NBA

After 16 NBA Championships and 31 Western Conference Titles, the Lakers have been one of the most storied and successful franchises in NBA history. From the eras of West, Chamberlain, Kareem, Magic, and Kobe, there have been countless record-breaking performances and memorable games that have added to Lakers glory. Let’s take a look back at some notable moments for the purple and gold, from the week of April 6-12, over their 66-year history.

April 6, 2003

Kobe Bryant hit a game-winning shot with 28.6 seconds left in overtime to lift the Lakers over the Phoenix Suns 115-113 in overtime at the STAPLES Center. Bryant also hit the game-tying shot with 14.2 seconds left in regulation. He finished with 26 points and eight rebounds for the three-time defending NBA champions. With the victory, Los Angeles clinched a spot in the 2003 NBA playoffs.

April 6, 2007

Kobe Bryant’s 31 second half points lifted the Lakers to a come-from-behind win against the Seattle SuperSonics, 112-109. Bryant finished with 46 points in this crucial victory for the Lakers in their playoff push, as he reached the 40-point mark for the 16th time that season. Los Angeles got 33 points from its bench, including 11 from Brian Cook and 10 from Ronny Turiaf. The Lakers would eventually make the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Western Conference.

NBAE Photos/NBAE/Getty Images

NBAE Photos/NBAE/Getty Images

April 12, 1954

The Minneapolis Lakers won the first three-peat in NBA history after defeating the Syracuse Nationals 87-80 in Game Seven of the 1954 NBA Finals. George Mikan led the Lakers to their fifth NBA title in six years after averaging 19.4 points per game and 13.2 rebounds per game in the playoffs. Mikan would retire at the end of the of the 1954 season, only to return for 37 games in 1956 before hanging up his sneakers for good.

April 10, 1962

With three seconds left in Game Three of the 1962 NBA Finals against the Celtics, Jerry West stole Sam Jones’ inbounds pass at midcourt and raced to the basket for the game-winning layup to lift the Lakers over Boston 117-115. Although Los Angeles would eventually lose the NBA Finals in seven games, West became the only player in NBA history to win the Finals MVP award on the losing team.

April 11, 1960

The Minneapolis Lakers selected Jerry West as the second overall pick in the 1960 NBA Draft. West would go on to make the All-Star team in each of his 14 NBA seasons, all spent with the Lakers. His lone NBA championship as a player was won in 1972.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Los Angeles Lakers could make a strong play for Kevin Love at this year’s NBA Draft by offering its lottery pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the all-star power forward.

The suggestion is already in circulation that the Lakers will attempt to use their forthcoming high lottery pick in June to assemble the sort of trade package that finally convinces the Wolves to part with Love and end the uncertainty that hangs over this franchise even before the 25-year-old enters the final year of his contract.

As the report says, Love will have one more season on his contract before he can opt-out which could leave the T’Wolves without anything in return come next summer if he chose to sign with another team via free agency.

With the T’Wolves, Love has yet to make the playoffs in six seasons and this season will be no different.  His frustrations have been known over the past few seasons and it did not make things better when the T’Wolves refused to give Love a five-year extension, but later gave center Nikola Pekovic the fifth-year that Love coveted.

Heading into June’s NBA draft, it will be interesting to see what the Lakers do in regards to their pick but it will certainly be contingent  on where they land in the lottery.   If the Lakers were to land a top three pick and have a shot at prospects Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Joel Embiid (if they are to enter the draft), would the Lakers entertain any trade offers?

With Kobe Bryant wanting to content the last two years, it would not be a surprise to see the Lakers trade the pick in order to contend right away instead of waiting for the future.  Answers should become clearer over the next few weeks.

While the Lakers were handed a last second loss to the Chicago Bulls late Monday night, Kobe Bryant made some noise of his own before tip off. By way of the LA Times’ Mike Bresnahan, Bryant expressed his dislike for the current state of the NBA and it’s “finesse” players.

