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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.

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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.

From Eric Pincus, LA Times: Kobe Bryant was voted “favorite player in the league” by 36 rookies in a survey for NBA.com, according to John Schuhmann. Bryant topped the list with 21.2% of the votes. LeBron James came in second (15.2%), followed by a third-place tie between Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki (12.1% apiece). Steve Nash also received at least one vote. Rookies weren’t permitted to vote for “themselves, college teammates or NBA teammates,” Schuhmann wrote.

From Dan Feldman, Pro Basketball Talk: It’s early in the 2027-28 season, and the Lakers have struggled to a 1-4 start. The year before, an aging Kyrie Irving helped lead the Lakers to the North American Conference Finals, but they ran out of gas and were swept by Seattle. Still, the Lakers brought back their core, including Coach Monty Williams, who led the Lakers to championships in 2023 and 2024. Suddenly, the Lakers look old, and fans are calling for Williams to be fired. Who’s their preferred replacement? 82-year-old Phil Jackson. At least that’s whom Mike D’Antoni believes Lakers fans would want in that scenario. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

From Dan Duangdao, Lakers Nation: During this off-season, much of the discussion has centered around Kobe Bryant’s return from Achilles surgery and if he’ll be able to play at a high-level once again. Despite the fact that Bryant is ahead of schedule in his recovery and some are optimistic that he’ll be returning for opening night against the Los Angeles Clippers, others think the injury is too difficult to come back from at this stage of his career. In an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com, an anonymous Western Conference scout was optimistic and believes that Bryant will be back at an All-Star level: “I would not be surprised for him to be back at an All-Star level. I don’t know if it’s going to be next season, it could be, but I could definitely see him being back as an All-Star because that’s just in his DNA.” While Bryant will likely lose some athleticism from this injury, his smarts and experience will enable him to conquer this challenge, similarly to Michael Jordan.

From Drew Garrison, Silver Screen & Roll: The Los Angeles Lakers are not interested in signing free agent Lamar Odom, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. The Lakers had reached out to Odom shortly after the 2013 free agency period began, but there were no reports of talks advancing beyond an exploratory phase.The Lakers had “some interest” in acquiring Odom and had talks with him in early July, but the team no longer has any interest in acquiring him, according to a league source familiar with the discussions. A source close to Odom informed Jared Zwerling of ESPN that he was interested in returning to the Lakers.

 

From Ryan Ward, Lakers Nation: Former Sixth Man of the Year, Lamar Odom, has reportedly been missing for the last three days and feared to be using crack cocaine. Odom’s life continues to spiral out of control with the 33-year-old struggling to save his marriage with reality star, Khloe Kardashian. Although Odom remains missing, with all sorts of rumors floating around about what he may or may not be doing, a contact close to Odom in New York says the two-time NBA champion still wants to a member of the Los Angeles Lakers according to Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com via Twitter.

From Ben Bolch, LA Times: Alex Each always believes in Kobe.His wife might elbow him in the ribs if he didn’t; the first name of the Lakers’ biggest star is the middle name of the couple’s youngest son. So even things like Kobe Bryant’s uncertain return from a torn Achilles’ tendon, Dwight Howard’s departure and the absence of brand-name reinforcements can’t dampen the longtime Lakers fan’s enthusiasm for his favorite team.”Kobe has had more resurrections than any athlete I can remember,” said Each, 39, an electrical engineer from Fairfax, Va., who watches every Lakers game via NBA League Pass, even if it means TiVo-ing it and fast-forwarding through commercials well after midnight.

From Brett Polakoff, Pro Basketball Talk The Dwight Howard saga as it related to his decision to ultimately choose the Rockets over the Lakers in free agency has been well-chronicled, and it feels like we’ve heard just about all of the details surrounding the reasons for his departure. In short, Howard didn’t like the way he was being utilized in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, and his personality couldn’t have been more opposite to that of Kobe Bryant, which (along with all of the losing) made his time in Los Angeles extremely miserable. But if all of that somehow wasn’t clear by now, we have yet another report that Howard may have considered re-upping with the Lakers had they been ready to make the franchise his from day one — by removing those two components that made his time there so unpleasant.

