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.”

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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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We recently touched on where the Lakers’ roster stands with a little over a month left until training camp opens, but it seems like we could have waited an additional day since the Lakers have made another addition:

Reports are that Frazier has not yet signed his deal, but per the above report, the deal has been agreed to. My guess is that Frazier will sign a similar deal to the one Jonathan Holmes just inked — a two year deal with a small guarantee — with the intention of seeing if he can make the team by flashing some skill in training camp. (UpdateEric Pincus is reporting Frazier’s deal is a two-year contract with $50K guaranteed.)

As for Frazier’s measurables and game, he’s a 6’4″ shooting guard who went undrafted after leaving the University of Florida after his Junior season. He averaged 12.4 and 12.1 points per game his last two years in college with some very good shooting splits. Kevin O’Connor of SB Nation has a very good scouting report on Frazier that is worth your time, but here is a key passage:

At 6’4, Frazier has the passing skills of a combo guard, but shooting will always be his career ticket. He shot more than 43 percent from downtown in his three-year tenure with the Gators. Mechanically, Frazier features a compact release and can either hop or step into his shot attempts depending on the situation. In addition to having strong mechanics, Frazier possesses excellent instincts. He was one of the best in the class of 2015 at moving without the ball to find soft spots in the defense.

In summer league, Frazier did not have his best showing, shooting only 26.3% from the field while missing all of his three point field goal attempts (0-11). His lack of elite size for a shooting guard and his struggles from the field in Vegas likely contributed to a team not yet inking him to a contract, but considering the small sample and his body of work at UF, the Lakers are likely betting that his potential as a shooter and ability to develop his playmaking skills further warrants a better look.

Considering the Lakers’ lack of shooting and the need to always mine and hoard that skillset in the pros, this is a gamble worth taking if you’re the Lakers. If he doesn’t pan out, all the team is out is a small sum of guaranteed cash. If he can challenge Jabari Brown, though, and show enough as a floor spacing shooter who looks like he’s able to be another combo-type of guard who can handle the ball some while also playing off other playmakers who create good looks for him, this small investment could pay off.

Time will tell if Frazier ends up being camp fodder or something bigger. But the Lakers continue to add to their roster, looking for more pieces they can potentially develop.

With about another month to go before the Lakers open training camp, now is as good a time as any to take a quick review of where the team’s roster currently stands. With the recent signing of Jonathan Holmes, the Lakers have 15 players under contract:

Guards and Wings

  • D’Angelo Russell
  • Jordan Clarkson
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Lou Williams
  • Nick Young
  • Jabari Brown
  • Anthony Brown

Power Forwards

  • Julius Randle
  • Brandon Bass
  • Ryan Kelly
  • Larry Nance Jr.
  • Jonathan Holmes

Centers

  • Roy Hibbert
  • Tarik Black
  • Robert Sacre

Of the 15 players above, Tarik Black and Jabari Brown have non-guaranteed contracts for next year while Jonathan Holmes’ deal is only partially guaranteed. Per Eric Pincus, that partial amount is $100K on his two year minimum contract*.

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The best American born players gathered in the desert as Team USA held it’s annual summer mini-camp this week in Las Vegas. From LeBron James to Kevin Durant to Steph Curry, the game’s elite showed out to practice and throw their names in the hat as potential participants in next summer’s Olympics being held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

One player who was not present, but still getting ink, was Kobe Bryant. Though Kobe has previously gone on record saying the 2012 games in London would be his last, Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo left the door open for Kobe to compete in 2016. This led to a flurry of reports openly wondering if Kobe could, in fact, find his way onto the team.

Well, those reports will only intensify now that Colangelo has gone even further with comments detailing conversations with the Lakers’ star. From ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:

“I was quoted on Kobe,” Colangelo said after USA Basketball’s intrasquad scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center. “In response to a question about him, I said it would be a great story if he did [play in Rio].

“And so, he also mentioned to me in a private conversation that if he had his druthers, he would love to ride off into the sunset playing one more time and winning the gold medal. And that would be the end. But he was very quick to say, ‘But, I don’t want a spot. I need to earn the spot. I need to be capable of playing at that level to be considered.’ And I said, ‘You got that. That’s always there for you, Kobe.'”

If Kobe cannot go out on a winning Lakers’ team, the next best thing would be for him to represent his country one last time, playing alongside the game’s elite players, and earning a gold medal in the Olympics. Kobe already has two golds (from 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London), but joining his teammates on that medal stand one more time as the national anthem played would still be an amazing accomplishment.

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