Nick Young

Kobe Bryant

Source: Kobe Bryant | Facebook

December 8, 2013 — 6:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / NBATV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

He’s back.

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, 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.

Projected Starters

PG - Kyle LowrySteve Blake [Advantage: Even]

SGDemar Derozan / Kobe Bryant [Advantage: Lakers]

SF - Terrence RossWesley Johnson [Advantage: Lakers]

PF - Jonas Valanciunus / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]

C - Amir Johnson / Robert Sacre [Advantage: Raptors]

X-Factors

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.

Bottom Line

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.

Prediction

Lakers: 104-95

Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images

Add this game to the top of disheartening losses this season. What a game.

The Portland Trail Blazers came into Staples Center with the second best record in the Western Conference. Naturally, the Lakers were not favored to win tonight and it appeared to be an easy game to call when the home team fell behind by 17 points halfway through the first quarter. The Lakers managed to catch up, however, going into halftime just three points down. It looked like the home team was giving themselves a chance to win…and then the third quarter came.

The Blazers outscored the Lakers 41-24. Again, it looked like they’d be taking this game all the way when they led by as much as 20 points. The Lakers, however, continued to fight, getting to within a single point with still under three minutes left in the game. Unfortunately, They couldn’t stop Portland from scoring and the single-digit deficit became more than the Lakers could overcome with so little time left, so they took the loss, 114-108.

High Points
Backcourt Brothers – The Laker guards really took this game and put it over their shoulders tonight, and it started with Xavier Henry. He contributed 27 points on 9-12 from the field and was the focal point of the Lakers’ two big runs tonight. In the first quarter, he chipped in nine points that helped fuel the come from 17 points down run. In the fourth quarter, he put in 11 points to help the team catch up from a 20-point deficit, highlighted by his four-point play. He’s so good at getting himself to the free throw line where he went 7-11 tonight, and he’s fearless at getting to the rim no matter how much traffic there is to barrel through. He finished the evening with a game-high +23. Jodie Meeks, the team’s leading scorer, put in 20 points of his own. Nick Young was the other bench player who fueled the first scoring run that got the team over the 17-point hole. He finished with 17 points on 7-14 from the field. And of course, there’s Steve Blake, who had to put in double-duty tonight when Jordan Farmar left the game in the first quarter. He finished with 13 points and nine assists.
Attitude – It would have been so easy for the Lakers to just roll over and let Portland have their way with them, but they wouldn’t let up. They came up from being behind by double digits twice in one game. It’s hard to consider moral victories, but this game really showed a lot of grit from this Lakers’ team. It’s an attitude that surely their captain, Kobe Bryant, would appreciate.

Low Points
Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill – The Blazers and the Lakers shot at about the same percentage. They had close to the same number of assists, the turnovers weren’t out of control for either team and the Lakers even blocked seven shots to the Blazers’ one. The glaring stat disparity? Rebounds. Portland outrebounded the Lakers 52-41, 15-9 on the offensive glass. While rebounding should be a team effort, the Lakers’ leading rebounders didn’t do much to help their situation, combining for just 11 boards for the whole game. Their struggles tonight may be due in large part to a sprained ankle, which each player is nursing.
Spotty Defense – Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. And it’s hard to tell when the Lakers will decide to play any. One quarter, they’re allowing Portland to score 41 points. The next quarter, they go on a 24-5 run. Sustaining their efforts on either end of the court is this team’s weakness so far this season, and it’s cost them a lot of close, winnable games.
Chris Kaman – It’s nice to see Robert Sacre on the floor playing some significant minutes, and he was productive tonight with his 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks, but Kaman has been available to play for some time now and hasn’t seen the floor in a couple weeks. It’s not something that’s been given much attention, but with Jordan Hill playing with a sprained ankle, seems logical to bring Kaman in.
Jordan Farmar – After playing for only 56 seconds, Farmar had to leave the floor and was later diagnosed with a left hamstring strain. He left in the first quarter and never returned. Hopefully the next four days off will aid in a quick recovery.

The Lakers’ next game isn’t until Friday against the Sacramento Kings. After a weeklong road trip, it may just be what they need to recoup. Kobe Bryant is scheduled to practice with the team this week and there’s a possibility he’ll play against the Kings if the practices don’t cause any pain. Here’s hoping!

