Archives For Los Angeles Lakers

“I don’t see why we don’t contend for a playoff spot,” he said. “But our young players have to grow beyond their years and we have to stay healthy.”

From: GM Mitch Kupchak sees playoff potential in Lakers after offseason pickups

Before I focused solely on writing about the NBA, I worked in public relations. One of – if not the – top priorities was to temper clients’ expectations, which is exactly why I was slightly taken aback when Mitch Kupchak made his comments on the Lakers’ playoff hopes. Why go there?

When the Lakers’ summer league team went to Las Vegas, the talent on the team and these undo expectations informed what many thought would be a nice showing. The end result, however, was a summer league that, in many ways, played out like a microcosm of what we’ll probably see this season.

I was there for those first few games. The atmosphere in each of them was incredible, though I’m not sure it was worth the effect losing in front of those record-breaking crowds had on the players, many of whom not even old enough to partake in Las Vegas’ more notorious activities.

Here’s D’Angelo Russell after last night’s game, via NBCLA’s Shahan Ahmed:

A group of kids shouldn’t bear this kind of pressure for a group of exhibition games with only a handful of practices together under their belts, yet, throughout social media, there were the #SummerLeagueChamps slogans weighing on every turnover, every missed shot.

Let’s compare this week’s activities to how this season will probably go.

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The Lakers finished their weekend as many who travel to Las Vegas typically do: quietly. They lost to the new York Knicks and aside from a few bursts, were never particularly close. Winning or losing in the summer league isn’t a huge issue, the more important outcome is progress, and it’s kinda hard to find progress in a game where the Lakers scored five points in the first quarter.

Russell took a minor step back in this game, still looking tentative in attacking quickly. It’s fairly obvious he’s till getting used to creases in the defense closing as quickly as they do at this level. Mark Madsen opted for Jabari Brown instead of Russell down the stretch of a single-digit game.

Read that sentence again. That’s not ideal.

The rotation on the whole was confusing. Part of that might have to do with getting a rotation player back, so figuring out how to dole those minutes out can take some adjusting by the coaches. One would think it’s at least fairly simple, though. Dwight Buycks’ minutes should go to Jabari Brown. We’ll see how that plays out as the team gets into the tournament format.

Brown did play pretty well. He hit the open threes he’ll need to if he wants consistent minutes. It would be nice to see him improve his decision making in transition. He tends to put his head down and charge forward, versus keeping his head up to find a teammate with a better chance at scoring than he has jumping into defenders.

One thing stood out more than anything else: When the Lakers play with pace, they looked like a much better team. Madsen and Byron Scott’s Princeton sets move at a glacial pace, so when the play doesn’t work out, guys are forced to run isolations, which rarely went well. Tarik Black’s inability to find outlet guards severely slows the team down, so he and the rest of the Lakers’ bigs will have to work on getting the pass out more quickly moving forward.

Julius Randle again struggled to finish at the basket today. It’s great to see him get to the spots he wants to attack from, but the finishing has been an issue all weekend. We could chalk it up to rust, which is completely fair, but if the issue continues, running isolation sets for him won’t make much sense. As the game went on, it become clear defenders were comfortable giving Randle space, so at some point, Randle will probably need to add some kind of midrange jumper to keep defenses honest.

Stat of the Day: Jabari Brown and Louis Labeyrie combined for one of the most random NBA feuds of all time. On a day where Peja Stojakovic was walking around the arena, it was pretty hilarious to find Labeyrie draw the ire of Lakers fans.

Final Score: Lakers: 68, Sixers: 60

I guess we could call this one a defensive struggle. Both the Lakers and Sixers looked like two teams who met just outside the gym before the game. The end result: Some of the ugliest basketball you’d continue watching.

There were bright spots, though. For one, D’Angelo Russell looked a lot more comfortable for longer stretches of the game. As I said yesterday, rhythm should continue to improve as the players he runs pick-and-roll sets with are come accustomed to the spots he prefers on the court. A minor criticism is his tendency to dribble himself into awkward situations. He’ll need to adjust to the smaller attack spaces as he competes more against NBA athleticism.

Jordan Clarkson continued his stellar play, again distancing himself as the best player on the court. Something I’ve noticed these last couple days: At least at this level: Clarkson in transition is good for at least a couple free throws. Usually, though, he finds a way to finish. If the Lakers do play with pace this season, Clarkson will spearhead much of that style of play.

Larry Nance’s third quarter is easily the best he’s looked all weekend. For much of that period, he was contesting everything at the rim and wreaking havoc with any kind of loose ball. If he hopes to earn a rotation spot, he’ll have to do so with all the “little things.” At one ppoint during that quarter, Nance earned “La-rry, La-rry, La-rry” chants. We can add that o the list of things I did not expect to hear in Las Vegas.

