The NBA world isn’t just about what you do on the court. We scoured the web for Lakers-related quotations to provide you with the 10 best quotes from the past seven days:
“In the paint, we’re awful and we’ve got to get tougher. We’ve got to get a little stronger there. If we want to be a good team and if we want to get better, then that’s definitely a point of emphasis.”
“That Achilles tendon injury forces you to play on the ground as well as in the air and that means becoming more fundamentally sound. And Kobe being a fundamentally sound guy anyway, it’s going to be easy for him to make the adjustment. The fundamentals will obviously be there for Kobe, but what about his explosiveness? The explosion will be there, especially if you really rehab it and strengthen it like you should.”
“Sometimes I don’t believe I’m on the court with Kobe. He has the ball so much and he demands the ball so much as Kobe Bryant and sometimes you can catch yourself watching him on the floor. We just got to be out there and go with him. Sometimes we’ll bring it up and sometimes he’ll bring it up, we can’t just defer to him every time. It’s my first time out there with him so I deferred to him a lot. I looked for him a lot because he’s out there on the court and that’s what the fans wanted. The whole thing was about Kobe tonight so I got caught up in the moment.”
“I wasn’t 100 percent but I don’t like to make excuses. I’m just going to try to play through what I have going on. A guy like that (Amir Johnson) shouldn’t have that type of night against your team. We have to do a better job individually and collectively in order so anyone won’t have a game like that.”
“It was really weird. I think the last time I had eight months off I was still in the womb.”
Kobe Bryant, after returning to action against the Raptors, via USA Today
“I think calmer heads kind of prevailed and thought let’s not risk this kind of yo-yo season. Because that might be the case. I might not be able to play anymore. I might have to yo-yo it or I might be able to play the rest of the way. I think right now we want to see if I can play the rest of the way. (…) It’s been just an obviously pretty horrible 13 months for me. It’s really hard. It’s been a really hard 12 months, 13 months and it’s been in particularly even more hard the last six months, seven months since (the nerve issues) happened in April where I just could never quite get over the hump. It’s been . . . It’s a battle every day.”
“As tough as ever to find that balance of where my mind needed to be. As soon as the injury happened, I had doubts whether this night would ever happen. And then, I kicked it into the full gear and fought myself to not think about the end result – just think about every single day of work it would take for me to get back again. I found out that I had another gear, a gear that I never knew was there. It’s one thing to push yourself when everyone expects you to be dominant, to perform at the highest level. I had a motivation to do that. But it was something else all together to find a motivation when there was no end goal in sight, when I literally couldn’t walk. I had to sit there and think about coming out and performing, months and months from now, but I didn’t really know when that time was going to be. And you keep going and you keep working and you find out, yes, I can get there… And I got there.”
Sunday night was the beginning of the Empire striking back. With Kobe Bryant’s Vader like return after rupturing his Achilles last season, he was the focus of the night while the Raptors, and the world, paid attention to his every move. The consensus was the focus on Bryant would create more scoring opportunities for everyone else, especially former all-star forward Pau Gasol. While it indeed created more open looks for the Gasol, he struggled to adjust as he is currently battling an ankle injury that caused him to trudge up and down the floor. When asked about his quality of play last night Gasol, via Mark Medina of the LA Daily News, stated that he is not 100 % but will still battle through his injury as best as he can.
“I wasn’t 100 percent but I don’t like to make excuses,” said Gasol, who has been nursing a sprained right ankle. “I’m just going to try to play through what I have going on.”
While modesty is appreciated from Gasol it will take more than that to prevent the onslaught of opponents who will attack him inside. His sprained ankle limited him on rebounds both offensively and defensively, sliding on pick and roll switches, running up and down the court, protecting the paint, offering help defense, and lastly on the offensive end. He simply looked troubled and uncomfortable. Pau is the consummate professional and will play as long as his body allows it but being unable to stop Amir Johnson en route to a 32 point performance where he shot 14 for 17 is unacceptable.
“A guy like that shouldn’t have that type of night against your team,” Gasol said. “We have to do a better job individually and collectively in order so anyone won’t have a game like that.”
