The biggest news surrounding the Lakers this weekend was the imminent departure of long-time team trainer Gary Vitti. To be clear, the news that the 2015-16 season would be Vitti’s last run with the purple and gold was reported in mid-April, but Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reinvigorated the discussion with a recent feature on the 30-year franchise mainstay. The piece chronicles Vitti’s run with the team and highlights some of the key moments during his tenure. Among the many revealing quotes, one of the more interesting bits involved how Julius Randle’s injury last season affected Vitti’s departure:
So much has happened the last few years, so little of it positive. Vitti even called it “a nightmare.” Few would disagree, the Lakers continually losing Bryant and Steve Nash to injury, along with a slew of games.
“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”
Vitti connects with his players like few other trainers in the league and since joining the Lakers in 1984, there is perhaps no player he has bonded with more over the years than Kobe Bryant. Now, as both their careers may be coming to a close, Vitti revealed that the two recently shared some thoughts on the upcoming season:
“He was asking about our young kids, and I said, ‘You cannot believe how quick and athletic Jordan Clarkson is. He looks fantastic,'” Vitti said. “I said I personally thought D’Angelo Russell is going to be a star. He makes hard things look easy when he has the ball in his hands.
“Then Kobe said to me, ‘Well, then who’s going to play [small forward]?’ I looked at him and I said, ‘You.’ And with absolute, 100% confidence, he said, ‘I can do that.'”
Can Bryant, soon to turn 37, really do it? His last three seasons were cut short by injury and he became a part-time player last season, sitting out eight of his last 16 games for “rest” before sustaining a torn rotator cuff in January. He is under contract for one more season at $25 million.
“When Nash retired, that didn’t mean he couldn’t play in an NBA game. The problem was how much time did he need to get ready for the next game.” Vitti said. “He had lots of issues that prevented him from playing an NBA schedule.
“That’s going to be the big question with Kobe, and we’re just going to have to feel it out. It’s been a while since he’s played. We just need to see.”
There’s a lot of good stuff there, but what is of most immediate interest to Lakers fans is Kobe’s apparent willingness to step into the small forward role for his (maybe) final season. For more insight on how that transition could look for Bean, our own Darius Soriano covered it yesterday. Give it a look as well.
In the interest of Bryant’s role in next year’s lineup, news also emerged that the 20-year vet could play some power forward this season, here’s the jist:
Coach Byron Scott told NBA.com it’s possible Bryant could spend time at power forward.
“If we don’t get another guard, then Kobe’s in that mix,” Scott said of a potential switch. “I’m kind of going through those scenarios. But not necessarily as far as who’s starting and who doesn’t … I think [Bryant] will play more 3 than 2. If we can get him at the elbows and at the mid-post, the more effective he’ll be.
“I don’t think he needs to be using up the whole 94-foot floor. If we can cut that down some, I think that saves his legs as much as possible. But if we can get him where he operates best, which to me is elbows on each area, top of the key, at the pinch post, at the mid-post, then I think he can be real effective for us.”
The Lakers roster does appear to have a solid amount of versatility as currently constructed and seeing Kobe as the 4-man in creative “small ball” lineups during spurts is certainly viable. Of course, having the 38-year old exert energy battling with big guys defensively would not be the wisest of moves, so the key is to implement such lineups against match ups where he can be most effective without causing a detriment to his overall health.
One player who is cemented into the power forward spot for next season (we hope) is Julius Randle. His return is finally behind him after a promising — albeit limited — Summer League campaign and now, as he told SB Nation’s Drew Garrison, he is excited to grow with the Lakers’ young core:
“To have us three young guys coming in together and trying to change the ways of the organization as far as winning, and getting the Lakers where they’re used to being, it’s definitely exciting,” Julius said when asked about his outlook on playing alongside Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. “We’re all excited for the process.”
