After splitting a pair of games this week, the Lakers are just 2.5 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the Pacific Division. This is great news considering the Lakers have been playing without Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
That’s about to change, though, as Kobe announced that he will be in the starting lineup Sunday night when the Lakers play host to the Raptors.
What a fitting opponent to return against, too. The Mamba has shredded the Raptors throughout his career. In 29 career games against Toronto, Bryant is averaging 28.3 points per game (second-most against any team).
He’s also provided impressive heroics against the team from up north. We all know about the 81 point explosion back in 2006. However, Kobe has also hit a trio of game winners (2010, 2012, and 2013) against the Raptors.
There are many questions surrounding Kobe’s return. How long will Mike D’Antoni play him early on? How effective will he be? How healthy is he? All of these questions will be answered this week. That said, even if Kobe is 80 percent of what he once was, he’s going to be a major boost to the Lakers.
The Lakers dynamic will surely change with Bryant in the lineup. In last night’s win over Sacramento, six different players scored double figures. With Kobe in the lineup, we may not see that again. Hopefully, it’s not going to be the Kobe show where he shoots 30 times per game.
From what we’ve seen early on, the Lakers have a lot of players who can produce. Xavier Henry, Jordan Hill, Jordan Farmar (when he’s healthy), Pau Gasol, Shawne Williams, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Steve Blake, and Jodie Meeks have all had shining moments during this season.
In fact, the Lakers have had nine different leading scorers in their 19 games this season. No Laker to this point has cracked the 30 point mark this season. Such a notion would be unheard of had Kobe been healthy.
Kobe could easily become the leading scorer every night for the Lakers, but there’s no doubt that he’s excited about the fact about having great help on his team. Kobe is always most effective when he’s a facilitator. When he takes a lot of shots, it’s usually a sign that no one is helping him and he has to take over the game on his own. This year’s squad has a plethora of players that can make shots. Kobe doesn’t have to take over games anymore.
The Kobe-less Lakers were pretty much asked to just stay afloat at .500 until their star returned. Going into Sunday, they’re one game above .500 and they’ve won six of their last eight games. In fact, they’re a game better than they were last year at this point and that was with Dwight and Kobe.
They showed great heart against the West’s best Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night, coming back down from two double-digit deficits only to run out of gas late in the fourth quarter of that game.
Then, last night the Lakers were down by as many as 10 points in the 3rd quarter. It didn’t matter. They roared back to outscore the Kings 25-13 on the road to win by six points thanks to a three-point barrage by Jodie Meeks.
Last year’s Lakers were entitled and flaky for many. This year’s team has shown resilience, heart, and has dealt with adversity in ways no one imagined.
Take Robert Sacre for instance. He was drafted 60th overall in 2012. People can badmouth the Lakers draft day decisions all they want, but Sacre has been a great pick. He has battled hard and he was rewarded with his first start of the season on Friday night. He had three starts last year, but that was because the team was riddled with injuries. He earned last night’s start.
In limited action, Sacre is averaging over a block per game and is shooting over 54 percent from the field. This week, in two games he averaged 11.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, and shot 66.7 percent. Plus, for the season, when Sacre has been on the floor the Lakers’ efficiency marks have been outstanding. They have boasted an offensive efficiency of 121.2 and a defensive efficiency 95.4 during his minutes. This is a small sample, but it certainly contributed to why he has seen an uptick in minutes lately.
His hard work, though, is a microcosm of the entire Lakers team. Most of these guys are fighting for contracts. Many of them play for the league minimum and are working feverishly to get a fat paycheck over the summer. It’s moral hazard at its best.
And now Kobe makes his long awaited return. The Lakers play four games this week. After their tilt at home with the Raptors on Sunday, they’ll play host to the Suns on Tuesday before heading out to Oklahoma City and Charlotte to finish off the week.
Nice write up. Win kr lose, Lakers are a pleasure to watch again. Love their heart. Hope they make the playoffs; think they will.
Warren Wee Lim says
Please pardon me if the comments I am about to make is going to hi-jack the thread in some capacity.
The Lakers are a rag-tag team. We come out the way we do because teams cannot prepare for us. This I believe is one of our assets – the element of surprise. What is not mentioned here too is our resiliency. We are just like the dandruff that won’t go away. We keep inching and itching till we succeed.
