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If you listen to D’Angelo Russell talk, he will mostly discuss ways he needs to improve. He’ll talk about needing to get stronger, cut down on his turnovers, pay more attention defensively, and on and on. He understands he’s young, is a work in progress, and that he did not have his best showing in Summer League.

But, even though Russell clearly could have played better, the flashes of what he can be were there. His court vision is sublime and his ability to see plays developing ahead of time got his teammates a lot of good looks over the team’s five games in Vegas. And while his shot wasn’t as accurate as it could have been, in the team’s final LVSL game against the Jazz, he got the hot hand and showed off some of the shot making that earned him All-American honors after his lone season at Ohio St:

What stood out to me most from the barrage of made shots is how effortlessly he shoots the ball. The ease in which he rises up and simply flicks the ball is a beautiful thing. In fact, it’s this motion and smoothness of his jumper that left me almost totally unconcerned with his shooting percentage in the Lakers’ previous four games.

What also stood out to me, however, was how often Russell was creating his own shot off the dribble and how this really is only one aspect of how he can score. While at OSU, Russell did great work off screens and also showed he could be a fine spot up option. In Vegas, the combination of the sets the team ran and his role as the primary ball handler didn’t allow these other parts of his game to shine through. Come the regular season, though, when he’s on the floor with Kobe and as he gains more chemistry with Clarkson and Randle, I do believe he’ll get to expand the ways in which he scores.

That’s down the line, though. For now, watch Russell cook in the video above again. He ended his time in Vegas the way we all like to, with the hot and hand and cashing in.

One of my favorite parts of the old Lakers’ telecasts on KCAL Channel 9 was Chick Hearn interviewing players from the Lakers and the opposing team. The interviews would often air during the pre-game or halftime show and would always give some insight or an anecdote that you likely weren’t going to get from anywhere else. Credit Chick who, along with his brilliance as the game’s best play by play man, was also as personable and pleasant as could be when chatting with the players.

This video, however, is one that I’d never seen. After starting his first career game the night before — a game in which he’d scored 12 points on 5-11 shooting — Chick sat down with rookie Kobe Bryant for a chat:

Some good stuff in this clip, but the thing that stands out is Kobe’s youth and, even at only 18 years old, the charisma and charm that, along with his prodigious talent, made him one of the league’s most popular players very early in his career. This clip also brings out a fair amount of nostalgia. This was before Phil Jackson, before the heartbreaking playoff losses, before the championships, and before the feuds that saw it all end. This was just the beginning.

With Kobe’s career nearing its end, it really is something to see him so young, so long ago, as a bright eyed rookie. In a way it makes me sad. It also makes me feel extremely grateful that nearly 18 years later he is still wearing the purple and gold. Oh, an by the way, that night against the Spurs on the 2nd night of a back to back, Kobe started his second straight game and scored 19 points on 6-12 shooting to help the Lakers win their 5th straight game.

(H/T to Andy Kamenetzky and Jon Weisman for the clip)

Training camp is only two days old, but I’m already thirsting to see what this group of players looks like on the floor together. Luckily, the fine folks at Lakers.com are of the same mindset and were nice enough to gift us all with some highlights from the scrimmage portion of Wednesday’s practice session:

Understand that these are clips pieced together from a lot of stop and go action where the coaches will intervene to use a particular play or two as teaching moments. This may allow an offensive player to get the type of position he may not otherwise or a side’s defense to get set and bottle up a certain action.

Even in saying that, though, it sure is nice to see actual basketball.

A couple of quick takeaways:

*Over the last couple of days, when asked about his health, Kobe Bryant has said that he “feels like (himself)” multiple times and the brief clips seem to reinforce that idea. He’s moving well, seems to get good elevation on his jumper, and made a decent defensive play on Nick Young by sliding his feet fairly well and recovering at the end of the action to get his hands on the ball. He also had  couple of nice possessions working in the post and his footwork looked clean and precise. Again, these are spliced together clips that do not give us an entire picture of what Kobe fully looks like over the course of a full session, but these plays do start to lessen concerns that he is not 100% physically right now. Considering where he was at this point last year and how he looked when he first got back into game action after the season began, this is a very positive thing.

*Steve Nash also looks to be moving well. I do not want to overplay the significance of this since, as we all know, Nash’s problems aren’t so much how he plays when healthy, but whether or not his health is sustainable. But it’s nice to see Nash running fluidly and making some of the plays you know a healthy Nash is capable of making. The fading jumper he hit wasn’t anything to get super excited about, but it did show him extend for a loose ball and then create some needed separation to get his shot off against his man. These are skills Nash has mastered over his career, but also ones that have not always been at his disposal over the past two seasons due to his diminished health.

*Whether it was just the nature of the plays selected to highlight or indicative of what the team will try to do regularly, the team sure did seam to try to push the ball up the floor. Nash and Lin both like to play in the open court, so it would not surprise me if they tried to play with more pace than Scott’s team have been known for in the past. I’m not making any declarations at this point, but this will be something to watch for when the exhibition games start.

Overall, there’s really not a lot of deep analysis to be made here. Again, it’s a scrimmage with a fair amount of stopping the action and specific teaching moments from a coaching staff who is just starting to learn about the group they have (as well as the players learning what the coaches want). But, I’d be lying if I said watching the guys get up and down the floor and finish some plays didn’t get me itching for more.

At its essence, basketball is a game of leverage and angles. The best players exploit physical and mental advantages to get to specific spots on the floor where the odds of success greatly outweigh the alternative. The amount of hours put in to achieve this mastery of body and mind to outplay an opponent is often what separates those who are considered very good in their era versus being considered very good for any era.

