Saturday, October 25, 2014
Tags Posts tagged with "Kobe Bryant"

Kobe Bryant

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“He is arguably the greatest player in the history of the Lakers’ franchise. He is also destroying it from within.”

It is simple. It is to the point. It is wrong.

On Monday, ESPN published an article online from writer Henry Abbott, who takes aim at Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant for being the sole reason the franchise has fallen off the last few seasons.

Let me be clear, when I say wrong, I do not mean the article is full of baseless information. In fact, there are stories in it that would not surprise me to be true. More times than not, Kobe has not exactly been the ideal teammate that players gravitate to nor will he ever pretend to lower expectations for his teammates causing tension along the way. This has been the narrative attributed to Kobe over his entire career. It is nothing new.

Where Abbott is wrong is letting his feelings towards Kobe get in the way of his job as journalist and writer. Instead his personal vendetta turned his opinion article into an unnecessary hack job of one man’s character.

I am not exactly sure when or where Abbott’s animosity towards Kobe began, but it is no secret Abbott is not a Lakers/Kobe guy and it is safe to assume the two do not exchange greeting cards during the holidays. Abbott has written many pieces over the past few years criticizing the shooting guard and it seems to only get more frequent with every passing season. Again, this is nothing new.

The main issue with Abbott’s article is it is completely one-sided. He knew exactly what direction he wanted to go in and used as much negative, second-hand information in his story to add “credibility” to his opinion. I am not sure what happened to the days of credible sources in journalism and it is clear Abbott is not sure either.

Here is a list of Abbott’s sources of information: “Rival GM”, “One long-time agent”, “Another agent with Lakers clients”, “An agent with numerous stars”, “An agent who once had a FA decline a Lakers offer”, “Front office executive from a rival team who knows everyone involved”, “Sources told ESPN Insider Chris Broussard”, “One Lakers source”, “One source in the Lakers circle”, “Source”, “Source with knowledge of the negotiations”, “One rival front office executive”, “Another NBA executive”, “Source close to Lakers decision makers”, “Sources”, and finally a “Lakers insider”.

Abbott’s attempt at bringing up different situations to tear down Kobe is weak at best. There are many different sides of a story and Abbott was motivated to find the side that went against Kobe, while ignoring every other side out there, even if it was reported by the network he is associated with.

It would not be any fun for him if he had to report a positive story Kobe. Kobe is arguably the most unpopular popular player in sports history and as a result a negative story on him will garner more clicks to meet that monthly quota.

Let’s take a look at some of the examples Abbott lays out in his article and put them up to the source test:

Dwight Howard leaving Lakers because of Kobe? Or was Howard upset at how he was treated in LA and wanted to be the man immediately?

To start off, let’s play the unnamed source game: “According to sources with knowledge of the situation, part of the discussion between Howard and Kupchak centered around Howard’s frustration with D’Antoni — particularly how the center felt marginalized as the coach looked to Bryant and Steve Nash for leadership and suggestions and discounted Howard’s voice.” - Dave McMenamin, ESPN

Now let’s go with named sources…

Steve Nash: “Dwight had some issues with the season,” Nash said. “I think it kind of basically goes with what he said to the media that he never quite felt embraced in L.A. He never quite felt supported. That’s basically it.” - Dave McMenamin, ESPN

Phil Jackson: And Kobe made a moving speech during the pitch, promising to teach Dwight the secret of winning championships that he’d learned from the best in the game.

If the meeting had ended there, it might have worked. But after the presentation, Dwight asked Kobe what he was planning to do after he recovered from his Achilles injury. Was this going to be his last year? “No,” replied Kobe. “I’m planning to be around for three or four more years.”

At that point, according to others in the room, Dwight’s eyes went blank and he drifted away. In his mind, the game was over. - New York Daily News

Dwight Howard himself: “A lot of people say, ‘Well, if you would’ve waited a couple years, then this could’ve been yours (with the Lakers),’ And I’m like, ‘In a couple years, I’m 30,’” Howard said. “I don’t want to wait. I’ve been in the league 10 years. I don’t want to wait for things to happen. I want to be aggressive, to make things happen. And I’m looking at all these young guys who are just ready, and they’re missing one piece. And I’m like, ‘I could be that piece, and I don’t want to miss my chance.” – Sam Amick, USA Today

How about Ramon Sessions leaving the Lakers because of Kobe?