Do not misunderstand me. All of Amir’s 32 points were not on Gasol. A good number of them came from him being more active than Gasol and every other Laker big, including Shawne Williams, on the court. However, if Amir can score 32 points against the Lakers inside defense by just being active, this upcoming stretch will be difficult with Phoenix’s Morris’ twins, Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, and Al Jefferson of the Charlotte Bobcats. Going beyond just big men, it could become even tougher for Gasol to provide help relief for perimeter penetration. There were too many times against the Raptors where their guards or wing players would drive to the basket without being effected by Gasol’s presence. I will not say it is impossible for Gasol to guard their big men but, it will be a tall task for him to provide inside relief if he cannot move efficiently in the paint. That goes for the big man he is guarding or the help defense he attempts to provide for perimeter penetration. To put his injury and its effect into perspective, I took a look at some recently released NBA stats on the Lakers next three opponents. Phoenix, OKC, and Charlotte all have at least 1 player in the top 25 of total points for drives to the basket.
Oklahoma City is the exception with two players, Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson. If you take it a step further and look at the top 50, All three teams now have at least TWO players in this category and OKC has three with Russell Westbrook. Looking at their drives to the basket per game, the Lakers inside defense will be have to potentially stop at least 5.1 drives to the basket (Durant’s number) by the team’s top perimeter players. This number increases to 5.2 with Reggie Jackson, 5.5 with Kemba Walker, 7.0 with Eric Bledsoe, 7.1 with Westbrook, and 9.3 with Goran Dragic. With the knowledge, and reality, of how poor defensively the Lakers are inside these numbers could increase exponentially. Not to even mention the number of kick out passes that these drives could lead to or drives by other players.
“I knew he had his ankle bothering him here or there, but we need him,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “If you look at the stat sheet, our bench was all double figures. I might have to think about who starts. I don’t know.”
This injury opens the door for coach Mike D’Antoni to begin playing Jordan Hill more. Originally Hill was moved from the starting lineup, and replaced by Robert Sacre, due to his production decrease. However, after watching the game against the Raptors (and how hurt Gasol is), Hill seems to have found his energy. He was all over the court grabbing rebounds, putting back dunks, and playing active defense. Gasol is ranked number 9 in total rebounds in the league this season while Hill is ranked number 22. Gasol, who averages 9.7 rebounds per game, is better than Hill, 8.5, by a margin of 1.2 rebounds. This number would increase for Hill if given more or equal the amount of time to play. Not only do those stats reassure that Hill could provide more productivity than the currently injured Gasol but there are two more stats that tell an even greater story.
Those are percentage of rebounds per chance and contested rebound percentage. Before diving into it, I will state that I believe some if not most, of Hill’s rebounds come off sheer effort. Looking at the data, Gasol’s percentage of rebounds per chance are 65.8% for the 30.6 minutes he plays a game. Hill’s percentage of rebounds per chance 63.9% for every 21.7 minutes he plays. That’s a difference of 1.9% even with the 8.9 minutes Gasol receives over Hill. The second set of data again is contested rebound percentage. These are the percent of contested rebounds a player grabs per game. Gasol has a percentage of 32.5%. Hill’s average is 36.9%, a difference of 4.3% with the 8.9 minutes less he plays than Gasol.
“Pau will be back,” D’Antoni said. “He’s battled through some injuries. Just like everybody else, there was a product of no flow out there. It just wasn’t where it was. He’s fine.”
The data tells me that when Gasol is healthy the only problem the Lakers have, with him, is an aging forward who will not be able to move as fast as he used to. That is fine but if Gasol continues to look as bad as he did it could become a big problem. With this ankle sprain, D’Antoni needs to let Pau recover while giving more time to Jordan Hill. Making this change in a rotation that he is looking to shake up could provide the spark the Hill needs to play better, Gasol needs to recover, and for the team to gel with Bryant’s return.
“We talked a little bit after the game in the locker room in terms of making some adjustments and things that we read,” Bryant said. “It didn’t look like he had his legs underneath him that much. But I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll talk it out some more and figure it out and see how he feels and where his body is and go from there.”
A downside to this could be decreased productivity from Gasol because of the pinch on minutes. Yet this early in the season I am sure Gasol would like to focus on his recovery for the long haul, even if it means giving more time to Hill and Sacre for the moment.
“We’ll lean on each other,” Bryant said. “As you can see, our bench is phenomenal. They play extremely well man. We just have to go out there and support each other. Any given night somebody can step up and be explosive. We just have to support each other and make each other better.”
