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.

The dragging offseason continues, yet the news cycle rolls on…

Earlier this month the Lakers signed former Texas forward and Summer League standout Jonathan Holmes. To this date, not much has been heard about the Holmes-Lakers pairing since the signing, however, Mark Stenberg of Study Breaks Magazine recently caught up with the San Antonio native for a very insightful interview, here’s some of what stood out:

Can you walk me through everything that’s happened from Draft Day till now?

Holmes: Draft Day was a tough. Heading into it, we thought we had a pretty good chance of going late first round/beginning of the second round, but some unexpected trades happened and I ended up going undrafted.

After that, the next thing to do was try and get ready for summer league. I was in San Antonio on Draft Day, and two days later my agent called and said the Celtics had a good opportunity for me to play. That’s really the biggest thing you need as an undrafted guy—a chance to play—so we jumped on that right away.

I flew to Boston a couple of days later and had a week of training camp to prepare for Summer League. Then we flew out to Utah, played two games, and then flew to Las Vegas to play in that Summer League

(Boston lost in the quarterfinals to the Becky Hammon-coached Spurs, the team that ended up winning the tournament).

After that, we were just waiting for some deals. Then we got some, we chose Los Angeles, and now I’m here hanging out, waiting for training camp.

[…]

What do your days look like now?

Holmes: I wake up 8:30 and work out with one of the coaches, then go to the weight room and get a little work out there. Right now, there’s a lot of open-gyms going on at the Clippers’ facility, so some of the guys on the team and I might go over there and play with some of the guys there. Then I’ll usually come back here, eat lunch, rest, take a little nap and then head back to the facility. I’m really just trying to put some shots up. Afterword, I’ll come back here and kick it pretty low key. Right now everything’s still pretty unofficial.

How the vibe in LA? Have you played with Kobe yet?

Holmes: No, I haven’t seen him yet. It’s actually really cool though, because there are a lot of young guys right now. I mean there are definitely veterans here, like Roy Hibbert, Ryan Kelly, Brandon Bass, and Nick Young, but for the most part, most of the guys on the team are young. It makes it different than if you were coming into a team that was nothing but veterans, cause most of these guys are going through what I’m going through.

[…]

Do you have a basketball role model?

Holmes: I definitely model my game after Draymond Green, but there are guys from San Antonio who paved my way to get [to professional basketball]. When people think about Texas they think about football, but I watched guys like André Roberson and Jordan Clarkson (who also plays for the Lakers) when I was growing up. We played for the same AAU programs, and so just seeing them make it coming from San Antonio pushed me and motivated me to live out my own dreams.

**

The Lakers’ second UDFA signing this offseason was ex-Florida guard Michael Fraizer, and while most have little expectation that he’ll amount to anything more than a mere camp body, Jackson Sanders of Hoops Habit recently looked into just where Fraizer could find his role on a Lakers roster:

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A few years ago there was a Nike Basketball campaign called “Basketball Never Stops”. It was during the NBA lockout, but was a clever way to tie in the extra work guys put in during the off-season.

This campaign always stuck with me because it really is true. From Summer Pro-Am’s like the Drew League to guys touring other countries to players running clinics and camps, the game just keeps going. No where is it really more evident than with the training guys put in. In order to become the best they can be, these guys really do work on their game year round, especially using the summer to hone their craft and add new dimensions to their repertoires.

One Lakers’ player who has been putting in that work is Jordan Clarkson. Described by many in the organization as possessing incredible work ethic and living in the gym, Clarkson has been working on his game this summer and, per this short clip, it looks like it’s paying off:

Of course, this isn’t the first we’ve seen of Clarkson looking like he’s ready to take another big step forward. During the summer league, Clarkson looked like he’d outgrown summer league, easily getting to his spots on the floor and flashing the level of finishing that earned him 1st-team all rookie honors:

Here’s to Clarkson carrying forward his play and extra work from the summer into the regular season. The sky really is the limit for him and he looks ready to show he can reach his potential.

