Another journey begins on October 29th, 2013. The Los Angeles Lakers will kick off another season, but something feels very different this year. No number 24 in the starting line up due to an Achilles injury, and no Dr. Buss in the front office. A bunch of new faces are walking around Laker town like Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, and former Clipper center Chris Kaman. Even Mark “Mad Dog” Madsen is back. This season is what critics call a “toss up” season. The Lakers aren’t expected to make it to the Finals, let alone the playoffs, something we have not seen since 2005.
The Lakers will start the year off against the hometown rivals, Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers made an early exit last season as did the Lakers in a first round bounce. The Clippers have a new attitude and identity, just ask Laker fans how they felt when the Clippers covered the Lakers championship banners. Coach Doc Rivers brings an aggressive coaching style and may arguably be the best head coach in the league. The Clippers have always been the smaller brother in Los Angeles, but behind a new coach, they look to take over Los Angeles and give the Lakers a sour season opener.
What To Look For?
What will most intrigue Laker fans is the starting line-up, and how effective the new look Lakers will play together. Rumors are Steve Nash and Steve Blake will take care of the back court, Nick Young on the wing, along with the surprise of the preseason Shawne Williams at forward. Pau Gasol will move back in the post at center, which is his most effective position. Keep an eye out for Coach D’Antoni’s rotation of players like Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry.
Defense, Defense, Defense. The old saying is “defense wins championships” and the last time the Lakers won a championship, it was because of their defense. Last season the Lakers struggled especially in transition defense. Let’s see how effective the new and youthful Lakers can be on the perimeter and inside. Ball movement and shot selection are very important.
What To Expect?
A young, energetic group of Lakers will be willing to run back and fourth with the Clippers, and for that matter, all season. The Lakers seem to have slightly gotten better on defense, but expect them to put up a 1oo plus points every night due to Coach D’Antoni system. Every season is a new season and after watching the last couple of pre season games, the Lakers can go on scoring bursts. This team has fire power, especially in the back court. Turnovers will happen. How often they happen will be up to this team and its discipline. The Western Conference is going to be extremely competeive this year.
The Lakers will be without their leader Kobe Bryant to start the year. In Los Angeles, we have never had an issue on whose taking the last shot, it was always Bryant. Bryant would deliver in crunch time situations and pick his team up from deficits. That will now be a concern since he is not available in the line up. We have no official timetable for when the Mamba plans to return, but in all honesty, it won’t be soon. Bryant is not in shape and has yet to even practice in full contact with his team. Speculation is that Bryant will sit out the whole year; others have set a date for Christmas. The most important element is him being at 100%. A torn Achilles is not an easy injury to overcome and age is not on Bryant’s side.
If the Lakers start fast and stay strong defensively, expect a 1-0 start for the Lakers. If it is a close game, hold your breathe Laker fans. The Lakers need to be a lot more aggressive than the Clippers. They need to be mentally and physically tougher than them, especially in the low post area. Nash and Gasol must keep this young team focused and on schedule. The Clippers vs. Lakers rivalry will continue another season. Let the battle of Los Angeles begin.
While rehabbing his torn Achilles, getting ready to play in his 18th season, and having only the NBA scoring record to chip away at this year, it should come as no surprise that Kobe Bryant is already looking ahead to the summer of 2014. Of course, we have no proof of this, but why would we? Anyone who believes Kobe would publically admit defeat, at any point, has not followed this man’s career–he has too much pride and competitiveness to ever reveal that he does not believe his team can win it all. Simply put: Kobe Bryant is an alpha-male, and alpha-males tend to have enough self-confidence to supply every living beta on Earth.
Having said all this, Kobe is not dumb. He knows that his time is running out. He knows he’s facing an injury that would end the careers, let alone the productivity, of almost any player his age. He knows the third best player on the current Lakers roster after himself and Pau Gasol is either a soon-to-be 40-year old point guard, who is obviously breaking down, or a 28 year-old NBA journeyman on his 4th team in 7 years by the nickname of Swaggy P.
Once again: Kobe Bryant is not dumb. He understands that even if he were 100% healthy by opening night, this team as currently formulated has absolutely no chance of winning anything this year, other than a first round exit or a couple extra ping pong balls.
So the question becomes, what is Kobe’s mindset going into this season? Let’s assume he fully recovers from his Achilles injury and returns to the team around Christmas. The season would be about a quarter of the way through and the Lakers will most likely have a below .500 record. Kobe will join the team and they will win a few games they should have lost, due to the confidence builder of having one of the greatest players of all-time back on the team. Regardless, the team will flutter down the standings and finish around the 9th or 10th seed in the Western Conference (otherwise known as Basketball Purgatory: too good to be a lottery team, not good enough to be a contender).
Now what? Will the Lakers’ front office make a blockbuster trade or free agent signing like they did under Dr. Jerry Buss? Or, will they stand pat and try to rebuild via the draft and acquire assets like other teams in the league? The better question is how does this affect the decision of Kobe, who will become a free agent once this season is over? Apparently, Kobe is willing to take a pay cut if it means the team will sign a big name free agent, or two, such as Carmelo Anthony (possible) or LeBron James (near impossible).
But what if they don’t? What if Jim Buss decides he wants to stay under the luxury tax and build this team through draft picks and expiring contracts? Will Kobe stick around and watch the chances of his career ending without another title fade away faster than Steve Nash’s game? (Sorry, I had to). The answer is not just no, but hell no. Kobe may love the Lakers and all the fans, but he loves two things even more: his legacy and winning. Two things that are intertwined and completely dependent on one another. You cannot have a supreme legacy and not win. There’s a reason Jerry West aka Mr. Clutch aka The Logo is seldom brought up in discussions of who is the best of all-time (the usual suspects are MJ, Russell, Magic, and Bird). It’s because he went to nine NBA Finals and only won once.
