Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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Jordan Clarkson

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After a miserable 2013-14 season that led to an unusually long off-season, we finally have something to look forward to. Yesterday, the NBA released the 2014-2015 regular season schedule. After saying goodbye to Pau Gasol, Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, and Chris Kaman (among others) the Lakers will begin the season with many fresh faces. Over the Summer, the Lakers added veterans Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, and Ed Davis along with rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. They will join returning Lakers Xavier Henry, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, and Nick Young. Oh, and I forgot, after only playing 6 games last season, Kobe Bryant will be hungry and healthy to start the season. A sight that Laker fans sorely missed.

With training camp just around the corner… Here is a preview of the 2014-2015 Lakers Regular Season Schedule:

OPENING NIGHT:

Photo Credit: NBA
Photo Credit: NBA

In 1 of only 3 games on opening night, the Lakers will begin their season at home against Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets. After sitting out all but 6 games last season, this will mark the first time Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard face each other since Howard’s departure 2 summers ago. It will also mark the first time Jeremy Lin will face his former team after being traded this past summer to the Lakers. In 4 games last season, the Rockets took the season series from the Lakers 3-1. However, after losing key role players in Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and Omer Asik it remains to be seen how the Rockets will fare this season. After opening night, the Lakers and Rockets will meet again on Nov 19 (@HOU) and Jan 25 (@LAL).

CHRISTMAS IN CHICAGO:

(Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

December 25th wouldn’t be Christmas without a little Lakers basketball. However, we’ll have a change of scenery this Christmas when the Lakers play their first holiday game away from Staples since 2006, when they played against Shaquille O’Neal and the Miami Heat. This year, Kris Kringle reunites us with a familiar face when the Lakers go up against Pau Gasol and the Chicago Bulls. This will be the first time Gasol and Carlos Boozer face their former teams after swapping places this Summer. It will also be the first time the Lakers will meet Derrick Rose after sitting out almost 2 full seasons due to injury. The two teams will meet again on Jan 29 when Gasol makes his Staples Center return.

GRAMMY ROAD TRIP:

This season’s Grammy trip seems fairly tame compared to those in years past. In previous seasons, the Grammy trip has lasted as long as 7 games in 12 days. This season the Lakers will only visit 4 cities in a 9 day span. The trip will begin in New York when the Lakers face the Knicks for the first time on Feb 1. Then we head to Milwaukee (Feb 4), where Julius Randle and the #2 overall pick, Jabari Paker, will meet for the first time in the NBA. The trip continues in Orlando (Feb 6), where Randle will go up against another lottery pick, Aaron Gordon (#4 overall). The trip will conclude when the Lakers visit Coach Scott’s former team to take on LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, (Kevin Love? Andrew Wiggins?), and the Cavs in Cleveland on Feb 8.

Last season, the Grammy trip was a 7 game trip where the Lakers went 2-5. This season, being an unusually short trip with no back-to-backs, the Lakers should end the road trip with a winning record. I don’t see Milwaukee or Orlando being much of a threat and we all know how much Kobe loves playing in Madison Square Garden. I expect the Lakers to come away from the Grammy trip going 3-1.

BACK-TO-BACKS:

This season, the Lakers will play a total of 16 pairs of B2B games. They’ll start the season right off the bat playing their first 4 games in 2 sets of home/away B2Bs against the Rockets/Suns and the Clippers/Warriors. The Lakers will be the visiting team for a majority of the games in these B2Bs. They will only play 8 of the 32 games at Staples (one will be an away game against the Clippers), all 8 occur on the first night of the B2B. And of course, as it seems to happen every season, the Lakers will play against the Denver Nuggets in the Mile High City on the second night of a B2B following a Clipper home game on April 8th. The Lakers seem to always struggle in this category, in 38 B2B games (19 pairs) last season, the Lakers ended with a record of 11-27, never winning a set of games. They’re going to need to turn that around this season if they expect to improve.

The 16 B2B match-ups will be against:

10/28-29: HOU/@PHX                    10/31-11/1: LAC/@GSW                11/11-12: @MEM/@NOP

11/18-19: @ATL/@HOU                 12/2-3: @DET/@WAS                    12/14-15: @MIN/@IND

12/25-26: @CHI/@DAL                 1/4-5: IND/@POR                            1/15-16: CLE/@UTA

2/10-11: DEN/@POR                      3/3-4: @CHA/@MIA                       3/15-16: ATL/@GSW

3/24-25: @OKC/@MIN                  3/29-30: @BKN/@PH                     4/7-8: @LAC/@DEN

4/12-13: DAL/@SAC

BATTLE FOR LA:

Photo courtesy of Frederic J. Brown, Getty images.

