Thursday, December 18, 2014
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The once-promising preseason campaign of the Los Angeles Lakers has gotten off to a rocky start.  What began as a year full of hope and optimism has quickly regressed into a harsh reality as injuries and a slow start quickly popped the proverbial bubble.

A preseason opening win over the Denver Nuggets was followed up by blowout losses to the Golden State Warriors (twice) and the Utah Jazz, though LA was able to get a resounding come-from-behind win over Utah in their next matchup. With over a week to go before the regular season starts, here are three points to take note of as the team moves forward.

1. The (lack of) three-pointers.

The style of the play that Byron Scott has implemented is a stark contrast from last season.  Under Mike D’Antoni, the Lakers last averaged 24.8 three-point shot attempts per game while training 38.1% of them. Those marks ranked 6th and 3rd in the league, respectively. Scott has made it known that he has a disdain for three-pointers and wants the team only attempting only 12-15 shots from long range per game as a team.

The problem is, the shots that they’ve attempted have been missing their mark.  They’ve shot the lowest number of threes (42), made the lowest (10), which has put them in the cellar in terms of shooting percentage (23.8%).  Went went 1-19 in one stretch, which included two games where they went 0-8. Without a threat from the outside, this inability to space the floor won’t give the team space inside to post up and attack the rim.

2. Health.

After leading the league in games missed due to injury last year with 319, the madness just doesn’t stop. Before even playing a single game, Nick Young went down with a thumb injury and will be out for around at least six more weeks.  Steve Nash’s nerve problems resurfaced and it looks a walk on a tight rope when it comes to dealing with his injuries.

In addition, Jeremy Lin, Ryan Kelly, Jordan Clarkson, and Xavier Henry are all recovering from various ailments.  As a result, Byron Scott’s rotation hasn’t been what he envisioned before the year, and it’s shown with their play.  Ronnie Price has been the starting point guard, and camp invitees Wayne Ellington and Roscoe Smith have both seen extended minutes on the floor.  The bright side, at least it’s still early, and one can only hope that the injury bug only sticks around for the preseason.

3. Kobe Bryant.

The hope that fans cling onto is that Kobe Bryant looks, well, like Kobe Bryant.  While he hasn’t shot the ball efficiently, only making 37% of his shots en route to 17.4 points per game, he’s been moving extremely well.  While lacking the familiar explosiveness to the rim that he’s demonstrated his entire career, you wouldn’t know that he’s someone coming off two major injuries in the past year.  With more games under his belt, the offense will come with time.

While the blowout losses painted a momentarily bleak future for the Lakers, the truth is that there’s no reason to panic just yet.  As time goes on and the team gets its rotation players back, there will be more fluidity and consistency to their game.  And that feeling of hope and optimism that was present on media day will be back again.

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Photo courtesy of Andrew D. Bernstein, Getty Images

It was getting to be too much, too early – injury after injury…and it’s still only the pre-season!

The Lakers’ first pre-season win against the Denver Nuggets seemed ages ago. Back then (and by back then, I mean a week and a half ago), it was a promising situation with new coach Byron Scott, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant both with comeback aspirations, and a slew of new players who were excited to be wearing the purple and gold.

After that first game, however, the injury bug hit one after the other – during games, during practices and, in Nash’s case, during a suitcase-lifting. The one win was then followed up one blowout game after another, until today. As hard as it is to be plagued by injuries, one purpose it does serve is summoning other players to step up and tonight the Lakers did just that.

Down by 22 points in the second quarter, it looked to be another stomping at the hands of the young Utah Jazz, but after halftime, something kicked in and the surge to get over the lead burst through. Entering the final quarter, the Lakers had a mere three-point deficit to overcome and they do so in the end, winning their second pre-season game, 98-91.