Should Lakers fans be upset if Kobe ultimately leaves to join forces with another star, because the Lakers just don’t have the talent to compete for a title? Absolutely not. Kobe has worked his ass off for 18 years with this franchise with the only goal being to win championships. His mindset will ultimately always be about winning, regardless of where that takes place. Kobe Bryant understands that 10, 20, 30 years from now the only number that will mean anything to his legacy will be the amount of championships he won.
All week long, our staff writers have chimed in on a series of topics, rumors and storylines leading up to the start of the season. In this week’s final edition of State of the Nation, our writers examine the Lakers’ biggest key to this upcoming season:
The biggest key will be staying healthy. The Lakers don’t have much behind Kobe, Nash and Gasol. Even if Bryant comes back at full strength from the Achilles tear, the Purple & Gold will need Nash’s back and Gasol’s knees to hold up if they want to achieve a successful season.
The play of our young players, as well as keeping our older players fresh and injury-free. The new guys were brought in with the specific purpose of providing that spark and fresh legs to keep up with the rest of the NBA. If Pau, Nash, and Kobe can stay healthy, we could be looking at a dangerous team who can compete in the playoffs.
Two very important elements. First, the defense needs to be a lot better. We can score 120 points a game, but if you can’t slow down a team, it won’t make a difference. Second of all, chemistry is important. Can Gasol and Nash bring the team in together with so much young talent?
Obviously staying healthy is a big one, but I also believe team chemistry is going to be very important this season. It’s no secret Dwight Howard wasn’t exactly the happiest guy in the locker room last season and it’s obvious now that he’s gone, the team is clicking better then they did last year. It is important for the Lakers to keep that chemistry throughout the year and play as a cohesive unit.
Health. The Lakers may have added young role players, but their three key guys are on the wrong side of 30, and ailing. If Kobe, Pau, and Nash are healthy, this team has serious potential. If not…get ready for the lottery!
The biggest key to success this season is chemistry. Chemistry proved to be the downfall of the Lakers last season, and if the team can mesh well and communicate, they have a lot more potential then they ever did last season.
Chemistry. Look back to the Lakers teams who won championships. Above all else they had chemistry with one another. When Farmar, Ariza, Vujacic and company were on the floor, they meshed well with one another. If they Lakers can play as a team, the sky is the limit.
Health, health, and health again. With Steve Nash’s health seemingly declining before out very eyes and no timetable for the return of Kobe Bryant, keeping guys like Pau, Nick Young and Chris Kaman healthy long enough to hold down the fort is going to be crucial.
Health. With Kobe Bryant returning from his torn Achilles, and both Pau Gasol and Steve Nash returning from injury-riddled seasons, the Lakers are going to need some ‘luck’ in the injury department to be successful this season.
All week long, our staff writers chime in on a series of topics, rumors and storylines leading up to the start of the season. In today’s edition of State of the Nation, our writers offer their opinions on ESPN ranking Kobe Bryant as the NBA’s 25th best player:
What are your thoughts on Kobe Bryant being ranked 25th by ESPN, and what type of season do you see him having?
Outrageous and utterly disrespectful. I wouldn’t take any of the 24 players ranked ahead before the Black Mamba. Coming back from the Achilles, I expect Kobe to take it slow at first, but finish the season strong to prove the world he’s just different. By 2014, it will be all systems go for Mr. Bryant.
Kobe’s spot at number 25 is a mistake. You’d rather have 24 NBA players on your team before Kobe Bryant? I’ll attribute the ranking strictly to his age and injury, but when it comes to anything Kobe, he has earned the benefit of the doubt.
25th? Disrespectful. Do we ever wonder how Kobe only has one MVP but five championships? I’ll take Kobe with one leg to be a top 10 player. No way the NBA has 24 other players better than him. First match his toughness, second his basketball I.Q. They say the game of basketball is 90% mental and 10% athleticism. Having an Achilles tear is bad, but you just can’t count someone out who nearly led the league in scoring at the age of 35. I would like to see Kobe come back mid-season; have him rest, get in shape, there’s no rush.
Kobe being ranked 25th best player is blasphemous! Yes, you take into account the difficulty of returning from an Achilles injury, but Kobe’s endurance, championship pedigree, and work ethic should have been taken into account. Please show me 24 more players who are better on two legs than Kobe on one!
I understand they expect the injury to take a toll on him, but 25 is too low. Kobe was first team All-NBA last season. Anything less than third team would surprise me, even with the Achilles injury. That’s top 15. Still, Kobe has been consistently underrated in NBA Ranks (never ranked in top 5), so it’s nothing new.
It’s preposterous for Kobe to be ranked the 25th best player. Even with a torn Achilles I would still rather him play than 24 of the other players on the list. The best part about this ranking is that Kobe’s heard about it and is feeding off it. I can guarantee you right now that this ranking will only make a better and even more efficient Kobe.
25th is far too low for Kobe Bean Bryant. It is certainly difficult to get a feel for how effective Bryant will be coming off Achilles surgery, but being ranked behind the likes of Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah and John Wall is inexcusable. If Bryant’s rigorous rehabilitation this off-season is any indication, he should be able to overcome this potentially catastrophic injury and reclaim a top 10 status by the end of the season.
Next Question Tomorrow: In their first 7 games, the Lakers will face six playoff teams, including two back-to-backs. What is your prediction through the first 7 games?
By Alex Lambeth, with contributions from Jory Dreher
Jesse Buss, Lakers’ Scouting Coordinator and L.A. D-Fenders’ Director of Scouting, joined LakerNation.com for an exclusive interview this past week.
Buss, the youngest descendant of the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss, is a vital member of the Lakers’ scouting staff. He joined us to describe his role for the Lakers, detail the intricate scouting process he oversees, speak on his father’s legacy, as well as a plethora of other topics.
Take a listen above, as Buss joined our inaugural Laker Nation Podcast, or read below to learn more about the youngest Buss sibling, and his close relationship with his father:
Alex Lambeth: What exactly is your role with the Lakers?
