit D’Antoni’s system, which favors athletic bigs who can roll to the basket effectively, a la Amare Stoudemire in his prime. I think it’s clear that Kobe doesn’t like the way Pau’s been treated by the organization in recent years, and I agree whole heartedly with him.

Gosh, Pau has given us so so SO many memories. Everyone Laker fanatic has a personal favorite Pau moment. For me, it’s him leading this fast break:

He’s got the long, flowy, probably greasy hair that he sported during his prime. He’s moving great; at 28, he was at, or near, his physical peak. And my oh my, look at how incredibly skilled he is for a legitimate 7-footer.

So when Pau makes his likely departure this offseason, don’t hold a grudge. Don’t remember him as over-the-hill, or a guy who’s detrimental to a locker room and complains to the media about his coach. Remember the championship player and the championship person who brought our beloved Lakers back to glory. Pau’s an all-time Laker great. His jersey may someday hang in the rafters alongside the #24 of his partner in crime.

And that’s how it should be.

Pau Gasol may have a strained groin, but his recent play (the Spaniard averaged nearly 21 and 12 in January) has him square in the middle of more trade rumors. This time, Pau isn’t headed East — well at least not too far — and will, potentially, land in Phoenix to play with the upstart Suns, per ESPN’s Marc Stein:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Suns, among the options being weighed as part of their well-chronicled desire to acquire an established player as they make an unexpected playoff push this season, have been exploring the feasibility of trading for the Lakers’ four-time All-Star.

One option for the Suns, by virtue of their $5.6 million in available salary-cap space, is swapping the expiring contract of injured big man Emeka Okafor for Gasol, even though Okafor’s $14.5 million salary this season falls well shy of Gasol’s $19.3 million.

More from Stein:

The Lakers, though, have been adamant that they won’t part with Gasol merely for financial relief, even in a season in which they’ve slipped into the West’s bottom three at 16-31. Lakers officials refused to relent in their talks with Cleveland, convinced that they had other means to get below the luxury-tax threshold before the trade deadline and that Gasol still holds trade value.

Gasol responded by averaging 20.8 points and 11.9 rebounds in January. He’s expected to miss the next week because of strained right groin that’s not believed to be serious.

How much the Suns would be willing to add beyond Okafor to a potential trade for Gasol, in terms of young talent or draft compensation, remains to be seen. But Suns officials have made no secret of the fact that the team’s wholly unexpected 29-18 start — despite playing without the injured Eric Bledsoe for the last 17 games — has led to some revisions in their long-term planning.

Whether or not this deal happens, of note is that the Lakers continue to do their due diligence in seeking out value for their assets. Injuries have derailed any chance of a competitive campaign and even though Gasol has been playing fantastic ball (especially offensively), it has not affected the win-loss column at all.

Said another way, if the Lakers had actually been winning some games, they might find it better to hold onto Pau and see if a late push to try and grab a playoff spot was possible once the rest of the roster were healthy. But the team has slipped so far in the standings, even if they did make a push to close the year it is unlikely to net them anything more than a “good job, good effort” and a lesser quality lottery selection.

This leaves the Lakers in a position where they may, finally, be willing to cash out on Gasol’s value when it’s at its relative peak and try to get something back in return while they can. Any combination of salary cap relief and a draft pick would likely be considered a good haul by this front office when looking at their outlook for the remainder of the year and ahead towards the future.

Of course, like all things, the devil is in the details. And while this deal isn’t done and we would only be able to judge the final version once we have confirmed terms, there are two key parts of this rumored deal that deserve mentioning:

  • The Suns only theoretically own four 1st round draft picks in this upcoming draft. They certainly own their own and they own the Pacers. However, the pick they are owed from Minnesota is top 14 protected and, currently, the Wolves sit outside the playoffs and would not need to give up that pick. The pick they are owed from the Wizards is also top 14 protected, but as it stands now Washington is slated to make the playoffs and will give that pick this year.
  • This trade would save the Lakers money in two ways. First is that because Okafor makes less money than Pau, the team would pay out less salary this year and save the difference between the two players’ salaries in luxury tax payments. Second, because Okafor is injured, insurance has already started to pick up 80% of what he is owed this season so the Lakers wouldn’t actually be paying his full paycheck.
  • What this deal would not do is get the Lakers under the luxury tax threshold for this season. Another trade where the Lakers would have to “dump” about $3 million more in salary would need to be consummated to get under the tax line. This is doable, but, is not a given. The expectation would be, however, that the team would work to try and accomplish this.

I’d have more thoughts on Pau if this deal (or a version of it with the Suns or another team) were to come to fruition, but needless to say I’d have mixed emotions about seeing the Spaniard leave. He has long been one of my favorite players, not just on the Lakers, but in the league. Add to the fact that he genuinely seems like an even better person than he is a basketball player (which, considering his talent and production is saying something), and I’d miss him even more.