“Sessions has been somewhat evasive as to why, but he has been quoted as saying it was “definitely different” playing with Bryant. Internally, the Lakers were rattled by his departure and came to believe that Kobe was the key. It meant little as a transaction but everything as a sign of how players with options view this team.” – Abbott

Ramon Sessions in 2012, on why he left the Lakers: “It was one of those situations I looked at like, ‘If I do come back what if they trade me?’ ” Sessions said. “There were talks about getting Deron. They always wanted the bigger-named guy. What if I get traded to a team and it’s my contract year? It was one of those things that I can’t say if I opted in, [Nash] wouldn’t have come. They still might have tried to get him. You just never know.” - Yahoo! Sports

Paul George staying with Indiana because of Kobe? 

“Paul George, Angelino through and through, had once been the team’s safest choice. But sources say one reason the two-way star had re-signed with the Pacers in the fall of 2013 instead was that he was turned off by the thought that Bryant would police his efforts.” – Abbott

Paul George response on Twitter:

Kobe must be so influential to the point that a player from another team, who in fact idolized Kobe growing up, evening wearing his number in college and in the NBA, was scared off by playing with him that he was forced to sign a 5-year, $91.57M contract.

And finally Jim Buss, who apparently hates Kobe in a Lakers uniform:

The view in the Lakers’ front office is that any real rebuild will have to wait until after Bryant’s retirement. “This has finally come home,” says a Lakers insider. “Major players don’t want to play with Kobe, and Jimmy is waiting for him to leave. – Abbott

Buss really wanted to Kobe to leave to the point where he gave the veteran a 2-year, $48.5M extension as he recovered from an Achilles heel injury that sometimes ends the careers of athletes. The logical thing would have been for Buss to tell Kobe they were moving forward with the future if he really wanted him to leave. The injury gave him the perfect opportunity to get rid of Kobe. Then again, that is the logical thing to do.

Now I understand unnamed sources are what drives sports stories and the media, but Kobe has been in the league 19 years and you’re telling me Abbott was unable to reach out to any of his ex-teammates? You know players that actually PLAYED with him. Why not ask Pau Gasol why it was so difficult to leave LA for Chicago this past summer? What about Derek Fisher? Rick Fox? Lamar Odom? How about current teammates like Steve Nash?

Or what about Shaquille O’Neal who has been completely open about his relationship with Kobe in the past? Much was made about Kobe running the center out of LA but even Shaq was candid in his reasons:

“It was a money situation, I was getting older,” he continued. “They wanted me to take less money. I wasn’t going to do that, so they traded me to Miami.”

On his relationship with Kobe on the court:

“We didn’t have a bad relationship, because we won three out of four championships,” O’Neal said. “That’s not a bad relationship at all.”

While Abbott was tracking down his anonymous sources, it is hard to believe he could not contact players that would be willing to go on record for his article. Whether the opinion of those teammates would be good or bad, it would provide the piece with far more credibility.  In addition, some of the sources were that of rival teams and agents, who have much to gain from trashing Kobe for individual, client, and franchise gain. As for “sources” inside the Lakers organization, it would be surprising to see if these sources are in fact as close to the situation as portrayed by Abbott.

Is Kobe going to win the award for best teammate? No. Is Kobe difficult to play with? He is. Does Kobe demand the same type of passion and commitment from teammates that he demands from himself? You bet. Certain players can play with Kobe, some cannot and that is what it comes down to.

When it comes to the big name free agents, let’s not ignore the fact the Lakers are consistently over the salary cap and this past off-season was the first time since the 90′s the team had a chance to add large contracts. LeBron James was always going back home to Cleveland and while Carmelo Anthony was intrigued by the Lakers, it was difficult for him to say no to Phil Jackson and $124M. Don’t see how Kobe played a part in either of those situations.

The Lakers being at the bottom of the league at the moment is not about one player. It is about a wide-array of things that Abbott fails to mention.

After the league vetoed the Lakers acquisition of Chris Paul, that can be seen as a good starting point as to when the purple and gold empire began to fall. A Paul trade would have been a precursor to another move that would have brought together Kobe, Paul, and Howard to form one of the more intriguing threesomes in NBA history. It was a typical Lakers plan that would have resulted in yet another dynasty… but it did not happen for “basketball reasons”.

That is no Lakers bias either from my end, it’s a shared sentiment from other reporters such as Eric Pincus:

Instead the Lakers went to plan B, which included trading an unhappy Lamar Odom for a draft pick, sending a bunch of draft picks to the Suns for Steve Nash and still being able to bring Howard in from the Magic.