Jesse Buss: My job as the Director of Scouting basically consists of scheduling our scouting staff to see college games for the upcoming season, helping organize meetings with all of our scouts, and scouting prospects on a regular basis. I’m in constant contact with our staff. We’re constantly bouncing ideas off of each other of what players we need to spend most of our time focusing on, important events we need to attend, and just talking about what we’ve seen throughout the entire scouting year. I share an office in El Segundo with Ryan West, and him and I talk almost everyday—about everything that goes into scouting. Basically the day after the draft and during the off-season it’s more about preparation for the upcoming season and the following draft.
AL: How does scouting for the D-Fenders differ from the Lakers?
Buss: It differs in the fact that in the NBA draft, you know the players that you’re scouting on a year-to-year basis are going to be in the draft eventually—whether it’s in the same year that you scout them or in the future. For the NBDL players that are drafted, they come from leagues all around the world. They could have been in the NBA at some point and played overseas for a couple years, then want to get back into the NBA system and on the radar. They could be rookies from college who didn’t get drafted into the NBA, or they could be veterans of the developmental league. The draft pool consists of players that the league signs to a contract and then they participate in the draft, if another D-League team does not already hold their rights.
AL: What specifically do you look for in prospects?
Buss: There are a number of factors that I use when evaluating prospects. I think it’s important to not focus too much on one thing specifically, but to focus more so on the overall picture. There are obvious things on the court that involve physical gifts and talent levels, but there are also off the court characteristics that we look at. We have staff rank each player individually that will make the most positive impact on our franchise.
AL: The Lakers as an organization seems to always carry a “win now” mentality, does that put additional pressure on your staff to find guys who can fit in quickly?
Buss: I would say it’s the same pressure when we’re suggesting drafting any player for the Lakers. It’s important to have a player who can come in and make a difference right away, but I would say the factor we really look at is who we believe is going to be the best player for the Lakers overall. The goal I personally have in my mind is that I want us to draft a player who will contribute to the Lakers winning for the longevity of his career.
AL: Give us your thoughts on rookie forward Ryan Kelly out of Duke University.
Buss: He’s a fundamental player with a good amount of skill and a high basketball IQ. I believe he fits well with this system that we have, because he can add another dimension to our team. We don’t have a guy like him right now. There aren’t many guys with his size, he’s a legit 6’11”, that have the ability to shoot the ball from the range that he does. He’s a hard worker and has a good character, and I’m excited to watch him play.
AL: What kind of impact do you think rookie Elias Harris will have with the Lakers this season?
Buss: He brings certain things like his energy, toughness and athleticism that we can definitely use. It’s important to have guys who will work hard day in and day out, and always bring a level of competitiveness to raise the levels of others. It’s important to get younger players on the roster that our staff can continue to develop and eventually make an impact on the court.
Jory Dreher: What was it like growing up in a “basketball family”? Especially when your father, the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss, was one of the most iconic sports owners in history?
Buss: It definitely added to all of our competitive natures. As a family, we love to win and we’re very dedicated in doing so. My dad was able to instill that in all of us at a young age. For me personally, it was great to be able to share a deep passion amongst loved ones and often find common ground through it.
JD: If you could sum up the ‘Buss legacy’ in one sentence, how would you describe it?
Buss: That’s tough. I would say he was very successful in whatever he put his hands on, but the most important thing is that he had a strong presence and it proved to be the right way to run the franchise.
JD: Out of the sixteen championships that the Lakers have won, do any of them stand out to you personally? Do you have a favorite?
Buss: I remember five of them, which were the first three with Kobe and Shaq and then our most recent two in 2009 and 2010. I’d probably say the 2000 championship, because the first one you get to experience is always the sweetest, and that was really the first one for me. I was born late ’87 so the last one we won before that I wouldn’t remember. But yeah, that was definitely the most memorable one for me.
JD: How sweet was it to finally get past Boston in the 2010 Finals?
Buss: The last time we beat Boston I wasn’t even alive yet, but I do know how much it meant to my dad. He said on many occasions that he hated Boston—there’s nothing better than beating Boston when we were able to. After the ’08 Finals, it was especially sweet to beat them in 2010 and do it on our home floor. That was a wonderful experience.
JD: How do you expect Dr. Buss’s legacy to live on?
Buss: He’ll always be known as a person who cared deeply about the Lakers and the fans, even if he didn’t personally know all of them. He did everything he could to constantly bring a winner to Los Angeles and helped build the NBA to where it is today. He was a mentor and an inspiration to many people, including myself. He was very well known for his generosity. He was just a really cool guy and I couldn’t have asked for a better father.
JD: What is the biggest lesson about the business that you’ve learned from your father?
Buss: To always have the right people around you and let them do their jobs.
JD: I know that your father was your best friend, could you just speak on the bond that you two shared?
Buss: He was just somebody I could talk to about pretty much anything. He just understood all aspects of life—whether it was talking about a movie we had just seen, the latest hip-hop song that came out, basketball, or anything personal. He just really knew how to relate to anyone he talked to. He let me grow and develop as a person without trying to force me to do something. He was the type of person that would help you with something if you needed it and asked for it, but would prefer to let you figure it out yourself. Personally, I believe that was very empowering for me as an individual. I can’t thank him enough for everything that he has done for me. It is definitely a huge void in my life not having him here; I really miss talking to him.
JD: I recall a past interview that you had given to Lakers’ beat reporter Mike Trudell, in which you said your brother, Jim Buss, took you under his wing. What are some of the things that you picked up from him?
Buss: The first couple of scouting trips I did years ago were with him. He kind of just showed me the ropes in the sense of what the job entails. I would probably say the most important impact that he’s had on me is just the trust he’s put in me, and also at the same time just telling me to trust and believe in myself, as well.
AL: How often do you collaborate with your brother and General Manager Mitch Kupchak?
Buss: We often talk about everything that’s going on with anything that’s basketball related: anything that’s current, any game we saw, what’s going on with our team. But mainly we collaborate with college scouting and anything involved with that. I like to think that I’m constantly an information source for anything that’s going on scouting-wise for them. During the entire draft process, which is basically the whole year once the college season starts and even a little bit before that with the tournament, camps, and workouts, we collaborate almost everyday in preparation for the draft.
