Monday, December 22, 2014
Tags Posts tagged with "Lakers"

Lakers

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Credit: Getty Images

“I bleed purple and gold”. The phrase is something countless fans have uttered throughout history to prove their allegiance to the once mighty Los Angeles Lakers.  With the slow start this year, the Lakers are 0-4 and searching for their first victory of the season.  Of course, with the lackluster performances thus far, trade rumors are heating up with Kobe Bryant at the center of it all. In a recent interview with Yahoo! Sports, Bryant put to rest the chatter and eased the concerns of Laker Nation.

“I hear the chatter of Kobe should ask out and he should go and play for a contender in this latter stage of his career,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports. “But that’s not what I do. I’m extremely loyal to the Lakers.”

“I believe in fighting through the tough times as well as enjoying the good times. It’s my responsibility to get us to be the best that we can be. It’s important that we approach that on a day-to-day basis.”

Bryant clearly is in pursuit of his sixth championship, but that seems more difficult now than ever before in his career.  However, Bryant is not prepared to pack his bags and take the plane to a contender. Instead, he is prepared to stay put to try and put the Lakers back on track.

“I’ve enjoyed a great amount of success here. You can’t just enjoy the successful times and then run away from the bad ones. No, I don’t even think about [departing]. I’m a Laker.”

At this point in his career, Bryant is focused on winning with the Lakers, and not jumping ship at the first sign of rough seas.  Not to say that this season is merely in rough waters, it’s more than likely headed into a full blown hurricane that won’t leave much to be salvaged from the wreckage. However, this only proves Bryant’s loyalty to his squad that took a “chance” on him in 1996.

In a season that looked fairly promising back in early October, Steve Nash has since been ruled out for the season due to recurring back issues, as well as the highly touted rookie Julius Randle, who suffered a season ending leg injury in the opener versus Houston.  With Randle out until next season, and Nash not likely to play another NBA game, the Lakers will have to look to other guys to step up and fill their shoes.

“We can’t get discouraged by it,” Bryant said. “It’s a very long season. You just have to stay the course. Keep on looking to improve, keep on looking to get better and things will eventually break.”

Lakers fans everywhere are hoping something breaks for them this season, anything to provide a glimmer of hope for the future.  One thing is certain, Bryant will be a part of the Lakers no matter what happens.  Not only has he said he is staying with the purple and gold, but his contract makes him difficult to move without getting considerable compensation in return.  Rumors have flown around saying no one would want Bryant at this stage of his career, and that is nonsense.  That has never been the issue. The question of whether he is thinking about taking off, which has already been established by Bryant to be a definite NO.

Bryant has enjoyed a strong start to the season, effectively muzzling any detractors that said he would never be the same again post injuries.  Averaging 24 PPG, Bryant is showing he still has what makes him who he is.  Sure, he has lost some athleticism, vertical, and foot speed on defense but that comes with age, and as fine wine gets better with age, so does Bryant. Vino.

It was not too long ago that Bryant was demanding a trade from Los Angeles back in 2007, but things are different this time around.

“We offered Pau an incredible deal. I saw them put the work in. It’s much different than in 2007 when I felt like they were just sitting on their hands. This is not that case. They were going after it and being aggressive. I will fight for that till the end. They tried, tried and tried and it didn’t work out. I stand behind them 110 percent. I bleed purple and gold.”

Bryant’s loyalty is with Los Angeles, and there is not any evidence to dispute that.  With this season in doubt for a playoff push, the Lakers and their fans must look to the future and stay optimistic, knowing things will eventually get better.

“You have to understand there is nothing you can do with what’s transpired,” Bryant said. “You have to move on to tomorrow. Right? You have to. Kicking and screaming is not going to do anything.

“Lakers fans know it’s a process. Things can turn pretty quickly. We’ve seen it there before. If there is anything we’re relying on, we’re relying on our history, what we’ve been able to accomplish and how quickly we are able to turn things around.”