I had predicted 50 wins and it seems like my ego is being stroked by being 10-9. No sirs. 50 wins is my belief and I could not care less if we were 5-14 at this point. You could all be right and I be wrong and it wouldn’t matter. Except at this point I am more right than those that predicted the gloom and doom. At this rate, winning 50 is possible and it gravitates to me being right. Again, not the point.
Transition year is when you self-assess and accept the fact that the same Kobe from last season could come back but we would not be a contender. This regardless of my prediction, that doesn’t really matter to start with. What I am concerned however, is getting to that point sooner rather than later. And thus I believe that the Lakers are primed to make a move ‘for the future’ that might alter our current curve of possible 50, but will dramatically increase the odds of contending as early as next year.
Just for argument purposes, we CAN win 50 and still be in transition. I don’t see the conflict in that statement or belief.
ISTM that the team’s commitment to Kobe means that they should prioritize keeping Johnson and Farmar, among all these guys. If you are going to commit to KB, then you need a young wing who is low-usage and can D up some. And, if you are going to spend 24M a year on your shooting guard, then you can’t drop big $ on a PG, and Farmar is likely to be fairly cheap.
Both Farmar and Johnson will be 27 when next season starts.
I also tend to think that Jordan Hill will not be a Laker next year.
WWL: “we CAN win 50 and still be in transition” Absolutely we can do this. In fact we already did it in 2011. Now that was a transition. Winning 50 requires us being 18 games over 500, and we are currently 1 game over, roughly 1/4 way through the season. I am not sure we are on pace. I will however add 50 games to my MD keeps his job, with my blessing list. So 6th, 2nd round, or 50 games and I am on board. However 13th, or 39 wins and Jim must sell the team.
rr: “I also tend to think that Jordan Hill will not be a Laker next year.” Well – on a humorous note. Aside from Kobe, does anyone have greater than a 50% chance of being on next year’s roster? I am thinking no – and that includes two guys under contract : )
Jim is a owner not a majority owner. What else is he going to do? Train horses? That’s not happening. Better idea would be to announce a new guy to run franchise. Someone about 6″10″ with a bad back and hip comes to mind.
Well, I think Farmar does. I think that he and his agent looked at Nash’s age, Blake’s age, the PGs in FA, and thought that coming here now would put JF in position to play his prime as the Lakers’ starting PG, and I think it is shaping up that way.
But Henry, Meeks, Young, Johnson, Blake, and Hill could all be Earl Clark scenarios. It is likely that 2 or 3 of them stick around, but yeah, it is 50/50 on any one of them.
Edit: Sacre will probably be on the team next year.
Someone about 6?10? with a bad back and hip comes to mind.
Not seeing Dwight Howard as a good candidate to run the Lakers. But maybe you mean Jordan Hill or Amare Stoudemire. Ha.
Farmar will never start under D’Antoni until he legally changes his first name to Steve.
Warren Wee Lim says
I think its imperative that we keep Farmar, Johnson and consider the rest tradeable assets. Kobe’s age and possible loss in ahtleticism is where we’re gonna miss players who can defend not because they like to but because they can. Nash obviously can’t anymore and must be used selectively, or medically retire altogether.
This is then how I would assess the team:
Jordan Hill – very good in spot minutes; pretty average as full-time starter as a PF; Better as small-ball C so his rebounding dominance is showcased; Fragile in health, oft-injured; Wants to get paid, probably will.
Steve Blake – keeping him will be great for us, at a discounted rate as it should. I would think a 3M x 2 offer would be sufficient but his offer will not be a priority. Meaning he’s the last thing you should be concerned with heading to 2014. Has played his best ball under MDA so you’d think he would consider coming back at a discount. If you lose him, oh well. Move on.
Pau Gasol – Kobe’s hermano which means trading him would require having parts and pieces that Kobe will like more; I doubt there is such but you still got to try; If valued properly, his market price is around 7 to 8 million a year, probably will get 12 next year from another team; trading him means keeping Hill, but keeping Hill also means paying him. Tough choice but if you want to get better quicker, trade him.
Jodie Meeks – the Lakers’ most-improved by far. He has had considerable growth under MDA’s training camp and we have good reason to believe he’d improve even more; athletic, smart and hustle… great range. I say keeping him is quite important but we have to try for other free agents 1st, meaning his priority is classified as important but not urgent.
