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From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: Someday, it might be appropriate to look back at the past four days of the Los Angeles Lakers’ existence — from playing Dwight Howard as an opponent Thursday to seeing Steve Nash being shut down because of back problems Sunday — as the official death of the dream hatched in summer 2012 to get back to being a championship contender before Kobe Bryant’s career came to a close. But today is not that day. Now is the time to simply appreciate what Nash — a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer, the greatest basketball player to come out of Canada, a player who ranks No. 1 in career free throw percentage, No. 4 in total assists and No. 8 in 3-point accuracy in NBA history — is going through as he sees the end of his splendid career coming at him like a freight train going full speed.

From Drew Garrison, Silver Screen & Roll: It’s been 495 days since the Los Angeles Lakers traded some “throwaway” draft picks and a trade exception they needed to get off their hands after dumpingLamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for the all-world talents of Steve Nash. 495 days since the Lakers signed-and-traded for a “real” point guard after a failed experiment featuring Ramon Sessions’ 2012 Playoffs nosedive. It’s fair to say things have changed since then. Those “throwaway” picks were two future second-round selections and two future first-round selections. In case you missed it, folks are salivating over the Lakers having a 2014 first-round draft pick this summer. There’s no telling what the next handful of years will look for the Lakers with Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant’s expiring contracts and Steve Nash’s expired body, but the peep hole we’ve peeked through so far has been disheartening. Maybe the top-five protection on the 2015 first-rounder will be the saving grace in this mess.

From Brett Pollakoff, Pro Basketball Talk: In the first quarter Sunday night against Minnesota (as his Lakers were getting blown out of the water), Pau Gasol was 3-of-5 shooting for six points. The rest of the game he was 2-of-7 shooting, and the second of those buckets came :26 seconds left in the game when Rick Adelman had emptied the Timberwolves bench. Gasol finished with 11 points on 12 shots (but did have 11 rebounds). That’s been pretty typical to start the season. Gasol was expected to carry the Lakers’ offense, at least untilKobe Bryant returned, but he is averaging 15.3 points a game on 36 percent shooting — it’s taking him 16.1 shots a game to get those points. That is not Gasol like. It’s not close to what the Lakers were banking on. What’s more is on the season he’s shooting a respectable 45 percent in the first quarter but just 25.7 percent in the second half. Gasol said after the game the issue has been a respiratory infection he has battled all season — and that he is getting better.

From Eric Pincus, LA Times: Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Sunday he does not anticipate that Kobe Bryant will be able to return from his Achilles’ tendon injury within the next two weeks. ”I don’t see that in the next week or two because you’ve got to be on the court. You’ve got to practice.  You’ve got to play,” Kupchak, speaking at an event for season-ticket holders, said of the team’s All-Star guard. Bryant said recently that he’s gotten in two of the three weeks of intense conditioning he needs before considering a return date. The Lakers undoubtedly will work Bryant slowly back into practice before he sees his first NBA game action since tearing his Achilles’ on April 12 during a win over the Golden State Warriors. ”Clearly we don’t know what this team is all about until Kobe gets back, and when he gets back, how is he going to play?” Kupchak told an audience of more than 1,000. ”I know he’s going to come back competitive. I know he’s going to be productive. But that’s when we’re going to find out what kind of team we have.” Kupchak acknowledged the franchise is preparing for the time after Bryant is gone.

Earlier, I wrote a piece encouraging Nick Young to leave his ego at the door for the betterment of the team. In order to cash in on his talent, I reasoned, Young needed to evolve from the shameless gunner he’s been throughout his NBA career in order to fit Mike D’Antoni’s run and gun style that relies heavily on fluid ball movement.

And while its an unfathomably small sample size, Nick Young has shown no signs of taking my advice. He’s been the same quick-triggered, overconfident gunner that he’s always been. In the home opener vs. the Clippers, Young had a classic Nick Young game-he crossovered and step-backed his way to 13 points on 3-10 shooting with a grand total of 0 assists. The performance looked pretty, sure, but that’s about it; TNT cut to Kobe shaking his head in disgust after Young missed one of the many contested jumpers he seems to shoot each and ever game.

In his next two starts, Young combined to score 12 points on 3-12 shooting and did so in similar shameless fashion. It almost seems at times that Young cares more about how cool he looks playing basketball than how well he’s doing it. Nick Young accomplished something in only three games that I previously thought impossible: he managed to be benched by Mike D’Antoni for shooting too much! I could sit here and tear the man apart, but Kobe–as Kobe always seems to do–hit the nail on the head as to how Laker fans felt about Nick Young’s start better than I ever could have with this legendary death stare.

After D’Antoni benched Young in favor of Xavier Henry, something curious happened. In the first half of his first game off the bench against the Hawks, Young had three assists. I’m not even one bit joking when I pose the question, was that his career high for assists in a half? His strong play carried over to the second half, and Young looked like a much more willing passer than he had in the previous three games.