Box Score

I pushed this week’s Top to Bottom back to include more than just 2 games. This week covers games against the Warriors, Kings, Wizards, Nets and Pistons. In that stretch, the Lakers went 4-1, losing only on the road to the Wizards, and find themselves above .500 for the first time since opening night. With the Lakers picking up their play and with new people stepping up everyday, it’s getting harder and harder to find a “bottom 3″, so don’t mind my nitpicking. Here is this week’s Top to Bottom:

TOP

Image: Maddie Meyer | Getty Images

Image: Maddie Meyer | Getty Images

1. Jordan Farmar

Last week, I had Steve Blake in my Top list and praised him for stepping up in the absence of Steve Nash. This week, it’s the backup point guard that did damage. Jordan Farmar came off the bench and averaged 14.6 points, 5 assists, and only 1.2 turnovers in about 22 minutes a game. Farmar has impressed me all season and his play over the last 5 games ensured his spot at the top of my list. Jordan was also the only Laker to never be in the minus in the +/- category over the last 5 games and even lead the team against the Warriors with a +21 and the Wizards with a +6, he also lead the team in scoring with 22 points against the Wizards. Farmar is spending his time on the court wisely and is the leader of the best bench in the league.

2. Nick Young

Nick Young had his best week as a Laker this past week. Settling into his sixth man role, Young averaged 16.4 points a game and also lead the team in scoring against the Nets with 26 points. Young also secured Sunday night’s win against Detroit when he drew the last second charge on Josh Smith and hit 2 free throws to seal the deal. Young’s defense has also been steadily improving, in the game against the Kings, Young only scored 7 points, but lead the team in the +/- category with a +15. He has also averaged at a little over 1 steal a game over the last 5.

3. Pau Gasol

Pau started this week of games with a charity pledge to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan against the Warriors, in that game Pau was able to score 24 points and donate $24,000 to typhoon relief. Pau continued the week leading the team averaging 19 points and 9.2 rebounds (tied with Jordan Hill) a game. Pau has had his ups and downs this season but his play been improving. With Kobe’s return just around the corner I expect Pau to pick it up and have a little more freedom once defenses have the Mamba to look out for.

BOTTOM

Source: Lakers.com

1. Xavier Henry

Henry had a great game against the Kings when he lead the team with 21 points, but other than that, he’s been pretty forgettable this week. Henry had weekly averages of 8 points and 2.4 rebounds a game. Even though Henry’s numbers are down, I still think Henry does his job when he’s on the floor. He still has the ability to get to the line almost at will and hit the open jumper, I hope Henry will find his way to the top again soon though.

2. Jordan Hill

Jordan Hill didn’t necessarily have a bad week, he still averaged 6.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in just under 26 minutes a game over the last 5, but those numbers are less than last week when he averaged 18.75 points and 12 rebounds. Hill still brings energy to the starting unit and is a great garbage man, but the scouting report is now out on Hill who has to find other ways to keep the energy up. Hill also suffered a left ankle sprain Sunday night in Detroit, here’s hoping to him getting back on the court healthy and ready to go soon.

3. Lakers Interior Defense

Is it a cop out for me to name the Laker Interior D as a worst player this week? Sure. Does that make it any less true? Not one bit. In the past 5 games, the Lakers gave up a combined total of 252 points in the paint and 81 fast break points. Detroit alone scored 76 of their 102 points in the paint and, in Washington, John Wall had his way getting past defenses with his speed and to the hole almost at will. This past road trip showed a major flaw in the team’s defense, it seems any team with speed and/or a big that can get into the post will have an advantage against the Lakers. Kurt Rambis, who was hired to lead the defense, has his work cut out for him. The Lakers take Portland on at home tomorrow.

 

The Lakers extending Kobe Bryant’s contract is a lot like asking someone to prom. They are essentially asking this one special person to spend one of the most memorable nights of their lives, or rest of their career, with you. It could either turn out great or be one of the worst nights you have ever had or will have in your life. With that being said, signing Bryant pre-return could either be great or costly moving forward.

If you were following the news yesterday, or in case you missed it, the Lakers signed Kobe Bryant to a two year extension worth $48.5 million dollars. This extension appears to be the first move the Lakers are making in terms of free agency for the summer of 2014. By extending Bryant, the Lakers get to keep the face of the franchise for a couple more seasons while notifying the league and any future free agents that they will have the opportunity to play alongside the future Hall of Famer. That is, if his health allows it.

With Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose now ruled out for the season, fans hope that Bryant will take a more relaxed approach to returning in hopes to prevent a similar situation from occurring. Having watched Kobe Bryant from afar and knowing the type of competitor he is I can assure you that he will return when he is ready and he feels that his body is as well. Not only is Laker Nation hoping that Bryant returns when he is ready but, future free agents also want him to be in order to consider signing for the purple and gold.

Photo Credit: IB Times

Sam Amick of USA Sports spoke to Carmelo Anthony about Bryant’s extension recently. Anthony essentially spoke light to thoughts that are entertaining many free agents’ minds when considering the Lakers. Will Kobe be himself as a teammate of mine?

When asked if free agents like himself would see Bryant as a star who is still worthy of joining in order to contend for a title, Anthony said, “I mean you’ll have to see. It’s hard to gauge at this point, not until he comes back (from his April Achilles tendon tear) and figures some things out. So I don’t know. They might have some plans up their sleeve.”

Looking long term, Bryant’s extension is enough for the Lakers to still look like the prom queen come free agency. Taking the pay cut of almost $10 million dollars provides room to sign a Carmelo Anthony if he opts out, a LeBron James if he does the same, or any other marquee free agents who are looking to win now. Not only will it allow that flexibility, but it also opens the door to retool the bench to its more formidable years. Maybe even keeping active, young players like Nick Young, Xavier Henry, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson or Jordan Farmar. Regardless of the what speculation may arise, this move says that the franchise is making a push the last few years of Bryant’s career to win now.

Bryant will retire with the Lakers. As for who he’ll be playing with and the question of whether that team will be worth talking about, that much remains to be seen.

“I think (Bryant) wanted to get that done,” Anthony told USA TODAY Sports. “Especially now, coming off that injury, that he wanted to solidify that (contract). I don’t think he ever had any doubt of leaving the Lakers, so he got that done early…He wants to win. I want to win. Everybody in the league, we want to win, so I just figured he was going to get that done.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images

I’m not saying that it was the best move for the Lakers to sign Bryant this early, but I will say it provides intrigue if he is or is not able to produce highly. If Bryant is not the same will the Lakers be able to attract those superstar players? Or will they have to settle for players similar to those signed this past off-season?

On the other other hand, if Bryant is healthy and can produce at the level he was pre-injury then the possibilities are endless. With a healthy Bryant, cap space, and the allure of Los Angeles, Mitch Kupchak will have an arsenal ready to reload the Lakers and compete for another title. Yet all of this depends on how healthy Bryant is when he returns to the team.

No matter what does happen, prom just got a lot more interesting.

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.

Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

Every sport, at their core, has simple goals and strategies. For basketball, it’s getting the ball in the hoop and preventing the other team from doing the same. The team who can do both, or at the very least one of these things, better than the other wins. The Lakers, in five regular season games, have been good at both just once – the first game where they blew out the Clippers. Since then they have gotten blown out by Golden State and Dallas, outsmarted and outhustled against the Spurs, and barely won by the skin of their teeth versus Atlanta. So far we’ve learned one thing about this team, and that’s that they don’t take to simplicity well.

After giving up 35 points to the Mavericks in the first quarter, while only able to score 22 themselves, the Lakers continued to make decisions contrary to the solution that could have won them this game. Down 16 points in the second quarter and running ahead with the ball, by all means, Pau Gasol, shoot a three in transition (miss). Down by 30 points in the third quarter after Jose Calderon hit a three, Jordan Farmar pulls for a jumper (again, miss). The Lakers were raining bricks on Dallas tonight, opting always for the low-percentage shot over the inside game that provides a better chance to score.

For a second time this season, the Lakers looked lost from every corner of the court, and the Mavericks took advantage, taking the 123-104 victory.

High Points
Monta Ellis – 30 points on 11-14 from the field, a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line and six rebounds. Once a scorer, always a scorer and Ellis is one of the league’s prolific ones. Not known for his three-point shot, Ellis scored most from mid-range and inside, often beating his man off the dribble and heading in for a layup. No Steve Blake or Nick Young could stop him tonight.
Nick Young – Speaking of Nick Young, he couldn’t stop Ellis, but he did what he could on the offensive end, going 8-12 from the field for his team-leading 21 points. Coming off the bench seems to have aided Young in his offensive struggles as a starter.