The Lakers made another under-the-radar personnel move over the weekend with the signing of undrafted free agent Michael Fraizer. This is the team’s second UDFA signing of the offseason and just as we did with the signing of Jonathan Holmes, today’s links provide a month-old scouting report done by Kevin O’Connor of SB Nation, in which Fraizer is referred to as a potential “sleeper”:

Frazier has the talent to carve out a career in the league. All he needs is the right situation to give him an opportunity to get to that level.

Wesley Matthews, Bruce Bowen and Ben Wallace suffered the same disappointment of being undrafted, but went on to have productive careers. Frazier’s former teammate Scottie Wilbekin just signed a four-year contract with the 76ers after developing one year overseas and returning an improved player.

This is why Frazier is a prime candidate to be next in line.

Fraizer’s calling card at the next level is assumed to be his proficiency from three-point range. While O’Connor doesn’t discount the fact that Fraizer sticking with a team is contingent upon his ability to drain threes, he also goes on to detail Fraizer’s potential to be a multi-faceted player with a unique skillset that suggests he is more than a “specialist”:

 

Before the draft, Frazier worked out at Elev8 Sports Institute with trainer Cody Toppert to improve this area of his game. Toppert recently published an overview of the pick-and-roll. He preaches three keys: pace, poise and purpose.

“Cody Toppert and I watched a lot of film, then went straight to the court to try to replicate those same kinds of things,” Frazier said. “In today’s game, Chris Paul is the best player in the pick-and-roll, so I watch a lot of him. He’s the master of it.”

**

One of the players Fraizer will most directly compete against this summer is soon-to-be sophomore, Jabari Brown. This roster battle will certainly draw more attention as summer exhibition nears, yet there is still quite a while until preseason kicks off (45 days to be exact). Therefore, one of the ways players like Brown get in their on-court reps during the offseason is by participating in the various Summer basketball showcases throughout the country.

Josh Martin of Bleacher Report recently profiled the growth of these Summer Pro League Exhibitions (most notably the Drew League and Seattle Pro-Am), and the piece included a brief, yet telling, appearance from Brown:

Nowadays, audiences in the Bay Area often find themselves as awe-struck by the show-stopping shooting skills of a bona fide superstar like Stephen Curry as they are by the spectacular scoring exploits of a relative NBA unknown like Los Angeles Lakers sophomore-to-be Jabari Brown.

“It’s a big misconception [about the talent level in the NBA],” Brown, an Oakland native, told Bleacher Report. “A lot of people you’ll just hear like, ‘Oh, so-and-so’s not getting it done.’ I’ll be like, ‘Man, a lot of these people can ball. Just because their 2K rating isn’t 85 or something, the guys that you sleep on, they’re the guys that’ll give you 25 on that night’ and you’ll be like, ‘What happened?’ You know what I’m saying? Everybody in this league is capable.”

It’s a reminder that just about every player who fills one of the NBA’s 450 roster spots each year, even the ones who rarely suit up, were the best on their high school squads and were among the finest prospects at the collegiate level—assuming they didn’t skip that step entirely.

Brown fits that description to a T…

As someone who is a frequent visitor of So-Cal’s own Drew League, I can attest that watching NBA players perform on a lesser stage — in front of spirited communities, traditionally at a high school gym or local court — externalizes a more humanistic nature to the oft-glorified athletes. The atmosphere of such events can be indescribable, however Martin does a wonderful job capturing the scene in what is a very worthwhile read.

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Once you get past the draft, free agency, and summer league, the NBA summer becomes, well…barren. We get caught up discussing what the addition of a player in the 15th or 16th roster spot might mean, wondering what might happen with an undrafted free agent big man, or discussing how interesting the season might end up being. There’s value in these conversations, for sure, but on the larger scale of what happens in-season, these musings are just not as important.

This leads me to ESPN’s Summer Forecast. This is the exercise where ESPN crowd sources many (and I do mean many) of their various basketball experts and analysts on what record each NBA team will finish the season with. (Full disclosure: I am one of the people who was asked to participate. I did not this year, but have in the past.)

The exercise, while seemingly random, works under the theory of “The Wisdom of Crowds” where, in this case, the opinions of the many — especially when informed — can be aggregated to produce very accurate predictions on any given topic. And I do mean accurate. In seasons past, ESPN’s panels have out performed Las Vegas’ sportsbooks on win totals for each team. In other words, they have consistently beaten the people who rake in cash from the betting public.

