The Lakers are back on the road today, starting a three game road trip which begins in Chicago. As it will be for the rest of the season, every game on the road will be Kobe’s last trip to that city so expect there to be some sort of acknowledgement from that franchise of Kobe’s looming retirement.
Some of these games will mean more than others, though, and that will especially be true tonight versus the Bulls. This isn’t just because that is the franchise Michael Jordan played for and Kobe’s long quest to try and replicate Michael Jordan’s success, but rather because it will be the last time Kobe faces off against longtime teammate and partner in success Pau Gasol. The two shared good moments just a few weeks ago when the Bulls visited STAPLES Center and again last weekend when both were in Toronto for the All-Star game. But this time is really the finale and that will bring some strong emotions.
Kobe and Pau have a special relationship built on the instant chemistry they exhibited after Pau was acquired in 2008 and the massive amounts of success they achieved together while Pau was a Laker. The video above highlights some of that, but unless you watched them nightly for the six and a half years they were teammates, it’s hard to fully grasp how in tune they were as partners; how their versatility and all-court games complemented each others. Their relationship was symbiotic and both became the best versions of themselves playing next to the other.
Tonight’s game, then, means something to both these guys. And it is worth tuning in as a fan just to enjoy seeing them share the court one more time, even if as foes.
The game is about more than these two as well, of course. The Bulls are a team in flux, missing their best player (Jimmy Butler) and, more than halfway through the year, still adjusting to a new head coach while spinning their wheels in their quest to be one of the East’s real contenders to the unseat the Cavs. They traded Kirk Hinrich at the deadline, but the larger deals they were rumored to be a part of — featuring Gasol — never materialized. That lack of a shakeup left many of those who seriously analyze this team daily more than a bit down on where this team stands, where it’s going, and the decision makers who are stewarding that path.
So, the Bulls have something to play for and should be giving their best effort to get a win. They are coming off a good win against the Raptors, but if you have watched this team at all this year you would have to acknowledge they are one of the more confounding teams in the league when it comes to putting up a good win and then a bad loss the next night.
Does this mean the Lakers have a chance? Well…sort of? As I’ve noted, Jimmy Butler is out. Joakim Noah (shoulder surgery) and Nikola Mirotic (complications from an appendectomy) are also out. The Bulls have some depth to compensate, but will need good performances from Rose, Pau, and multiple role players for the final score to actually reflect the difference in the team’s records. On the other hand, if the Lakers get good performances from Kobe, the young guys, and one of Lou Williams/Nick Young they too have a chance of being in this game. Especially since the Bulls defense is not what it can be with Butler/Noah unavailable.
The individual matchups are also worth watching. Clarkson/Russell vs. Rose and Randle/Nance vs. Taj Gibson/Bobby Portis are ones I will be especially interested in. The challenge for the Lakers’ young players will be on both sides of the ball and I am curious to see how they manage their responsibility to defend and be impactful offensively too. Carrying their own is the type of progress I am looking for from them as the season enters its final quarter.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and nationally on ESPN. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.
D’Angelo Russell, will start tonight at Chicago. his first start since Dec. 12.
Lakers playing pretty well with the lineup change, who would’ve thought that? lol
david h says
Fern: not to worry, you’re not alone here .
Offensively, he’s starting to dominate in the nba like he did in college. And he’s got good instincts for the ball. Not too shabby Julius.
Still loving away crowd’s reaction whenever Kobe goes off. I love Sunday night basketball. Still hate the losing.
Was looking OK for a while but the defense completely fell apart in the last few minutes.
Randle Russell and Clarkson looking good. They need to play the rest of this game regardless of outcome but course they not playing .
Where’s Russell?? Put him in bozo! And whatever happened to brown and black? Time to waive Hibbert and let black start and brown should get young’s minutes!
hmmm 3 point game, Bust is back…
Baylor Fan says
Tankers worst nightmare comes true, the young trio are holding their own in crunch time. What if the coach were to notice they may give the Lakers the best chance of winning?