Fresh off the Donald Sterling fiasco, new Clipper owner, Steve Ballmer, and the rest of the Clipper team will almost certainly have some extra spark this season. Especially after newly appointed Lakers head coach (and former head coach of Clippers superstar Chris Paul), Byron Scott, declared that LA was still a Laker town. The Lakers will face the Clippers the usual 4 times (2 home, 2 away) this season, with the first match coming early in the season on Halloween night as a Laker home game. The remaining match-ups will take place on Jan. 7 (@LAC), Apr. 5 (@LAL), and Apr. 7 (@LAC).

After losing the season opener to the Lakers last season, the Clippers dismantled the Lakers by an average of 36 points in the remaining 3 contests and ended up taking the season series 3-1. The hallway series doesn’t get any easier for the Lakers this season after the Clippers added former Laker Jordan Farmar and Spencer Hawes to their depth chart.

A NEW STORY FOR AN OLD RIVALRY:

Photo: Jason DeCrow AP
Photo: Jason DeCrow AP

The Lakers/Celtics rivalry is a part of NBA history, even though it may not be as enticing these days as they were in the past, regardless if it’s for championships, regular season records, or lottery picks, there will always be a certain buzz surrounding a Lakers/Celtics match-up. This season’s match-ups could be the start of a new story when rookies Julius Randle and Marcus Smart take their places in this historic rivalry. Smart was taken by the Celtics with the 6th pick in the draft, one ahead of Randle. After being drafted, Randle said that he felt he should have been drafted higher. “The teams that passed on me will regret it” he said. Let’s hope he starts when the Lakers face the Celtics on Dec. 5 (@BOS) and Feb. 22 (@LAL).

NEW YORK, NEW YORK:

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

I wouldn’t normally consider a Lakers/Knicks game to be a “notable” game at the beginning of the season, but this year there are too many stories to ignore. Most of LA is still coping with the fact that Phil Jackson agreed to become the President of Basketball Operations for the Knicks last season, but this season we get the added bonus of seeing the team coached by Kobe’s longtime sidekick, Derek Fisher. Not to mention, there’s that Carmelo Anthony guy who turned down a max contract from the Lakers to re-sign with the Knicks this summer. We can watch all this drama unfold when the Lakers and Knicks faceoff on Feb 1 (@NYK) and Mar 12 (@LAL).

Also, the Brooklyn Nets will be in town to play the Lakers at Staples on Feb 20. Why do I consider this game “notable” you ask? It will be the Lakers first game after the Feb 19 NBA Trade Deadline. It’s never too early to speculate last minute trade deadline deals is it?

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:

- The defending champion San Antonio Spurs will face the Lakers 3 times this season on Nov 14 (@LAL), Dec 12 (@SAS), and Jan 23 (@SAS).

- LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and the Cleveland Cavaliers will make their first trip to LA on Jan 15 and the Lakers will head to Cleveland as the last stop in the Grammy road trip on Feb 8 for their only 2 meetings of the season.

- Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will also face Kobe and the Lakers 3 times this season beginning on Dec 19 (@LAL), Mar 1(@LAL), and Mar 24 (@OKC).

- And finally, after all of that, the Lakers will conclude the 2014-2015 regular season with a home and home against the Sacramento Kings on Apr 13 (@SAC) and Apr 15 (@LAL).

It’s obviously too early to tell what kind of success, if any, the Lakers will have this season, but there are encouraging signs. Less back-to-backs than last season along with a shorter Grammy trip will benefit the health of our team. Also, an extended All-Star break will allow the team to rest up to make a push in the second half of the season. If Laker fans have learned anything from the past 2 seasons it’s that health will play a tremendous role in the success of this team. And with a healthy Kobe Bryant ready to start the season, we’re already a leg up over last year.

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Photo Credit | Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

With free agency well underway now, the two biggest names on the market have chosen their landing spots. Lebron James has decided to return to his hometown of Cleveland, and Carmelo Anthony decided to return to New York and work under Phil Jackson.  James was essentially the first domino to fall as once he made his decision most other free agents began to make theirs.  The Lakers did their best to try and land Anthony but it was futile in the end.  Anthony not signing with the Lakers, unfortunately, meant the departure of long-time PF Pau Gasol, as he declined two separate offers from LA and decided instead to sign with the Chicago Bulls.

