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Wesley Johnson

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Berstein, Getty Images.

March 4, 2014 — 7:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Lakers (21-39) face off vs. the struggling New Orleans Pelicans (23-37) after coming away with a very impressive road victory vs. Portland TrailBlazers last night.

Wesley Johnson, who scored 14 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, received a sideline out-of-bounds alley-oop from G Kent Bazemore after backdoor cutting on PF LaMarcus Aldridge to lay the ball in from the right side of the rim. 

Johnson has seemed very comfortable playing the Power Forward position, averaging 14.8 PPG while shooting at or greater than 50% during his last 4 games. If Johnson continues to stay aggressive tonight, he should have another great game if he has either C Alexis Ajinca or F Anthony Davis guarding him.

Meanwhile, the Hornets have been struggling significantly, losing 8 straight games caused by costly injuries to many of their rotation players. All-Star C Anthony Davis has blossomed into a very high quality big man in the NBA. Davis has scored 20.1 PPG and grabbed 9.9 RPG, both surpassing his statistics from last season by a significant margin.

Projected Starters

PG – Kendall Marshall Brian Roberts [Advantage: Even]
SG – Jodie Meeks / Eric Gordon [Advantage: Pelicans]
SF – Kent Bazemore / Tyreke Evans [Advantage: Pelicans]
PF – Wesley Johnson / Alexis Ajinca [Advantage: Lakers]
C – Pau Gasol Anthony Davis  [Advantage: Even]

Notable Bench Players

Hornets: G Austin Rivers, Anthony MorrowGreg Steisma

Lakers: PG Jordan FarmarRobert Sacre, F Ryan Kelly, G Xavier Henry

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Injury List

Hornets: Out-G Jrue Holiday, Out-F Ryan Anderson, Out-F Jason Smith

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-F/G Nick Young

Keys for Tonight’s Game

Rebound the Ball: Despite last night’s impressive win, the Lakers cannot afford to let their opponents grab 20 offensive rebounds like they did vs. Blazers. With the Pelicans going with a big front-line with Ajinca and Davis, all 5 Lakers have to crash the glass on the defensive end and help each other out to grab all of the 50/50 loose balls. The small lineup that the Lakers have featured throughout the last week seems to have made the offense flow better and provides more quickness. However, anytime the Lakers give away extra possessions to their opponents, they will have more difficulties coming away with a victory.

Bottom Line

Although both the Pelicans’ and Lakers’ management will never admit that they want to see them lose, they must secretly hope that they lose as many games as possible including tonight’s game. The Lakers management must want one of the top 4 players available in this highly-coveted draft class while the Pelicans will lose their 1st round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers unless they have a 5th pick or lower in this upcoming draft.

However, the Lakers have to make sure they play very hard tonight to continue on their momentum. a 3rd straight win tonight will be huge considering they have a very daunting schedule facing them following tonight’s game.

The Lakers should play with a lot of focus tonight and just maybe the fans in Staples Center will receive free tacos following tonight’s game.

Prediction

Lakers: 106-99

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Jordan Farmar
Image: Stephen Dunn | Getty Images

February 28, 2014 — 7:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Lakers will face off vs. inter-state rivals Sacramento Kings in a battle of Western Conference bottom dwellers who destine themselves for a lottery pick in this upcoming NBA Draft.

Currently suffering a 3-game losing streak, the Lakers seek to get back on a winning track and end another dismal month on a positive note by playing with high energy tonight. The Lakers could not quite finish their comeback vs. Grizzlies after falling behind by 19 in the first half.

Along with Gasol, who I will mention later, SG Jodie Meeks continues to have a career year this season, scoring 19 points while shooting 7-10 from the field vs. Grizzlies. Meeks has scored 14.4 PPG this season while shooting a very high 39.4 % from behind the 3-point line.

The Kings will be without their leader C DeMarcus Cousins tonight to serve a one-game suspension for his actions vs. Rockets. Therefore, the Kings will be led by SF Rudy Gay, an all around player who averages 20.1 PPG and 6.3 RPG. Lakers‘ F Wesley Johnson will need to lock him up tonight in order to come away with a victory tonight.