Too many missed fts man…
The trio is going pretty good once they got it togheter and we get better complementary pieces. Really encouraging seeing them producing…
Lakers lose tonight. But…that hardly matters. As others have noted, the kids are starting to play quite well:
Clarkson — 20 pts. (7-16 shooting), 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal
Russell — 15 pts (6-13 shooting), 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal
Randle — 22 pts. (10-19 shooting), 12 rebounds
TOTALS — 57 pts. (23-48 shooting), 23 rebounds, 10 assists, 2 steals
Furthermore, between the three of them, there were only 4 TOs. Also, this is Jordan Clarkson’s 25th straight game scoring in double figures and yet another double-double for Julius Randle.
This is encouraging. Or am I imagining things?
A thought: with 25 games left in the season, it’s time to start playing Tarik Black significant minutes. Playing Bass over Black gives us nothing for the future. This could be very important in terms of evaluating talent for next year and building a core.
Isn’t that obvious?
Chris J says
The Bulls scored 25 points more than their season average, and that’s without three of their best players. The Lakers “defense” — such as it exists — is beyond horrid.
And that’s an indictment of Byron and the staff. You don’t need great talent to play good defense. You need effort and accountability, something the Lakers have strongly lacked in recent seasons.
One could argue there’s no Michael Cooper, no Dennis Rodman, no big man to back up the guards’ mistakes, but I’m not asking that these Lakers become the Bad Boys or Riley-era Knicks and hold teams to 80-something points per game. That’s unrealistic. But so is giving up 50+ points in the paint, often largely to guards, as this season has shown us all too often.
The talent isn’t phenomenal, but the defense is much, much less than the sum of its parts. If Byron could coach worth a damn, the opposite would be true.
I think you are seriously understating the Lakers’ lack of defensive talent. This team gives heavy minutes The Ghost of Kobe Bryant, Lou Williams, The Corpse of Roy Hibbert, and several young players who do not have the kinds of physical tools that suggest that they will be elite defenders. At the NBA level, you need more than effort and accountability. This isn’t the Big West or the WCC.
Certainly many of the problems are on Byron, but 57 games in, with the team at 11-46, I am comfortable saying that some people in the fanbase (as well as the FO) simply overrated the roster and can’t admit it. Not saying that’s true of you, per se, but I have seen a lot of posts like yours around the net from people who were talking about all the supposed upgrades in preseason.
That being said, I have said a few times that Russell, Randle and Clarkson, especially Russell, do have some real potential on O, and I think we are seeing some of that. Most people are saying that is happening in spite of Scott, but even if it is, it is still happening. And it is a small basis for hope.
Yeah rr is right of course and it’s very common for folks to over value what’s “their’s”. Sure the young Lakers have some talent, but – I’ll be generous – it’s far from clear that any of them will be world beaters.
Every team in the league has talent on their roster. I’d submit the Lakers have far less overall than than average and perhaps even the worse talent in the league.
R & rr, imo are being pessimistic and heavy on the ‘meh’.
I’d say our core is simply young, not a wash on defense, and definitely flash remarkable talent.
I’m excited for our future.
J C says
That was a terrific, terrific highlight reel of Kobe and Pau. Thanks for sharing that.
Russell, Randle and Clarkson don’t look like they will be any more than average on defense. A good coach can help mitigate that, but what would really help is a better defensively talented team overall. Whether through the draft or free agency, the FO needs to acquire good defensive players to pair with the core 3.
And yes, the Kobe/Pau video is way cool.
via Baxter Holmes
ESPN Staff Writer
– “developing the Lakers’ young players with Bryant on the floor presents a complicated challenge, as Bryant still dominates the ball at a high level, as he has for many years. And, as expected, Bryant is still dominating the ball as much as ever during his grand farewell tour. Over his last seven games, in fact, Bryant has attempted 157 field goals. Only New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis has attempted more during that time frame and he played one more game.”
– “Bryant was also asked if there was anything he could do to help defer to younger players more.
“I’m not really sure how to answer that question,” Bryant said. “I do a lot of coaching on the floor and try to help them through angles and all this other stuff. I think if you’re looking for ‘step-back, let-others-shoot’ [approach] and all this other stuff, that’s very surface content. You’re not looking deep enough.”