The Lakers currently have Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Nick “Swaggy P” Young, Kendall Marshall, Jordan Hill, and Robert Sacre filling out the roster for the upcoming season.  The roster is far from what the Lakers would like to have for next season, but it’s going to have to do.  There are a few more roster spots to fill out and it is yet to be seen who will fill those spots but it won’t be a big name as the Lakers don’t have much money to work with now.

The starting five currently lacks a decent small forward, and the Lakers will likely sign someone in free agency who can fill that need.  Here’s what it looks like right now.

PG Jeremy Lin

SG Kobe Bryant

SF ???

PF Julius Randle

C Jordan Hill

It’s not terrible, but it’s not that great either.  The Lakers are sure to go through another dull year without the talent to get them through a formidable Western Conference.

No one knows who Bryant will be when he returns this season, 36 years old when the season starts and he’s coming off two severe injuries stemming Lin-Lakers from two seasons ago.  Jeremy Lin, who was nothing short of a superstar when he truly debuted in New York, has since come back down to earth and is a rather average point guard in the league. We’re yet to see Randle in an NBA game so it’s realistic to expect Randle to put up decent numbers this season as he starts his career with the purple and gold.  Jordan Hill brings his game every night and is a wonderful offensive rebounder who always fights for boards on both sides of the floor.  It should be nice to see him in a starting roll where he can play the majority of the position’s minutes.

And of course there’s always Swaggy P, whose crazy antics and celebrations brought a strong energy to the court every night, that will surely be a welcome sign once again.

The sleeper pick for this season is Jordan Clarkson.  Yes, Jordan Clarkson, I told a friend of mine about him and he replied “Who is that?”.  Exactly.  He isn’t necessarily someone you would have heard of unless you’re an avid follower of Laker basketball, but believe me, this kid has talent and he was an absolute steal at #46 in the second round of this years draft.  Look for him to make his mark this season.

Photo Credit | John Locher / Associated Press
Photo Credit | John Locher / Associated Press

So where do the Lakers stand right now?  Well they definitely don’t look like what many fans felt they would look like a few months ago that’s for sure.  Missing out on the big free agent names is something that the Lakers aren’t used to, normally players are chomping at the bit to play for the Lakers.

This hasn’t been the case since the Lakers missed out on Chris Paul.  By this I mean that ever since that trade was nixed, the Lakers have really been in a downward spiral.  After that, Lamar Odom was traded away to Dallas for basically nothing, and Gasol was to be in trade talks for the next three years.  Phil Jackson had retired from coaching, and the Lakers went on to hire Mike Brown.  Following that, the Lakers looked to get back on track with the sign and trade of Steve Nash and the acquisition of Dwight Howard through a three-team trade.  This turned out to be a miserable failure which led to Brown being fired.  Then the Lakers had to chance to get Jackson back, but NOPE, they threw a total curveball and went with Mike D’Antoni instead.  Yeah, that worked out well.  Howard despised playing in LA under D’Antoni, who couldn’t effectively utilize a big man to save his life, and he didn’t get along so well with Bryant either.  Nash broke his leg in the first week of the season which led him to suddenly become “old” and he never performed like he did in his Phoenix days.  Bryant tore his Achilles tendon in the final game of the 2012-13 season against Golden State, and then the Lakers were swept in the first round by San Antonio. Howard then left for Houston, and the Lakers had a lot of questions facing them for the upcoming 2013-14 season.  Well, Bryant came back mid-season and subsequently broke a bone in his knee and was then out the rest of the season which led the Lakers to finishing with 27 wins and a lottery pick.  Even after getting in the lottery they still managed to only get the seventh pick out of it.

So, now they’re here, a shell of the championship teams that won in 2009, and 2010; Bryant being the only remaining player from those teams.  Gasol is gone and the Lakers seem to be facing more and more questions each season with hopes of future free agents wanting to come to LA in the coming years.  The Lakers have lost that luster they’ve had for so many years, they just don’t have it, and who knows when it will return.