HIGH POINTS
Second Half – Everything good in this game for the Lakers happened in the second half. After giving up 54 points on 54% shooting to the Jazz, they resolved to play better in the final two quarters and it showed. Their defense was especially vibrant in the third and fourth, allowing Utah only 37 points on 41% from the field, not to mention forcing them into 19 turnovers (!), which the Lakers turned into 27 points. They also protected the paint, allowing the Jazz just 18 points inside. Offensively, the Lakers did a complete 180, scoring 60 points on 54% shooting, 28 of which came from the paint.
Kobe Bryant – This guy – he’s really out to prove himself out there and darned if it isn’t working! He didn’t shoot efficiently, just 7-22 from the field, but he still led the game with his 26 points. He also hit three from downtown, a task that has disappeared from this team this season after trading away three-point specialist, Jodie Meeks, and having other three-point-able players sitting on the bench hurt. Leave it to Byant to take on the challenge though. He also handed out five assists and led with a +21 for the game.
Carlos Boozer – Playing against his former team, Boozer showed why a team like the Lakers can still depend on him. 19 points on 50% shooting, nine rebounds, and a game-leading six steals.
Ronnie Price – With Nash, Jeremy Lin and Jordan Clarkson nursing injuries, the lone point guard who is actually is a point guard and not someone who just needs to fill in the position for a few games, is Ronnie Price. He didn’t do a whole lot offensively, the 10 assists aside that is. But he appeared to be the defensive anchor on the floor, taking charges left and right. As unfortunate as it is to lose three other point guards, Price is showing that maybe he should move up in the rotation.
Julius Randle – The rookie didn’t do a whole as far as the box score goes, but each game that passes, he looks less nervous and more methodical in his play.

LOW POINTS
First Half – Oy…Truly, there is only one thing to say about the first two quarters – the Lakers scored just 38 points on a pitiful 28% shooting. What is left to say about a stat such as this?
Three-point shooting – The Lakers were 4-13 from behind the arch tonight, but at least they took 13 attempts. The three has been scarce this season so far, but if attempted at the right time or in the flow of the offense as oppose to never or during the last seconds of the shot clock, it will benefit them.

There are three more games left before the regular season begins, and the hope is that the injury list is downsized and that the team can take a game like tonight, and learn the better part of what not to do to win games.

Box Score

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Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images

It’s been six months since we last saw the Lakers. They were a team who entered the off-season with a laundry list of uncertainty in almost every category imaginable – coaching, state of injured players under contract, probability of landing/retaining free agents, the draft, expectations, etc. After a long summer trying to ascertain these factors, it was just nice to watch them finally play a game.

With three probable rotation players out with injuries (yes, there were injuries before the pre-season, if you can believe that), new head coach, Byron Scott had a chance to give Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant some solid floor time, and test out a slew of new guys.

The Denver Nuggets kept the game competitive until the very end, with a 75-foot three pointer at the buzzer by Quincy Miller, but the Lakers kept the 98-95 win.

HIGH POINTS
Oldies – March 2013 – that’s the last time Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant were on the court together…in uniform…in a game. They’ve played so few minutes as a pair due to long injury-laden absences, that their relationship as teammates has become practically mythical. But they spent all summer preparing, and unlike last year’s off-season, they weren’t rehabbing for six months. They were training to stay fit and get stronger, and tonight was a sample size product of their hard work. Nash and Bryant played freely, instead of hesitant and cautious. Admit it – each time a player bumped into them or they were landing after a shot, your heart stopped. With Nash’s 11 points and five assists, and Bryant’s 13 points, five assists and two rebounds, however, the two old schoolers are easing themselves into the new season with confidence.
Newbies – Butterflies, every rookie gets them, and surely all players joining a new team face them, but it’s what you do despite them that makes a difference. Jeremy Lin went 0-6 from the field and 1-3 from the free throw line, but how about those 10 assists and single turnover in 27 minutes of play? Rookie Jordan Clarkson just couldn’t hit from anywhere near the hoop when he first checked in, but he went 2-4 from three and hit all six of his free throw attempts for 14 points to lead the team, not to mention his five rebounds. With Nick Young and Xavier Henry both out, Lin and Clarkson will be looking to get more playing time.
Impact Players – Rookie Julius Randle, the Lakers’ highest draft pick since James Worthy, had a solid debut. He went 5-9 from the field for his 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked a shot. Of all the players who made a good impression tonight, however, the one who stole the show was Ed Davis. His 12 points on 6-7 were a good contribution to the win, but the his presence was felt more so on the defensive end. Four blocks in just over 12 minutes – not a bad effort for his first game in the purple and gold.
Difference In Defense – After allowing the Nuggets to shoot 59% in the first quarter, the Lakers’ defense kicked in. They allowed just 35%, 24% and 38% shooting for each of the final three quarters. Denver shot just 39% for the game. Points in the paint for the Nuggets? 12 points in the first quarter and then 12 points for the remainder of the night. Talk about a switch getting flipped. That the Lakers sustained the defense for almost an entire game is promising. If they can sustain it for a longer period of time, that will make all the difference in this Lakers’ season.
Difference in Offense – 29 assists on 39 made field goals and only 11 turnovers through three quarters. They had 16 turnovers for the game. The Lakers also outscored Denver 44-34 in points in the paint and only attempted 10 three pointers. Ten three-point attempts for a whole game. Talk about D-D’Antoniing the team.

