During a game between the Lakers and Thunder this past season Kevin Durant had a brief in-game exchange with former Lakers’ head coach Byron Scott. Durant said to Scott that the Lakers were a lot better than they had been earlier during the year and Scott responded that his young guys were “starting to get it”.

It was a nice exchange and acknowledgement from Durant that the Lakers had made some progress — especially the young players. It really shouldn’t have been taken as anything more than that, but, well, we all know that’s not how these things work.

Fast-forward to this summer. The Lakers were interested in meeting with Durant in free agency. Durant did not reciprocate that interest, shunning the Lakers entirely and never granting them a sit-down. This was big news. Well, it leas it was treated as big news. In reality, it shouldn’t have been.

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I know the caveat. It’s only summer league. I’ve been saying it myself since before the games started and continued echoing the point through every performance by every player. Here’s the thing, though. While it’s easy to dismiss any strong (or poor) performance with that mantra, evaluations from the summer aren’t completely useless.

Summer will never tell us the entire story, but if you watch intently enough, it can give you hints as to what is possible for a player. Especially when what you see isn’t so much based on athleticism or eye popping numbers, but innate skills or traits which will carry forward regardless of the competition level.

This brings us to Lakers’ 2nd round pick Ivica Zubac. The Bosnian by way of Croatia had a really strong showing in Vegas and looks as though he might end up being a steal of the draft. His all-around play showed glimpses of high level two-way play and hinted that he might be more ready than assumed for a 19 year old Euro big man who missed most of last season dealing with injury and contract issues.

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Heading into Friday night’s summer league finale, Brandon Ingram had done lots of things well but not had a singular strong performance. His best game in the four previous contests to that point was the Lakers’ Vegas opener where he scored efficiently and played a nice all-around game. But even that game was just sort of a let-the-game-come-to-me sort of performance rather than one where he actively tried to take control.

That approach changed on Friday against the Jazz and, boy, was it fun to watch. Ingram finished the night 22 points on 13 shots, grabbed 5 rebounds, and dished 4 assists. Down the stretch he made key plays, but more than that showed a certain assertiveness throughout that was great to see. Just watch the highlights:

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After a game which saw a loss on the scoreboard and in Larry Nance, Jr. with a supposed broken hand (more on that in a minute), the Lakers are worse for their wear and back in action tonight in Las Vegas. After that game fans were all sorts of upset — at Nance’s injury, at the coaching staff for not playing the starting 5 down the stretch, and at the players (specifically D’Angelo Russell) for poor play in the 2nd half which cost the team the lead and then the game.

I get the frustration. At least partially. Winning games, as the team had in Vegas up to that point, generates investment and buy-in. Fans want to watch and, when they do, want to be rewarded. Seeing the team lose in the fashion they did is upsetting and inspires venting. I get it. I really do.

On the other hand. This is summer league. While the I understand the hypocrisy in trying to claim the good performances and wins matter but the losses don’t, I think it’s fair to say that what really matters is overall team progress and how it measures against tangible steps backwards. While the 2nd half of Thursday’s game wasn’t pretty, the progress from the first 3 games outpaces the steps back from that lone contest.

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Wait. What’s this? Injury news that is not as bad as originally expected? I…I don’t know what to do with this information. I’ll let the Lakers’ share the good news since I am totally out of sorts:

It was originally feared that Nance broke a bone in his right hand/wrist. Initial projections had him out 4-6 weeks, and maybe up to 8 depending on if surgery would be needed. Now, none of that. Again, I almost do not know what to do with this information. I am, truly, excited at this development.

Finally the Lakers get some good injury news. Tonight’s game just got a lot less heavy.

In case you hadn’t heard, Kobe Bryant retired at the end of this past season. He culminated a 20 year career with as Kobe a performance as possible, pouring in 60 points while everyone pretty much marveled at what he was able to accomplish.

Looking all the way back to when it all started, maybe it wasn’t clear Kobe would end up being the player he became, but there were certainly flashes. Jerry West saw it in pre-draft workouts and did everything he could to acquire him on draft night.

Then, in the summer of 1996, Kobe showed summer league spectators a glimpse of what was to come. In (grainy video) footage I’d never seen until today, here is a 17 year old Kobe playing at the Pyramid in Long Beach in a Lakers’ summer league game against the Suns. Even then, he looked like something special.

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This was a tale of two-halves game. The Lakers controlled the first half, defending well, pushing the pace for easy baskets, and taking care of the ball. The went into the break with a double digit lead and it looked like their formula for winning was going right as planned. In the 2nd half, though, they let their foot off the gas. They stopped defending consistently, stopped moving the ball, and played with little purpose offensively.

As if losing the game wasn’t bad enough, to make matters worse, they also lost Larry Nance Jr. to injury. Late in the 4th quarter with the game just getting out of reach, Nance elevated for one of his high-flying finishes only for a Cav to step in and take a charge. Nance lost his balance in mid-air and crashed down to the floor, bracing his fall with his right hand.

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You’ll have to pardon the condensed preview today…

The summer league playoffs started on Wednesday and the Lakers, as the 3-seed, got a 1st round bye. Their opponent Thursday night will be the Cavs who beat the Celtics for the right to move on. So, randomly enough, the Lakers will face the summer squads of the NBA Finals teams in back to back games.

In any event, we’re now at the point where I’m not just interested in how individual players perform or the general performance of the team within the context of the schemes, but whether or not the Lakers actually win. I’m all for team building and the confidence of the young guys growing and, at this point, a nice little run in these playoffs would help in this area — even if only slightly.

With that, a win would be nice. Per the previous games, there is a formula for how the Lakers win in this environment. It’s really a 3 step process:

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