December 8, 2013 — 6:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / NBATV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Lakers superstar G Kobe Bryant makes his season debut for the Los Angeles Lakers (10-9) against the Toronto Raptors (6-12) tonight in front of a home crowd. Bryant, who returns from a devasating left achilles tear from the April 12th game vs. Golden State Warriors, provides the Lakers with a game-changer and team leader on the floor. Despite playing without Bryant, the Lakers have surprised many NBA experts this season by playing very well as a team, winning 6 out of their last 8 games to maintain a .500 winning percentage. According to Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, he expects to see Kobe play in the 20-25 minute range tonight.
The Lakers come off of a solid win versus the Sacramento Kings, where G Jodie Meeks and G/F Wesley Johnson led the way for the Lakers. Meeks scored 19 points by shooting 5-6 from the 3 pt line, including 2 huge 3-pointers to defeat the Kings, while Johnson locked down defensively by having 5 steals. Also, the emergence of C Robert Sacre has been a pleasant surprise for the Lakers. As a surprise starter vs. Kings last game, Sacre held his own against a very talented C DeMarcus Cousins, scoring 11 points, and getting key stops towards the end of the game.
The Raptors, on the other hand, just made news for themselves. According to Yahoo! Sports Marc Spears’ and Adrian Wojnarowski’s sources, the Raptors just traded SF Rudy Gay, C Aaron Gray, and F Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for F John Salmons, PG Greivis Vasquez, F Chuck Hayes, F Patrick Patterson, all who will obviously not be available for the Raptors tonight. Therefore, the Raptors will be led by G Demar Derozan. Derozan, a local product out of USC and Compton High School, has seemed to finally use his raw athleticism efficiently, leading the Raptors in scoring at a career high 21.3 PPG.
SF - Terrence Ross/ Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Lakers]
PF - Jonas Valanciunus / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]
C - Amir Johnson / Robert Sacre [Advantage: Raptors]
Raptors: F Steve Novak - Arguably one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, Novak can cause the Lakers defense a lot of problems if he can get wide open shots. Novak, who is one of many players who thrived in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system during his days with the New York Knicks, is currently shooting at 37.7% from the 3-pt line after the Raptors acquired him this offseason for F Andrea Bargnani. Novak is the only offensive spark the Raptors have from the bench, so if the Lakers can shut him down with athletic defenders like Johnson or F Shawne Williams, the Lakers bench should outscore the Raptors’s bench by a significant margin tonight.
Lakers: Rest of the Lakers - With Bryant returning to the lineup, the Lakers coaching staff has a major question mark moving forward: how will the rest of the Lakers play with Bryant back. In the past, the Lakers would tend to stand around on offense, waiting for Bryant to save them every time. Hopefully with the rest of the Lakers gaining their own confidence offensively in Bryant’s absence, they can continue to stay aggressive towards the basket and not be hesitant to shoot the ball. Notably, players like Meeks, Johnson, G Xavier Henry, and G/F Nick Young have thrived in Bryant’s absence for the first 19 games, playing very well on both ends of the floor. In order for the Lakers to not only win tonight’s game, but also make some noise in the playoffs, the rest of the Lakers have to continue to move around without the ball and not stand around hoping Bryant will bail them out every possession, especially towards the end of the game.
Since the atmosphere at Staples tonight will be electric due to Bryant’s return, the Lakers will have to channel their emotions tonight to execute both offensively and defensively. Although the Raptors have a lot of talent in their starting lineup, they are very thin on the bench, something the Lakers bench can thrive off of, especially with Meeks joining the bench unit. Once again, the Lakers do not have a healthy point guard. Without PG Steve Nash and PG Jordan Farmar available for tonight’s game, look for Bryant to play point guard quite often whenever PG Steve Blake, who is currently battling a hyper extended right elbow, needs a rest tonight. If the Lakers continue to play as a team and stay focused especially defensively for the entire 48 minutes of the game, look for the Lakers to get a solid victory in Bryant’s debut.
This was certainly an interesting week for the Los Angeles Lakers as they had a few key players dealing with injuries which led to others having to step up. Gasol dealt with an ailing ankle and sprained left hand which clearly had him at less than 100 percent on the court. No one really performed at an outstanding level on a consistent basis all week but one player definitely earned player of the week honors for his powerful performance against Detroit.
Wesley Johnson averaged 12.3 PPG this past week adding nearly two blocks and six rebounds over that span. Johnson’s best game was against Detroit where he torched them for 27 points on 9/11 shooting (6/7 3Pt) adding three blocks and six rebounds en route to a 106-102 road win for the Lakers. Johnson hasn’t been a gaudy stat guy all season but this performance should stand out because without Johnson the Lakers would likely have fallen to Detroit.