LOW POINTS
Injuries – Nick Young had surgery today for the torn ligament in his hand, Ryan Kelly has a strained hamstring, and Xavier Henry has been experiencing back spasms. Then tonight, Wes Johnson tweaked his knee and had to sit out the rest of the game after checking out in the Third quarter. Can’t catch a break, these guys.

They’re still a work in progress, but with the return of Bryant and Nash (hopefully still available for the forseeable future), and a group of young players who are eager to learn from the veterans while carving a destiny of their own, this team just might surprise us all.

Box Score

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Photo Credit | Getty Images

Laker Nation!

Basketball is back. Training camp is in full swing. Practice highlights exploding online.

Laker legends current and old are working hard. Coach Scott instills a culture from center court as his soldiers sprint past him. Kobe Bryant showing the young fellas that he still has some Mamba left in him.mitchk1.jpg

But the 2014-15 season is not about the product currently on the court. Look up in the owners’ box and the general manager’s office to find the important action this year.

There are no championship expectations for this group of Lakers. Hell, the playoffs seem like a long shot.

It’s easy to talk yourself into this Lakers team. Kobe’s back! Lin is a good player! Julius Randle, the future! Carlos Boozer has had a productive career! Coach Scott has to make this team better on defense!

But any optimism crumbles under further examination. Kobe may be back, but he’s 36, and hasn’t played consistent basketball in 18 months. Even if he is at the peak of his powers, is his supporting cast better than the one that won 45 games in 2007 under coach Phil Jackson? Kobe dropped 35 a game that year, and had a player better than any current Laker (Lamar Odom). Plus, the 45 wins they managed would not make the playoffs out west this season.

Lin is a nice point guard, but look up in the standings and see Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook…even Mike Conley and Eric Bledsoe. He’s not the elite talent that the Lakers need to reach the top. Randle looks good, but he’s still a rookie, and will take a few years to become reliable through the grind of an entire NBA season. Boozer was not good last year in Chicago. Even if he bounces back to his peak, he’s no Dirk or Tim Duncan. Zach Randolph, Anthony Davis, and LaMarcus Aldridge have his number too, all standing between the Lakers and the Finals. Going down the roster, the Lakers will be the lesser talented team most nights on the floor. That’s not a recipe for a deep playoff run. Coach Scott is a bright spot, but even he acknowledged it might be rough going this year.

So how should we, as fans experience this season? Should we numb ourselves and find a (deserving) scapegoat like last year?

Enjoy the high moments, relish our last few glimpses at 24, and our first few at Julius Randle?

We have to acknowledge that this team does not have a realistic shot at a title this year, but Laker Nation, we do not have to accept it.

Voice your displeasure when OKC comes to town and smacks us up. Or when Kevin Love, whom many Lakers fans wanted to see play here, comes to town flanking LeBron in Cleveland.

The goal is still to win the championship. We can’t win it this year, people will say, so find a new goal, a new way to value this season.

They are wrong. This season is a failure, just as last season was, and the one before that.

Do not accept a mediocre product. We struck out this summer, just as we did last summer. That does not make it ok. We don’t need to change our perception or expectations for the Lakers.

Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstien, NBA Getty Images
Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstien, NBA Getty Images

Luckily, our front office hasn’t. Mitch Kupchak declared, “our expectations are to win a

championship. The expectations outside of this room might not be the same,” just last week. However, the failure of this season is still a repercussion of poor moves made over the last few years. They have their eye on the prize, and we cannot let them get complacent. Continue to demand excellence from the Lakers. Championship or bust. Every year. Even the busts.

We have to endure it, but not accept it.

There is hope. The front office has flexibility moving forward, and their words and actions reflect those of an organization pursuing championships, not mediocrity. That’s why we don’t see Luol Deng, or Trevor Ariza in the purple in gold, though they would have made the immediate team better.

B-Scott is the right guy. The team is not spinning its wheels in second round purgatory. We got a top draft pick this summer, and the organization is not pleased with the prospect of continuing to slide. It will not feel like it this year, but we are on the way up again.

But monitor the situation, Laker Nation. Climbing to the top of the mountain is tough, and sometimes even a great organization needs a kick in the butt to make that final push (i.e. the 2005 season ticket holders demanding Phil Jackson’s return).

Suffer this season, Laker Nation, but be ready.

Endure the taunts of the fans of 29 other teams. They will tell you “Stop complaining. Our team hasn’t won in like 25 years. It’s ok for you to go a few years without winning a championship.”

No, it is not.

Every year lakers-bannersthe Lakers don’t win the championship sucks. Do not numb the pain by succumbing to their way of thinking. Do not lower your expectations, or alter your definition of success to align it with the reality of this moment.

Supporting the Lakers through thick and thin does not mean blindly cheering for a subpar product. It means encouraging the pursuit of greatness. Of dynasties. Of the type of sustained excellence that the Lakers organization has always pursued. Sometimes it means being entitled, demanding excellence, and not being satisfied with simply above average. Sometimes it means booing at a home game, or calling for the firing of a poor coach. Sometimes it means being called “fair weather” by fanbases that don’t understand, that scream their lungs out for teams that miss the playoffs for decades, while their owners pocket the profits of loss.

The Lakers are still pursuing excellence. From the Buss family on down, the organization is pointed in the right direction.

But this year is going to hurt. It’s a failure. Acknowledge it, but do not accept it. Stay vigilant.

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Photo Credit to FoxSports.com

The injury bug that caused Lakers players to miss a league-high 319 games due to injury cannot seem to go away.

The Lakers reported on Friday that guard Nick Young will be out for 6-8 weeks after sustaining a torn ligament on his right thumb.  The play occurred when Young attempted to steal the ball from Kobe Bryant during a scrimmage earlier in the day.

This is a rough start to the Lakers’ season preparations.  Also lost was Ryan Kelly, who is dealing with a hamstring injury.

With Young out, the team loses their primary scorer off the bench.  On the other hand, this is a strong chance for the other players to step into that role.  All eyes will be on Wayne Ellington, Ronnie Price, and Jordan Clarkson as primary candidates to fill the void.

Young is scheduled to have surgery on Monday.

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Image: J. Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com

It remains to be seen if the Lakers will be a playoff contender this season, but if anything, it will surely be the best conditioned team in the league if day one of training camp is any indication.

On Tuesday, the Lakers held its first practice of the new season, getting a fresh start under new head coach Byron Scott, who gave the team a taste of what to expect under his watch.

“I want to be a great conditioned team. That’s the bottom line,” said Scott. “The thing that I told our guys, ‘We’re going to lose some games this year, but it’s not going to be because the other team is in better shape.”

Running was undoubtedly the word of the day as players went through conditioning drills throughout practice and finishing the day running suicides, leaving players, both veterans and rookies, bent over at the waist trying to catch their breath. At the very end, Nick Young tiredly took a seat under the basket, eventually asking rookie Jordan Clarkson to help him to his feet.

Kobe Bryant made his much anticipated return to the court, participating in an official practice for the first time since last December. According to Scott, Kobe went through three quarters of the practice before being asked to shut it down, despite Kobe’s wishes of wanting to continue.

“He wanted to go more, but right now it’s just a progression of going a little bit a day,” said Scott.

Despite Kobe sitting out the final 30 to 40 minutes of practice, the 36-year old admitted the running was more than he had experienced in his career.

