I often think about the Kobe, Pau, Steve Nash, and Dwight Howard Lakers’ team within the context of “what if’s”. What if Nash doesn’t break his leg? What if Dwight doesn’t come back so early from back surgery? What if Mike Brown never decides to implement the Princeton Offense? What if Kobe never blows out his achilles? What if, what if, what if.

But, while that team is the most recent example of this, it’s not the one which weighs heaviest on my memory. No, that would be the Shaq/Kobe Lakers and the “what if Shaq and Kobe could have buried the hatchet and just gotten along?”

Sadly, we’ll never know the answer to this question. And while both players ended up doing just fine in the years following — Shaq got a 4th championship with the Heat 2006 and Kobe won back to back championships in 2009 and 2010 — the question still nags at me every once in a while.

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With any high-ish draft pick comes a certain amount of expectations. Throw around the term “lottery pick” and suddenly the thought process turns to “this guy should be pretty good”. Jump into the top five or into the top two, and the player is expected to be able to alter the course of a franchise.

Now, turn on the spotlight that comes with playing in Los Angeles and for the Lakers and expectations get ratcheted up more. You aren’t just a top draft choice who should play really well and help lead your team to relevancy, you are pitted against players like Magic, Kobe, and West or Worthy, O’Neal, and Abdul-Jabbar as players who won’t just contribute to the upward trajectory of the team, but become a relevant name the entire league can hold up as a standard.

This is what D’Angelo Russell is facing after being selected second overall this past June. He’s not just another high draft pick, he’s the player who is supposed to pick up where Kobe left off; he’s the franchise’s next great point guard after Magic.

While I have been thinking about this for some time, this fantastic Russell feature by Holly Mackenzie for Complex Sports brought it back to the forefront for me. Mackenzie does a great job of weaving from Russell’s time in Las Vegas for summer league to his days at Ohio State and back through the draft process to what is ahead with the Lakers.

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The Lakers and Metta World Peace may once again become an item. Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story on Monday afternoon:

The Los Angeles Lakers are discussing the possibility of signing free agent forward Metta World Peace to a one-year contract, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

No deal has been agreed upon, but there have been talks between the Lakers and World Peace’s representatives, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

There are varying degrees of interest within the Lakers organization about bringing him back to the franchise at 35 years old, although the idea has been met with enthusiasm from Lakers star Kobe Bryant, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The LA Times’ Brad Turner called the discussions between Metta and the Lakers “casual conversations”, but did add he has been a presence around the team this summer:

World Peace has been working out at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo with Julius Randle the last two months, and the two have played pickup basketball at the Clippers’ practice facility in Playa Vista, an official said.

While these reports clearly state nothing is imminent, this is all very fun to discuss.

When Ron — he’ll always be Ron to me — first arrived to play for the Lakers, I was skeptical about his fit and weary of his reputation as a ball stopping wing who had a tendency to play outside of his role and on the verge of doing something that would compromise his team’s chances to win.

By the time the team waived him via the amnesty provision, however, my views had evolved:

Ron always played with an intensity and competitive fire that was distinct. And while playing on the edge in the way that he did would sometimes lead to him crossing the line between fair and foul, his determination and desire to give his all on the floor was something that many don’t always provide. When you combine his temperament with some of his big game performances, Ron will live on in Lakers’ lore for a lifetime.

I mean, I will never forget his put-back against the Suns in the 2010 Western Conference Finals nor the even bigger performance — and clutch 3 pointer — he provided in game 7 of the NBA Finals. His post game press conference is also the stuff of legend, but that just obscures the fact that without Ron in uniform, it’s unlikely the Lakers defeat their long time foes to claim the title, or even get that far for that matter.

That was two years ago, though. Regarding his current fit, there is a logic that the Lakers are thin at SF, Ron plays SF, and, hence, this is the reason to sign him — or at least explore the option. However, I would argue that Ron is much more of a small-ball PF at this stage of his career. He was already skewing that direction in his final season with the Lakers and, in the limited time he saw in New York, was also moving in that direction for the Knicks.

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Jordan Clarkson enjoyed a breakout rookie season, continued his strong play into the Las Vegas Summer League, and, via recent summer workouts, looks like he’s ready for the season to start. But before he suits up for the Lakers, he may be wearing the uniform of the Philippine National Team at the FIBA Asia Championship being held in China in late September.

From a report by Ryan Songalia of Rappler.com:

But the name that is sure to draw the most attention is the inclusion of Jordan Clarkson, the Filipino-American Los Angeles Lakers guard whose eligibility to play for Gilas Pilipinas as a “natural born” player was revealed this week by SBP. Clarkson arrived in Manila on Monday night amid high hopes and intrigue over news of his possible eligibility.