So, here we are. ESPN’s basketball experts have predicted a record for the Lakers for this upcoming season. The results? A 26 win season, good for 14th out of 15 in the conference. Further, when taking this against the entire league, the Lakers would have the 4th worst record. Not good. Not good at all.

Does this doom the Lakers? Of course not. It’s the middle of August and the regular season will not start for another nine weeks (welp). Claiming anything about the upcoming season as concrete — especially something as fluid as wins and losses — this early would not be wise. There are always, always variables which could change the fortune of any team and, by domino effect, change the direction of other teams as well.

But, the forecast results do speak to a general sense of how the team is viewed. With a slew of young players, an aged (and oft-injured) Kobe, and a coach who is not held in the highest of regards, it’s not a surprise the projection is as low as it is. Whether the team can defy the projections and “shock the world” remains to be seen, but it will surely be something fans and, more than likely, the players themselves will speak on.

It’s not like there’s a bunch else to talk about. It is August, after all.

2015-16 features a brand new core, a departing hero and a coach potentially on his last chance. Sure, there are no realistic championship aspirations, but here’s a crazy thought: The upcoming campaign might be the most interesting Lakers season before actual games are played in almost a decade.

We all remember that crazy summer of 2007, which featured trade demands from Kobe Bryant, his general disdain towards Andrew Bynum and whether or not ownership would cave to such demands. Could you imagine if we had Twitter back then? #Pluto would be trending worldwide for reasons beyond whether or not it’s a planet. Considering how the season turned out, it’ll absolutely go down as one of the most memorable in Lakers’ history. The franchise somehow went from utter chaos to title contention in a matter of months.

Had they managed to win the title after all that, Disney would’ve made a movie about it.

Yes, fans have enjoyed a couple titles and a potential super-team since then, but this roster offers more intrigue heading into the season, and here’s why.

Championships are obviously fun. They are, after all, the entire point of athletic competition. That said, the narrative in such seasons is fairly straightforward, and can easily grow tiring. Each loss hurts more than wins feel good. Those Lakers rosters, identified early on as title favorites, rarely led to “fun” regular seasons as we parsed effort and execution and whether the lack of either might doom the team’s chances. It was all an overcooked appetizer to the most stressful meal one can try to enjoy – the actual NBA playoffs.

I can’t try to numerate how many fans have said something along the lines of “I just can’t endure another season like the last two” or “please, just don’t let the team suck.” If this is indeed the baseline by which success will be defined, fan expectations should be fairly easily appeased. Knowing that before the season takes place should be a healthy source of excitement in and of itself.

The Lakers’ personnel lends itself to interest here as much as general expectations.

Any conversation about intrigue in the makeup of this team probably has to start with the fact this will probably be Kobe’s final season. Every minor moment we get to enjoy will be bittersweet. Might this be his final home opener? Any game-winning shot might be our last throwback to one of the greatest clutch players in league history. Road trips will undoubtedly feature heartfelt moments between him, the crowd and his opponents. And that final game? Don’t even get me started. Such a season is incredibly rare, and what all this might bring about will generate a wealth of legitimately great moments.

The flipside to those great moments is… Well, you know. And I dare not even mention it.

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The Lakers have been active on the undrafted free agent market in recent days, signing Jonathan Holmes to a 2-year contract on Thursday and agreeing to a 2-year contract with Michael Frazier on Sunday. With this activity, a persisting question is when the Lakers would follow through on signing Robert Upshaw to the contract they reportedly agreed to after the team’s first summer league game.

Well, it looks like we have an answer and it’s not exactly the one I’m guessing a lot of fans were hoping for:

As Pincus notes, Upshaw remains a possibility and I wouldn’t be surprised if he still gets an invite to camp on a “make good” contract. Whether that contract would have any guarantees — even small ones like those which appeared in Holmes’ and Frazier’s contracts — is unknown.

Especially since, I’d imagine, the team is greatly balancing his history of off-court issues with the promise he exhibits on the floor. Unlike other UDFA’s the team might deal with this summer, Upshaw has both a higher probability of becoming a sunk cost just as he has a higher ceiling and potential to become a long term piece.

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