“It’s probably the most running I’ve ever done in an NBA practice,” said Kobe. “Actually it is, for sure. I’ve never run this much.”

The good news for Lakers fans is despite the extra work, Kobe said he felt like himself and that the injuries are in the past. He understands that at an older age, he must monitor his activity level more closely in practice, in order to “have something left in the tank every single day.”

Defense was another focal point on the first day, which should not come as a surprise as Scott made it known in interviews that Lakers basketball must start on that end of the floor. The conditioning and defense are things that go hand in hand, according to Kobe.

“Running and conditioning, that’s the biggest part,” said Kobe. “Everybody wants to play defense, but when you’re not conditioned to play defense, you go back to your natural instinct which is to play offense first.”

On Wednesday, the Lakers will begin two-a-days which will include a scrimmage with game officials. Both Kobe and Steve Nash are expected to practice in the morning session, but not later in the day. Scott said Kobe would play in all eight preseason games, to get rid of the rust after playing in only six games last season.

The first preseason game will be Tuesday Oct. 6 in San Diego at Valley View Casino Center when they take on the Denver Nuggets.

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Selected 46th overall in the NBA Draft, Jordan Clarkson went from relative unknown to promising prospect in a matter of four months. As the rookie guard enters his first NBA season with the Lakers, he will now try and prove his worth as a productive NBA player.

During the Las Vegas Summer League, Clarkson posted averages of 15.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.2 assists, turning some heads considering he was a second round pick. Despite his impressive summer campaign, the guard out of Missouri says his expectations have not changed.

“Really no change for me,” said Clarkson. “Just trying to bring what I brought to the summer league to the regular season but there has not really been a change.”

In college, Clarkson was known for using his athleticism to get to the rim, an ability he has shown during the summer league as well as in workouts with his teammates. At 6-foot-5, he is considered a combo guard by scouts, but Clarkson says he is simply a “playmaker” and wants to make plays for his teammates while also scoring the ball.

Although he knows what type of player he is, Clarkson noted he wants to become a more complete player by defending positions one through three and knows in what areas he aims to improve in.

“Continuing making shots, showing my intensity on the defensive end, and really just getting better at playing the point position, making the right plays.”

Being drafted by the purple and gold, a unique opportunity presents itself for Clarkson who will have the chance to learn from veteran teammates such as Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, both of whom he has had a chance to play against in workouts. When asked what is the most important thing he can do playing alongside them, a student of the game attitude came out.

“Ask questions,” said the 22-year old. “They are two of the best, future hall of famers. Just try to pick their brains and learn as much as I can during this whole season.”

Asked how Kobe looked in 5-on-5 action, who Clarkson had the assignment of guarding in their first encounter on the court, much like the other reports about Kobe’s health Clarkson’s review was positive.

“Kobe has looked amazing,” said Clarkson. “I feel bad for anyone that gets in his way. He’s nasty, he’s real. He is one of the toughest competitors I have seen so it will be good to be around that every day.”

Clarkson also went on to say that he has had time to workout with Nash on the court and in the gym, saying Nash “really got after it” and has looked like himself pre-nerve issues.

With Nash, Jeremy Lin, and Ronnie Price at the point guard position, Clarkson could be in line for some meaningful minutes this season. As practice kicks off on Tuesday, Clarkson will get the chance to earn those minutes. What he will do during the regular remains to be seen, but with his attitude, Clarkson will be a player that is very easy for the fans to root for.

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At 36 years old and coming off two major injuries, the consensus is Kobe Bryant will no longer play at an elite level when he makes his return to the court this season.

But this is Kobe Bryant we are talking about.

Never lacking motivation, Kobe has enough to prove to himself as he enters the first of his possible final two years of his career. With decline in his athleticism (age and injuries will do that), the evolution of Kobe’s game will be something to behold. A master of his craft and a student of the game, there is little doubt that he can adjust at this stage of his career.

From the 18-year old rookie, to the 27-year old who averaged 35.4 points per game, all the way to the 34-year old who put his body though hell just for his team to make the playoffs, Kobe learned to modify his game at different stages of his career. Only this time it is one last adjustment as he enters the final stage of his career.