Projected Starters

PG – Kendall Marshall  Isaiah Thomas [Advantage: Kings]

SG – Jodie Meeks / Ben McLemore [Advantage: Lakers]

SF – Kent Bazemore Rudy Gay [Advantage: Kings]

PF – Wesley Johnson / Jason Thompson [Advantage: Even]

C – Pau Gasol Aaron Gray  [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Kings: PG Ray McCallumReggie EvansDerrick Williams

Lakers: PG Jordan FarmarChris Kaman, Jordan Hill, G Marshon Brooks

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Injury List

Kings: Out-C DeMarcus Cousins, Out-G Jason Terry

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-F/G Nick Young, Out-G Xavier Henry

Keys for Lakers Success

Feed the Bigs: Kings C Demarcus Cousins will miss tonight’s game, leaving a gaping hole in the post for the Kings that the Lakers must take full advantage of. C Pau Gasol had a successful 2nd half vs. Grizzlies by scoring 12 points while dishing out 3 assists after teammate PG Jordan Farmar insisted the team ditch the small-ball philosophy and run the entire offense through Gasol. Although the Lakers fell short vs. Grizzlies, the Gasol led Lakers out scored the Grizzlies by 15 in the 2nd half. Even if Gasol is not out on the floor, The Lakers should run their offense around C Chris Kaman, who people can argue as one of the most offensively skilled center in the NBA.

Bottom Line

Tonight, the Lakers should and will get a victory vs. the Kings. That is if they play to their strength, which means to play through Gasol and Kaman. Currently, the Lakers would do anything to win a game, whether it’s within their usual offensive system or not. Regardless of the rankings these two teams currently sit themselves in, a win vs. Kings always brings peace to the city of Los Angeles.

Prediction

Lakers: 110-103

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Image: Getty Images

Last week’s POW:  Wes Johnson

Last week is in the books and Laker fans now move onto the next week in this season.  Kobe Bryant returned last night and needless to say he was a bit rusty.  If he had played quite well I would have chosen him as player of the week but he wasn’t quite up to par.  Only two games made up the Lakers’ week and that was against Sacramento and Toronto.  This week we had one person play better than the rest throughout the two games: Jodie Meeks.

Jodie Meeks

Photo Credit | Getty Images

Jodie Meeks played well this week because of his strong shooting performance, he shot 56% from the field, had 16.5 ppg, 2 apg, 2.5 rpg over the last two games.  Meeks made some clutch 3-pointers in the game against Sacramento, and continued his hot shooting performance against Toronto albeit in a loss.

Meeks has always been a high caliber shooter and when the Lakers can get him into space to shoot he can be deadly.  I liked seeing him hit some threes this past week that really ignited the Lakers to rally and win the game, in the case of Sacramento at least.

His scoring definitely helped in the win over Sacramento as he started and played some solid efficient minutes in that game.

Hopefully the Lakers can utilize Meeks properly with Kobe Bryant back in the starting lineup.  Then he can continue to deliver clutch threes for the lakers when the games get close.

 

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Source: Kobe Bryant/Facebook
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

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Image: Getty Images

Last week’s POW: Pau Gasol

This was certainly an interesting week for the Los Angeles Lakers as they had a few key players dealing with injuries which led to others having to step up.  Gasol dealt with an ailing ankle and sprained left hand which clearly had him at less than 100 percent on the court.  No one really performed at an outstanding level on a consistent basis all week but one player definitely earned player of the week honors for his powerful performance against Detroit.

Wesley Johnson

Photo Credit | Getty Images

Wesley Johnson averaged 12.3 PPG this past week adding nearly two blocks and six rebounds over that span.  Johnson’s best game was against Detroit where he torched them for 27 points on 9/11 shooting (6/7 3Pt) adding three blocks and six rebounds en route to a 106-102 road win for the Lakers.  Johnson hasn’t been a gaudy stat guy all season but this performance should stand out because without Johnson the Lakers would likely have fallen to Detroit.

Johnson has quietly made a name for himself in Los Angeles and has definitely produced greater numbers than he has in the past for his other teams. Johnson can catch fire on any given night and his scoring numbers will greatly help a .500 Lakers squad.