“It’s more of a finesse game [now], it’s more small ball, which personally I don’t really care much for,” Bryant said Monday before the Lakers played the ChicagoBulls. “I like kind of smash-mouth, old-school basketball because that’s what I grew up watching.

“Some of the flagrant fouls that I see called nowadays just makes me nauseous. You can’t touch a guy without it being a flagrant foul.”

Being drafted into the NBA in 1996 Bryant entered a more physical league as driving the lane could land on you the free throw line or on your back. In today’s game some players, according to Bryant, can’t even be breathed upon hard otherwise a foul will be called.

“Nowadays, literally anybody can get out there and get to the basket because you can’t touch anybody,” he said. “Back then, guys put their hands on you, you had to have the skill to be able to go both ways, change directions and post up. You had to have midrange game because you didn’t want to go all the way to the basket because you’d get knocked [flat]. Playing the game back then required much more skill.”

Any way for the league to go back to those physical days?

“Kids might be a little too sensitive for that nowadays,” Bryant said.

Bryant did not stop there as he moved on to the NBA’s age limit restriction and stated he reservations. Kobe has always been a huge supporter of allowing high school seniors to declare for the draft as he did so and has since become very successful.

“If you do the numbers and look at the count, you’ll probably see players that come out of high school that were much more successful on average than players who went to college for a year or two years and left early,” Bryant said. “It seems like the system really isn’t teaching players anything when you go to college. You go to college, you play, you showcase and you come to the pros.”

“We kind of got sold on that [college] dream a little bit. Fortunately I didn’t really listen much to it,” Bryant said. “Neither did KG. Neither did LeBron. I think that worked out pretty well for all three of us.

“I’m always a firm believer in us being able to make our own decisions, especially as it pertains to going out and working and having a job.”

Finally, Bryant touched upon how he will fill the playing void once he retires. After playing basketball for over half of his life, he will need something to help him cope with not being able to put on a Laker uniform night in and night out.

“It’s in my blood so I’ll be involved in some capacity. It’s just who I am,” he said.

While it is always fun to analyze quotes from Bryant it would be much more appealing if he were on the court playing for the Lakers. Bryant believes that when he returns he will play with confidence and have no doubt that he will become the player he once was.

“There was [doubt] before I came back the first time because I didn’t know how my Achilles’ was going to respond to playing and change of directions,” he said. “The [last] game in Memphis, I had a pretty good feel for it. I was getting back to being able to do what I normally could do.

“So I feel pretty confident about it. I did play that second half on a fractured leg and a torn Achilles.”

Record: 16-26 (13th in Western Conference)

Pacific Division Record: 4-6; Conference Record: 9-18

Home: 8-11; Road: 8-15

FRONT COURT: C

One of the biggest issues regarding the front court is the lack of time for bigs in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system (Kaman 16.7 mpg, Hill 19.7 mpg, and Sacre 14.0 mpg). As a result, the performance of the front court has been average at best. Tied for 19th in rebounding and playing terrible defense in the paint, what used to be strengths of the Lakers are now weaknesses. The bright spot has certainly been Pau Gasol (16.4 points & 10.0 rebounds per game) and while his defense in the paint is not elite by any means, he is ranked 13th in blocked shots amongst centers.  Has Gasol’s recent stellar play done enough to save him from the trade deadline next month?  We’ll see.  Another player who has earned himself recognition and playing time is that of rookie Ryan Kelly. The second round pick out of Duke, Kelly has averaged 14.7 points a game over his last four games (34.2 minutes per game) and looks like a player who could be with the Lakers for some time. 

BACK COURT: B

You cannot talk about the Lakers backcourt without mentioning injuries and unfortunately there have been plenty of them (Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry). The biggest name on the injury list is that of Kobe Bryant. After returning from an Achilles injury after nearly eight months, Kobe was thrown right into the thick of things (29.5 minutes per game) and taking over point guard duties due to injuries. Did any of that have a direct result on Kobe and his fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his knee? Some say yes and some will disagree with that. When will the Lakers see any type of relief on the injury front? February seems like the best bet, but at the current moment, it looks like it may be too late to save the season.