The Lakers’ talented trio took its first step together, and the best example of their abilities meshing beautifully came against the Dallas Mavericks. A beautifully orchestrated pick-and-roll set featuring a stunning bounce pass from Russell to Randle, a drive-and-kick from Randle, and a corner-three from Clarkson stood as the best example of them clicking as a group. “It’s learning how to play with each other in any way, shape, form or fashion,” Randle said of that perfect moment in the Thomas and Mack Center.
He concluded his thought, “We’re learning everybody’s spots on the floor, creating for each other, and figuring out how to do what’s best for each other on the court.”
As Randle looks to put last season behind him, Jordan Clarkson is trying to prove this past year was no fluke. James Herbert of CBS Sports recently caught up with the second team All-Rookie and he relayed this sentiment:
Just before going to Summer League, Clarkson flew to New York to work out with Nash. When he and a horde of Lakers fans arrived in Las Vegas, there were Clarkson jerseys everywhere. In his first game, he dropped an easy 23 points, looking like he didn’t need to be there. In his last, he threw down the dunk of the summer over a helpless Jack Cooley of the Utah Jazz. Clarkson said he always had confidence, but he took it to another level after everything he’d learned from his first season and the time he’d put in afterward.
“I thought he was really impressive,” Scott said. “He’s shown that he’s grown tremendously and that the season that he had last year wasn’t a fluke, that he’s continued to work to get better. And we’re looking for big things from Jordan.”
Clarkson, for his part, sees himself as a work in progress. He grew up a track star, not playing organized basketball until junior high. “I’ve got a lot of room to grow,” he said, preferring not to say much about what he’s already accomplished. He thinks he and Russell will complement each other and be fun to watch. While he clearly believes in himself, he’d rather let others talk him up. Despite everything that has changed this year, he can easily transport himself back to Barclays Center, where he heard his name called after 45 other prospects.
“Just trying to prove people wrong,” Clarkson said. “That’s all that ran through my mind. But I’m still trying to do the same thing. I feel like people still sleep, so I’m just trying to wake ‘em up.”
The rest of the piece does a great job focusing on Clarkson’s background, his time at the University of Missouri and his father’s battle with cancer — it is most certainly worth a look for Laker fans.
Lastly, there are no two words that trigger a more heated discussion around Lakers circles than — I hesitate to say this in fear of the forest fire that may ensue — “Jim Buss”. Despite not being a highly public figure, Buss is so closely associated with the Lakers’ recent misfortune that he has been outright vilified by the team faithful. So with that, Shawn F. Matian of Sports Out West recently portrayed Buss in full detail, taking “A look at his past, present and future”. The piece spans five pages, but here is a brief excerpt:
In the summer of 2012, the Lakers assembled a roster that was feared by everyone. By acquiring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to play alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, many thought the Lakers were on their way to winning a championship. Who was praised most for these changes? General manager Mitch Kupchak. After an up-and-down season that ended with Dwight Howard leaving for Houston and the experiment not working out as Lakers fans were hoping, who has received most of the blame for it? Jim Buss.
Buss has been accused of many things, namely having an ego, being stubborn and making bad basketball decisions. Although making accusations are simple, solidifying the complaints with pertinent evidence can prove to be quite challenging. In fact, if one was to analyze the facts in relation to the grievances against Buss, the results will show that the majority of the complaints are unfounded and exaggerated.
Unfortunately for Buss, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty does not apply in the public court of opinion. Buss has already been investigated, charged, convicted, and sentenced without ever having a fair trial. Maybe expecting fans to objectively scrutinize the facts before reaching a conclusion is a expecting too much. But then again, maybe the facts have never been presented to them.
If you leave this links post only reading one article today, this should be the one. For all the indoctrinated animosity spewed towards Buss, it is often based on a lack of understanding about who he truly is and what exactly he is responsible for. The above piece offers insight into exactly that and should provide a much clearer — and hopefully more positive — perspective of Jim Buss, the person.