Low Points
Defense – Where to begin with the defense? How about zero, because there was none on the perimeter (13-27 from downtown for the Mavs) and none whatsoever inside the arc either (52-36 advantage for Dallas in the paint). The Mavs strolled so easily and so often to the basket for layups and dunks that the Lakers may have well just sat out. Communication is important on the offensive end, but it is even more so vital on defense, and the Lakers are not heeding.
No Rebounds, No Rings – The Lakers played all thirteen dressed players tonight, and three had absolutely no boards (Young, Shawne Williams, who only played about five minutes, and Steve Blake). Pau Gasol, a historically good rebounder, had just eight boards in 31 minutes, which wouldn’t seem so disappointing if not for the rest of his team barely fighting for rebounds themselves. Dallas grabbed 50 rebounds to the Lakers’ 35. With all the shots they missed, they could have given themselves more chances to score, but chose not to bother.
Lack of Leadership – Kobe Bryant on the sidelines, advising teammates during the game, shows more leadership in a suit than the veterans on this team who are out there on the floor. When your team has cut the lead from 30 points to just 12, where’s the leader to help close the gap even further? Who, out there, will barrel themselves to the basket to score and be fouled? Who is going to run plays to get the other players involved in the surge? Who is going to rebound every miss, contest every shot and play defense? It’s easy to point the finger at Mike D’Antoni, and to a certain extent the Lakers’ coaching staff, when the team plays as listless as they did tonight. But at a certain point in the game, and the early season while Bryant isn’t playing, there has to be someone else who will step up and be that guy. There is no Derek Fisher on this team to back up Bryant, but there is Gasol. Nash is a veteran leader and D’Antoni’s guy, true, but this isn’t his team. While Bryant is re-conditioning for his return, Gasol needs to take the reigns on this team. He needs to shoulder the load. He needs to lead the way, and 10 points on 4-9 from the field, with eight rebounds, four assists and zero blocks is not the way to do it.

Each morning, I start my day with a simple request: Make good choices. It’s time the Lakers (players and coaches alike) start asking the same of themselves. They’re making the game harder than it has to be by making disappointing and baffling decisions on the court. Keep the game simple. Field goal percentage down? Take higher percentage attempts. Getting outrebounded? Rebound more. Have a size advantage? Feed it inside. Opponents scoring too easily, communicate on defense.

This Laker team has shown their potential, even without an active Kobe Bryant. But they can’t seem to show it in consecutive efforts. Fortunately for them, there are still 77 games to go.

Box Score

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Another journey begins on October 29th, 2013. The Los Angeles Lakers will kick off another season, but something feels very different this year. No number 24 in the starting line up due to an Achilles injury, and no Dr. Buss in the front office. A bunch of new faces are walking around Laker town like Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, and former Clipper center Chris Kaman. Even Mark “Mad Dog” Madsen is back. This season is what critics call a “toss up” season. The Lakers aren’t expected to make it to the Finals, let alone the playoffs, something we have not seen since 2005.

The Lakers will start the year off against the hometown rivals, Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers made an early exit last season as did the Lakers in a first round bounce. The Clippers have a new attitude and identity, just ask Laker fans how they felt when the Clippers covered the Lakers championship banners. Coach Doc Rivers brings an aggressive coaching style and may arguably be the best head coach in the league. The Clippers have always been the smaller brother in Los Angeles, but behind a new coach, they look to take over Los Angeles and give the Lakers a sour season opener.

What To Look For? 

What will most intrigue Laker fans is the starting line-up, and how effective the new look Lakers will play together. Rumors are Steve Nash and Steve Blake will take care of the back court, Nick Young on the wing, along with the surprise of the preseason Shawne Williams at forward. Pau Gasol will move back in the post at center, which is his most effective position.  Keep an eye out for Coach D’Antoni’s rotation of players like Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry.

Defense, Defense, Defense. The old saying is “defense wins championships” and the last time the Lakers won a championship, it was because of their defense. Last season the Lakers struggled especially in transition defense. Let’s see how effective the new and youthful Lakers can be on the perimeter and inside. Ball movement and shot selection are very important.

What To Expect? 

A young, energetic group of Lakers will be willing to run back and fourth with the Clippers, and for that matter, all season. The Lakers seem to have lakers-bannersslightly gotten better on defense, but expect them to put up a 1oo plus points every night due to Coach D’Antoni system. Every season is a new season and after watching the last couple of pre season games, the Lakers can go on scoring bursts. This team has fire power, especially in the back court. Turnovers will happen. How often they happen will be up to this team and its discipline. The Western Conference is going to be extremely competeive this year.

Kobe Bryant?