 

Be sure to check back next week for another player of the week!

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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.

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Courtesy: Getty Images

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.

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Image: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Which bench player has impressed you the most so far?

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Image: Noah Graham | Getty Images
Image: Noah Graham | Getty Images

With contributions by Kanta Ito.

With Dwight Howard‘s departure, Lakers Executive V.P. of Basketball Operations Jim Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak faced a major task this past off-season. The Lakers’ decision-makers were tasked with filling plenty of holes, as evidenced by last season’s debacle.

After eight preseason games and three regular season games, one significant improvement is evident: the bench.

The Lakers have received a major sparkplug from the second unit this season, evidenced by their strong performances throughout the preseason and regular season. The second unit shocked the national audience by carrying the Lakers to an Opening Night victory over its co-tenant rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, outscoring them 41-24 in the fourth quarter and scoring 76 points as a unit.

Albeit, the Lakers lost the next two games to the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers’ bench, however, has shown that it can carry a lot of the weight for the Lakers this season.

Jordan Farmar, a key bench player during the Lakers’ championship runs in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, took a significant paycut to rejoin the Lakers after stint with the New Jersey Nets as well as overseas in Israel and Turkey. Farmar has gotten off to a blistering start, averaging 11.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game, including scoring 16 points to lead the Lakers over the Clippers.

Farmar’s maturity in becoming an effective floor general came from running the show for the Anadolu Efes Istambul in Turkey last season—leading them to a Euroleague playoff appearance.

“I just got a chance to play differeent styles of basketball. My whole professional career, I was in a triangle and I [was not] really running screen and rolls and making decisions and getting away from that. I finally got a chance to do that and learn on the job,” Farmar told NBA on TNT sidelines reporter Craig Sager after defeating the Clippers.

The biggest surprise for the Lakers has been Xavier Henry, who signed a non-guaranteed 1-year deal with the purple and gold. After subpar performances with the Memphis Grizzlies and the New Orleans Hornets during his first three years in the NBA, the 22-year old Henry has given the Lakers a guy who can create his own shots and play solid defense.

Henry, a former lottery-pick out of Kansas, has made a good first impression with the Lakers—scoring a career high 22 points versus the Clippers.

Although Henry scored only 3 points versus the Spurs, he has shown Lakers’ coach Mike D’Antoni that he can make a variety of aggressive moves towards the basket and hit some shots from behind the arc. With Henry’s defensive prowess and his surprising offensive game, he might become one of the biggest off-season acquisition steals for the Lakers.

The Lakers also signed another athletic guard-forward, Wesley Johnson. Johnson, like Henry, has not made an impact in the NBA during his past stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns.

Expect Johnson to make a significant impact on the defensive end by using his length and athleticism—especially in his current role as a “quick-4.” He has the ability to guard every position except for center. Despite being the fourth overall pick in 2011 NBA Draft, Johnson’s offensive contribution will be a bonus, as his main role is on the defensive end.

However, Johnson has scored 11 points and 12 points the past two games respectively, on 50% shooting from the 3-point line.

Johnson excitedly told our own Laker Nation columnists Alex Lambeth and Jory Dreher before training camp that he believes he can have a really good impact just for his length and speed.

“I can get in passing lanes and disrupt shots and bring a spark that will fuel the entire team,” Johnson said. “As long as everyone is on the same page defensively, I think we’ll be just fine.”

Another addition to the bench rotation this season is former NBA All-Star Chris Kaman. With his recent solid play, I expect coach D’Antoni to pencil him into the starting lineup very soon.

Kaman and Lakers’ star Pau Gasol have shown that they can play together. This combination has been much more effective than Gasol and Howard last year.

The combination of these three key additions to the Lakers bench, paired with returnees Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks, give the Lakers the flexibility and youth to cause matchup nightmares for their opponents—something they have not had in recent years.

The new and improved bench can also help limit the minutes played by veterans Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and most importantly, Kobe Bryant, once he returns to the lineup.

“We can go out there and take the load off some of those guys,” Johnson continued. “It will definitely be a relief off their shoulders knowing we’re going to compete just as hard as they are.”