OFFENSE: B+

Ranked 16th in the league with 100.6 points a game, the remaining Lakers have definitely done their part despite the rash of injuries plaguing the team. One of the biggest additions to the team has been Kendall Marshall (10.1 points and 9.1 assists per game) who helped stabilize the point guard position, well somewhat since he is the only healthy point guard. The biggest concern with the offense is they seem to live and die by the three point shot. It is a great thing to watch when they are hitting over 50% from beyond the arc but when they struggle, we’ve seen some of the worst Lakers performances in recent memory.

DEFENSE: F

Where do we start? Allowing 105.8 points per game (2nd worst in the league), this has been the biggest issue this season for the Lakers. Yes, injuries have played a part in it, but truth be told, this roster is not a defensive juggernaut when healthy. Pace on offense (third in the league) directly affects the defense, tired legs leading to bad transition defense for example. Interior defense has been horrible but the ironic thing is the Lakers are tied for 6th in the league in blocked shots. Worst stat on defense? Out of the 26 losses, 17 of those have seen the Lakers allow 110 or more points.

BENCH: A

Did you really think I was going to forget Swaggy P? Nick Young has been the life of the Lakers this season and has definitely shown he loves to wear the purple and gold. Despite coming off the bench, he leads the team in scoring at 17.1 points a game and has his name in the sixth man of the year conversation. The bench has been excellent this season, averaging 42.4 points a game, which ranks 2nd in the league. That is a huge improvement after the Lakers bench was ranked 28th in scoring last season.  Another thing to note, the bench players can all be brought back for cheap which will help as the Lakers move forward.

COACHING: D

No coach would do well with the amount of injures D’Antoni’s squad has suffered. The one thing that has been constant about D’Antoni is his ability to get role players to play at a high level due to his system not being restrictive. Although, there are many concerns regarding the second year Lakers coach such as upsetting veterans like Chris Kaman with lack of playing time, not utilizing his roster to the best of their ability, and of course the defense. After clashing with Dwight Howard last season which certainly played a factor in his departure, can D’Antoni’s team play well enough to save his job heading into a crucial offseason where the Lakers could acquire some big name players?  We are about to find out.

OVERALL: C

To help with their depleted roster, the Lakers have signed Los Angeles D-Fenders guard Manny Harris to a 10-day contract.

In 13 games with the D-Fenders, the 6’5″ guard has averaged 30.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. In his last three games, Harris averaged 43.0 points on 60 percent shooting.

Just a few days ago, Harris was named the NBA Development League Performer of the Week. On January 10th, Harris set a D-Fenders single game scoring mark, scoring 49 points to go with six rebounds and three assists, in a 133-124 victory over the Idaho Stampede. It was his second consecutive Performer of the Week award and the fourth of his career.

Harris entered the 2010 NBA Draft after forgoing his senior season at the University of Michigan, but went undrafted before signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has played in 80 NBA games over two seasons, averaging 6.2 points a game.

Harris will wear #3 for the Lakers and join the team in Boston.

You can follow Manny Harris on Twitter @313MannyHarris.

UpdateNick Young has been suspended one game due to the punch he threw at Suns G Goran Dragic. As a result, Young will miss the Lakers’ game at the Boston Celtics on Friday.

The Lakers dropped their sixth straight game, falling to the Phoenix Suns 121-114, but the story of the night was the ejection of Nick Young and his comments following the game–calling out his teammates for the lack of the support during the scuffle that led to his ejection.

Here is the video of the altercation:

“What I was mad about is it was one-on-five,” said Young, who has posted nine points on 4-of-8 shooting before his ejection. “If somebody had gotten in the middle, it wouldn’t have escalated that much.”

It is pretty evident in the video that his teammates did nothing to come to his defense as he was immediately surrounded by five Suns’ players.

While rookie Ryan Kelly attempted to help, it was not until assistant coach Dan D’Antoni came and pulled Young away from the situation that things started to calm down.