The Lakers’ first-round pick in 2015 is top-five protected meaning the Lakers keep it if they finish in the top five of next year’s draft, otherwise it will end up with Phoenix via the Nash trade two seasons ago.  Barring a surprising turnaround, it looks like a possibility the pick stays in Los Angeles and the Lakers have that to look forward to.  But what I think is most important, is the fact that we are all witnessing the twilight of a legend’s career, and watching one of the best players to ever play the game finish strong.  Cherish it Laker fans, there will never be another Kobe Bean Bryant in the NBA.

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Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Despite an 0-4 start which included lopsided losses to the Suns and Warriors and a devastating injury to rookie Julius Randle, there are some positives that can be picked out from this young campaign. While Kobe Bryant looks like his old self, we all know that simply is not enough.

Here are three things the Lakers can build on from their first week of the regular season:

1. The emergence of Jordan Hill:  After two lackluster performances to start the year, Hill has stepped his game up against two of the Western Conference’s top teams.  He scored 23 points and grabbed five rebounds in each game against the Clippers and Warriors.  In addition, he also had four assists and three blocks against Golden State.  Frontcourt mate Carlos Boozer has underwhelmed so far, and Hill has taken it upon himself to contribute in any way he can.  His jumper has been falling, and that is a testament to the hard work he put in over the summer.  He will not put up numbers like this every game, but one can only hope that he stays healthy and continues to be consistent.

2. Jeremy Lin’s confidence:  Kobe Bryant has empowered Lin to run the offense but Lin has struggled early on, outside of a quality performance versus the Clippers.  His shooting has been up and down, and has turned the ball over far too many times.  Despite these downfalls, Lin is becoming more comfortable in his role as the starting point guard with every game played.  That confidence showed versus the Clippers, when Lin waved Bryant off when he demanded the ball, which Bryant loved.  For the Lakers to make any sort of noise this season, it has to start by playing with an aggressiveness and toughness that matches Kobe’s level, because it means they are willing to step up and shoulder the blame.

3. Minimal injuries early on: After a whirlwind of injuries during training camp that crescendoed with Randle falling to a leg injury in the season opener, the Lakers have come out relatively unscathed in the past three games.  Here is to hoping this continues, and that the team can look forward to people coming back, as opposed to more people going down, which plagued the team the last two seasons.

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Photo: J Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com

It’s safe to say that this was one of the more painful regular season openers for the Los Angeles Lakers in recent memory.

Nevermind the 108-90 loss to the Houston Rockets.  Nevermind that the Lakers struggled with their offense–going 35.4% from the field in a game where they never really got into a good rhythm.  All these things can be fixed with more practices and more competitive games under their belt.

The worst part happened late in the contest when rookie Julius Randle went down with an apparent leg injury.  Initially,  Kevin Harlan, who was calling the game on TNT, thought it was a minor ankle injury and the feed cut to a commercial break.  When the coverage resumed, it became apparent that this was not a minor injury as Kobe Bryant and the other players were gathered around the fallen rookie as Randle was being placed on a gurney as a silent STAPLES Center crowd looked on.

The initial diagnosis was a broken leg, which was later specified to be a fractured tibia, bringing an abrupt halt to an anticipated project that was in line to carry the Lakers into the future.

Here was the Lakers’ future, the No. 7 pick in the draft, expected to be on the building blocks in the eventual post-Kobe era, lost for an extended period of time, maybe for the season.

This was already a team that was missing key pieces in Nick Young and Ryan Kelly for the immediate future, and Steve Nash for the season.  With an already challenging road ahead of them in a tough Western Conference, Randle’s injury adds a whole new layer to what they have to go through.  Randle’s development into a solid NBA player was one of this season’s silver linings.

It’s hard to say what happens now.  Perhaps one thing to look forward to is the team might actually just be terrible enough to land a top-five lottery pick, allowing the team the keep the pick instead of sending it off to Phoenix as a part of the Steve Nash trade in 2012.