From there, coaching issues with Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, terrible luck on the injury front, and lack of resources to trade for players (you know the thing the Lakers always have done to bring in talent, not in free agency) to compete in the Western Conference, have all played more of a role to the decline of the Lakers than Kobe has.

To place the blame on one player for the fall of a franchise is irresponsible. It is even more irresponsible to try and pass off an article as “opinion” with “facts” while your sources all hide behind anonymity.

While Abbott can attempt to blame Kobe for the fall of the Lakers, this is a prime example of a problem within media today. More than that, this piece just goes on to further the fall of respectable, honest journalism.

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Getty Images

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 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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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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Photo Credit | Getty Images

On his recent Nike tour in China, Kobe Bryant sat down with a group of young basketball players and answered questions posed to him on a wide range of topics including his focus and motivation, as well as how he will perform upon returning from injury this upcoming season.

Kobe is coming off a season in which he played just six games after returning from an Achilles injury in the 2012-2013 season.  He returned in December but suffered a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee causing the veteran to eventually shut down for the rest of the season.

As a result of those two injuries and age (turned 36 on August 23), much has been made as to how effective Kobe will be once he takes the floor this fall.  It is no secret to Kobe that his athleticism has been in decline over the last few years, but feels that will not hinder him on the court.

“I can say I want to be able to jump as high as I used to. I want to be as fast as I used to. But no; I don’t jump as high as I used to,” Kobe said. “That’s okay. I’m not as fast as I used to be. That’s okay, too. I’ll figure out another way to do it.”

While the athleticism of the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest champion is not what it once was, the skill and intelligence of the shooting guard remains.  A master of his craft, Kobe has continued to evolve his game with age, something he has done since entering the league.

“I do the moves over and over,” Kobe said. “Especially in my younger days, I didn’t really focus on trying to get my feet faster. I focused on the moves. Whether it was a fadeaway, or whether it was a crossover, I did the move over and over and over. Then, I got faster at doing moves. My feet got faster at doing the moves. When you have repetition with what it is you’re trying to do, you inevitably get better and faster at that. The most important thing in basketball isn’t speed anyway. It’s not speed. It’s skill.”

In a recent interview with Sports On Earth, general manager Mitch Kupchak gave some positive returns on how the guard has looked in workouts, which should provide Lakers fans with a sense of hope and excitement.

“My window overlooks the court, and he comes in to work out from time to time,” Kupchak said. “You would not know he’s in his mid-30s. You wouldn’t know he hurt his knee and had a torn Achilles. There’s no limp. He’s got a hop in his step. He’s working hard.”

Below is the video of the question and answer session with Kobe:

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(Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

Byron Scott’s hiring as Lakers head coach is not only a homecoming for the franchise he once played for, but also for the city he grew up in and is already doing his part to give back to the community.

On Tuesday, Scott announced his role as a mentor at Centennial High School’s Male Academy, an intervention program for the school’s ninth and tenth grade students. During the school year, Scott will be part of the program to mentor the young men while also taking part in motivational discussions.

Scott attended Morningside High School in Inglewood, which is six miles away from Centennial in Compton.

In his introduction at the high school, Scott’s main focus was to tell the students to focus on their education more so than athletic aspirations.

Lakers reporter Mike Trudell said Scott asked how many students believed they would become professional athletes, with many hands going up.

“You have a better opportunity to be the next (President) Obama than the next LeBron,” said Scott.

The response was not in any way to discourage the students from chasing their dreams, but to drive home the point that getting their degree and education is essential.

The press conference did not come without basketball as students were able to ask questions of their own and Scott was asked by a student as to who would be starting for him once the season came around, which resulted in an interesting response from the new head coach.

“Other than Kobe, it’s up for grabs.”

It is no surprise that Kobe is penciled in as a starter, but with acquisitions such as Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin, to say every position other than shooting guard is open was not the answer some would expect. Although it could very well mean Scott is promoting competition as training camp opens in the coming weeks, giving legitimate shots for players like lottery pick Julius Randle to prove their worth.

As Scott begins his new tenure as head coach for the purple and gold, it is great to see him going back to his roots and giving back to the city he loves by putting effort into making a difference in the lives of the younger generation.

In the past four years, the Male Academy at Centennial High School has helped students improve attendance rates, disciplinary issues and academic performance. It is also credited for increasing graduation rates by 10 percent. The previous mentor was former NFL quarterback Vince Evans, who graduated from USC, and played for the Chicago Bears as well as the Los Angeles Raiders.

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