The Lakers (14-25) chemistry has been praised since training camp, but frustrations seem to be boiling over after losing 12 out of their last 13 games.  The locker room seemed divided over the issue as Kendall Marshall disagreed with Young’s comments.

“I understand where Nick is coming from. He did get fouled hard. It wasn’t a basketball play by any means,” said Marshall, who had 10 points on only 4-of-16 shooting and 13 assists. “But at the same time, we have to understand you have to win some and lose some. I don’t know if that was the smartest play at the time.”

That same sentiment was shared by coach Mike D’Antoni.

“You don’t fight in this league,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It wouldn’t help us to lose two or three more guys. I hate that Nick feels that way, but I’m sure at the moment he’s just talking.”

Meanwhile, Pau Gasol, who finished the game with 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists, backed Young’s comments.  It should be noted that Gasol was on the bench at the time and any player not in the game would be suspended if they stepped on the court.

“Unfortunately we didn’t get a guy in between Nick and the three or four guys going at him,” said Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who posted 24 points on 10-of-20 shooting. “That was a first mistake or slow reaction on our part. We should’ve protected Nick there.”

Will this situation carry over past tonight? It’s hard to say.  While everyone will have an opinion on this, Young’s teammates on the court could have come and pulled him away which did not happen.

Having a teammate’s back does not mean that you have to throw punches, but it would have been good to see players attempt to help “Swaggy P”, instead new issues have poked their ugly head as the Lakers’ continue to free fall in the standings.

With a more than likely suspension looming for Nick Young and possibly Jordan Hill, who stepped onto the court slightly during the chaos, the Lakers could suit up just seven players Friday versus the Boston Celtics.

For more comments on tonight’s situation, here is Mark Medina’s article on tonight’s game.

Courtesy of Lakers reporter Mike Trudell, an interview with Mitch Kupchak went online this morning on Lakers.com.

Kupchak provided some insight on the current state of the Lakers as well as the future of the team.

On the Lakers “tanking”:

“I’ve been here over 30 years, and it’s never something that’s been discussed or talked about.”

Kupchak noted that while expectations vary from season to season, the main goal is to win games.  Kupchak put it best when saying that ownership would never say, “It’s best to lose” and that it is the worst message you can send to a franchise, coaches, players, and it’s fans.

Although, he added that there are some teams that know realistically they will be a sub-.500 team, but it’s important to realize that is different from tanking which he defined as purposely telling the coach to lose, which is “unacceptable”.  Kupchak also said “rebuilding is another matter.”

Something to note, Kupchak said “coaches are defined by their record.”  Very interesting to say the least.

On the repeater tax penalty impacting roster decisions this year and in the future:

“You have to be out of the luxury tax in two out of five years to avoid a repeater penalty. If we stay in the tax this season, it will be three consecutive seasons as taxpayers.”

It’s important to note that Kupchak says ownership has NEVER been afraid to be in the tax.  He then goes on to explain the rules of the tax, saying if your $30 million over the tax as a repeater, the bill will around $130 million, while if you’re only $1 million over, it will be near $2.5 million so it definitely makes a difference.

On the upcoming draft:

“One through ten is as good as I’ve seen in a long time.”

When comparing it to the 2003 draft, which included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade, he says that going into that draft, no one knew it would be that good but when you look back on it, it was a great draft.  He says that he doesn’t know if this draft will be that way, but the potential of players one through 10 is very good.

He says they are scouting all players in the draft and groups them in the top five, top 10, etc. all the way up to 70.  Once May/June come around, Kupchak says they will narrow their focus on particular players because they will know their draft position at that time.

On the 2014 free agency plan:

“Several years ago, we made a conscious decision to line contracts up for this coming year of free agency.”

 The only payer on the books for next year was Steve Nash, which obviously changed with the extension of Kobe Bryant but says they will still have “significant” financial flexibility this summer, as well as next summer.

On the Lakers’ next star:

Kupchak says that in meetings with the front office and scouts, they will talk about if they got a certain players just like the public and fans do.   While it’s all speculation at that point, the only thing they know for certain is that the rush starts at 9 p.m. on June 30th for free agency.