Image: AP

Image: AP

The Lakers will be without their leader Kobe Bryant to start the year. In Los Angeles, we have never had an issue on whose taking the last shot, it was always Bryant. Bryant would deliver in crunch time situations and pick his team up from deficits. That will now be a concern since he is not available in the line up. We have no official timetable for when the Mamba plans to return, but in all honesty, it won’t be soon. Bryant is not in shape and has yet to even practice in full contact with his team. Speculation is that Bryant will sit out the whole year; others have set a date for Christmas. The most important element is him being at 100%. A torn Achilles is not an easy injury to overcome and age is not on Bryant’s side.

If the Lakers start fast and stay strong defensively, expect a 1-0 start for the Lakers. If it is a close game, hold your breathe Laker fans. The Lakers need to be a lot more aggressive than the Clippers. They need to be mentally and physically tougher than them, especially in the low post area. Nash and Gasol must keep this young team focused and on schedule. The Clippers vs. Lakers rivalry will continue another season. Let the battle of Los Angeles begin.

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Image: Noah Graham | Getty Images

All week long, our staff writers will 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 highlight which player has surprised them the most thus far:

Felipe Amaral // @F_Amaral

Chris Kaman. He displayed great chemistry with Pau Gasol right off the bat and that looks to be a good building block for the team in the upcoming season. The Lakers have had success in recent years with two skilled seven-footers sharing the court and that might happen again with Gasol and Kaman.

Jordan Grant // @JordanGrant90

Xavier Henry has been the biggest surprise this preseason. Perhaps it’s more surprising that I’ve never seen a player refuse to pass the ball under any circumstances. Nevertheless, he has proven that he has some great skills and can be a valuable asset to the team. Hopefully Kobe, of all people, can teach him a thing or two about sharing the rock.

Jon Gaffer // @jewelslamo

Steve Nash has surprised me the most in the preseason. He’s already nursing injuries. I thought he would at least get about 15 games under his belt before he blew a tire.

Mark Awad // @MarkeyTheBoss_

No doubt Chris Kaman. Averaging nearly a double-double in the preseason, Kaman seems to have found his groove with fellow big Pau Gasol. No attitude or demand from Kaman, he just does as the coaches tell him with no pressure at all.

Robert Benitez // @beeb0

I’ve been impressed with the entire team so far this preseason, but Nick Young tops the list. Young has been a consistent scorer and has moved the ball efficiently, as well. He also has the skill to get to the basket and create shots for himself, as well as his teammates.

Bummi Anderson // @BummiNAnderson

Pau Gasol. Gasol has struggled mightily the last two seasons while accommodating Andrew Bynum & Dwight Howard. His health has also declined, particularly this past season. Gasol has come out this preseason looking healthy and more aggressive, and it has translated into him having a very good preseason.

Oren Levy // @LakersOren

Wesley Johnson. With his length and athleticism, I expected him to succeed early and often in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. Instead, he looked hesitant in early preseason action before injuring his foot and missing time.

Alex Lambeth // @AlexLambeth

Chris Kaman. Kaman’s ability to score both inside the paint and from the mid-range has particularly surprised me. Also, his ability to mesh with Pau Gasol has been a welcomed sight thus far. Perhaps Kaman has been injured these past few years, because he certainly looks like the productive Kaman of old.

Garrett Garcia // @GarrettGarcia

Chris Kaman.  Kaman has come into his own with the Lakers and is playing a solid role as center.  He comes without the drama and superstar treatment Howard demanded, and he goes out and plays hard, doing what the coaching staff asks of him.

Melvin Taylor // @MelvinTaylorII

The player that has surprised me most this preseason is Chris Kaman. Playing alongside Gasol has looked almost effortless for him. There will be defensive lapses because of their ages, however, they could become a great duo if Kaman continues to elevate his game.

 

Next Question Tomorrow: What are your thoughts on Kobe Bryant being ranked as the NBA’s 25th best player by ESPN, and what type of season do you see him having?

Wesley Johnson

By Alex Lambeth, with contributions from Jory Dreher

Image: Getty Images

Image: Getty Images

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.

Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

With key departures in starters Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, the Lakers starting line up is a mystery. We know 3 positions will be locked, the point guard in Steve Nash, Shooting guard Kobe Bryant and either Center/Power Forward Pau Gasol. The two positions up for grabs will be the small forward and power forward positions. In Coach Mike D’Antoni system, you sometimes just don’t know what to expect. Will D’Antoni run and gun or will we see a slower pace offense like towards the end of the year when Kobe got hurt. Until then, we can play around with different scenarios for starting line ups and take a couple shots at who we think might start. Lets take a look at the two highlighted positions on the Lakers roster, the power forward and small forward.