AL: Is that probably the most grueling part of the season for you, right up until the draft?
Buss: I would say probably during the last month, because you have all the information that you need. You’ve seen all the players you need to see and now it’s just about putting that to use. We watch a ton of tape, especially the last month when we’re all rooted and we’re able to be in the office everyday, as opposed to having to be on the road constantly. So, we’re really able to grind out everything that we need to. It’s more excitement than I would say grueling. We all love to do it and we all work very well together and we have a blast when we’re doing it.
AL: You started out as an assistant to Glenn Carraro, may you elaborate on the transitional period from then to now?
Buss: I started working as a basketball operations assistant under Glenn about eight years ago. I would do different things like statistical projects, filing scouting reports, organizing tape for our staff to watch, amongst other things. During that time I was scouting local college games for the first couple of years. Probably three or four years after that process, I started traveling around a lot more often and going to different places around the country and watching more college games. That essentially became the priority of my job. I did that for a couple of years and then I became more involved with the managerial type role in the scouting department.
AL: What is the most challenging part about scouting?
Buss: Well, in terms of scouting prospects there are certain factors that go beyond what a player can bring a team that you can’t really predict: injuries, misfortunes, etc. In terms of the actual job, the travel is difficult at times, but I enjoy it. I would say I’m probably out of town close to 100 days out of the year; I probably take 60 or so flights a year. So the travel can wear on you physically.
JD: With scouting being a year-round job, how many Lakers games are you able to catch per year?
Buss: I watch every Laker game one way or another, whether it’s live or recorded on TV, computer, cell phone, or when I’m actually in the stands. I would say I’m physically there for about half of the regular season games, whether we’re at home or on the road. I’m not present for as many home games because I’m constantly on the road. But at times I can catch the team when they’re playing in the city close to where I’m scouting.
JD: With all the traveling, what do you think is the most exciting part of your job?
Buss: I would say the most exciting part is being able to watch hundreds of new prospects every year. It’s definitely fun to watch players when they’re younger to see their progression and development throughout the years.
AL: Do you have any good scouting stories you can share with us?
Buss: Throughout the years I’ve had the pleasure to attend many exciting basketball games. I think the most interesting experience I’ve had is seeing two games in two different states in one day, and then the next day we’re in a different state seeing a different game. So all that type of travel and how it’s very condensed is interesting and at times, you’re driving through three states in two days.
AL: How about your favorite venue to watch college games?
Buss: I do have a couple. If I had to narrow it down to one actually, I really enjoy going to San Diego State and watching games there. Over the last couple years where they’ve been nationally ranked and they’ve had a couple kids come out there, the crowds have been very energetic and it’s just a great atmosphere. I definitely enjoy watching games there. Besides that, I’ve been to Kansas and that’s always electric. North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville, those are all really great schools to watch a game, and Michigan as well. Those are probably my top schools where I like to watch a game.
AL: Finally, your top Lakers players of all-time, in no particular order?
Buss: Well at my office I’m just looking outside and I see all the retired jerseys, so of course I have to mention quite a few of them. In no particular order though, I would say Kobe Bryant, Magic [Johnson], Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol, and Kareem Abdul-Jabar.
Continuing on Pau Gasol:
Buss: It was during a very crucial time when he came to our team and he proved to be the missing piece. He contributed to two more titles for us. He’s been a great Laker.
AL: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Mr. Buss. It was an honor and we really enjoyed it. We hope you did too!
Buss: Yes I did, my pleasure. Thank you very much.
There you have it Laker Nation! Our exclusive interview with Jesse Buss, Lakers’ Scouting Coordinator and L.A. D-Fenders’ Director of Scouting. We hope to catch up with him again later in the year.
By Alex Lambeth, with contributions from Jory Dreher
Wesley Johnson has yet to find a home in the NBA.
Drafted fourth overall out of Syracuse University in the 2010 NBA draft, the Lakers will be Johnson’s third team in just four years.
Johnson, a 6’7″ 215 pound shooting guard, has his sights set on a breakout year with Los Angeles.
Johnson, who prefers “Wesley” to “Wes”, enters his fourth NBA season with career averages of 7.7 points, 1.2 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game.
In an exclusive interview with LakerNation.com, Johnson expressed his excitement to finally wear the purple and gold.
“It’s really a dream come true for me. I’ve wanted to play here since I was younger. My family really respects the Lakers for all they stand for,” Johnson told Laker Nation. “They always hold the Lakers to the highest standard, on a pedestal, just because they love watching them play.”
“My mom loved Magic [Johnson]. Being able to play for the Lakers and with my mom being able to see me play for them, it’s going to be fun,” Johnson said. “I can’t really give you a whole explanation about how excited I am just to be a part of Laker Nation. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
As one of the many new faces in the Lakers’ locker room this season, Johnson described himself as being “fun and laid back,” but also “a very high energy type of player.”
“It’s going to be fun watching me play this year. I’m excited about playing in Staples Center, in front of Laker Nation fans, and everybody,” Johnson said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Despite an uncertain future, Johnson hopes to make Los Angeles his home for years to come.
“I would love to make this my home. I’m here every summer,” Johnson explained. “When I first held my jersey, I was like, ‘I’m with the Lakers. I’m wearing number 11. I’m in L.A.’
“You just can’t beat this, man. It’s all a great situation and I’m going to play like it.”
That number 11 holds very special meaning to Johnson, who has worn the numbers 4 and 2 in previous years.
“Number 11 is what I wore my whole life when I was in high school, in Little League, everything,” Johnson said. “It basically marks the beginning for me.”
Johnson certainly seeks to jumpstart his career in Los Angeles. Johnson, a former lottery-pick, feels he has a lot to prove this season.
“I think I have a lot to prove every season, but even more so this season,” said Johnson. “Having that Lakers uniform on my back and how my career has transpired up to this point, I definitely have a lot to prove.”
When Johnson first entered the league, he was projected as ‘the guy’. Coming into this year, however, Johnson looks forward to simply finding his niche with the Lakers.