On Kobe Bryant’s extension:

“One of the premier free agents this coming summer was going to be Kobe Bryant. He’ll no longer be a free agent. We have acquired him.”

He notes that when looking at free agency this summer, they will look at what’s the best basketball and business decisions.

Also, Kupchak says that they will not only look at free agency, but at adding players through trades, while also weighing the option of waiting another year for a big acquisition.

On Pau Gasol’s status and future in Los Angeles:

“I think he’s had a great year. I do.”

Also goes on to say that Gasol is playing some of his best basketball and that he probably did not expect to play with the current group of players due to injuries.   Under the circumstances, he thinks Gasol has done a great job.

As for Gasol’s future, Kupchak notes that he will be a free agent this year and that he sees no reason he can’t finish the season as a Laker.   Says that he’ll have options to move on to other teams and that years/money will be a factor in his decision.  Kupchak adds that he loves Los Angeles and the franchise and if he wants to continue to play here, the Lakers would love to have him.

The interview is a must-read for all Lakers fans.  There is more from Kupchak regarding role players such as Xavier Henry, Kendall Marshall, and Nick Young, plus more on Gasol being an asset for other teams in the league.

To read the full interview, click here.

Noah Graham/Getty Images
Wesley Johnson, Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks & Jordan Hill

Noah Graham/Getty Images

To say 2013 was not the Lakers’ year would be an understatement. From the passing of owner Dr. Jerry Buss to franchise players suffering major injuries to big name players opting to leave Los Angeles, it was a year to forget for the purple and gold.

Although it seemed fitting that 2013 ended on such a negative note as the injury-riddled Lakers finished the year with six straight losses, including three in a row to the Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks, teams considered to be the worst in the NBA.

As a result, the Lakers will start 2014 with a 13-19 record and unfortunately for the team and fans, things will not get easier in January.

This month, the Lakers will play 15 games, starting this Friday with a home matchup versus the Jazz and Sunday as they host the Denver Nuggets.  From that point on, they will hit the road for 10 out of their next 11 games with notable match-ups against the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat.  Those 10 road games include the seven game Grammy road trip.

When the Lakers return home on January 28, the Indiana Pacers await them, and then will finish off January versus the Charlotte Bobcats at home.

Six games under .500 with a depleted squad that once again lost point guard Jordan Farmar due to another tear in his left hamstring, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for the team, which is again dealing with trade rumors involving disgruntled Pau Gasol and unhappy veterans such as Chris Kaman.

With 50 games left in the season, the Lakers need to start winning games immediately if they have any hopes of making the playoffs.   The Western Conference is once again strong and teams will need to be north of .500 to get into the playoffs, unlike in the Eastern Conference where the current fourth seed, Toronto Raptors, are 14-15 while the eighth seed Celtics are 13-18.

Since 2008 (excluding the lockout season), the minimum number of games to reach the playoffs was 45 wins.  If that continues to stay true, the Lakers will need to go 32-18 over the final 50 games just to reach that number.

January is a make or break month for the Lakers.  Last year, this team made a run towards the playoffs, which coincidentally started in January but this time around, it will be even more difficult with even more injuries, inconsistent offensive, poor defense and questions as to when Kobe will return and if Steve Nash will play again this season.

A few games ago, head coach Mike D’Antoni said this team was ready to turn the corner, then they proceeded to lose to three of the worst teams in the league.  With a 6-10 road record, 10 out of 15 games on the road will be a challenge that needs to be met if this season is to be salvaged.

If the losing continues, the Lakers will miss the playoffs for only the sixth time in their history and will be trying their luck in the NBA Draft lottery come June.