Heading into the game, I wanted to pay closer attention to Robert Upshaw. He signed a two-year deal with the Lakers last night and would be matched up against Jahlil Okafor – easily the best offensive post presence in Vegas. Okafor definitely got his, though Upshaw’s length appeared to bother Okafor, especially compared to Tarik Black, who, again racked up five fouls in the first half. Okafor definitely impressed, tallying 19 points and 11 rebounds.

The Lakers won the game, as they found ways to score down the stretch as the Sixers’ one-dimensional offense sputtered in the final minutes. The fans were out in droves again Saturday, at one point cheering “We want La-kers” repeatedly as the game before the one they were there to see apparently was taking too long to end. Gotta love Lakers fans.

Stat of the day: At one point, Clarkson and Russell combined for 23 of the Lakers 33 points.

Final Score: Lakers 68, Timberwolves 81

And so went the most-hyped summer league game in recent  memory.

The anticipation beforehand was palpable, and why wouldn’t it be? A summer league game feature at least two fifths of each team’s potential starting five and had the top two picks facing off against each other for the first time ever.

Add to that the intrigue that comes with Julius Randle’s return to the court and you had a standing-room-only atmosphere. UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center had to pull back the curtains of the upper deck to fit fans who couldn’t find a seat in the lower bowl.

To those who wondered if the Lakers “brand” could handle two years of tanking, there’s your answer, at least for now.

The game started on a high note, as the names those fans came to see lived up to the price of admission.

For the cast majority of the game, Jordan Clarkson was the best player on the court for the Lakers. His counterpart, fellow second-year point guard Zach LaVine was similarly impressive. They finished with 23 and 24 points respectively.

D’Angelo Russell started well, faded a bit and recovered well enough to finish with a stat line of 8 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. It’s hard to expect much rhythm in the first live action with the Lakers’ pick-and-rolls, and the lack thereof showed for large portions of the game (Russell tallied 5 turnovers). Watch for that to improve as various combinations running those sets grow more accustomed to each other.

Randle probably looked the most rusty of the Lakers’ “big three.” His shot looked short, as if he was aiming the ball to the basket versus releasing the shot confidently. Once he gained some kind of rhythm, though, he showcased the strength the coaching staff and his teammates have been raving about. He only played 20 minutes and will skip tomorrow’s game. He said after the game he doesn’t like it, but that he understands why the team is being cautious.

The Lakers wound up losing the game, as their offense struggled to produce down the stretch. A loss today is obviously inauspicious, given the excitement leading into the event, but there was plenty positive to take away.

All in all, the game went about as expected. Rookies Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns showed flashes, but the best players on the court were the ones who’d been there before. The Lakers will face Jahlil Okafor and the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday.

Stat of the day: Tarik Black finished with 10 fouls – he narrowly missed a triple double, notching 9 points and 13 rebounds. Welcome to summer league.

As I write this article, I’m operating under the view the Roy Hibbert trade will take place later today. Given the DeAndre Jordan fiasco yesterday, it’s important to present this caveat, as all deals mentioned in this article are no more than verbal agreements at this time.

We live in a world where Steve Nash’s trophy case has as many MVP awards as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant combined. Don’t get me wrong, Nash is a surefire Hall of Famer, but no GM in their right mind would choose to start their franchise with him over Kobe, let alone Shaq. Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson, who share 16 NBA Championships between them only combine for four NBA Coach of the Year awards. The reason for those apparent injustices: expectations.

We expect the seven-foot- tall behemoth, gifted beyond measure athletically, to dominate the sport. Same goes for the geniuses who have figured out the game of basketball to depths few can only imagine. The scrawny white guy who overachieves gets extra points because we can’t quite understand how he’s so good. Those coaches who drag mediocre teams to the playoffs are honored because we don’t know how they do it. In this case, it’s beneficial to be dealt the tougher hand. None of that has anything to do with how deserving the actual winner might be, only the circumstance under which the award was given.

But sure, Nash and Allen Iverson were obviously more valuable than the most dominating presence the NBA has ever seen.

Our perception of everything is skewed by expectations. We think of movies differently given what we hear about them from friends. Have you ever said something along the lines of “no, don’t tell me how good it was” to someone who just saw a movie you’re interested in? You’re managing expectations.

The same applies to the offseason facelift the Lakers just underwent. We gauge success on a curve based not only on the franchise’s history, but on tidbits we see heading into free agency. Think of it this way: Would fans have been more or less impressed with the Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass acquisitions had we not heard the Lakers had meetings with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan?

They’d be more impressed, right? That’s not even debatable.

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Anthony Irwin is a lifelong Lakers and, by extension, NBA fan. The league is in a great place and he joins Forum Blue & Gold as the Lakers seem to be turning things around. In his inaugural post here at FB&G, he looks at the team’s young core and the pressure they face to be impact players right away. You can follow Anthony on twitter @AnthonyIrwinNBA.