In any event, it looks like we are in full on “Pau trade watch” again. This isn’t new — it has been this way for years approaching the trade deadline — but I’d be lying if I said this time it didn’t feel a bit different. The Lakers have, essentially, zero hope of a post-season run and that changes the calculus on whether or not they should hold onto a player of Pau’s ability. Whether that finally tilts things in the favor of a deal getting done remains to be seen, but it sure does seem like this time something will happen.

Pau Gasol had a terrific January, averaging 20.8 points and 11.9 rebounds for the month. His February, however, isn’t starting out so hot. After dealing with a sore groin for the past week, Gasol had an MRI on the muscle and the news wasn’t good:

In the next week the Lakers have three road games — at Minnesota, Cleveland, and Philadelphia — and Gasol won’t play in any of them. Upon his re-evaluation, he may be cleared but based off the Lakers’ luck this year, that is no certainty.

Chris Kaman also had an MRI on a sore right knee, but his scan was negative and he has been cleared to play. Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t mean much (I’ve heard DNP-CD might be renamed “Kaman’d”), but with Pau out, the back up big man will likely be needed for at least spot minutes with Hill and Sacre also seeing increased minutes in the pivot.

Considering Pau had asserted himself as the team’s best and most steady contributor, this news just continues the team’s tailspin of late. Getting Nash and Blake back (both could play Tuesday) should help, but at this point the team’s place as one of the league’s poorest outfits likely won’t be altered much until their full roster is available for action.

With Pau out at least a week and Kobe sitting until after the all-star break, that won’t be for some time.

There is no doubt that Pau Gasol is not doing well physically. Eric Pincus of the LA Times noted today that in media availability after today’s practice Pau was not looking well and could hear him wheezing when he was transcribing his remarks. In that media availability it was clarified that Pau has a case of sinusitis as well as bronchitis and that he’s been on antibiotics prescribed by his doctor. So, again, Pau really is sick.

That doesn’t change the fact that missing games due to illness doesn’t exactly inspire confidence from those that rely on you to be on the court and producing. Both Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report and Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA wrote about this today, with both providing some scathing analysis of the Spaniard. A sampling:

From Ding:

But Gasol isn’t showing up now, and it’s inexcusable. The 76ers snapped a 13-game road losing streak against the Lakers, whose postgame locker room with a really tired Nick Young and newly injured Xavier Henry reeked of irrelevance more so than any previous time this season.

The deeper issue of whether the Lakers should tank or try this season is besides this point. They are absolutely committed to winning and trying to make the playoffs, and when Gasol isn’t, it’s a terrible affront to these young, hungry teammates who with him built that refreshing post-Dwight chemistry and cultivated the promise of a feel-good, underdog Lakers season.

And from McMenamin:

But here is the unwavering truth that makes the outcomes of the games almost irrelevant when considering Gasol’s lost contributions, no matter how strong or how meager they would have been: He could have played.

It was Gasol’s decision to sit out as his team extended its season-high losing streak to five with a 111-104 defeat to Philly. It’s not like he has been bedridden or completely unable to exert himself physically. According to a team source, Gasol still showed up to Lakers shootaround to lift weights Sunday, and when he told longtime trainer Gary Vitti he wanted more time to get over the infection and was not going to play against the Sixers, Vitti said to not even bother showing up to the game.

These are biting critiques of the Spaniard. And while I’ve been one of Pau’s biggest supporters during his time with the Lakers, I can’t say I disagree too much with what they’re saying. Pau is paid handsomely to perform on the court and him sitting out with illness doesn’t do much to dispel the notion that he could be doing more to help the team.

The flip-side of this coin, however, is that if Pau will not be anywhere near his best by playing through illness, should he be playing at all? During the Heat game — a game he tried to gut through while sick — he was clearly hampered and more than a step slow on both sides of the floor. He was not effective defensively or on the backboards and his inability to stay with Chris Bosh was one of the key factors in the Heat taking control of the game in the 2nd half.

I’ve gone on record saying that Pau should sit out until he’s healthy enough to play, but even in saying that I acknowledge that this isn’t as straight forward as anyone would like.

As McMenamin points out, Pau could have played. When that is the case, resentment can start to fester as the other guys bust their backsides to try and compete while a key player sits out with something that isn’t as easy to understand as a sprained joint or a broken bone. Of course, if a guy decides he can’t go, for whatever reason, it’s usually a decision that should be respected. Pau has been through countless battles and should know his body better than anyone. That should mean something, right?