—————————————————————————

JANUARY SCHEDULE:

Fri, Jan. 3 – vs Utah Jazz

Sun, Jan 5 – vs Denver Nuggets

Tue, Jan 7 – @ Dallas Mavericks

Wed, Jan 8 – @ Houston Rockets

Fri, Jan 10 – @ Los Angeles Clippers

Tue, Jan 14 – vs Cleveland Cavaliers

Wed, Jan 15 – @ Phoenix Suns

Fri, Jan 17 – @ Boston Celtics

Sun, Jan 19 – @ Toronto Raptors

Mon, Jan 20 – @ Chicago Bulls

Thu, Jan 23 – @ Miami Heat

Fri, Jan 24 – @ Orlando Magic

Sun, Jan 26 – @ New York Knicks

Tue, Jan 28 – vs Indian Pacers

Fri, Jan 31 – vs Charlotte Bobcats

Credit: AFP

Credit: AFP

From day one, the relationship between Pau Gasol and Mike D’Antoni has been anything but cordial and pleasant.  During the season and off-season, the relationship was said to be repaired whether it was due to nice dinners or private meetings between the two, but it should not come as any surprise that problems between the two have once again shown its ugly head.

Gasol, speaking to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, had strong comments for D’Antoni’s system and the impact it’s having on his play:

“The fact that I’m not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness,” he said. “When I’m not getting the ball where I want to, where I’m most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity….

“This year hasn’t been ideal, certain things are not ideal for me, but that’s not going to change any time soon,” he said.

To which D’Antoni responded:

“I can’t lie to him… Our numbers tell us the worst thing we do is post up,” he said.

Which lead us to this response by Gasol:

“I don’t pay attention. Mike is sometimes all over the place, I don’t give much credit to things like that,” he said.

Unfortunately for Gasol, myself and plenty of Lakers’ fans are siding with D’Antoni this time around, which should speak volumes.  Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, published this quote from D’Antoni at shoot around this morning, questioning Gasol’s effort:

“It’s also a nice excuse not to play hard,” D’Antoni said. “That’s a classic, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ Well, you don’t have trouble getting up to the paystub line. You know what you need to do to get your check. You know what to do. They will. They’ll figure it out.”

Gasol’s play dating back to last season as been average at best.  This season, he is averaging 14.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists playing 30.3 minutes a game, but has a field goal percentage of 41%, which is terrible for a center and is the worst in the league for qualified centers, behind Al Jefferson at 44%.

Offensively, he is a shade of his former self and has continued to use D’Antoni as an excuse for his play instead of taking responsibility for it himself.   There is zero issue with Gasol wanting to be put in certain spots in the offense, all players want to be comfortable.  Where the issue lies is that when Gasol does get into the post, he gets pushed out 5-10 feet from his original position, resulting in long jumpers. Simply put, he can do more by being assertive in the offense, but doesn’t seem interested in doing so more times than not.

On the defensive side of things, there’s not many, if at all any good things to say about Gasol.   Although he is battling injuries, there has been times where he does not attempt to jump to block shots and instances where he will shy away from contact.  Gasol isn’t a defensive enforcer in any sense, but it’s the effort that bothers me.

Gasol has been a professional on and off the court during his time in Los Angeles.  You rarely hear negative things about him, so it’s disappointing to hear a situation like this.

At this point, Gasol has one of two options.  The first is to play this season out, keep his mouth shut, and find a better situation for himself in free agency or risk getting traded.  The second is simply to demand a trade out of Los Angeles.  With the injuries this team has gone through the last two seasons, the loss of Dwight Howard, and the losing, this franchise doesn’t need more distractions as they attempt to get through this season.   Unfortunately for Gasol fans, it looks as if a trade could be on the horizon if things do not change.

According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, the Lakers could be looking to trade the disgruntled Spaniard:

League sources told Sporting News that the Lakers have been fielding trade offers for Gasol for a while now, and finally could find a new home for their disgruntled big man.

Gasol will earn $19.3 million this year, an obstacle to any deal. But he is in the final year of his contract, making him a workable target for a team hoping to find a short-term big man who won’t sit on the books past this season. Another obstacle—the Lakers are protective of their cap space, and any deal they make would have to include enough expiring salaries to allow them to pursue a max-contract free agent in July.