What do I expect from Kobe? Efficiency. Kobe will continue to have the ability to score from anywhere on the floor, but will be more methodical in picking his spots to be successful. With the Lakers lacking size in the paint, expect to see Kobe frequently in the triple threat position in the post. Footwork will allow him to find success despite diminishing quickness but most importantly, his IQ will give him the advantage over most players in the league, young and old.

The days of big minutes for Kobe are over and rightfully so. After averaging 38 minutes under Mike D’Antoni and Mike Brown, expect the numbers to stay around 32 minutes with Byron Scott at the helm. Kobe’s recent low mark came in 2010-2011 at 33.9 minutes a game, when Phil Jackson was coach. Before that, Kobe had not averaged less than 35 minutes since he was 19 years old (averaged 26 minutes during the 1997-1998 season).

In a few months, Kobe will be in New York and starting for the Western Conference All-Stars. More than that, he will have earned it with his play. Health permitting, I have little trouble seeing Kobe average 24 points this season.

More than anything, the return of Kobe will produce much needed energy for the franchise and its fans. Watching the team go 27-55 was difficult to watch, but not being to observe Kobe on the court added to it. As we enter the final seasons of his career, we must not take for granted every single game he plays in and appreciate the moments he provides for Laker Nation.

The hope of a sixth championship title is there and while many will question how realistic that is, Kobe will not sell himself short of playing only to make the playoffs. Nor will Kobe set low standards for his play that so many have already done.

Kobe is ready for the final chapter in his career. Others may be trying to close the book, but he is surely only beginning to write his ending.

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Ronnie Price
Photo: Magic.com

The Los Angeles Lakers have announced the signing of guard Ronnie Price to their training camp roster.

Price, a nine-year pro, spent last season with the Orlando Magic, where he appeared in 31 games (starting 2), averaging 2.4 points and 2.1 assists per game. Over his career he’s averaged 3.4 points and 1.5 assists while also playing for the Kings, Jazz, Suns, and Trailblazers.

Price went undrafted in the 2005 Draft before signing with the Sacramento Kings, becoming the first player go to the NBA straight out of Utah Valley University.

The Lakers’ training camp roster now stands at 19, after the team also brought in Keith Appling,  Jabari Brown,  Jeremy Tyler, and Roscoe Smith.

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Photo Credit to FoxSports.com

The past season for the Los Angeles Lakers has been nothing short of disastrous. From injuries to firings, the purple and gold remained relatively irrelevant in the eyes of many. The absence of expectations from a team that missed their leader, Kobe Bryant, was something that the Laker fan base came to painfully accept.

With a return looming and Bryant entering his 19th season, the Lakers cannot expect to lean on Kobe alone to carry the team on his shoulders. Coming in with thousands of miles on a thirty-six year old body, that has endured numerous injuries, the Lakers would need to look to another player to carry them in a talented Western Conference. With Pau Gasol’s summer departure, there is no doubt that Nick Young aims to be the player that the Lakers would need to rely upon outside their 36-year old superstar.

After stints with the Wizards, Clippers and 76ers, Nick Young has steadily developed and proven to be a talented offensive player. With his ability to put up great scoring numbers, critics have praised Young for his offense. With that, after Bryant went down in April of 2013, the Lakers severely needed to get a player that could provide them the scoring production to compensate Bryant’s absence. Fortunately for them, they were able to sign Young to a one year contract. Nick Young went on to post career scoring numbers for the depleted Lakers team, averaging 17.9 ppg amidst the franchise’s struggles.

With a summer that led to a new contract, Nick Young will be looked upon to take the next step in his development and maturity as a player, both on and off the court. The return of Kobe Bryant will be the push that Young needs to further improve as an all around player, particularly on defense. This lack of defense, which teams exploited consistently, aims to be the top priority for Young moving forward. This is a work in progress as Bryant and Young have reportedly been working together during the offseason, as a sign of their developing relationship and chemistry.