It has been an open question whether Clarkson, whose mother is Filipino, was actually eligible to play for the Philippine National team as a “natural born” player. The team, apparently, had tried to recruit him several years ago, but it was believed he was ineligible to play as a natural born player and would have to be naturalized (a la former Net Andray Blatche) in order to suit up for the National Team.

However, per a previous report at Rappler, the governing body of Philippine Basketball is saying that Clarkson does, in fact, qualify:

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Many have covered what Roy Hibbert brings defensively. His understanding and implementation of the “Verticality” rule is easily his greatest attribute and is probably the manner in which he’ll improve the team from last season. The reverse can be said about Hibbert’s influence on team rebounding, which is what I’m looking forward to watching most this season.

The Lakers have desperately clung to the idea of recapturing the Showtime era. Ironically, adding a player most see as a plodding giant might actually be the best way to take a step toward such a playing style.

A common criticism lobbed Hibbert’s way typically concerns his rebounding rate. In terms of what we see in the box score, Hibbert’s rebounding is pretty disappointing. Someone his size should be absolutely prolific in that facet of the game, but he isn’t. For his entire career, Hibbert’s averaged only 6.8 rebounds per game. His per 36 minutes are better (9.4 rebounds per 36 minutes), but he’s never displayed an ability to consistently stay on the court for so many minutes, given his conditioning and foul rates.

When understanding what Hibbert brings to the table, though, you have to take a deeper look at his team’s rebounding while he’s on the floor. While he may not necessarily grab every rebound in his vicinity, Hibbert’s value comes in his ability to block opponents out, allowing his teammates to sweep in for the rebounds. Hibbert’s Pacers grabbed 44.7% of the available rebounds while he was on the court last season, good enough for fourth in the NBA. If that trend continues when the games start this season, the Lakers would be in position to greatly improve their pace.

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Though the Lakers are most known for their old-guard names — Kobe Bryant, Mitch Kupchak, and even Byron Scott — they are also going through a noted youth movement. The past two drafts have brought Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr, and Anthony Brown. The team’s projected roster will have at least seven players under the age of 25 as the team heavily invests in the type of young talent which can carry them into a new era.

That investment, however, is not limited to what’s happening on the court. Per Eric Pincus of the LA Times, the Lakers have also elevated a young talent in the front office:

The Lakers have promoted Ryan West to director of player personnel. West, formerly the team’s assistant director of scouting, started as a scout for the team in 2009. He also worked as a scout for the Memphis Grizzlies for almost eight years.

Though possessing over 13 years experience working for NBA teams, West is only 36 years old. So, while he is young, he is also experienced. And, of course, he has some bloodlines and pedigree being the son of Lakers’ legend Jerry West.

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Yesterday Kobe announced he had returned to the court to shoot for the first time since having surgery to repair his torn rotator cuff. Today, Kobe celebrates his 37th birthday. I have a feeling before he finds his way to a slice of cake and some gifts to unwrap, he’ll also find his way to a gym to get up more shots. This, more than anything, would seem like be the Kobe thing to do.

When training camp opens in the next month or so, it will be the beginning of his 20th season in the league. Twenty. Years. I get tired just thinking of this number, knowing the day-in, day-out work that’s gone into making him the player he’s been over that period.

Kobe’s greatest legacy, for me at least, isn’t the championship rings. It’s not his status as one the game’s all-time best players. For me, Kobe’s legacy is, despite his wonderful physical gifts and his bloodlines tying him to the league, how he maximized all that talent to reach his ceiling as a player. One can argue if he could have done things differently or played a different way, but one cannot argue he got the most out of his ability to become the most skilled version of himself he could become.

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Kobe Bryant last played a competitive basketball game on January 21st against the Pelicans. In that game he had the ball deep in the right corner, drove baseline after facing some tight pressure defense, and threw down a two handed dunk:

On that play, Kobe exacerbated an already sore shoulder, tearing his rotator cuff. While he would play a few more possessions — attempting shots with his left hand — he would ultimately leave the court and not play another game for the rest of the season.

Since then Kobe has been recovering from surgery to repair his injured shoulder and has been pretty quiet as to what progress he was making. Well, that silence has been lifted with a post on instagram:

First day back on the court shooting! Bout damn time!! #shoulderrecovery #20thseason @drinkbodyarmor #lakers

A photo posted by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on

This is great news for Kobe and for Lakers’ fans. With a little bit more than two months until the Lakers’ regular season begins, this should allow Kobe to ramp up his training and be ready for what will be his 20th and, potentially, final campaign.