Kobe Bryant, whatever you think of him, has built his career on the idea that hard work and learning from his defeats and failures will get him where he wants to be. This idea is detailed wonderfully in this excellent longform piece by Chris Ballard that ran in this week’s Sports Illustrated. It is hard to argue with the results.

The piece linked above is well worth your time for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it is a snapshot in time at where Kobe is now, staring at his mortality as his career winds down. There are no more magic fixes from diet adjustments or extra workouts to put in that can reverse the impact of father time. And while the work will be done as diligently and with as much focus as it always has been, the fact remains that there is only so much work that can be done when you have already done as much as this man has.

I am thinking about this more today than others because, as the title of this post states, today is Kobe’s birthday. He is now 36 years old, entering into his 19th NBA season after being drafted as a 17 year old. You can do the math and see that Kobe has been an NBA’er more than half his life now, all those years soldiering for the team I root for.

Today, then, is as much a celebration for Kobe as it is for fans. He has given so much to the game he loves and, in turn, to us, the fans. Even if you hate him as a player, you will miss him when he’s gone. That, really, may be the quintessential statement about Kobe. He didn’t always do it the way you wanted him to, but by doing it his way he always gave us something worth discussing; worth marveling over. He may not have earned your cheers, but he certainly earned your respect.

With that, I’ll close with one of my favorite highlight clips of Kobe. It is titled “The Clinic” and has over 5 million views on youtube and targets plays from the 2007-2009 seasons. I love this video for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it captures the many aspects of Kobe’s game that reflect the work he’s put in. Sure, you see the athleticism, but you also see the footwork, the smarts, and the unrelenting attack style that his career has been built on. The video shows his genius as an all court player. Mostly, it shows the Kobe that I’ll mostly remember — devastating, driven, and the guy I loved to watch every night. Happy Birthday, Kobe.

Back in the summer 2002, Kobe wasn’t necessarily at the peak of his powers, but he was definitely at the top of the NBA world. The Lakers had just won their 3rd consecutive title and Kobe had cemented himself as one of the best players in the league. Kobe was also one of the league’s darling players — this was before the major public feuding with Shaq, before his legal issues, before trade demands. Every player has their detractors, but for the most part, Kobe was teflon.

So, you can only imagine the reaction when Kobe showed up at the famed Rucker Park in New York to play some pick up ball. You can also imagine the show he put on. Only, you know, you don’t have to imagine. You can actually watch it:

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The Lakers are back in action tonight in summer league, facing off against the 76ers in the first round of the “tournament” that has become the second half of the LVSL.

And while the results of this game matter — if the Lakers win they advance, if they lose their summer league is over — I’m not really going to get worked up over what the final score is. If anything, I want them to win only so I get to see more of Julius Randle (and to a slightly lesser extent Jordan Clarkson).

Randle’s performance is, ultimately, the major takeaway from this team. While there are other players who have shown promise, it is the player who the Lakers selected 7th overall whose performance matters most.

In Randle’s first game he did not perform very well and looked like a player who had only signed his contract 20 minutes before tip-off while also doubling as someone who had not played much basketball in recent months. His timing was off, he looked a bit sluggish at times, and wasn’t able to find a rhythm.

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I cannot get enough of these videos.

Now that the season is over it is a bit easier to reflect on the games, the individual performances, and the storylines that go with them. Nash’s attempts to play, experiencing some successes and some failures, at least for me, resonate even more now. Seeing those clips of him against the Wizards and the Blazers brought a sincere smile to my face. Seeing the fans respond to him so positively did as well. I do not know what next year holds for Nash, but watching him put on those point guard clinics, even if they were only in short spurts, never gets old.

The meat of the video, however, is the dinner with Dirk (and a mutual long time friend). Their friendship, and the genuine nature of it, shines through and you can tell that they serious contemplate what could have been had they stayed together. Remember, when the Mavs let Nash go to Phoenix they used the money they could have spent on him to sign Erik Dampier. Of course, Dampier would later be used as the bait that nabbed them Tyson Chandler and the point guard slot vacated by Nash was eventually filled by Jason Kidd. Those two players were, along with Dirk and Shaun Marion, the backbone of that 2011 Mavs title team and it’s difficult to imagine what that team becomes if Nash stays on and his development continues on its upward trajectory.

Sadly, we will never know. Though, as Dirk says, it’s not like their careers ended up too shabby. Dirk has a league MVP, a Finals’ MVP, and a championship to his name. He will go down as one of the best (if not the best) European player ever whenever he hangs up his sneakers. Nash, meanwhile, has not won a championship but won two league MVP awards and is a top 5 assist man all-time. No slouches, these two.

On Tuesday night the Lakers roasted the Knicks, putting on a scoring display that was pretty incredible to watch. After only scoring 14 points in the 1st quarter, the Lakers proceeded to hang 44 on the Knicks in the 2nd quarter to pull ahead at the half.

The real fireworks occurred in the 3rd period, however, when the Lakers scored 51 points to set a franchise record for points scored in a quarter (which was also a record for the Knicks for most points allowed). By my count the Lakers boasted an offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) of 204.0 for the period, though other calculations had it at 197 192 and some change. Either way, the Lakers essentially scored 2 points per every possession that quarter, running the Knicks out of the building in the process.

As I said on twitter at the time, the game got embarrassing and this time the Lakers weren’t the victims. No, this time it was the other team who couldn’t bother to make rotations on time, lost their man off the ball, and looked generally hapless defensively. The funny thing about the that fateful 3rd period is that the Knicks were actually quite good themselves offensively. They managed to shoot over 50% from the floor and put up 31 points of their own. If only they didn’t allow the Lakers to score 20 more points than them in that 12 minutes.

Anyways, enjoy the video above. In a season that has offered way too many lows, the Lakers bombing away on the Knicks was certainly one of the high points all season and is worth celebrating for at least another day.