Could the Lakers find the right deal for Gasol? That’s unclear.  They have shopped him for the last three seasons, had in fact traded him in the Chris Paul deal, then kept him around and have turned down offers for the 12-year veteran over the past two seasons.

It’s important to remember that the Lakers will not sacrifice significant cap room unless it’s a player that can help them move forward in their rebuilding process. With Kobe’s extension in place, the team will almost surely look for expiring contracts and draft picks as Sporting News reports, but the question remains if there is a team out there willing to give the Lakers what they want, especially with the inability to trade draft picks until 2019 due to the Steve Nash and Dwight Howard trades.

What happens next is anyone’s guess.  This situation seems like it will only get worse but let’s hope a resolution comes quickly so the focus can stay on the basketball court.

 

Steve Blake

Terrible news out of Laker land this morning as the Lakers announced that Steve Blake will be out a minimum of six weeks with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

This is a crucial blow to the already injury-decimated Lakers as they currently have no healthy point guards.  Blake joins Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar on the injured list.

Blake has stepped up his game since Nash went down earlier in the season, averaging 9.8 points and 7.7 assists in 31 minutes per game this season.  He has played a big part in keeping the team afloat as they waited for the return of Kobe Bryant.

Blake said today that he will not have surgery but will instead get Platalet-Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy on his elbow.

The Lakers have an open roster spot, so it is more than likely that they will add someone in the near future. An interesting name to keep an eye on is Leandro Barbosa, who is playing in Brazil with Club Pinheiros and has fully recovered from his leg injury. He knows Mike D’Antoni’s system from Phoenix and seems like a logical choice.

It should be noted that Barbosa has an out-clause in his contract that will allow him to return to the NBA.

In the meantime, D’Antoni says Kobe and Jodie Meeks will be the starters.  Kobe will be the primary ball handler in the offense until other options are brought it.

We here at Laker Nation wish Steve Blake a fast and speedy recovery!

Getty Images

Image: Getty Images

No one knows when Kobe Bryant will return from his torn left Achilles tendon. No one knows how Kobe will play when he returns from his Achilles tendon except for Kobe himself…as well as an NBA Hall of Famer who went through almost the exact same process as Kobe.

Dominique Wilkins knows.

Wilkins, known as “The Human Highlight Film”, tore his Achilles tendon at the age of 32 while playing for the Atlanta Hawks. Skeptics didn’t think a player whose game was predicated on athleticism could come back from such a crippling injury and still be an effective player at the highest level. Wilkins came back the next year and had one of his best all-around seasons while proving all the doubters wrong.

So what exactly fueled Dominique Wilkins to come back even better?

While appearing as a guest on ESPN’s “First Take”, Wilkins shed some light on what motivated him throughout his rehab: “I was very determined. You had all the doubters saying, you know, ‘He’s done. It’s over with. He’s too old. And if he comes back, he won’t be the same’. And I remember saying, you know what, not only am I going to come back, but I’m going to be better than ever.”

Sound familiar?

Wilkins echoed the same sentiment that many NBA legends have stated before regarding Bryant, “Kobe, he’s got a competitive nature that you just don’t see anymore. So I think he’ll come back and he’ll do well”

Kobe will be entering his 18th season in the NBA. How in the world is he going to be better than he was before? According to Wilkins, Kobe is already ahead of the curve: “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,” claimed Wilkins, “especially if you really rehab it and strengthen it like you should.”

 

While Kobe Bryant has yet to return to the court, some unexpected (and GREAT) news broke early today from the Los Angeles Lakers:

EL SEGUNDO – The Los Angeles Lakers have signed Kobe Bryant to a two-year contract extension, it was announced today by General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Per team policy, terms of the contract were not released.

“This is a very happy day for Lakers fans and for the Lakers organization,” said Kupchak. “We’ve said all along that our priority and hope was to have Kobe finish his career as a Laker, and this should ensure that that happens. To play 20 years in the NBA, and to do so with the same team, is unprecedented, and quite an accomplishment. Most importantly however, it assures us that one of the best players in the world will remain a Laker, bringing us excellent play and excitement for years to come.”