Another aspect that Young aims to develop is his decision making. With Nick Young’s scoring talent, critics have been very particular with him specifically on his shot selection. Young is sometimes known to take questionable shots that can impact the system that a coach is trying to implement. Last year, isolation plays were too common for Young which proved problematic for the team. Byron Scott’s system can hopefully be the way for him to improve on this, as Scott did with Keith Van Horn during his New Jersey days. By utilizing his offensive gifts, taking the right shots to help the team will be a positive note for the Lakers in the long run.

With the right mindset and focus, Nick Young’s breakthrough may soon be nearer than we expect. Coupled with the right environment and system around him, there is a bright future for Lakers fans after a season of doubt and despair.

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In a recent interview with the New York Post, former Lakers coach and current New York Knicks President Phil Jackson answered questions as the team prepares to enter its first training camp under the Zen Master and new head coach Derek Fisher.

All questions pertained to the Knicks, but one specially included a certain Lakers superstar. Jackson was asked if Kobe Bryant is the model for Carmelo Anthony.  His response:

No. No one can approach that. I don’t expect anybody to be able to model their behavior after that, although Kobe modeled his behavior a lot about Michael Jordan, but he went beyond Michael in his attitude towards training, and I know Mike would probably question me saying that, but he did.

In yet another answer that will surely spark one more Kobe/Jordan debate, the answer is not shocking. Kobe’s work ethic and competitive drive has long been considered second to none, with many comparisons being drawn to Jordan, considered one of fiercest competitors of his time.

The challenge for Melo will be handling the pressures of success with Jackson overlooking the team. While not coaching, Jackson will have his fingerprints on the team and with past players like Kobe and Jordan having immense success under him, Melo will be walking in their shadow. Fair or not is up to public opinion, but it comes with the territory of being linked to Jackson.

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Kobe Bryant | Steve Nash
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Training camp is on the horizon, and the Los Angeles Lakers are looking to move forward from the worst season in franchise history. The past year filled with moments that fans would soon forget, from Kobe Bryant’s short-lived return, Pau Gasol horribly miscast in Mike D’Antoni’s system, to a litany of injuries that dismantled the team. It was one of the most frustrating times to be a Lakers fan.

Gasol has since departed to Chicago, and after failing to land Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James this summer, not many are pinning their title hopes on the NBA’s glamor franchise.

But what the team does have is a cast of characters with something to prove.

First, head coach Byron Scott. The coaching game has seen him experience both the good and bad. He took the then-New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, and won Coach of the Year in 2008 with the then-New Orleans Hornets. On the other hand, he has been fired three times, twice in the middle of the season. Reports of players tuning him out and quitting on him have surfaced. His latest tenure in Cleveland was not something to marvel at.

In LA, he inherits a team with no real expectations. Experts do not think this team is making the playoffs.   With that comes the opportunity to turn heads. His implementation of the Princeton offense may bring memories of the disaster with Mike Brown, but they are not the same kind of coach. A legend of Showtime back in the 1980s, he is well-liked among his Laker peers, has a certain rapport with the fan base, and is a mentor to Kobe. A respected voice in the locker room, Scott brings in an innovative defensive philosophy, something sorely lacking last season.

Next is Jeremy Lin. Gone are the days of Linsanity. The buzz created by his meteoric rise in New York quickly dissipated by the time his career with the Houston Rockets started. From the three-year, $25 million backloaded contract he signed, to losing his starting job, to having his jersey number used in promotional posters for Carmelo Anthony, it has been a downward trajectory for someone looking to be on his way up. Discarded, he was traded away by the Rockets along with two draft picks to the Lakers in a throwaway trade to clear cap space in the hopes of landing Chris Bosh.

With change comes a fresh start. No longer pressured to live up to the hype, Lin has an opportunity to have the best year of his career. An efficient three-point shooter, he will have more open looks with defenses focused towards Kobe. With Steve Nash still on the team, Lin has the chance to pick the brain of one of the smartest and craftiest point guards in the history of the game. He will see angles and perspectives that he probably never thought of. The best is yet to come.

Lastly, there is Kobe. While no one has doubted the success in his career, the same cannot be said about his immediate future.

Spending the rest of the season rehabilitating and strengthening his body, critics have come out to feast. Contract is too large. Zero trade value. Will not be the same player. The Lakers are not going anywhere. At 36 years of age, Bryant cannot lead the Lakers as an offensive threat any longer. Ranked outside of the top ten in ESPN’s player-by-position rankings. The rumblings just keep going on and on.