In tonight’s game against the Mavericks, Young was a bright spot, scoring a team-high 21 points on an efficient 8-12 shooting. I’ve always thought Young was more fit to come off the bench- he’s simply too one-dimensional to start on an NBA team with hopes of making the playoffs. Young’s more fit to be an instant-offense sixth man, a change of pace guy who can create his own shot and light it up against second units across the league.

We knew coming into the season that someone would have to fill Kobe’s void in the starting lineup and do all that they can to try and make up for Kobe’s scoring production. It seems that Xavier Henry is more suited to be the player who starts while giving the team an aggressiveness it needs, while Young gives the team that scoring punch I hoped he’d give while starting but in a bench role instead. This Laker rotation is a work in progress, for sure- MDA’s been playing with different lineups and substitution patterns (still not enough Jordan Hill…)–but one thing seems clear: Nick Young will be this team’s sixth man, and a good one at that.

From Ryan Ward, Lakers Nation: Over the past few months, Kobe Bryant has sent subtle messages to his fans and the world about what’s going on in the mind of the five-time NBA champion by changing his Twitter avatar. Recently, Kobe changed his avatar to 1225. Many believe the change was to indicate either his return date to the basketball floor for the Los Angeles Lakers or a motivational tactic after ESPN predicted the Lakers would finish 12th in the West and that he was now the 25th best player in the NBA. On Tuesday morning, Kobe was at it a again with his cryptic messages via his Twitter avatar. Instead of the 1225, which many thought would remain his avatar until he returned, the future Hall of Famer blacked out the avatar completely and then tweeted the following:

From Brett Polakoff, Pro Basketball Talk: After their surprising opening night victory against the Clippers, the Lakers have looked more like the team we expected to see with Kobe Bryant out of the lineup in the early part of the season. L.A. has dropped two straight, and with Mike D’Antoni searching for answers, a change to the starting lineup will take place for the team’s game Sunday night at home against the Atlanta Hawks. From Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: Xavier Henry will start in place of Nick Young on Sunday night against Atlanta, Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said. …“Just [trying] to find a better spot for Nick, maybe get a little bit more production out of him,” D’Antoni said. “[Henry] has played as well if not better than anybody. There’s no reason not to go ahead and do this and lengthen his time on the court a little bit.”

From Drew Garrison, Silver Screen & Roll: The first week of Los Angeles Lakers basketball has come and gone and the team split their first four games. The week began with a win over the Los Angeles Clippers and ended with a down to the wire victory against the Atlanta Hawks. The season is young and the sample sizes are too small to draw overarching conclusions, but it’s fair to take the early results for what their worth and break down what’s starting to take form. Xavier Henry is starting, Nick Young is on the bench,Jordan Hill is a beast on the offensive glass, Wesley Johnson is still a huge question mark and the NBA’s new SportVu player tracking provides statistical data behind an observation made earlier this week about Pau Gasol in the Lakers’ offense. Here are a handful of Week 1 observations:

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: In recapping the Los Angeles Lakers’ fervent first week of the season that included four games in six days, it’s pretty hard to draw any conclusions and feel confident those same observations will ring true in a week or two. Pau Gasol has looked re-energized from a season ago, but then again coach Mike D’Antoni benched him from the 6:29 mark of the third quarter to the 5:40 mark of the fourth quarter Sunday because he thought Gasol “lost his steam.”Xavier Henry has looked like a hidden gem, scoring 22 against the Clippers, 14 against the Warriors and 18 against the Hawks, but then again there was that 0-for-6 night against the Spurs and that wild offensive foul with 2:39 left in the fourth quarter against Atlanta in a four-point contest that could have cost L.A. the game.

 

All The Way From El Segundo

Dave Murphy —  October 12, 2013

The Los Angeles Lakers traveled to China yesterday for the first time as a team. It’s a pretty big deal on a lot of levels. As part of the NBA Global Games, the Lakers will play two matches against the Golden State Warriors. The first takes place in Beijing on Tuesday, October 15. The second will be in Shanghai, three days later. There will be ample time to take in the sights and culture, including of course, the Great Wall of China. Many of the players will be accompanied by family. The NBA represents big money in China as well as a genuine love of the game.

Kobe Bryant knows China well, having traveled there on behalf of Nike for eight consecutive years. He was also a member of the U.S. gold medal team in Beijing in 2008. The team’s head physical therapist, Dr. Judy Seto, offers a nice perspective, not only on Bryant’s immense popularity but on the country itself.

Trips like this can serve as important bonding opportunities. With the on-court chemistry displayed so far in the young preseason, it may be icing on the cake. The team certainly doesn’t have the superstar panache of last year’s edition. They also don’t have the divisiveness that arrived with a player who could have been the future of the franchise. The franchise may have dodged a bullet when he continued on his way.

Continue Reading…

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.