“There’s a lot of guys on this team that already have that role, so there’s not a lot of focus on me. Guys like Nick [Young] and Jordan [Farmar] and myself can all come in and play.”
“We can go out there and take the load off some of those guys,” Johnson continued. “It will definitely be a relief off their shoulders knowing we’re going to compete just as hard as they are.”
As Johnson mentioned, the Lakers also signed former USC-product Nick Young this off-season. Johnson elaborated on his relationship with Young.
“Nick and I talk a lot, actually. We’ve been in the gym and excited to play with one another,” Johnson said. “He’s a high-energy guy like me and he’s definitely fun to play with, with all the stuff that he can do on the court. Playing alongside of him is definitely going to be exciting for us both.”
“We’re really starting to figure out how each of us plays and where we both like the ball,” Johnson explained. “We’re getting that chemistry down between us too, so it will definitely be fun to see.”
Along with Young, Johnson has been developing a great rapport with Jordan Farmar, who returns to the Lakers’ backcourt after a stint overseas.
“Jordan has already told me he wants to pick up 94 feet [defensively],” Johnson said. “I told him, ‘I got the back. If you’re picking up 94 feet, then I’m picking up right there with you.'”
“So there’s definitely going to be that youth and excitement back on the court again,” Johnson predicted. “Everyone is so eager to play. Nash has that fire within him too so it’s really going to rub off on everyone.”
With all the youth and athleticism the Lakers added this off-season, Laker Nation could be in for a nice surprise this season.
Johnson went on to discuss the impact he looks to have on the defensive end as well.
“I think I can have a really good impact just for my length and my speed, and also just getting in passing lanes and disrupting shots. I’m going to bring a spark that will fuel the entire team,” Johnson said excitedly.
“What’s important for us is just getting everyone to come out as a collective group and giving a good defensive effort,” Johnson said. “I’m definitely going to use my wingspan to make plays happen. As long as everyone is on the same page defensively, I think we’ll be just fine.”
Johnson was also well aware of ESPN.com ranking the Lakers to finish 12th in the Western Conference this season.
“That’s disrespectful,” Johnson said in an annoyed tone. “That’s really for us to go out there and prove everyone wrong. That’s why everyone is so eager and we’ve been in the [practice facility] everyday up to this point.”
“Everyone is in there to build chemistry to show everybody that we’re not 12th. We know that we’re not 12th, but it’s definitely going to be more fuel to the fire.”
So, what exactly will Johnson bring to the Lakers, specifically in coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense?
“I think my game fits well. I was actually talking to [D’Antoni] about it today. It reminds me of when I was back at [Syracuse] with coach Boeheim and how it’s a free flowing offense,” Johnson explained.
“You can make reads off one another and there’s no particular spot on the floor that everyone has to get to. I feel like I’ll flourish in this offense,” said Johnson. “It’s really just high tempo, get up and down, and being able to shoot the ball and finish. So it plays to all my strengths.”
Once Johnson signed with the Lakers this summer, he knew he would need to improve his shot making ability to be as effective as possible in D’Antoni’s offense.
“I’ve pretty much worked on every part of my game,” Johnson said as he discussed his off-season workout regimen. “Of course I’ve been working on my three point shot because that’s what the [Lakers] have been emphasizing to me. Being able to shoot the ball is key for me and I’ve really been working on break down moves to get my shot off.”
“I feel very comfortable shooting the ball from anywhere on the floor right now, but my corner three is coming along great,” Johnson continued. “Other than that, I’ve just been working on my overall game and trying to become a more balanced player.”
In addition to working on his own game this off-season, Johnson has started taking advantage of his veteran teammates.
“I told Kobe [Bryant] that I’m definitely going to be asking him a lot of questions. I told him I’m going to be picking his brain a lot,” Johnson shared. “I’m looking forward to learning anything that he’s learned over the past 17 years he’s been playing. Anything he’s willing to give me that I can work on as a player, I’ll listen.”
“Steve [Nash] has also been in and out so I’ve been bouncing things off him too,” Johnson said. “Just to get his feel on how players he’s played with before have been effective in this offense.”
Johnson continued, “It’s only right that I do pick their brains because they’ve been around for a while and they understand the concept of winning and what it takes. I’m definitely going do my best to learn from them.”
As Johnson continues tapping into the valuable assets around him, he also explains that he has learned a lot from the rather unpredictable start to his career.
“I’ve really just tried to learn as much as I can from every situation I’ve been in,” Johnson said. “You never really know what is going to happen in this league. I just try to look at everything as a learning experience and not as a fault.”
“Sure I’ve moved around a lot,” Johnson said. “But I still look at it as a learning experience and just go from there.”
Johnson also opened up on a more personal level, discussing his close relationship with his mother and father.
“I was blessed to have both of my parents in my life, so they definitely taught me good values,” Johnson shared. “They taught me to be humble by just watching them and how hard they worked all my life. It’s definitely rubbed off on me, so I give them all the credit.”
As Johnson prepares to call yet another NBA city ‘home’ this year, he brings along with him his twin boys.
“These days my free time goes to them and I’m doing the father thing,” Johnson said proudly. “I’m focused on making sure they grow right and play with them, doing everything a father does. When I’m with them we’re at the beach or going to the park.”
“I also play with my nephews on NBA 2k,” Johnson explained about his recreational activities. “I also shop. I try to catch up on my sleep. But other than that, I’m usually with my boys.”
Now that he resides in one of the most eccentric cities in the country, Johnson shared that he is always looking for that good ‘home-cooked meal’.
“I’m always trying to find those hole-in-the-wall places with some good home-cooked meals. That’s what I need,” Johnson said. “The restaurants here are cool, but I’m looking for those homemade tacos, some soul food, all the home-cooked meals.”
Johnson also gave some insight into his pre-game music playlist, which primarily consists of rappers Jay Z and T.I.
As Johnson prepares for arguably the biggest season of his career, there is just one simple thing he looks forward to.