Johnson has quietly made a name for himself in Los Angeles and has definitely produced greater numbers than he has in the past for his other teams. Johnson can catch fire on any given night and his scoring numbers will greatly help a .500 Lakers squad.
Be sure to check back next week for another player of the week!
Every few weeks, our staff writers chime in on the trending topics, rumors and storylines surrounding the Lakers. In this week’s State of the Nation, they answer five questions that will ultimately decide the fate of the Lakers.
Do you think it was the right decision to sign Kobe Bryant to an extension before returning from his Achilles injury?
Garrett Garcia // @GarrettGarcia: Yes. Of course it was, regardless of what he looks like when he comes back it was a smart move to sign him to this extension. Kobe Bryant will still be Kobe Bryant, just maybe a bit slower or less explosive, smart move by the Lakers brass.
Oren Levy // @LakersOren: Yes. They most likely prevented any other team from ever being able to sell Kobe Bryant merchandise, and ensured that Kobe is the longest tenured player with a single franchise ever. Right move. Now, the dollar amount.
Johnny Navarrette // @JohnnyNav: It’s definitely a risk, but considering what team doctors are saying and Kobe’s ability to adjust his game throughout the years, it’s a calculated risk that the Lakers are able to take. It’s important to remember that the Achilles will be stronger than ever and when it comes to Kobe’s skill level, there should be little doubt about what he can do.
Alik Ourfalian // @alik_o: Absolutely. Kobe is the face of this franchise. It would be wrong for him to retire anywhere else. They’ve seen him at practice and they know what he’s capable of, so there would be no point in waiting for him to return. Kobe has played through injuries before, from playing an entire season with a broken finger on his shooting hand, to playing with a severely sprained ankle. It’s nothing he hasn’t done before.
Jory Dreher // @Jay_Laker: Without question. I feel the Lakers did the right thing regarding Kobe’s extension. Dr. Jerry Buss would’ve done the same thing as well.
Belal Abdelfattah // @ItsBelal_A: This is something we probably won’t be able to answer for sure until next summer at the earliest, but personally I think it was the right move. When a player brings you five championships and over 17 seasons of excellence, you reward him with faith. People can overreact and rush to opinion on this, but we should all at least give Kobe the benefit of the doubt, he’s earned that.
Anna Gonda // @AnnaLBG: Yes – firstly, you don’t want to go the entire season with this looming over Kobe, the team or management. With the Lakers facing so many uncertainties the last few, not to mention upcoming, seasons, Kobe is the surest bet they have available. I’m giving Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss the benefit of the doubt here as far as Kobe’s performance after the injury goes. They’ve obviously seen him rehab, practice and work out more than any outsiders have so they must be optimistic about his return to form.
Ashkan Kargaran // @aakargaran: Of course not, but this is Kobe Bean Bryant we’re talking about and at this point he can end his career which ever way he chooses.
Robert Benitez // @beeb0: I don’t think it matters. If given the opportunity to sign Kobe Bryant, you sign Kobe Bryant. I don’t think anyone expects Kobe to return and be anything less than great so the timing of the contract extension is moot. The price on the other hand, that’s a different story.
Felipe Amaral // @f_amaral: Business-wise, it wasn’t. A general manager would want to wait and see how a player returning from such a serious injury would look on the court before committing any extra money to him. But Kobe Bryant is a special case for the Lakers. For everything he’s done for the franchise, he deserves this huge vote of confidence by the team’s front office.
Mark Awad // @MarkeyTheBoss_: No, but this is Kobe we’re talking about, the odds are definitely against him. If there was a 35-year-old who could come back from this injury and still dominate, it would be Kobe. The Lakers got it out the way and don’t have to deal with it all offseason.
Kanta Ito // @Kanta_B_Ito: Yes. The best medical team and training staff in the world surround Kobe and has followed him wherever he goes 24/7 to help him return to the court at 100% performance level. Furthermore, Kobe’s work ethic and determination made it easier for the Lakers Organization to sign him before he makes his season debut to show him gratitude and appreciation for the impact he has made to the Lakers Organization for the last 17 years.
Melvin Taylor // @MelvinTaylorII: I believe that the Lakers could have waited longer yes but if they were going to do it anyway then it was best to do so now. Plus it allows them to then know what they will be working with salary cap wise moving forward.
