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Ricky Rubio

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Photo by Stephen Dunn| Getty Images
Photo by Stephen Dunn| Getty Images
Photo by Stephen Dunn| Getty Images

December 20, 2013 — 7:30 PM (PST)
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: ESPN / TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers (12-13) try to pick up the broken piece of glasses and battle the Minnesota Timberwolves (13-13) tonight after learning that G Kobe Bryant will now be out for approximately 6 weeks after suffering a fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee. Along with Bryant, the 3 Lakers point guards, PG Steve Nash, PG Steve Blake, and PG Jordan Farmar, are still sidelined due to their injuries and not expected to return anytime soon. As a result, the Lakers signed D-League PG Kendall Marshall to a non-guaranteed contract to fill the back-up point guard position. 

With all the injuries, players like G Nick Young, G Xavier Henry, and SG Jodie Meeks have to cover for Bryant’s loss and perform as well as they did before Bryant’s return. Without Bryant, the Lakers will run Mike D’Antoni‘s system that involes a lot of ball movement and running up and down the floor. 

The Lakers now have to play the Minnesota Timberwolves, who visited the Lakers earlier season and won by 23 points. They are a much improved team this season, mainly due to  staying healthy as a team unlike last season. The Timberwolves are led by the duo of local UCLA product PF Kevin Love and PG Ricky Rubio, both of them being potential all-stars this season. Love has had another dominant season, averaging 25.2 PPG and 13.7 RPG. He can shoot from the perimeter while dominating in the low post at the same time, causing match up nightmares for anyone who guards him. Rubio reminds a lot of old NBA fans of the great “Pistol Pete” Maravich as a point guard who can make difficult plays look very easy using his insane craftiness. Rubio has had a solid season himself, averaging 9.4 PPG and 7.9 APG. Althought the Timberwolves have the talent in their starting lineup to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference, their lack of depth has cost them a lot of games this season.

Projected Starters

PG – Ricky Rubio Xavier Henry [Advantage: Timberwolves]

SG – Kevin Martin / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Timberwolves]

SF – Corey Brewer Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Timberwolves]

PF – Kevin LoveJordan Hill [Advantage: Timberwolves]

C – Nikola Pekovic Pau Gasol [Advantage: Even]

Notable Bench Players

Grizzlies: G JJ Barea, Alexei ShvedDante Cunningham

Lakers: G/F Nick YoungF Shawne Williams, Robert Sacre

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Keys for Lakers Success

  1. Effort: Lets face it. The Lakers cannot beat any of their opponents anytime soon by pure talent especially with Bryant and their entire point guard players out. Therefore, the Lakers have to play with a lot of energy and effort. The Lakers have to out rebound the Timberwolves, get easy baskets, and compete for all loose balls to grind out a victory tonight. Players like F Jordan HillRobert Sacre, and F Wes Johnson has to continue to get rebounds, play hard on both ends, and do the intangible things that do not show in the box score.
  2. Swaggy P: With Bryant out, that leaves Lakers 6th man Nick Young as the only player who can create his own shots on the offensive end. Young has had a fantastic year so far, leading the Lakers in scoring at 14.9 PPG on 43.5 % shooting under Bryant’s tutelage. Young will be relied very heavily upon to score at the end of games and when the offense becomes stagnant.

Bottom Line

With Bryant’s absence, the optimism for tonight’s game is very bleak to say the least. Hopefully, the Lakers play with an inspired energy the way Bryant would want them to tonight. The Lakers also have to make their shots and not allow the Timberwolves extra possessions especially since their talent is superior to the Lakers.

Prediction

Timberwolves: 115-98

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Now that the NBA Finals have ended, the basketball world’s attention shifts to the off-season. Beginning with the NBA Draft yesterday and continuing with the beginning of free agency next week, the next three months will shape how the 2013-2014 NBA season goes down.

There might not be a team with a more uncertain future heading into the off-season than the Lakers. Will Dwight stay or will he go? (Here’s my opinion from yesterday in case you missed it)

Do you upgrade an aging roster? Stick to what you have? Get rid of everyone? What exactly should the Lakers do?