“Just being a Laker,” Johnson explained with a laugh. “You can’t beat playing in Staples Center, in front of the fans. Just coming to Staples Center always gives you that extra energy to put on a show. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
With the start of training camp already on the horizon, Johnson ended our conversation with a heart-felt message for all of Laker Nation:
“You’re going see a lot of hungry players this year, especially from the youth. I would definitely recommend Laker Nation to come out to some games this season. It’s going to be an exciting year, a fun year, filled with a lot of action. Dunks. High-flying plays. Everything you can think of and want will be there.”
“A lot of guys are already working hard everyday just to prove to the Nation, the world, that we’re back and we’re going to start the season on the right foot. So there will definitely be a lot of hard playing out there.”
“We know Laker Nation will be behind us but we just want to let you know to keep at it and we’re going to play our hearts out for you. We’re here for you and we’re going to play for you. Like I’ve been saying, it’s going to be a good year, it’s going to be a fun year. This is one of the seasons I definitely look forward to.”
As Wesley Johnson prepares for his fourth NBA season, look for him to have a break out year this season. Johnson was quick to point out that he has learned a lot in his short NBA career thus far, and will use that experience to find his niche with the Lakers.
The athletic wing will have a great opportunity to back up Kobe Bryant, and may even compete for the starting small forward position this season.
For the first time in his NBA career, Johnson seems comfortable, thanks to his new role with the team he grew up loving. However, there is still something we have yet to see from the former lottery-pick: Johnson realizing his full potential and becoming the best player that he can be.
Under the tutelage of Bryant and Nash, he has the perfect opportunity to do so as a Laker.
The date is August 23, 1978 a legend was born, Kobe Bean Bryant turns the age of 35 today. NBA fans watching his play lately might be shocked by his age because it seems like the Mamba has found the fountain of youth, getting better and better each and every year. Playing like a 25 year old, Bryant had one of his greatest seasons last year, statistically shooting nearly 46 % from the floor and averaging 6 assists with 27 points per game.
Although the 35 year old Bryant suffered a set back with his Achilles tear, he’ll be ready to go for next season. As Kobe likes to call himself “Vino” because like wine he gets better with time. As an appreciation for all the great moments Kobe has given us, we’d love to go back in time and revisit some of the more memorable moments of his career.
81 Point Game: Down 18 points in the 3rd quarter vs the Raptors, Kobe ferociously brought back the Lakers scoring 81 points, which is the second most in an NBA game to only Wilt Chamberlain. Of those 81 points, 55 came in the second half alone.
2007-2008 MVP: With an MVP award long over due Kobe finally gets his first in the
2007-2008 season. After posting back to back 30 plus point scoring seasons and not being mentioned, it was about time he received it. Falling short first to Tim Duncan in 2003 due to the teams record, then to Steve Nash in a year were he averaged 35 points a game and carried the whole team on his back. Then next season losing it to Dirk Nowitzki after averaging 32 points and taking the Lakers to the playoffs to fall short again to the Phoenix Suns.
5 Championships: As much as he wants his 6th ring and as much as we want to see him grab his 6th ring, 5 is a lot and it’s a great achievement. After losing to the Celtics in the finals during the 2007-2008 season, The Lakers bounced back and beat the Magic the following year, then came back home in an epic 7 games series Finals matchup to beat the Celtics in Los Angeles.
Who would have figured after 17 NBA season you would still be playing and overachieving. From amazing shots to monstrous dunks, to last second buzzer beaters, Kobe has made each and everyone of the 17 NBA seasons memorable and exciting for Laker Nation. From NBA fans, to Laker fans, to every writer for the Laker Nation, we would like to wish one of the greatest Lakers to ever do it, a Happy 35th Birthday Mr. Kobe Bean Bryant. We cant wait to see you overcome your injury and come back to chase that 6th NBA championship. Laker Nation – what’s your favorite Kobe Bryant moment?
With key departures in starters Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, the Lakers starting line up is a mystery. We know 3 positions will be locked, the point guard in Steve Nash, Shooting guard Kobe Bryant and either Center/Power Forward Pau Gasol. The two positions up for grabs will be the small forward and power forward positions. In Coach Mike D’Antoni system, you sometimes just don’t know what to expect. Will D’Antoni run and gun or will we see a slower pace offense like towards the end of the year when Kobe got hurt. Until then, we can play around with different scenarios for starting line ups and take a couple shots at who we think might start. Lets take a look at the two highlighted positions on the Lakers roster, the power forward and small forward.
Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman will be the lead candidates for the starting power forward/center job. We know what Jordan brings, toughness, great rebounding and defense. This summer Hill asked Coach D’Antoni how he can improve his game and has reportedly been working on his 15-18 foot jump shot. Kaman on the other hand is veteran thats been in the league for a while. Chris too can pick and pop and play down low. I personally would love to see Jordan start and Kaman off the bench because that would give us a solid center off the bench. Pau Gasol is an extremely gifted player and many fans forgot how talented he is in the post with both hands. Critiques will say he’s soft and can never bang down low, thats a false statement. Gasol wont give us breathe taking dunks but he’ll get the job done. If Pau Gasol can go back to his 09-10 season, in which he was dropping close to 19 points and grabbing 11 rebound, he will be feared again.
The small forward position for the Lakers is very tricky. We’ve had many good players in the past like Trevor Ariza, Metta World Peace, Rick Fox and “Big Game” James Worthy. If the Lakers went up against Carmelo, Lebron, Kevin Durant we knew we had that stopper on defense, that would be able to somewhat slow them down and take the load off Kobe and company defensively. This position should have more of a scoring punch with Wesley Johnson and Nick Young, but there are definite questions on the defensive end. Wesley is long and can shoot the 3 ball, and should fit well in D’Antoni’s system. Nick Young can score in bunches from almost anywhere on the floor and he loves attacking the rim. I personally think who ever stands out defensively from the two will be grab the most playing time.
Projected Starting Line up:
Point Guard: Steve Nash will control the rock at the point guard, he’s getting old but his shooting off Kobe double teams and intelligence at the position is rare and what the Lakers need. Nash needs to be more aggressive this upcoming season, more scoring than facilitating.