Jordan Grant // @JordanGrant90: I don’t believe it was. While our management has fully earned my trust and respect over the years, I don’t see the benefit in this one. It’s not that I don’t see Kobe coming back in full force, I just don’t see any reason not to wait and see him play. Maybe we’re missing something here.
Jon Gaffer // @jewelslamo: It was right only in the sense of loyalty, respect, & rewarding a superstar for a stellar career. Let’s face it, if it was Steve Nash, do you think this happens?
Kayla Lombardo // @KaylaLombardo11: Yes, because Kobe Bryant is a franchise player who has proven that he can live up to lofty contract expectations and perform under the bright Los Angeles lights, year after year. Not only is Kobe’s contract extension good for Kobe, but it is also good for the Lakers and the NBA, in general. It shows other young emerging stars that if they perform to a Kobe-caliber level, rewards will be in their futures. Say what you want about the business side of sports today, but what’s more American than working hard and seeing a return on your investment of time and effort?
Next Question: At about $24 million per year for the next two years, are the Lakers overpaying Bryant?
“You’ve got to be honest with yourself, and if you have those limitations, then you’ve got to figure out a way to be effective around those,” Bryant told reporters at the Lakers practice facility Tuesday. “You can’t be stubborn about that. If there are certain things that I used to do that I can’t do now, I won’t try to do them. I’ve got to figure out another way.”
Bryant has been ruled out of Friday’s game against the Golden State Warriors, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said, and league sources say that he’s ruled out the possibility of returning against Sacramento on Sunday in the Staples Center.
Bryant is certainly one of the rarest of them all. He has surpassed basketball norms to still be one of the best players in the league today. Judging by the class of 1996 alone, none are playing to the level Bryant is capable of at this age. Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal, and Ray Allen are the few still relevant from the class. It is even a miracle that Bryant is still playing, let alone returning from an injury as serious as a snapped Achilles. All the while, he could be one of the top 5 players in the league when at 100%.
At this stage in his career, Bryant is right to calculate when it is best for him to return from an injury this severe. He does not have much time left and he will be sure that every minute he plays will not be one wasted, but one to prove how rare and valuable he is.
This here is the first player of the week article of the season, a new weekly series I’ve started. Every Monday I’ll post an article stating who has earned player of the week honors from the previous week. So, without further ado, let’s introduce the first player of the week:
Jordan Hill played some great basketball this past week and has more than earned player of the week honors, however, Steve Blake came in a close second.
Hill averaged 18.8 PPG, 12 RPG, and added a nice 2.5 BPG, in 30 minutes per game this past week. Hill led the Lakers to a 2-2 record this week which could have easily been 3-1 except for a collapse against Memphis. Hill’s play as of late has given the Lakers a great boost in their play and has definitely ignited a lackluster Lakers squad.
Hill was recently given an increase in minutes by Coach D’Antoni and it has definitely paid off as of late as Hill is infusing a great amount of energy into the lineup.
Hill had always been a monster on the boards with his tremendous hustle and ability to grab offensive rebounds to give the Lakers extra possessions. The hustle and energy he provides are the intangibles the Lakers need while Kobe Bryant rehabs from his torn Achilles’ tendon.
Expect Hill to continue this recent trend of strong play as long as D’Antoni gives him the minutes, and don’t be surprised if Hill earns player of the week honors next week as well.
It is safe to say this Lakers squad so far is not what many fans are used to seeing. Kobe Bryant is still without a timetable to return from his Achilles injury and Steve Nash is far from his former self, leaving the Lakers with Pau Gasol as a centerpiece. The starting line-up has switched up already and they’re only six games into the season, which goes to show coach D’Antoni is still experimenting with all the guys on the squad. But through three games it is clear the offense is running through Pau Gasol and he is of key importance to the Lakers’ success this season.
Until Kobe Bryant returns Pau Gasol will be the number one option to go through on offense and thus far he has proven to be effective with 10.4 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1 bpg, and
14.6 ppg in an average of 27 minutes of action. Gasol’s numbers should be a little bit higher for a more effective and efficient offense, but they aren’t bad and are an improvement from last season. Gasol is a true talent, his post moves are fantastic, he has a high basketball IQ, and is one of the best passing big men the game has ever seen. With someone of his caliber down low on the block, the Lakers would be ignorant not to use him to his full potential.