The current roster doesn’t scream success, heck, it barely even whispers mediocrity.  I don’t see this team making the playoffs this season in such a tough Western Conference, unless someone plays out of their mind and carries the team. Unlikely though.  To top it all off the Lakers don’t even have a first-round pick unless it’s top five; that pick was sent over to Phoenix in the Nash deal.

Uncertainty faces this team to say the least, the Lakers are in an extreme rebuilding process and it could take a while before Staples Center raises another purple and gold banner.

 

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Photo: Jason DeCrow AP

 

Julius Randle, Kentucky, Power Forward, 6-9, 250 (Stats: 15.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.4 apg)

The Lakers came into the draft in a very interesting situation.  With only three rostered players, the team did not have the luxury of picking based on need, but instead was able to use its pick on the best available talent.

That is exactly what they got with Randle.  One of the best basketball players in the country this past season at Kentucky, Randle impressed the Lakers at his individual workout, not just with his basketball skill, but his attitude and the way he conducts himself as an individual which goes a long way when being an athlete in media heavy Los Angeles.

Concerns about Randle’s height came into question throughout the draft process, but his tenacity and style of play will surely translate to the NBA.  A throw-back forward who would rather do damage in the paint and on the boards instead of away from the basket, Randle’s frame along with his drive will be problematic for opponents as Randle will rarely get outworked.

Randle led the country with 24 double doubles last season, good for second most in Kentucky’s history which has produced players such as DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis in recent years.

As with any young player, there is room for improvement. Randle is a lefty and as with many players has issues with his off-hand which teams took advantage of at times by forcing him to go right.  His passing needs work but it is important to remember that Randle faced constant double teams, which resulted in turnovers and forced shots at times.  Defensively, he is a rock down low and hard to back down, but might have problems with the taller forwards in the league.  He is far more athletic than what he is given credit for and that will help in his development on both ends of the court.

Then comes the issue with his foot.  The situation is that after breaking his foot in high school, a screw was inserted into Randle’s foot but incorrectly. The bone did not heal the way some doctors would like but it has yet to hinder his play. The Lakers will decide whether surgery is necessary for the forward but Randle says he would be ready in time for training camp in three months.

The best part about is he is just 19 years old (turns 20 in November). After being drafted, he certainly said all the right things and seems to have an attitude that Kobe Bryant will like, which goes a long way when playing for the Lakers.  When it comes down to it, the Lakers got the pick right which should make fans happy.

Randle Quote: “I think I should’ve went higher for sure, but you know, the teams that passed on me will regret it.”

LakerNation Grade: A

 

Jordan Clarkson, Missouri, Guard, 6-5, 186 (Stats: 17.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.4 apg)

The Lakers were able to purchase the no. 46 overall pick from the Washington Wizards and the draft rights to Clarkson, a guard who had himself a nice season for Missouri last season after playing his first two years at Tulsa.

Many expected Clarkson to be an early second round pick in the draft. Considered to have first round talent, Clarkson slid on draft night and the Lakers were able to snag him for good value in the second round.

Clarkson ran point guard for a majority of the year at Missouri and did a decent job because of his strong ball handling and vision, but there was a transition period for the player who was comfortable at shooting guard. For a combo guard, Clarkson has good size at 6-5 and has a nice first step when attacking the basket.

He will need to work on his perimeter shooting as he shot 28 pct. from beyond the arc but the positive is his game is about getting to the basket and getting to the line where he shot 83 pct.  If anything else, he provides the Lakers with versatility off the bench as he continues to improve his game.

In recent seasons, the Lakers have had success with second round picks, notably Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly, so there is hope Clarkson is another player that can be serviceable early.

LakerNation Grade: B

 

It is safe to say the Lakers were successful on draft night.  I would have personally liked to see them acquire a late first round pick or early second rounder as there was great value there, but it is hard to complain about the draft.  With two pieces in place, the Lakers can now turn its attention to hiring a head coach and NBA free agency.

It remains to be seen if the Lakers flip Randle in a deal after July 1st, but it would be nice to keep a young player like him on the roster moving forward as he can develop into something special.  Depending how the summer goes, Randle could find himself as a starter at power forward come opening night and will be in the conversation as a Rookie of the Year candidate.

For a team that had three rostered players, adding pieces to the puzzle is necessary and the Lakers did just that.  They did not try to shock anyone with its pick or get desperate in the draft, they simply made the most logical and best choice at the time.  After some head scratching decisions the past few years, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

LakerNation Final Grade: A

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