Power Forward:

Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman will be the lead candidates for the starting power forward/center job. We know what Jordan brings, toughness, great rebounding and defense. This summer Hill asked Coach D’Antoni how he can improve his game and has reportedly been working on his 15-18 foot jump shot. Kaman on the other hand is veteran thats been in the league for a while. Chris too can pick and pop and play down low. I personally would love to see Jordan start and Kaman off the bench because that would give us a solid center off the bench. Pau Gasol is an extremely gifted player and many fans forgot how talented he is in the post with both hands. Critiques will say he’s soft and can never bang down low, thats a false statement. Gasol wont give us breathe taking dunks but he’ll get the job done. If Pau Gasol can go back to his 09-10 season, in which he was dropping close to 19 points and grabbing 11 rebound, he will be feared again.

Small Forward:

The small forward position for the Lakers is very tricky. We’ve had many good players in the past like Trevor Ariza, Metta World Peace, Rick Fox and “Big Game” James Worthy. If the Lakers went up against Carmelo, Lebron, Kevin Durant we knew we had that stopper on defense, that would be able to somewhat slow them down and take the load off Kobe and company defensively. This position should have more of a scoring punch with Wesley Johnson and Nick Young, but there are definite questions on the defensive end. Wesley is long and can shoot the 3 ball, and should fit well in D’Antoni’s system. Nick Young can score in bunches from almost anywhere on the floor and he loves attacking the rim. I personally think who ever stands out defensively from the two will be grab the most playing time.

Projected Starting Line up: 

Point Guard: Steve Nash will control the rock at the point guard, he’s getting old but his shooting off Kobe double teams and intelligence at the position is rare and what the Lakers need. Nash needs to be more aggressive this upcoming season, more scoring than facilitating.

Credit: SI.com

Credit: SI.com

Shooting Guard: If Kobe is a no go season opener, Jodie Meeks will get the start untill the  Mamba comes back.(Get Ready)

Credit: AP/Danny Moloshok

Credit: AP/Danny Moloshok

Small Forward:NBA: Phoenix Suns-Media Day The small forward position will go to Wesley Johnson, he’s a sniper from outside and plays good perimeter defense. I won’t be suprised if Nick Young gets a couple starts this year or even ends up starting. Nick Youngs offensive explosions would be much appreciated off the bench either subbing in for Kobe or Wesley.

 

 

 

Power Forward: The Power Forward position is a toss up, I want to see Jordan hill start  so Chris

Credit: SI.com

Credit: SI.com

Kaman can give us a solid punch off the bench but wouldn’t be surprised to see it work out the other way. Kaman might just start to help Gasol spread the floor and give him space inside to dominate.

Center: Pau Gasol period. This is his year to dominate, the paint belongs to him. I am extremly eager to watch Gasol this year who I think will have one of his more dominant seasons, and needs to. If Kobe is a no go season opener, Gasol you are the best player on this roster and need to carry this team. I expect more touches for Pau and more Pick and roll situations with Nash and Kobe. With the departure of Dwight, we have to feed the spaniard down low. Laker fans get ready for a great 2013-2014 Season.

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

 

The Los Angeles Lakers have  agreed to terms with Free Agent Nick Young, with a deal for 1 year worth the veterans minimum, to be worth 1.2 million dollars.

Nick is a Los Angeles Native who went to Cleveland High School in Reseda, he will be reunited with Jordan Farmar who went to Taft High School, a rival school. Nick then took his talents to the University Of Southern California. He was drafted by the Wizards and bounced around from the Clippers to the 76ers, now he’s home, The Los Angeles Lakers. This was a steal for the Lakers organization and it’s fans.

It was extremly suprising to see Nick Young last this long during free agency with a player of his talent. His best seasons were with Washington Wizards averaging 17 and 16 points per game in back to back seasons. Laker Nation is excited and so is he,

Nick Young Finally comes home,

Nick is a tremendous offensive weapon, he can shoot and more importantly attack the rim. Coach Mike D’ Antoni will find a way to utilize his athleticism by slashing and coming off screens. More importantly, I could see Nick coming off the bench for Kobe and giving him that much needed rest.

Playing behind Kobe Brant will most definitely help Nick out in his 8th season in the NBA.  Laker fans, Laker Nation get ready for highlight plays and electrifying dunks from MR. Nick “Swaggy P” Young.

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