Let’s take a look at three options Los Angeles really has this off-season, and which is going to be best for the franchise.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers

Re-sign and Build Around Dwight

The most obvious solution would be to go all in and put everything you have to bringing Howard back to Los Angeles. While injuries caused a dip in his production this season, there is no doubt Dwight is a top ten talent in the NBA and the best center in the league when healthy. Howard is a game-changer, especially on the defensive end of the court. With a player like that in the fold, you have a solid core for the next 5-10 years that you can build around.

With gobs of cap space coming in the summer of 2014, and a very impressive list of free agents, the Lakers could secure Howard and be back in contention within a year.

That is of course if the big man wants to be back in the Purple and Gold. Reports have recently surfaced that the Lakers are a long-shot to bring him back. According to ESPN:

Howard is willing to forgo the extra $30 million the Lakers can pay him to play for a coach and in a system he feels will better use his skillset, one source said.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics

Sign-and-trade Dwight for Depth

So if there’s no bringing him back, what can the Lakers do? Another idea that has been thrown around lately has been the concept of sign-and-trading Dwight to a team of his choosing to bring back some assets in return. While Howard would obviously have to agree to sign with the team he is going to, getting something in return is better than allowing Dwight to walk for nothing. (Contrary to popular belief, the Lakers can send a player out in a sign-and-trade, they just can’t bring a player in via sign-and-trade.)

With reports that Chris Paul and Howard want to form their own super team, the most talked about sign-and-trade has D12 going to the Clippers in exchange for Eric Bledsoe and Blake Griffin. Which sounds like a decent deal, except for the fact that the Lakers don’t want to send Howard to their rivals (if you can even call them that) down the hall, and the contract owed Griffin is going to become increasingly tough to justify if all he ever does is dunk and make Kia commercials.

If the Lakers are going to move Howard they need to take advantage of this opportunity and bring in a young talent that can help transform the franchise. A trade that gets the Lakers younger and more talented in exchange for Dwight would be the main objective of the franchise.

So what trade accomplishes these goals? That’s easy. A three-way trade between the Lakers, Clippers, and… (drumroll please) the T’Wolves! Minnesota happens to have a very talented young power forward who most people (Minny included), don’t expect to stick around past his opt-out after this season. A trade sending Dwight to the Clippers, Blake Griffin to the Wolves and Bledsoe and All-Star Kevin Love to the Lakers makes sense for all involved.

Paul and Howard get to team up in Clipper uniforms, Ricky Rubio gets the perfect alley-oop target, and the Lakers get two young, dynamic players to upgrade their roster. Which sounds like the perfect trade, meaning it will be almost impossible to pull off.

Andrew Wiggins 2

Blow it Up and Start Over

So if Dwight doesn’t want to come back, and the Lakers can’t get the right assets in return with a sign-and-trade, what option lies behind the proverbial door number three?

Blow it all up and rebuild. Let Dwight walk. Trade Pau. Amnesty Metta. Don’t bring Kobe back to play this year. Tank, tank, tank, tank, tank. (Then fire D’Antoni, I beg of you.)

If we’ve learned anything from the OKC’s and Spurs of the league, it’s that drafting talent is as important as signing talent. Unless you have Lebron James, you just can’t win in the league today without cheap, young talent.

In Los Angeles, it’s title or bust every season for the Lakers. And with a championship looking less and less likely next season, blowing it up for a franchise-changing lottery pick (Andrew Wiggins anyone?) could be the best route to take.

With ridiculous amounts of cap space next summer, the Lakers could potentially have a great, young talent on a rookie contract and two or three max players in the starting line-up with him. Doesn’t that seem like the best option towards a quick rebuild back into title contention?

The Lakers have some big decisions to make in the next couple of weeks. Will they look for instant gratification again, or decide to finally bite the bullet and rebuild for the future? Either way, you can guarantee it will be an interesting summer in Laker Land.

Belal Abdelfattah is a sports addict, sneaker junkie, and Laker Nation contributor. Follow him on Twitter over at @ItsBelal_A

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With the Lakers off to a poor start, trade rumors have begun to swirl around Kobe Bryant, leading many to speculate if he'll leave for greener pastures. Kobe puts those rumors to rest in his interview with Yahoo Sports.