The truth is, Bryant has overcome critics his entire career. From being too young, too brash, too selfish, and too cocky, he has transformed into one of the greatest players of our generation. Who is to say he will not compete and prove he still belongs in discussion among the best players today?

The story does not end there. The team is full of misfits who have and already are being written off. Nash is in his final year, but wants to show that he can contribute one last time. Carlos Boozer was amnestied by the Bulls as a cost-cutting move after the worst season of his career, but is still a capable big man in the league. Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson, lottery pick busts, flourished with the Lakers last season and their returns injects youth and energy to this team. Nick Young, last season’s lone bright spot, is back and out to prove he is not a one trick pony but a capable Sixth Man.

2014-15 will be different. There is a different energy around this team. A fresh start for everybody from management, players, all the way down the average Lakers fan. The opportunity to watch this team grow is exciting, and it is going to be a fun ride.

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AP Photo/Chris Szagola

With training camp a week away, the Lakers continued to add depth to its roster with the signing of Wayne Ellington, the team announced Monday afternoon.

Ellington, played last season for the Dallas Mavericks, shooting career-highs from the field (.437) and three-point range (.424).

The former North Carolina Tar Heel was drafted 28th overall by the Timberwolves in 2009. After three seasons in Minnesota, Ellington made stops in Cleveland, Memphis, and finally Dallas.  With career averages of 6.4 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists, Ellington provides flexibility at a position that features Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, and Xavier Henry.

The addition of Ellington puts the roster at 14.  The team can take a maximum of 15 players once the season begins at the end of October. With one last roster spot available, depth at center and point guard are two positions of need but the Lakers could also choose to stay with 14, leaving room to sign a player during the season.

 

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Photo: ESPN.com

With one of the most forgettable seasons in franchise history behind them, the Los Angeles Lakers approach the upcoming NBA season with tremendous optimism and confidence. Stinging from an injury plagued 2013-14 campaign and a complete breakdown of trust within the team, the Lakers aim to return the supremacy of Hollywood back to the purple and gold. With Kobe Bryant returning this season, there is no reason why the team would not be able to make the playoffs come April.

As fans though, why should we believe them? Why should we trust in a team full of turmoil? Why should we believe that the team can still be successful despite the loss of a key piece of the 2009 and 2010 Championships?

The answer starts at the top. With critics around the league pointing the blame of the past season on Jim Buss, management has sought to make better decisions for the team moving forward. Still reeling from the loss of Dwight Howard and the failed Mike D’Antoni experiment, this summer has given everyone the indication that the Lakers are headed for a better year.

With the hiring of coach Byron Scott, the Lakers have brought in a man with extreme mental toughness and character. His dedication and work ethic, both on the offensive and defensive end, will certainly be a big factor moving forward. Adding to this, his relationship with Kobe Bryant will be important in determining the success that the team can ultimately gain. By understanding Bryant’s strengths and weaknesses, he may be able to maximize his skills to compliment his teammates. His veteran leadership and understanding of the Laker culture will help them gain an identity.

Secondly, one cannot deny the talent that the team will be bringing in for next season. Despite the losses of Pau Gasol, Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks, the team will still be competitive despite the lack of a superstar, outside of Bryant. Guys like Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis and Jeremy Lin will surely be productive and can be depended on for significant contributions. They will also have the services of rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, which will surely bolster the Lakers’ attack. Once everyone gains an understanding of Scott’s system, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

That being said, the most important reason why the Lakers will be successful is pride. Each member of the team, from the coaching staff all the way to the last guy on the bench, knows how big of a deal it is to don the purple and gold. Players like Nick Young have expressed how proud they are of being able to wear the jersey of the franchise with the most wins in NBA history. With so much doubt from people around the league, the team will be playing with a chip on their shoulder to prove the world and naysayers wrong.

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With the Lakers off to a poor start, trade rumors have begun to swirl around Kobe Bryant, leading many to speculate if he'll leave for greener pastures. Kobe puts those rumors to rest in his interview with Yahoo Sports.