From Michael C. Jones, Yahoo Sports: Before scratching the surface of who Los Angeles Lakers fans are, it’s important to understand who they aren’t. There’s a lot to loathe about those who often identify themselves as Lakers fans, yet repeatedly do things to disgrace the golden armor. These actions drive everyone (especially real fans) crazy and give the legitimate Purple and Gold faithful a bad name. In no way do the impostors’ actions constitute Lakers fandom, and it’s important to understand and establish a select few of their most egregious offenses moving forward.

 

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: Granted, the 2012-13 season was pretty crummy for every Los Angeles Lakers player, but consider the plight of Jodie Meeks. After two and a half solid seasons in Philadelphia, where Meeks established himself as a valued contributor on playoff teams, the sweet-shooting guard signed with L.A. at a discount with the hopes of winning a ring. While he witnessed his teammates go down left and right with injuries as the season wore on, Meeks fortunately avoided any health problems. With Kobe Bryant out with a torn Achilles tendon, it was Meeks who was on the court at shooting guard in Bryant’s place in the regular-season finale against the Houston Rockets, driving baseline and throwing down a game-sealing dunk in overtime to secure L.A. the seventh seed in the postseason.

From Dan Duangdao, Lakers Nation: For 34 years, Dr. Jerry Buss was and will always be the face of the most successful franchise in the NBA. Through the decades, he not only provided ten championships to the city of Los Angeles, but also provided a sense of stability.Regardless of all the changes we’ve experienced in our personal lives, we could always count on Dr. Buss to provide us with Lakers teams that were exciting to watch and most importantly, championship contenders. Since the passing of Dr. Buss in February, the Lakers organization and fan base has experienced change for the first time in three decades and, as we all know, change creates uncertainty. With his children, Jim and Jeanie, at the helm, there is uncertainty about the direction of the franchise that has quickly turned into negativity from the media this offseason.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: Sad note for talk-show hosts: Mike D’Antoni isn’t turning up his car radio to hear you and your faithful listeners destroy him. “Hell, no,” D’Antoni said on a sunny Manhattan Beach afternoon, plenty of time before rush-hour shows typically unleash another round of venom aimed at the Lakers’ coach. These are trying times to be a Lakers fan in Los Angeles, the playoffs hardly a guarantee next season as the Clippers continue their assumed ascension past the 16-time NBA champions. Naturally, many of the verbal arrows get fired at the affable D’Antoni in comments at the end of online stories, letters to the editor and the above-mentioned airwaves. No, the specter of Phil Jackson never quite left the Lakers.”I think anybody that comes in here the next 10, 15 years, it’s going to be that way,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think there is any doubt that he was so good and so large and he’s still sitting out there. “Had that bothered me, I shouldn’t have taken the job because you know it’s going to be there. I wasn’t stupid enough to think that, ‘Oh, they won’t remember him.’ Sure they will. It doesn’t really affect what we do day-to-day and how we approach the game.” D’Antoni, 62, has two more guaranteed years on his contract after going 40-32 last season and then getting swept in the playoffs by San Antonio as his players crumbled physically.

From Michael C. Jones, Yahoo Sports: It didn’t take long for Dwight Howard to become the most hated player in Los Angeles Lakers history. That distinction is his alone after playing just 76 games with the franchise. Almost any time a player has an “of all-time” distinction attached to his name, it’s a highly debatable topic. But, in this instance, there’s little disputing that Howard is loathed more by Lakers fans than anyone who donned the golden armor before him. Cedric Ceballos and his in-season vacation, Nick Van Exel and his uncanny ability to infuriate his teammates, and even Kobe Bryant’s tendency to move the needle in polarizing fashion across the league can’t hold a candle to the way Howard is pretty much despised outside of Houston these days.

From Sean Highkin, USA Today: Kobe Bryant is running again – sort of. He posted a video on his Instagram account Monday that shows him jogging on an anti-gravity treadmill. How much weight he’s putting on the left Achilles tendon he tore in April is unclear, but the fact that he’s running in any form just over four months after the injury is an encouraging sign for Lakers fans. Last week, Kobe told reporters in China that the tendon felt “really, really good.” He hasn’t been given an exact return date but, as the season gets closer, it’s no longer unrealistic to expect he’ll be back on the court as the  Lakers take on the Los Angeles Clippers on opening night Oct. 29.