It is clear he is more involved in the offense this season than last season, partly because he dealt with numerous injuries last season, and also because of the departure of Dwight Howard. With Gasol having more room to work down low, and a clean bill of health, the Lakers need to take advantage of their big man.
Gasol should comfortably average about 18 ppg and 12 rpg this season with the way the Lakers are currently situated. These kind of numbers could be even higher if things go better than expected in the current system.
The Lakers are clearly still searching for an identity under head coach Mike D’Antoni and they are still without their veteran leader in Kobe Bryant. Gasol is the most seasoned veteran on the team and is the largest embodiment of the 2009 and 2010 championship Lakers squads. With him leading the way, the Lakers should find success by following the 7-foot Spaniard. If they underutilize Pau again, however, they will find their season ending in a similar fashion to last year’s disastrous finish.
Five games into the 2013-14 NBA season, most teams know for the most part which players will be in their eight or nine-man rotations. At this point, the Lakers are definitely not one of those teams. Coach Mike D’Antoni has been tinkering with rotations and player combinations to the extreme, going with an 11-man rotation thus far that has already produced over 34 player combinations. As can be expected, results have been far from consistent. As Steve Nash put it:
“We’re not a well-oiled machine. We don’t even know what line-ups suit us best yet, let alone what each other are going to do.”
Clearly, D’Antoni is going to have to eventually slim the rotations down. Because of the depth of this roster as well as the uncertainty of the bench pieces, the Lakers are likely to go to a nine-man rotation as the season wears on. So what can we expect to see on the court in the coming months? Let’s take a look at the likely line-ups the Lakers will employ the rest of the season.
PG – Steve Blake
Probably not the Steve you were expecting huh? Five games in, it’s clear that Steve Nash is still dealing with nagging injuries and adjusting to age. Blake, not Nash, is best suited to lead the starting unit because of his aggressiveness on defense and because he has simply looked better on the court than Nash.
SG – Xavier Henry
On a roster full of question marks, Henry has emerged as a breakout player so far this season for the Lakers. His aggressiveness on both ends of the court fits well in LA’s fast-paced system, and he seems to have all but locked up a starting spot for the foreseeable future. He can also slide down to the small forward position in smaller line-ups with a two point-guard backcourt.
SF – Kobe Bryant
When the Mamba returns, he will obviously be a fixture in the starting line-up. There has been talk for a while of Bryant sliding down to the small forward position, and upon his return that is where he’s expected to be. It will be interesting to see how Kobe plays in the uptempo system that places a premium on ball movement, but knowing the veteran I’m sure (hoping) he’ll fit in just fine.
PF – Jordan Hill
On a roster filled with guys who like to (try to) be scorers, the rebounding machine that is Jordan Hill is a perfect fit for this Laker team. Hill has a constant motor and is always around the basketball at every rebound opportunity. He currently sits in the top 20 for rebounds per 48 minutes and should be there all season long with the rebounding opportunities this team can present.
C – Pau Gasol
With the departure of He Who Shall Not Be Named to Houston, Gasol has been able to move back to his more natural position of center. As the man in the middle of a team surrounded by shooters, Gasol will be able to display his passing skill and low post repertoire in the paint. While the relationship between Pau and D’Antoni is up and down to say the least, Gasol should get plenty of opportunities to go to work with this roster.
G – Steve Nash
Aside from Bryant, Nash is currently the biggest question mark on the Laker roster. Is he aging and no longer capable of being the player he once was? Or, as Nash believes, does he just need to shake a few lingering injuries before being back to normal? This storyline will only grow as the season moves on, especially as trade rumors continue to grow louder and louder.
G – Jordan Farmar
When the Lakers signed Farmar, many people thought it was nothing more than a nostalgia signing on the cheap. But through five games this season, Jordan has been the Lakers best point guard averaging 10 points and 5 assists in under 23 minutes a game. Farmar’s energy and aggressiveness will be key to sparking the second unit all season long.
F – Nick Young/Wesley Johnson
Johnson and Young are the two bench players whose minutes will most likely fluctuate all season long. Because they bring two completely different elements to the court, their minutes will be based on what is needed on a game-to-game basis. When starters are struggling to get buckets, Young will be called upon to provide a scoring spark. When the offense is clicking, it’s likely that D’Antoni will want to use Johnson for his defensive prowess to slow down opponents. Either way, it will be interesting to see these two young forwards try to separate themselves from one another.