Think back on NBA history. Try to remember rookies who stepped in and immediately altered their franchise’s outlook.

Prospects who had early success like James Worthy, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant joined at least borderline title teams. Tim Duncan may have to a certain extent, though he did so mostly because of some pretty ridiculous luck. Some might mention Michael Jordan, though he didn’t reach the second round of the playoffs until his fourth year, enduring two sweeps along the way. Even LeBron James failed to make the playoffs in his first two seasons and was eliminated early in his third trip to the postseason before finally famously taking the world by storm in his fourth.

The lesson: entrusting the entire organization’s outlook to a rookie without much help from elsewhere on the roster isn’t ideal and rarely works out for either side.

Next season, the Lakers’ young core of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle look forward to something no Lakers rookie has ever gone through before: the pressure of immediately altering the course of an entire organization. Will the pressure make diamonds, or crush an exciting group of kids under it completely? The Lakers desperately hope for the former as all season, you can imagine potential free agents will be watching from afar.

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From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los AngelesDwight Howard had no idea how good he had it as he left Staples Center late Saturday night. “Day off tomorrow!” he said happily as he left the arena. After a long week of practice, three exhibition games, plus travel to Fresno and Ontario, it wasn’t surprising the Lakers would take Sunday off before starting a week in which they’ll practice every day, play three more exhibition games and travel to Anaheim and Las Vegas. It wasn’t surprising unless of course you spent any time around the team during Mike Brown’s first season as head coach. During the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, the Lakers worked 19 straight days from the time training camp started on December 9, finally taking a day off on December 28 after opening the regular season with back-to-back-to-back games. Things didn’t get much easier from there, as Brown earned the nickname “All day, every day” from his players, many of whom chafed at the coach’s hard-driving style.

From Mark Medina, LA TimesOne key Lakers veteran has high expectations for something that hardly warranted praise in recent seasons. “I feel we can be one of the most dangerous benches in the league,” said Antawn Jamison. Despite the “Bench Mob” and “Killer Bees” nicknames in recent seasons, few would describe that unit in Jamison’s terms. Last season, the Lakers finished last in points (20.5), 28th in efficiency (27.2), 20th in shooting percentage (41.7%) and 28th in point differential (9.4). Coach Mike Brown played musical chairs in the bench rotation in hopes he’d find a sudden surprise. Even with Lamar Odom falling off the deep end in Dallas, his absence created an irreplaceable void as the team’s bench leader. The Lakers have made changes this off-season to address those problems. They added dependable secondary scoring (Jamison) and outside shooting (Jodie Meeks). They kept young talent (Devin Ebanks) and sudden surprises (Jordan Hill).

From Trevor Wong, Lakers.comA year ago, Metta World Peace conceded he was out of shape. His shot was off, he seemed to be a step slow defensively and his entire game was affected. “The lockout hurt me a lot, because last season going into the playoffs I had a nerve issue in my back,” he explained during his exit interview in May. “Once the lockout happened I wasn’t able to address it so all I could do was rest. It took me 2-3 months to get in shape.” During the first half of last season, World Peace shot only 33.5 percent from the field and 23.9 percent from the 3-point line, while averaging just 4.9 points.

From Brian Kamenetzky, ESPN Los AngelesKobe knows exactly how he prioritizes that sort of thing relative to winning. Over the course of now 17 seasons in L.A., the demands on Kobe as a leader have changed. Earlier in his career, Bryant’s role wasn’t as expansive. He didn’t so much lead (not in the way we traditionally think of the word, at least) as get out front in a very competitive environment and drag guys with him through will, stubbornness, and on-floor talent. In time, though, as more has been required Bryant has adjusted. He’s softened the edges, grown less insular, and learned you can’t be that guy all the time and expect people to follow. There is greater depth to his leadership, and never does he demand levels of hard work he’s himself unwilling to meet.

From Marc Stein, ESPN.comImportant update to our weekend report regarding the prospect of a return to the Los Angeles Lakers for veteran guard Derek Fisher. Sources briefed on the discussions told ESPN.com on Monday that Fisher has, indeed, been verified by the league office as eligible to re-sign with the Lakers since July 1, which runs counter to the widely held assumption that Fisher had to wait at least one year from the date that the Lakers dealt him to Houston in March before a reunion with Kobe Bryant would be permissible.

From Mike Trudell, Lakers.comLakers reserve forward Earl Clark strained his left groin and is out indefinitely. Clark, acquired in the Dwight Howard trade with Orlando, has played solid defense in training camp but is not expected to be in the regular bench rotation. In the regular season, the Lakers will most likely have Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol play center for the second unit, with Jordan Hill and Antawn Jamison getting the power forward minutes.