In the end, what this signifies the most to me is the dwindling clout Pau seems to carry. Those championships he contributed to seem so long ago. His partner in crime and his biggest backer — Kobe Bryant — isn’t on the court to help boost him up or reinforce his importance. Pau, then, is somewhat alone as the last connection to the previous era of Lakers’ success. Rather than having the Kobe’s, Fisher’s, and Odom’s by his side he has minimum contract and low salaried guys like Henry, Young, and Meeks who are all working as hard as they can to help the team win games (and get their next contracts).

For what it’s worth, Mike D’Antoni seems to have Pau’s back in all this, saying “It’s very unfortunate a teammate would think that much less say it in the media. That’s not right. Pau was sick.” D’Antoni and Pau haven’t always seen eye to eye, but both need each other to push this team forward so it’s good to see this support.

Ultimately, however, whether he’s being called out or supported by his teammates or coaches isn’t what’s most important. That would be Pau playing and doing so as well as he can when he does get out on the floor. And that’s the rub, I guess. Because the only way for him to come out a winner in this is be the Pau that we all remember. He can’t do that missing games and he certainly can’t do it if he’s not at his best. So maybe Pau can’t win in this after all.

For nearly a week now, Pau Gasol has been dealing with an upper respiratory infection. It kept him out of the game against the Warriors this past Saturday and had him looking quite sluggish in losses to the Suns (Monday) and Heat (Wednesday). Today he saw an ear, nose, and throat specialist, missed practice, and may not play Friday against the Jazz. From ESPN LA’s Dave McMenamin on twitter:

McMenamin clarified that the big Spaniard is listed as “day to day” (aren’t we all?) and that he theoretically could still travel to Utah tomorrow and play against the Jazz. That, however, is very unlikely and we might as well get used to the idea that Chris Kaman will start and that Hill and Sacre will see the majority of the back up minutes at the Center position.

I know Pau has not been at his best this year, but this illness really does come on the heels of one of his better stretches of the season. Before the aforementioned three games where he either didn’t play or played poorly, Pau had a six gam stretch where he shot above 50% in all but one game including back to back 21 point efforts in wins over the Grizzlies and Timberwolves. After finally looking healthy after the ankle sprain he suffered a couple of weeks back, he really was playing well (at least offensively) and was starting to show flashes of his old self. Now, however, he’s back on the shelf with an chest infection that is clearly affecting his endurance and his activity level on the floor.

How long Pau sits out is an unknown, but I’d honestly prefer he be completely healthy before he returns to the lineup. When he’s not at his best physically — especially when it’s related to an illness that affects his endurance — he can be quite the liability defensively (even more than usual) as he’s a beat slow rotating in the half court and can lag behind the play several steps in transition. Further, he’s not nearly as active as he needs to be on the glass and that compromises the full integrity of what the team wants to do on that side of the ball. I’d prefer the team just play Hill, Kaman, and Sacre and let them provide all they can until Pau can rejoin the lineup and play at his best.

What is up, guys? So, it’s been a minute – hopefully this look ahead to Game 5 of what promises to be yet another oddity (different flavor, at least)of a Laker season finds you in good health.

When we last crossed paths, overstating the disarray that surrounded the Lakers would have posed quite the challenge. Wrapping up a season defined by tumult – the passing of a patriarch, upheaval and uncertainty on the bench, devastating injuries, the Next Great Laker eyeing the exit seemingly on arrival and cupboard shockingly devoid of youth, athleticism and, frankly, NBA talent – with Kobe Bryant shelved indefinitely and without a trump card to pull from their perpetually stacked deck, Mitch Kupchak and Co were staffed with the task of assembling transitional roster (I’ve gotta get diplomatic immunity for that, right?), on the cheap, without hamstringing their ability to go shopping next summer.

While acknowledging the myriad challenge that lay before the Lakers’ front office – the aforementioned financial constraints, an ascendant contender down the hall (still owned by a racist slumlord – never forget) also equipped with the “hey, ____, wouldn’t be cool to live and play in L.A.?” sales pitch – what emerged from the summer’s personnel machinations read like an obituary for optimism:

Chris Kaman, huh?… Hey, apparently Jordan Farmar’s back – Ok… Xavier Henry… at least he was a lotto pick?… Wes Johnson?! Isn’t that just English for Nikoloz Tskitishvili?… NICK YOUNG?!?! Really? Swaggy @$%4%$ P?!?!

It was dark.

On the other hand…

Though I’m not one to vocally advocate for openly tanking a season, I’m not not one to vocally advocate for openly tanking a season. And hell, if you’re ever going do it, this is supposedly the year… And man, if you’re in, might as well only do it once, and be the freaking Lakers of tanking.