Xavier Henry – his inside game and athleticism is very important. He’s 22. So he’s gonna be a gem that we would finally get to keep if we decided to. Limited offensive skill but has an expanding range which no other team has bothered to explore. He is vital to keep for Kobe to stay healthy. I say keep him around for 2 years cheap, and convince him to get a payback contract when his full bird rights are complete.
Nick Young and Robert Sacre – you’d have to think they would be sticking around with this team. Nick Young would be one of the few guys that can create his own shot, a good bad-shot maker if you will. Good GM-ing will require convincing him to opt in of his deal. I think we can get him for 1 more season at a discount.
The rest? Well, they’d need to find their fortune elsewhere. I would believe Kaman will be a tradeable piece at his current contract, his offense is useful under our system but other teams will take a flyer at him.
Remember the worse place to be in the NBA is in the middle every year..50 wins gets you nothing…
Couple of thoughts.
Anyone who thinks clips a top 4 in the West are not watching. They are a 5 or 6 and are worse then last year. Hard to rely on Chris only at end and Doc is not solution.
On other hand how does Dallas keep winning with a team no better then Lakers. Great coaching? They best Portland tonight while clips lipstick to Cava and shot under 30%.
Ken, Phil Jackson isn’t going to run this franchise.
With regard to the earlier comments from WWL and Robert re: whether 50 wins is do-able or not: I maintain that it’s a bit of a stretch. But only a bit. The math is actually very interesting.
Currently the Lakers are 10-9. That equates to a 52.6% winning percentage…without Kobe. Now, if the Lakers are over-achieving (as some have claimed), then they would not be able to sustain this level of play. I personally don’t think that this team is overachieving. I see several players who are maturing and coming into their own–Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill, Jordan Farmar, Wes Johnson, Xavier Henry, possibly even Robert Sacre–but not necessarily playing over their heads.
So…if the Lakers were to sustain this rate (without Kobe) as I think they could, they would be on track to win 43 games (52.4%), again without Kobe.
Now we must ask the question: how many extra wins can Kobe bring about (provided that he’s healthy and playing at a decent level) simply by being Kobe and playing every night for the rest of the season? If we were to say that Kobe’s presence could bring about, say, 4 additional wins that the Lakers otherwise could not achieve without him, then the Lakers would be on track to win 47 games.
My perspective, then, is this: worst case: the Lakers (barring any major, unforseen catastrophic injuries) will win 41 games; best case, 48 games. But that, of course, is just guesswork (based on the fact that they’re 10-9 overall and 6-2 in their last 8 games including, I believe, 4 in a row on the road–all good trends and all without Kobe).
That is why I see 50 wins as being a “bit of a stretch” but only a bit. So, Warren, you may not be far off. I personally see this team as winning 47 games.
But we’ll see. As they say, that’s why they play the games.
One final note: Gene, I see nothing wrong with winning 50 games. Teams can build off of that–especially if they have a core of young players as the Lakers do.
Worst place in NBA is to have a old $100 mill payroll with no drafts for 4 years. It’s called the The Brooklyn Debts.
Craig W. says
There are a number of homilies that are frequently mentioned; i.e. “the worse place to be in the NBA is in the middle every year..50 wins gets you nothing…” The real issue is what the team in the middle and winning 50 games is doing. The Clippers are an example of a losing team that got high draft picks every year and didn’t improve for like a generation. Detroit was a team that was in the middle and got a bit better each year until they got the final piece – Rasheed Wallace – and won it all. The real question is what the Front Office is doing with a middling team.
I have confidence in the Laker Front Office; others do not. Therefore, I see a foundation for future success with this team – as does Warren (see above) – while others may want to moan about how Jim Buss ought to sell the team.
Ok, those are differences of opinion, but each side can site things that back up their arguments. That – in a nutshell – is what this blog is all about; along with some good writing, game-time discussions, and Laker lore posts. The only thing that sometimes gets under my skin is when people (unfortunately I have done this myself from time to time and am trying to control it) simply assume the other side of the post doesn’t know what they are talking about.
As has been mentioned here by many posters, predictions, like bets, are made to be wrong a good deal of the time. But it sure is fun when what you predicted looks closer to being right.
Warren Wee Lim says
I wonder where we are on the Xavier Henry assessment now. I think he’s a keeper beside Farmar and Wes Johnson with room to grow on his offensive game. Loads of athleticism and just 22 yo.