The expectation was that Kobe would enter free agency as the Lakers began to retool their roster with plenty of cap space this upcoming offseason.  While many felt that he would ultimately return to the purple and gold, this is fantastic news for the organization and the fans, showing that the franchise player is not done quite yet as he searches for his sixth NBA title and the franchises quest for #17.

While there are no contract details available in the press release outside it being for two years, it is said that Kobe will be the highest paid player the next two seasons:

The reaction amongst Lakers fans is that of excitement, but also some cautiousness with the amount.  Here’s something important to remember.  The Lakers will never be an under the cap franchise.  They will add the pieces necessary to bring a title back to Los Angeles.  Will they ever be around $100 million salary like they were last season?

Most likely not.

This franchise will pay the luxury tax when needed and one thing I know with this front office, they do not do this type of extension without a plan in mind.  So stay tuned!

Follow LakerNation throughout the day for reaction and more details!

Mike D'Antoni

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.

Starting Line-Up:

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.

Courtesy: Getty Images

Courtesy: Getty Images

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.

Bench:

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.

Courtesy: Getty Images

Courtesy: Getty Images

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:

Jodie Meeks

Shawne Williams

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.

For fans, it is easy to look at a player’s history in the league and quickly decide if he will be of little help to their team.

Former lottery pick Xavier Henry, signed on with the team back in September and understandably was seen as another training camp invite after his first three seasons in the league being categorized as “underwhelming”.

The 22-year old shooting guard has turned some heads in early game action, notably in the first preseason game versus the Golden State Warriors, where Henry scored 29 points.  As an encore performance, the Belgium born player scored 15 points versus the Denver Nuggets the following night.

After five games, Henry is averaging 13.6 points a game, on 43% shooting from the field and 55% from beyond the arc.   With his shooting touch and athleticism, the 22-year old has shown that he could be something more than just another camp body and has forced his way into the Lakers roster situation.

As it stands, the Lakers roster is at 16 players following the latest roster casualty, Darius Johnson-Odom, who was cut Wednesday evening.  While a team can carry 15 players on their roster, the likeliest of scenarios is the roster being trimmed down to 14 before opening night.

With the Lakers roster currently guard heavy, it would not be shocking to see Henry cut, but at the same it would not come as a surprise to see him make the squad.   It could very well come down to a decision between Henry and Marcus Landry for the final spot.

While both have a good chance to start the season with the D-Fenders if they are in fact released, it will be a tough decision with the emergence of Henry and Mike D’Antoni’s familiarity with Landry.

What makes the potential roster spot for Henry so intriguing is the effect it could have on other players, namely Jodie Meeks, who could become expendable.

While nothing is definite, Henry has the potential to exceed the production Meeks has given in his short time in Los Angeles.  With his athleticism, shooting, and ability to get to the rim, he could be more of a fit than Meeks, who is considered a catch-and-shoot player, while Henry can be seen as the more dynamic of the two.

Henry, selected 12th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2010, has dealt with high expectations since his days in high school, where he was considered one of the top shooting guards in the country.  After leaving the University of Kansas after one season, Henry failed to live up to the expectations of a lottery pick, averaging 4.5 points a game in three seasons.  Although as we have seen in the past with D’Antoni’s free flowing system, it could be just the situation Henry needs to improve his production on the offensive end.

Up to this point, Henry has made a pretty good argument for himself to earn the final roster spot despite playing through a wrist injury.  With three games left in the pre-season, he has a chance to strengthen that argument.

While I do not expect Henry to be in the running for sixth man of the year, he could be yet another diamond in the rough role player that can quality depth to the bench, something the Lakers have not had in quite some time.

With the Lakers headed towards a big off-season with ample cap space, it is important they find young players that will stay on the roster past this season.

While we can only hope he is not cut because of a rosters numbers game, Henry has done more than enough to earn his spot with the purple and gold.

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