Shooting Guard: If Kobe is a no go season opener, Jodie Meeks will get the start untill the Mamba comes back.(Get Ready)
Small Forward: The small forward position will go to Wesley Johnson, he’s a sniper from outside and plays good perimeter defense. I won’t be suprised if Nick Young gets a couple starts this year or even ends up starting. Nick Youngs offensive explosions would be much appreciated off the bench either subbing in for Kobe or Wesley.
Power Forward: The Power Forward position is a toss up, I want to see Jordan hill start so Chris
Kaman can give us a solid punch off the bench but wouldn’t be surprised to see it work out the other way. Kaman might just start to help Gasol spread the floor and give him space inside to dominate.
Center: Pau Gasol period. This is his year to dominate, the paint belongs to him. I am extremly eager to watch Gasol this year who I think will have one of his more dominant seasons, and needs to. If Kobe is a no go season opener, Gasol you are the best player on this roster and need to carry this team. I expect more touches for Pau and more Pick and roll situations with Nash and Kobe. With the departure of Dwight, we have to feed the spaniard down low. Laker fans get ready for a great 2013-2014 Season.
Kobe Bryant is still recovering from his torn Achilles tendon but he is making excellent progress. He has publicly said that he has “shattered” the recovering time table for an injury of this calibur and the latest video he put on his Instagram account confirms this even more. The Alter-G Treadmill isn’t an ordinary treadmill, it alters the gravity in the box he stands in so all of his weight isn’t on his healing Achilles. This is a huge step for Kobe because he’s already running on his heel and even though it’s not all of his weight, it’s one step closer to that. The video can be seen below.
It’s great to see Bryant already at this point in his recovery process and it means he’s that much closer to playing basketball again.
August 15th, 2013 –The Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation partnered with the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to host Kobe Up Close.
All proceeds from the event went towards eliminating homelessness in Los Angeles.
The event was a unique opportunity for Lakers fans to access the unfiltered mind of their beloved superstar, Kobe Bryant.
In attendance at the event were current Lakers Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly and Wesley Johnson, new assistant coach Mark Madsen, former Lakers coach Bill Sharman, Lakers executives Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss, former NFL player Terrell Owens, among others.
The event began with CBS sportscaster Jim Hill speaking on Bryant.
Hill on his first impression of Bryant back when he was drafted by the Lakers:
“I remember Jerry West talking about Kobe Bryant and saying he was going to be very, very special. He was going to be one of the true great ones. And Jerry doesn’t say that about a lot of people, especially young people.”
“The first time I met Kobe, I knew then he was going to be not only a great one, but a very special one.”
On just how special Bryant really is:
“We will never see the likes of Kobe Bryant again, he is truly a gifted basketball player.”
“He doesn’t look at basketball as a job. For him it’s a passion. He’s spoiled us with his excellence.”
“What drives Kobe the most is when people doubt him. You will see a devoted Kobe this season like you’ve never seen before.”
Former Laker Robert Horry also spoke on Bryant before the main event started.
Horry on Bryant’s mental edge:
“Kobe’s mindset is amazing. When you see someone in the locker room as focused as he was, it really lifts everyone else up.”
On his relentless work ethic:
“When you walk into practice and you see him in there working hard. He’s in there sweating before you get there and after you leave.”
After Horry’s short segment, the main event with Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Kimmel began.
Bryant on the number of minutes he played last season:
“I don’t think it was too many. The Achilles injury was just a freak injury.”
On whether he’ll play less minutes next season:
“That’s the goal … I could sit back until June, I just want that jewelry.”
On when he will play again:
“I don’t know if I’ll be ready opening night, but I am really ahead of schedule.”
On whether it was a personal decision to stop tweeting during games last season or a franchise decision:
“That was my decision. The Lakers know I’m a little too stubborn to ever be told anything.”
On his popularity in China:
“I really don’t know. I started going out there in 1998 and have gone every summer since.”
Kobe was a Lakers fan even before he came to the United States:
“While I was living in Italy, my grandpa used to send me tapes of Lakers games and I absolutely fell in love with them.”
On his decision to skip college and go straight to the NBA out of high school:
“I liked Duke and I absolutely love Coach K. If I had had to make a decision though, I would have gone to North Carolina. Mainly because of the competition and being able to play against Vince Carter every day to improve.”
“The first college letter I ever received was from West Point … I was just happy to get a letter.”
Would he tell others to skip college?
“I would just tell others to follow their dreams.”
On his pre-draft workout with the Clippers:
“The Clippers told me they wouldn’t draft me because they wanted to ‘turn things around.’ They said they wouldn’t be taken seriously if they drafted a 17-year-old kid out of high school.”
On the late Dr. Jerry Buss:
“He knew exactly what his vision was. He was very patient, understanding. He allowed me room to grow as a person.”
On his first time meeting Shaquille O’Neal:
“It was the coolest thing in the world that he had a huge cell phone.”
Which title was Bryant’s favorite during his time with Shaq?
“Number 2. We should have gone undefeated. It still bothers us to this day that we let that one game drop.”
What is Bryant’s relationship with Michael Jordan like?
“It’s like a big brother relationship. He gives me phenomenal advice on how to better elevate my teammates.”
On who are the toughest players he’s played against:
“Allen Iverson was a load to handle. Stephon Marbury dropped 50 on me once. Gilbert Arenas. Today, probably Carmelo Anthony because he’s so strong. Kevin Durant too. The guy who gave me the most trouble though was Tracy McGrady.”
When asked if he was certain he’d be a Laker for life, Bryant responded: “Yeah.”
Bryant on Dwight Howard and his exodus from Los Angeles:
“Dwight is a great kid. We have different perspectives on what it takes to win and what it takes to be successful.”
On trying to convince Howard to stay:
“It’s all about the organization and trying to set them up the best I can for when I retire.”
On his once volatile relationship with Shaq:
“It never bothered me when other people said, ‘You only won because of Shaq.’ It bothered me when Shaq said it.”