If this injury didn’t happen, this piece was going to be all about patience.  This team will eventually look like a team that’s capable to making some noise.  Randle’s bad start was nothing to be worried about, as his tentativeness and hesitation to attack will eventually vanish with time.  But that’s not all here.

In a day that was supposed celebrate the return of Kobe Bryant to the basketball court, that moment seems to be the last thing on the minds of Lakers fans now.

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Photo courtesy of Lakers.com

Julius Randle suffered a fractured right tibia in the Lakers 108-90 opening night loss to the Houston Rockets.

The injury occurred in the fourth quarter when Randle drove to the basket. There was no contact on the play and Randle immediately sat down under the basket in pain, holding his right leg as play continued on the other end of the floor.

Here is the official word from the Lakers:

“EL SEGUNDO – Lakers forward Julius Randle left tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets in the fourth quarter with an injury to his right leg. The initial diagnosis by team doctors at the arena is a fractured tibia.

Randle will undergo further evaluation tomorrow, and an update on his status will be given at that time.”

Randle was the No. 7 pick by the Lakers in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Stay with LakerNation.com for the latest updates on Randle’s injury. Follow us on Twitter @LakerNation and reporter Johnny Navarrette @JNavLN.

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Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers have announced today that they have waived camp invitees Jabari Brown and Roscoe Smith.  With that, the roster now stands at 15 players, the maximum allowed by the NBA.  Neither player had a guaranteed contract.

While Brown’s exclusion from the final roster seemed like a foregone conclusion based on the playing time he received during the preseason, Smith probably had a legitimate shot to make the roster.  With Ryan Kelly still out of action and Wesley Johnson as the only true healthy small forward, there may be a chance for Smith to end up on the D-Fenders for a future call up.

Other camp signings, Wayne Ellington and Ronnie Price, are still on the roster.  With both players nursing injuries, it’s still uncertain whether or not the Lakers will keep them or not before the season opener on October 28.

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By now, you probably have a clear image of Willis Reed walking out of the Madison Square Garden tunnel before tipoff of 1970’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers. It’s been replayed more times than almost any other singular moment in NBA history.

The one footage of Willis Reed you likely don’t have engraved in your head is that of him single handedly trying to take on the entire 1966 Lakers squad on his own. That’s because nobody had footage of it… until now.

Via Deadspin:

Reed and Lakers power forward Rudy LaRusso had been scrapping all game, but things finally reached a tipping point in the third quarter. The two lined up next to each other on the foul line, and while jockeying for position on the ensuing free throw, LaRusso claims Reed threw an elbow at his head. LaRusso responded to this provocation with an attempted haymaker, and all hell broke loose. Reed and LaRusso found themselves in front of the Lakers bench, which sprung onto the court in LaRusso’s defense.

And here’s an account of the fight by New York Times’ Dave Anderson

In the confusion Reed flattened [Darrell] Imhoff, a 6-foot-10-inch, 220-pound center, with a punch over the left eye. [John] Block, a 6-9, 210-pound rookie center, suffered a bloody nose, which turned out to have been fractured. Imhoff, holding a bloodied towel to his face, lay sprawled in front of the Laker bench for several minutes while the police restored order among a few of the 15,755 spectators who had run onto the court for a ringside view. Imhoff needed one stitch to close a cut on his left eyelid. LaRusso, who is 6-8 and weighs 225, later admitted that “Reed hit me a couple good ones.” Both were ejected from the game.

Willis Reed was not suspended and fined $50 by the league.

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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 | Getty Images

Laker Nation!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have to endure it, but not accept it.

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

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

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

Suffer this season, Laker Nation, but be ready.

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

No, it is not.

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credit to FoxSports.com

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

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

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

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

Young is scheduled to have surgery on Monday.

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Image: J. Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this is Kobe Bryant we are talking about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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