For full story:
The Kobe/Pau highlight reel is food for a hungry soul. Thanks Darius for the nostalgic reminder of better times. It is no wonder that Kobe was always coming to Pau’s defense when Gasol’s game or his perceived lack of toughness came under attack. They were perfect foils for each other and damn if they didn’t play so incredibly well together.
AND Byron’s announcement that Russell will start the balance of the season came a bit out of the blue- This feels to me as though Byron’s hand was forced here. Prior to this announcement we had only more delay and obfuscation. After a week off during the All Star break Byron was still saying he needed more time to think about it. Then more recently said that Russell would be back in the starting lineup but would obstinately not offer any timetable. I think the FO finally had enough and told him to knock it off.
Regardless of how it happened it’s about time!
Agree DieTryin, I believe Scott was overruled.
Glad the kid is back where he belongs !
– For those attempting to evaluate the younger guys overall talent. Offense & defense, forget it. How can you? Good defense requires motivation, effort & a desire to win. The ownership, gm, and coach have shown that’s not their priority this season.
– Not sure how anyone can even start to evaluate how these guys will do offensively when they’ve been instructed to pass the ball to the Living Legend and move out the way.
– My feeling, the growth of the young guys has been retarded by the direction of this circus season.
– All because this crackerjack ownership group decided to make a deal where this year’s 1st round draft pick was only top 3 protected…and with Phoenix free fall (joining Philly, Brooklyn, & the Lakers), losing the pick will truly add insult to injury.
– Who says the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? Sorry Dr. Buss, maybe their business accruement comes from the other side of the family.
George Best says
Its all about the Kobe farewell tour(Im going to miss Kobe a lot), the draft pick, and who they sign to take up the salaries coming off the books this summer.
This team could improve a lot next year or actually get worse and be faced with what kind of money to offer Clarkson etc with no hopes of landing any difference making free agents.
Durant isnt coming but Ill bet Westbrook will sign here in 2017 if we get the draft pick and add some decent free agents this summer even if we miss out on an elite one.
Optimism: I would hardly call trashing the entire coaching staff as being optimistic. Further, when we speak about optimism or excitement about the future, specifics are required. We have all read posts on this board for three years that said “the Lakers are going to surprise people” and “the Lakers are going to be better than expected”. Well they didn’t and they weren’t. So before statements are made about the future, what are we speaking about? The team will have a better record next year? Well I guess that is a start but wow – not hardly exciting. When are we gong to be a 500 team? When are we going to make the playoffs? When are we going to make the FO goal of the WCF? Dare I ask, when will we be in the Finals and/or raise another banner again? When you have the worst record in franchise history, and have missed the playoffs for the third straight time (another franchise first), to say things are going to get better is a little underwhelming. In my case, I honestly think the Lakers will win more games in 2017 than they will finish with in 2016. Further, just like the Byron bashers, I have a very strong desire to see a particular party in power removed from his position. Do these two facts make me an optimist?
“The talent isn’t phenomenal, but the defense is much, much less than the sum of its parts. If Byron could coach worth a damn, the opposite would be true.”
This is an excellent point by Chris J. Byron has continually mentioned that he “preaches” defense to the team. But there’s a huge difference between preaching and teaching.
When I was in college (back in the stone ages), my college tennis coach would have us practice certain drills endlessly — backhand cross court drills, backhand down-the-line drills, forehand cross court drills, volleying (especially 2 on 1), overheads, 100 2nd serves every day (your 2nd serve should be automatic in tennis), and so forth.
Very boring. But crucial to developing your game. As a result, my own game grew exponentially from my freshman to my senior year.
The point? Drills are crucial. Preaching does not get it done. But drilling your players in the fundamentals — throughout the year — is essential to helping them grow their skills.
I believe that our young players need a coach who can inculcate the right team defensive skills into them. I believe that the Lakers need a coach who can drill them, support them, nurture them, and teach them. Byron, clearly, is not that coach. But there must be someone out there who can fill that bill.
Hiring the right coach could be the most important thing that the Lakers could do to teach our young players to play strong, consistent team defense.