-Ryan Cole

Box Score: Lakers 96, Mavs 91
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 110.3, Mavs 104.6
True Shooting %: Lakers 58.0%, Mavs 48.7%

We knew that the Lakers had a bit of a tough mini-road trip ahead before the All-Star break. The Mavs have been pretty hot. They won 7 of their last 8 going into this game.

THE GOOD
Hey there, Pau Gasol. Way to respond to trade rumors with this performance. Pau Gasol showed pretty much the whole repertoire today from the jumpers to the left-handed hooks to lay-ups to tiptoe dunks. 24 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. And he did a pretty decent job guarding Dirk Nowitzki, too.

Andrew Bynum looked pretty motivated earlier tonight, too. 19 points and 14 boards for the All-Star starting center. And his passing looked much improved today. Too bad, he didn’t get as many touches and shots as I would like.

Derek Fisher had a season-high 15 points in this game (topping his season-high of 13 which also came against Dallas). He shot 6 for 8 (2 for 3 behind the arc) earlier tonight. We all wish he could do this more often (only his sixth time getting double digits this season).

I like how the defense hunkered down on the Mavericks (the Mavs shot 40 percent). The Mavs were forced to shoot more three-pointers than they liked and it paid off for the Lakers (Mavs only shot 8 for 32, 25 percent!). There was also a huge stretch in the fourth quarter where the Mavericks didn’t score a point for nearly four minutes. The Lakers capitalized by going on a 9-0 run, which essentially put away the game.

The bench wasn’t exactly great today… but Matt Barnes nearly put up a double double (9 points, 9 boards). His hustle definitely helped out L.A. Especially late in the game after a missed freethrow (MORE ON MISSED FREETHROWS LATER).

THE BAD
Kobe Bryant didn’t let the game come to him. He stalled the offense in the 3rd while he tried to get his points. He also, for whatever reason, couldn’t handle the basketball and made some questionable decision-making. Kobe just didn’t look Kobe. He finished with 15 points (4 for 15 shooting) and 7 turnovers. But he did come up big at the end which I’ll bring up in a bit.

While I did like that the Lakers packed it in the paint, they still have to do a better job closing out on the perimeter. Yes, the Mavericks didn’t shoot very well behind the arc and we get that the 3-point shot is a low-percentage shot. But you still gotta come out and rotate. The Lakers were lucky that the Mavs didn’t make more treys. They lost a 14-point lead in the 2nd quarter partly because of back-to-back open 3s Dallas made.

And while we’re at it, the Lakers have to do a better job boxing out guys like Brendan Haywood and Shawn Marion. They were mostly responsible for 21 offensive boards for their team. The Lakers closed the gap with 17 of their own but they still gotta keep the other team in check when it comes to that.

The Lakers also had 17 turnovers. But again, Kobe did have the majority of them (he had 7 as mentioned).

Oh, and don’t let Vince Carter think it’s 2000 all over again. He had 18 points in the first half alone. Good thing that Metta World Peace did a decent job at him in the second half when he was out there (Barnes got the crunchtime minutes). Vince only scored 2 points in the final two quarters.

Shoutout to the refs who didn’t call a flagrant foul on Brendan Haywood. He clearly smashed Pau Gasol in the face late in the game.

THE UGLY
Well… we already know if you watched the game. Freethrows. 18 for 31 overall. That was because they shot 8 for 17 in the 4th. They missed six freethrows in a row with less than a minute to go. That would drive anyone nuts. The game would’ve been over earlier had they made, at least, two of those.

I sure hope Kobe is shooting foul shots (5 for 9) at the American Airlines Center right now. And I hope he took Pau (2 for 6) with him.

THE PLAY OF THE GAME
Kobe to Andrew Bynum for the alley-oop dunk with 1:05 left in the game. That put the Lakers up seven (that should’ve put away the game… but ya know… freethrows) which made it a higher mountain for the Mavericks to climb. The play before that was pretty good, too, where Kobe passed it to Pau for a lay-up. Oh, Kobe. Two passes in a critical juncture after you tried to get your points? You’re such a troll. Anyway, the Lakers are now 2-0 against Dallas this season. It’s not the playoffs, sure, but I’m sure the Lakers and us fans can take a little satisfaction out of this.

The Lakers have now won 5 out of 6. They look more comfortable and settled in their roles. And even though the ending was a little bizarre, this is a BIG ROAD WIN by the Lakers. Yes, the Lakers laid an egg against the Suns at Phoenix but I’m going to look at that as an aberration compared to how they’ve been playing as of late.

No rest for the weary. The Lakers go to Oklahoma City tomorrow night for another big game. Both teams are going to be at the tail end of a back-to-back (the Thunder beat the Celtics earlier) so they’re both going to be pretty fatigued (although, yes, Oklahoma City has younger players). If the Lakers win against the Thunder, maybe the whole league should take notice of Kobe and the boys once again, eh?

Don’t stop believin’!