Yeah, about that…

One week ago, the NBA’s island of misfit toys, err, the Lakers, opened the season with a matchup against their noisy neighbors, under the watchful eyes of a triumphant legacy, a legacy that, well… the hell with it – Oh, Doc. Shrouding the achievements of Baylor, West, Magic and Kareem so that giant Jared Dudley can watch over your squad? C’mon man! That’s just sad. Just slap a Pacific Division banner and Loy Vaught’s #35 on one of the other walls and be done with it.

Whew! That felt good. Sorry. Where were we? Oh yeah…

Last Tuesday evening, the Lakers’ curious collection kicked off its season as a near-double-digit underdog against the Clippers – and frankly my specs were not sufficiently rosy to allow me to expect what was to come. Unencumbered by the expectations that typically accompany the arrival of November in Lakerland, behind an early spark provided by Pau Gasol and fueled spectacularly by the desire and tireless effort of the Gallows Humor All-Stars, the Lakers took the fight to L.A.’s presumed contender. Not only did the Lakers dominate the offensive glass (15 off the bench – 11 from Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman), attack the paint and unleash an awesome 3-point barrage en route to 76 bench points (!!; That’s like a week’s work for your average Laker bench!) and a 13-point win, the backdrop against which they did so made for one of the most enjoyable victories in recent memory. For the first time in a long time, a Lakers win brought with it exuberance, and not relief. The Lakers as plucky upstarts.

With all due respect to the individual and collective abilities of the men comprising the 2013-14 Lakers’ roster, in an unaltered state it’s difficult to examine this crew and – in the absence of heroism the likes of which we’ve never seen from a still-rehabbing Kobe – concoct a scenario in which the accomplishments of this squad outstrip those of its 2012-13 predecessor. What we do have, however, is a collection of largely useful basketball players, without long-term financial commitments, looking to revive an NBA career, pen a successful final chapter, audition for a supporting role with a contender, capitalize on an opportunity to justify lofty draft status, or some combination thereof. And Nick Young.

And the opportunity to watch these guys work like hell to reclaim, reroute and resuscitate their NBA careers. And Nick Young.

The first stanza of the Lakers’ 2013-14 season has run the gamut. The euphoric haze of the shocking dismissal of the Clippers dissipating in Oakland, as the Lakers were rolled, lit up by Klay Thompson. Two nights later they once again flirted with an upset, challenging the (admittedly Duncan-less) defending Western Conference champion Spurs before coming up just short. And on Sunday, clinging to victory against the Atlanta Hawks after surrendering a double-digit lead they’d held throughout the game.

78 to go. It’s time to settle in.

Two years into their own retool-not-rebuild amid the professional twilight of their own generational great, face of the franchise, the Dallas Mavericks’ attempts to find a running mate of comparable stature for Dirk Nowitzki – via the pursuits of Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Dallas native Deron Williams – have anticlimactically yielded Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Sam Dalembert and DeJuan Blair. Tonight in Texas, the Lakers kick off what is certain to be a challenging three-game trip against the Mavs, with matchups against the Rockets and Pelicans looming Thursday and Friday, before returning home for six of their next seven games. And with Dallas looking at three road games of their own in the next four nights, starting in OKC tomorrow, they’ll surely muster their best shot for the Lakers.

Offensively, Dallas will present the Lakers with a range of challenges. Like the Lakers, the Mavs prefer to play at a breakneck pace (fourth in the NBA in pace; the Lakers rank first), but, through three games, have managed to do so far more effectively than the Lakers, ranking third in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency (111.3 points/ 100 possessions), and rank in the top 12 leaguewide in each of the “Offensive Four Factors”: eFG% (12th), Offensive Rebound Rate (11th),Turnover Rate (10th lowest) and FTA/FGA (3rd). The strong defensive effort from Wes Johnson will be huge here, as will the Lakers’ work on the offensive boards. (Note: Jordan Hill and his stellar 23.2% ORB Rate are banged up, but will be in action)

Not terribly surprisingly, however, a squad on which the Dirk/Monta/Calderon trio is logs roughly 100 minutes per night does not hang its hat on the defensive end of the floor, ranking 23rd in the NBA. Despite a similarly pedestrian ranking offensively (20th in the NBA), the Lakers must exploit the Mavs’ shortcomings at the defensive end – namely by getting to the line, as the Mavs’ .352 opponents’ FTA/FGA ratio ranks last in the NBA, and perhaps easing up a bit on the gas, and emphasizing lineups featuring both Pau and Chris Kaman, a handful to begin with, but potentially a nightmare for the Mavs with Brendan Wright out of action and Dalembert and Bernard James their only active bigs.

Beyond this as has been the case through the season’s first week (and likely will be going forward), the most vital components to a Laker victory will at the offensive end be energy, aggressiveness and outside shooting. In other words, Xavier Henry must build on the best week of his NBA life.

Enjoy the game everyone!