Unfortunately, for the time being, the Lakers are what they. So fans are kind of in a weird twilight zone — we want the team to lose because its all about keeping the pick and laying the foundation for a brighter future. Wins now are meaning less and quite frankly ensure a darker future.
I’m not one that can be appeased by watching this version of Kobe. I knew enough to know he was done when his Achilles burst. These have been the most difficult three years as a Lakers fan and I started following the team in 1970. You know when your team has a future and you know when your team is going no where.
The last two years the team was clearly going no where. This year, the kids give us some hope and for that games like yesterday were extremely enjoyable. But Randle/Clarkson/Russell are only three players and we’ll need 8-10 good ones to move up the standings. I’m not sold on Nance and Brown. Williams to me is lipstick on a pig with the Lakers — his value is as points off the bench on a playoff team.
Yesterday was a perfect game, the kids contributed in a very meaningful way and the team lost. I will give the FO credit. They realized early on that the season was lost and they made no ‘near sighted’ decision to try and salvage it. As much as I wanted the team to acquire a future talent at the deadline I am grateful they did not pick up someone who would help us win this year.
I’m OK with losing this year — it’s got to be done. Let’s get the pick and turn the page. The kids will own the team next year and we may lose much more than we win. However, at least in my mind, it will feel like we’re making real progress.
Thanks for posting that Kobe/Pau video. How well they played together was the key to the team’s success during that period. They ran very fluid pick-n-rolls and mostly made good decisions on their way to completely destroying other teams. The treatment of Pau in the post-Jackson phase was hard to watch on my side. I know they were starting to rely on Bynum, and then Howard, but Pau was the smartest player on the court and deserved more than he got. The video really drives home what the Lakers had for a brief period of time, two extremely smart players at the top of their game who got to play together.
Good progress from the young guys and some great posts here. I tend to take a little from both camps (Chris J/Mid-Wilshire on one side and rr on the other, fully recognizing this oversimplifies your positions) in that I believe Byron has failed to implement a defensive system or teach defensive principles, but the players are also not committed to getting better on defense. I think that next year, the Lakers need to figure out an identity and start to build in that direction, ie good to great offensive team that plays adequate defense to start and gets better at it. That may not be the best way to do things on paper, but may fit the personnel better.
Of course, this all means the Lakers need a coaching staff that can teach and it would help if a potential top three pick and/or free agents are good defenders as well.
As an aside, can you imagine the young core with Anthony Davis?
May 17th. That’s the date for the NBA Draft Lottery. This year, that’s the only thing that matters.
@Robert: “when we speak about optimism or excitement about the future, specifics are required”
I don’t believe optimism needs to be quantified or justified.
Optimism is a valiant and healthy state of mind, especially concerning aspects of life we have little control over.
While pessimism, imo is dreary fear, masked by a label of realism, stolen from optimists who are the true realists; as optimists wade through rivers of doubt poured by pessimists, to create reality, and to carry humanity forward.
That said: Our kids are reason to be optimistic for those that can see what they offer; even if it’s simply the fact that they are all of good character, have excellent work habits, and work well together.
Of course I see much more than that, I see their talent; if you don’t, and discount their stats, even in a bizarre season which tend to diminish them, then those are your eyes and your choice.
Chris J says
At the NBA level, you need more than effort and accountability.
I agree with much of what you said. There is a serious lack of talent on the roster. I think my point was summed up in a single play in the Bulls game. Russell got to the rim and his shot was blocked by Pau. The Bulls took off in transition and Russell never came back into the frame of my 65-inch TV until after Chicago had scored a dunk or lay-up (I forget by whom) and Byron had called a timeout. There were only nine players on that side of the floor.
I like Russell, but that kind of crap can’t go on. The poor transition defense can’t be allowed night in and night out. And while effort and accountability can’t prevent NBA level players from scoring, a good coach and scheme can help make poor defenders somewhat better. That’s the type of thing I blame on the staff.
I think the one thing I was most off on in terms of preseason expectations was the hope that Hibbert would provide something on the defensive side to cover the deficiencies of old Kobe or never-played-D Lou, et al. I never believed this was a playoff team, but I had hoped with Hibbert there’d have been some semblance of a defensive structure. Alas…