C – Chris Kaman
Kaman is more of a fit due to need rather than what he provides on the court. While he can hit an open midrange shot and crash the boards, the Caveman will get minutes due to the fact that he provides size to back up Gasol and Hill. Shawne Williams is also an option here, however he is more of a stretch four who provides shooting that is not a major need on this second unit.
Odd Men Out:
Needless to say, I do not envy the decisions that Mike D’Antoni will need to make dividing up the minutes amongst his players. There are sure to be questions, confusion and discontent amongst players as the season wears on and minutes are cut. But when looking at the lack of depth last season, it is a good problem for Coach D’Antoni to have. At least until a few tough losses and people start calling for his job. Oh wait that already is happening? This is going to be one very interesting season.
With Dwight Howard‘s departure, Lakers Executive V.P. of Basketball Operations Jim Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak faced a major task this past off-season. The Lakers’ decision-makers were tasked with filling plenty of holes, as evidenced by last season’s debacle.
After eight preseason games and three regular season games, one significant improvement is evident: the bench.
The Lakers have received a major sparkplug from the second unit this season, evidenced by their strong performances throughout the preseason and regular season. The second unit shocked the national audience by carrying the Lakers to an Opening Night victory over its co-tenant rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, outscoring them 41-24 in the fourth quarter and scoring 76 points as a unit.
Albeit, the Lakers lost the next two games to the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers’ bench, however, has shown that it can carry a lot of the weight for the Lakers this season.
Jordan Farmar, a key bench player during the Lakers’ championship runs in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, took a significant paycut to rejoin the Lakers after stint with the New Jersey Nets as well as overseas in Israel and Turkey. Farmar has gotten off to a blistering start, averaging 11.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game, including scoring 16 points to lead the Lakers over the Clippers.
Farmar’s maturity in becoming an effective floor general came from running the show for the Anadolu Efes Istambul in Turkey last season—leading them to a Euroleague playoff appearance.
“I just got a chance to play differeent styles of basketball. My whole professional career, I was in a triangle and I [was not] really running screen and rolls and making decisions and getting away from that. I finally got a chance to do that and learn on the job,” Farmar told NBA on TNT sidelines reporter Craig Sager after defeating the Clippers.
The biggest surprise for the Lakers has been Xavier Henry, who signed a non-guaranteed 1-year deal with the purple and gold. After subpar performances with the Memphis Grizzlies and the New Orleans Hornets during his first three years in the NBA, the 22-year old Henry has given the Lakers a guy who can create his own shots and play solid defense.
Henry, a former lottery-pick out of Kansas, has made a good first impression with the Lakers—scoring a career high 22 points versus the Clippers.
Although Henry scored only 3 points versus the Spurs, he has shown Lakers’ coach Mike D’Antoni that he can make a variety of aggressive moves towards the basket and hit some shots from behind the arc. With Henry’s defensive prowess and his surprising offensive game, he might become one of the biggest off-season acquisition steals for the Lakers.
The Lakers also signed another athletic guard-forward, Wesley Johnson. Johnson, like Henry, has not made an impact in the NBA during his past stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns.
Expect Johnson to make a significant impact on the defensive end by using his length and athleticism—especially in his current role as a “quick-4.” He has the ability to guard every position except for center. Despite being the fourth overall pick in 2011 NBA Draft, Johnson’s offensive contribution will be a bonus, as his main role is on the defensive end.
However, Johnson has scored 11 points and 12 points the past two games respectively, on 50% shooting from the 3-point line.
Johnson excitedly told our own Laker Nation columnists Alex Lambeth and Jory Dreher before training camp that he believes he can have a really good impact just for his length and speed.
“I can get in passing lanes and disrupt shots and bring a spark that will fuel the entire team,” Johnson said. “As long as everyone is on the same page defensively, I think we’ll be just fine.”
Another addition to the bench rotation this season is former NBA All-Star Chris Kaman. With his recent solid play, I expect coach D’Antoni to pencil him into the starting lineup very soon.
Kaman and Lakers’ star Pau Gasol have shown that they can play together. This combination has been much more effective than Gasol and Howard last year.
The combination of these three key additions to the Lakers bench, paired with returnees Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks, give the Lakers the flexibility and youth to cause matchup nightmares for their opponents—something they have not had in recent years.
The new and improved bench can also help limit the minutes played by veterans Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and most importantly, Kobe Bryant, once he returns to the lineup.
“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.”
With the combination of their depth, and the return of assistant coach and defensive guru Kurt Rambis, the Lakers have shown signs of improved team defense.