On his evolution as both a player and a person:
“I was so consumed with my craft in the beginning of my career. … I go into games now looking at what my guys are going through and who’s struggling, and how I can help. I look at my teammates now as partners.”
When asked if he could have one former teammate return, who would it be:
“I’d take Derek Fisher back … that’s my guy.”
On what he’s most proud of:
“Being a 17-year-old kid and challenging the system at the time.”
Is Bryant chasing Kareem Abdul-Jabar’s all-time scoring mark?
“I’m so obsessed with winning that those type of things don’t really matter to me.”
Which is Bryant’s favorite nickname right now?
“I like Vino right now. Black Mamba is my alter-ego.”
On the ESPN experts projecting the Lakers to finish 12th in the West this season:
“I use it as motivation, as fuel. We were the favorites last year and they were wrong about that.”
On who is the ‘next Kobe Bryant’:
“There’s several. Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Even Nick Young. They all have that gene.”
The event ended with Terrell Owens asking Bryant a few questions. The two share a common neuro-muscular scientist consultant in Barrence Baytos. Both Bryant and Owens raved about Baytos and Bryant called him a “genius” who has helped prolong his career.
The Kobe Up Close event was a great opportunity to delve into the mind of Kobe Bryant.
This revealing ‘other side’ to the ever-intense Black Mamba was certainly riveting and quite interesting.
Bryant will continue what he called an “aggressive” rehabilitation process as he prepares to return from his Achilles tendon tear.
The NBA announced today the new schedule for the upcoming 2013-2014 NBA season. Riddled with marquis games, rivalries, and guaranteed blowouts this season looks to be quite the ride. You can look at the schedule here via ESPN.
The season opens on October 29th with Los Angeles playing Los Angeles in an epic battle of LA. Some other notable games for the Lakers are playing the Heat at Staples Center on Christmas Day, and visiting Dwight Howard and the Rockets on November 7th. The opening night game versus the Clippers will perhaps have a lot more meaning than appears at first glance. Starting the season with a win there would give the Laker faithful a real hope for the rest of the season seeing as they were swept by their co tenants last year in the season series. Dwight Howard doesn’t make a trip back to LA until February 19th when the Lakers host the Houston Rockets. The Grammy road trip spans from January 15th – January 26th playing six games over that duration against PHX, BOS, TOR, CHI, MIA, ORL, and NYK, certainly no walk in the park.
The Lakers have a good core put together and should put up better numbers than many are anticipating this season so don’t throw in the towel just yet. This season is sure to be filled with its share of ups and downs but has a rich helping of great, exciting games for fans every where to enjoy.
Here’s to a good season Nation, less than 3 months away.
While on his tour in China, Kobe Bryant gave an update to NBA.com’s Jonathan Hartzell on where he is at in his recovery from the ruptured left achilles’ tendon he suffered last April:
“The surgical procedure was different […] and because of that the recovery has been different,” Bryant said in the southern city of Shenzhen. “The normal timetable for recovery from an Achilles, we’ve shattered that. Three-and-a-half months I can already walk just fine, I’m lifting weights with the Achilles just fine and that’s different. So we don’t know what that timetable is going to be. It’s kind of new territory for us all.”’
After years of defying the odds when it comes to injuries, it should come as no surprise to hear this positive news regarding the health of the Lakers superstar, who will be entering his 18th year in the league.
While it’s okay to be optimistic about Kobe’s recovery process, it’s important to remember that we are still three months away from the start of the season and that Kobe is still a long way away from being able to step back onto the court at the level we’ve come to see.
Steve Nash is not 100% healthy as of yet but that will not stop him from achieving a childhood dream of his. On Tuesday Nash will be trying out for one of the best soccer, or fútbol, franchises in the world in Inter Milan. Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press was first to break the story.
”It’s a dream come true to get a chance to try out, not just to try out but to take the field with Inter Milan, one of the great, storied franchises in professional sports,” Nash said in an interview with The Associated Press. ”I feel like a little kid.”
Nash has always been a huge soccer fan and occasionally jokes about how he would be a great soccer player if he didn’t become as good as he is in basketball. Tuesday he will have the opportunity to show the world the type of player he could be. First, he’ll have to get over his big case of nerves.
”It’s going to be a lot higher than it is playing basketball, for sure,” Nash said. ”I still get nervous for basketball games from time to time. When I get out on the court, I don’t get nervous, but before. To go out there with guys that I look up to and watch play, it’s definitely going to raise the nerves. I’ll be really nervous and really excited.”
As far as his day job goes he still is working to get to 100% health. Everyone knows how injury riddled the Lakers were last season and Nash missed a significant amount of time on the court. Despite that, he has been training hard this off-season and believes that he will have a good year.
”I’ve had a really good summer of training and rehabilitating,” Nash said. ”I’m not 100 percent, but I’m pretty close. Good enough to go out there Tuesday. I’m thrilled I’ve had this time to build myself back up, and I believe I’ll have a great year.”
”We’re all just excited for another opportunity,” Nash said. ”We’ve got some terrific players coming off of difficult seasons. I know Pau Gasol after his injuries, Kobe’s coming off a difficult injury, I was injured for the better part of the season. The three of us are eager to get back out there and there’s other guys, Jordan Hill, Steve Blake, who missed a lot of time last year.
Nash did not stop there as his excitement for next season continued to dominate the conversation.
”We’re excited to see what we can make of ourselves. We really are going to try for the second consecutive year to find chemistry and identity, but we’re excited for it, so we’ll see.”
With Nash already coming of an injury plagued year it would be best for him to continue to work out for basketball activities and rest his body. However you cannot blame the guy for wanting to try something that he has always wanted to do and been good at. As long as he makes it through this experience and remains healthy then the fans should have nothing to worry about. If he does happen to succumb to injury, then he will have risked a lot of Lakers hopes for this upcoming season.
Do you believe Nash should tryout for Inter Milan? Why or why not? Would you if you were in his shoes? Let me know below!
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.