2yrs and 5 million could work. He would be key to keeping Kobe’s minutes down.
“In last night’s win over Sacramento, six different players scored double figures. With Kobe in the lineup, we may not see that again. Hopefully, it’s not going to be the Kobe show where he shoots 30 times per game.”
“…the Lakers have had nine different leading scorers in their 19 games this season…Such a notion would be unheard of had Kobe been healthy.”
Andre, agree with you completely, actually have made mention of these facts a couple of times previously in this forum. With that said, I’m looking forward to seeing how the most mature version of Kobe ever seen will do his best to improve this team.
Renato Afonso says
Looking forward to tonight’s game to see how Kobe’s game will mesh with this roster…
And I agree with Warren on almost all of the above. Henry, Johnson and Farmar are definetly the ones we want to keep and are good foundation for the future. Old enough to be reliable and “know the works” and young enough to count on them for the next 4 or 5 years.
On a side note, if Pau takes a discount, he’s also a big plus for this team, as long as we provide a true PF who can rebound at a high rate and play hard defense. If the FO manages all of the above, we just need surrounding pieces and, as Craig W said, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done the previous year as long as the FO knows what to do. IT is possible to turn a 50-win team to a contender even in this restrictive CBA.
lil pau says
Good morning: KOBE DAY!
Big City (and treylake and gene): To show I practice what I preach. Let’s see what happens over the next 19 games. If the Lakers go downward and Kobe is dominating the ball, then you will certainly have the right to criticize KB (under the premise he is healthy). However if we go let’s say 10-9 or better over the next 10 games, then how many leading scorers we have and how “interesting” you find the offense – is irrelevant. The goal is to win games. And of course a secondary goal is for Kobe to shatter the entire record book : )
Craig W: Jim selling the team would be a dream – that is for sure. However, just like Ken’s comment about Phil running the team, I realize that the dream is probably not going to happen. The fact is that most (including most optimists) are projecting two more years of non-contention before we have any chance at all. That is 6 years and counting out of the finals and that is nothing short of a disaster in Laker terms. If you choose to think it is fun and interesting that is fine by me. I also find rooting for the Lakers fun and interesting. However when evaluating where we are in the overall scheme of things – I do not look at the team through Gold and Purple shades. I look at it for what it is. The highly successful Phil era ended, we had a disastrous coaching selection in the form of Mike Brown, we bungled the chance to get Phil back, and we have made a mess of our roster with the Nash and DH situations. Some of this was bad luck and others were our own doing. I was against the Brown and MD hires, I wanted Shaw and Phil, and I wanted us to desperately keep DH. 5 years from now if we have gone 9 years without reaching the Finals, you can spin the story that it was the CBA and bad luck, but the fact will remain that if that occurs – it will be the most unsuccessful stretch in Laker history (we will already be tied for 2nd after this year). It will have been a period presided over by Jim Buss. We will have had 60+ years of unfathomable success followed by a decade of dismal performance. I am not predicting that this will happen, but I am fearful it will. Today is Kobe’s day and I for one will not carry this discussion into the game thread. Craig – You and I agree on KB, but there are many on this board who do not. They are free to criticize him, and in some cases he deserves it. When I defend KB, I do so with facts and performance, which is exactly how coaches and the FO should be measured. I have given MD credit for the performance so far this year, and I have stated that I will support keeping him if we reach certain goals. What I will not do is simply have faith in him and Jim, because of titles that they were given. That faith will have to be earned and the bar will be higher than winning 47 games and sneaking into the playoffs. That said – unlike many who want high picks, I would love to see us win 47 or more and I desperately want us to get into the playoffs. Today – we will get another key indication of how likely that is going to be. Go Lakers.
Craig W. says
I have heard that the Lakers have had the 2nd worst/3rd worst schedule – with the Kings having the most difficult – in the NBA to start this year. If that is true, and if the next 19 games represent a ‘better’ schedule, then we should expect better than the 10 and 9 record we current have, after we add Kobe. I realize life doesn’t always work like that, but I thought this was a good counterpoint to my usual optimism.
Xavier Henry is definitely a keeper. He may have all star caliber talent labeled as a league cast off. 22 yrs old! MDA should continue to give Henry regular minutes after Kobe’s return.