No one knows for sure if the Lakers’ bench can sustain this stellar play, but the Lakers’ front office should be given major credit for upgrading the bench under the tight circumstances they faced this off-season.
While the Lakers still have low expectations this season, expect the second unit to continue helping the Lakers make some noise this season and hold down the fort until Kobe returns to the lineup.
Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson will appear in an upcoming interview to be aired on CampusInsiders.com on October 28 and November 1 at 10:30 a.m. PT. In the interview with Seth Davis, Jackson reflected on numerous basketball-related topics.
Stemming from last season’s “midnight coaching decision,” Jackson explained that he probably would not have even coached the Lakers last season:
“I probably would’ve made a decision not to coach the team anyway because of my health,” Jackson told Davis.
“I was like, ‘It’s midnight. Let me sleep on this one.’”
Jackson’s hesitance ultimately led to the Lakers choosing Mike D’Antoni to fill the coaching vacancy.
Jackson also addressed whether or not he’s done with coaching in the NBA:
“I’m realistically thinking about the fact that I probably won’t be able to physically coach again,” Jackson explained.
Another hot topic over the past few months has been none other than former Laker Dwight Howard. Host Seth Davis doubts you can with a championship with Howard as your center; Jackson, however, disagrees:
“I think you’re wrong. I’ve had those type of feelings that you’ve had for years, about various players in the league,” Jackson said.
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 gauge whether or not fans will embrace coach Mike D’Antoni this season, especially after last season’s debacle:
With a full training camp under his belt, will coach D’Antoni finally receive a “fair shake” from the Lakers’ faithful this season?
Not really. D’Antoni has already lost the faithful’s confidence with his performance last season. Even if the Lakers do well this year and exceed expectations, it’s conceivable that the general feeling would be that it’s happening in spite of D’Antoni, not because of him.
I think as fans we owe it to him to back off a bit for now. This is a new season and a new start. How we start the season will be critical for him, but he needs to have our full support for the time being.
As long as you coach in Los Angeles and haven’t won a title, you will never get a fair shake. Expectations are extremely high here. The season hasn’t started and D’Antoni might already be on the hot seat. The coach has a target on his back and the only way you get rid of it, is to win baby!
No. I’ve always been on the “give D’Antoni a chance” bandwagon, but I’m in the minority. Lakers fans’ biggest issue with D’Antoni is simply the fact that he is not Phil Jackson. At the first sign of trouble, fans will be crying for D’Antoni’s head. The only way to change this is for them to win.
With a full training camp, Mike D’Antoni will not have any excuses. Management went out and got players for his system, so it’s now “put up or shut up.” With Phil’s ghost lurking, D’Antoni will never get a fair shake with the fans, even with a ring.
Nope. Winning is the only way for D’Antoni to get any respect from Laker Nation, and this team is not championship caliber. Fair or not, fans see D’Antoni as the guy who took over this team instead of Phil Jackson. D’Antoni will never get a fair shake. But his replacement might.
I can’t say he will. Phil Jackson was one of the most beloved coaches in Lakers history and D’Antoni will always be the coach who beat him out for the position. D’Antoni will need to start winning and building a team the Lakers can stand behind. Unfortunately, this season doesn’t look like his year.
D’Antoni will never truly receive a fair shake unless he wins a championship as the Lakers coach. Point, blank, period. Sorry, but that is the way it is here. You cannot come to this franchise and expect anything less to be sufficient.
While I want to say yes, I think it depends on how the Lakers come out of the gate. This is unfair in itself, however, when you consider Steve Nash’s health and the fact that Kobe’s return is still a question mark.
Final Question Tomorrow: What will be the biggest key to the Lakers’ success this season?
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.
After being a first-round selection for the Indiana Pacers in 2006 out of Memphis, Williams has played for the Dallas Mavericks, Knicks, and the New Jersey Nets.
The news may come as a surprise to some due to the Phoenix Suns waiving forward Michael Beasley whom the Lakers previously targeted in years prior. However, Williams previously played for coach Mike D’Antoni during the 2010-2011 season with the New York Knicks and had one of his most successful season. Williams is a three-point shooting specialist who, during the 2010-2011 season, connected on 40.1% of his long range attempts.
If Williams does make the Lakers team he will reportedly earn 1.1 million dollars for the 2013-2014 season.
Below is a highlight mix of Shawne’s time as a Knick.