Ot…brian Shaw is doing a great job with Denver…
Actually Gene that is on topic. Brian Shaw is a Laker. And agreed – he is doing well.
I hope Meeks continues to bring it during Kobe’s return. He made great strides through the offseason and proved me wrong about his abilities.
You know who else was a keeper last year? Earl Clark. He has a PER of 9.44 this year and he makes 4 million a year. I like Henry and he has looked good in spurts this year, but let’s not get too carried away. He’ll continue to get decent minutes until Farmar is back, at the very least.
bryan S. says
My coaching tips for the designated keepers:
Xavier: Finish with your right hand every chance you get in practice. Shoots free throws with a soft arc–see Derek Fisher. Pick Kobe’s brain, follow him around like the pup you are.
Wesley: Practice two and three step pull up jumpers endlessly. Add a quick jump hook.
Jordan F.: Master the unstoppable Tony Parker running tear drop. You already have most of the motor movements: forward body lean, quick burst and pull up–you’ll develop the touch.
With the curtain about to go up on The Last Chapter for the Mamba and the next chapter for Mike D’Antoni and Jim Buss, I wanted to make a few points about the team and about the various disagreements here.
The performance of the team so far is an object lesson in coach evaluation. Last year, MDA was in a high-expectations situation that highlighted some of his weaknesses (personality management, minutes management, media interaction, adaptability) and he made some very questionable moves and then an All-Star center in his prime left the team in part because of him. This year, he is in a low-expectations situation that highlights some of his strengths, and Dork D’Antoni has become Magic Mike. Too often, we think of coaches as good or bad, instead of as having strengths and weaknesses. MDA is a good reminder of the flaws in that approach.
But now he has to deal with Kobe’s comeback. KB and MDA seem to have a pretty good personal relationship, due to the Team USA and Italy connections, but their philosophies about the game don’t match up well at all. Kobe is a slow-down, post-up, ball-stopping ISO guy who does not shoot 3s that well. MDA likes ball movement, PG dribbling if dribbling is to be done, fast-paced 3-driven O, and has said many times that he does not like post-ups. One reason the team is doing OK is that the perimeter D is better; Kobe was a big reason it was so bad last year. So, whether one loves Kobe, hates him, or is somewhere in between, and whatever one thinks of MDA, there will be very serious challenges for both guys here.
As to the FO debate, some of the most vocal of the FO apologists have spun the MDA hire as actually being due to Jerry Buss, not Jim, and have written off MDA’s problems with Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony as being due to the pampered egos of players who overrate their own skills and subtly kill teams. Robert, OTOH, has taken these issues as strong indicators that MDA is not a “championship coach”, that he is a second-rate hack who lacks the gravitas to get buy-in from the NBA Elite and is not worthy to be head coach for this organization, given its long tradition.
I have never bought the Jerry Buss argument: Jim was officially in charge at the time, although he himself has brought his father’s shadow into the MDA hire once or twice. But for those who did buy the argument, it is no longer on the table with the passing of the old man. It was Jim Buss who decided to pass up one last-ditch effort to keep Howard by trying to bring in Jackson or maybe Shaw or maybe someone else , and then decided to make Kobe Bryant the league’s highest-paid player for his age-36 and 37 seasons, when he is coming off a brutal injury. Those moves, however they work out, are ones Buss and his backers will need to fully own.
IMO, the reality on MDA is somewhere in between. It is worth noting that D’Antoni’s best teams in PHX were led by Steve Nash, long noted and lauded for being one of the NBA’s most easygoing and unselfish stars. And as Aaron and the KBros reminded us, it is a Talent League, and working with prime talent, and the various issues that sometimes come with that, is a part of the job and one MDA may not be good at. And no one was better at that than Phil Jackson. OTOH, between the injuries, the personalities, the bad perimeter D, the bad bench, the massive shadow of Phil, and Howard’s free agency, MDA was in a very rough situation last year, and the team did, after all, pull together enough to go 28-13 the second half. MDA critics should note that as well.
Going forward, the game has changed a little for MDA. There now seems to be some idea out there that this is a playoff team after all, that adding Kobe to the gritty group of 3P bombers/hustlers may make this team a 6 or 7 seed. I do not know what will happen, but I do know that we are going to find out something about how good a coach Mike D’Antoni actually is and whether Jim Buss was right to make MDA and KB such central figures as he has.