With the combination of their depth, and the return of assistant coach and defensive guru Kurt Rambis, the Lakers have shown signs of improved team defense.

No one knows for sure if the Lakers’ bench can sustain this stellar play, but the Lakers’ front office should be given major credit for upgrading the bench under the tight circumstances they faced this off-season.

While the Lakers still have low expectations this season, expect the second unit to continue helping the Lakers make some noise this season and hold down the fort until Kobe returns to the lineup.

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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?

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Wesley Johnson
Photo: Getty Images

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.

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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

 

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Image: Nokia Theatre
Image: Nokia Theatre
Image: Nokia Theatre

August 15th, 2013 The Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation partnered with the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to host Kobe Up Close.

All proceeds from the event went towards eliminating homelessness in Los Angeles.

The event was a unique opportunity for Lakers fans to access the unfiltered mind of their beloved superstar, Kobe Bryant.

In attendance at the event were current Lakers Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly and Wesley Johnson, new assistant coach Mark Madsen, former Lakers coach Bill Sharman, Lakers executives Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss, former NFL player Terrell Owens, among others.

The event began with CBS sportscaster Jim Hill speaking on Bryant.

Hill on his first impression of Bryant back when he was drafted by the Lakers:

“I remember Jerry West talking about Kobe Bryant and saying he was going to be very, very special. He was going to be one of the true great ones. And Jerry doesn’t say that about a lot of people, especially young people.”

“The first time I met Kobe, I knew then he was going to be not only a great one, but a very special one.”

On just how special Bryant really is:

“We will never see the likes of Kobe Bryant again, he is truly a gifted basketball player.”

“He doesn’t look at basketball as a job. For him it’s a passion. He’s spoiled us with his excellence.”

“What drives Kobe the most is when people doubt him. You will see a devoted Kobe this season like you’ve never seen before.”

Former Laker Robert Horry also spoke on Bryant before the main event started.

Horry on Bryant’s mental edge:

“Kobe’s mindset is amazing. When you see someone in the locker room as focused as he was, it really lifts everyone else up.”

On his relentless work ethic:

“When you walk into practice and you see him in there working hard. He’s in there sweating before you get there and after you leave.”

After Horry’s short segment, the main event with Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Kimmel began.

Bryant on the number of minutes he played last season:

“I don’t think it was too many. The Achilles injury was just a freak injury.”

On whether he’ll play less minutes next season:

“That’s the goal … I could sit back until June, I just want that jewelry.”

On when he will play again:

“I don’t know if I’ll be ready opening night, but I am really ahead of schedule.”

On whether it was a personal decision to stop tweeting during games last season or a franchise decision:

“That was my decision. The Lakers know I’m a little too stubborn to ever be told anything.”

On his popularity in China:

“I really don’t know. I started going out there in 1998 and have gone every summer since.”

Kobe was a Lakers fan even before he came to the United States:

“While I was living in Italy, my grandpa used to send me tapes of Lakers games and I absolutely fell in love with them.”

On his decision to skip college and go straight to the NBA out of high school:

“I liked Duke and I absolutely love Coach K. If I had had to make a decision though, I would have gone to North Carolina. Mainly because of the competition and being able to play against Vince Carter every day to improve.”

“The first college letter I ever received was from West Point … I was just happy to get a letter.”

Would he tell others to skip college?

“I would just tell others to follow their dreams.”

On his pre-draft workout with the Clippers:

“The Clippers told me they wouldn’t draft me because they wanted to ‘turn things around.’ They said they wouldn’t be taken seriously if they drafted a 17-year-old kid out of high school.”

On the late Dr. Jerry Buss:

“He knew exactly what his vision was. He was very patient, understanding. He allowed me room to grow as a person.”

On his first time meeting Shaquille O’Neal:

“It was the coolest thing in the world that he had a huge cell phone.”

Which title was Bryant’s favorite during his time with Shaq?

“Number 2. We should have gone undefeated. It still bothers us to this day that we let that one game drop.”

What is Bryant’s relationship with Michael Jordan like?

“It’s like a big brother relationship. He gives me phenomenal advice on how to better elevate my teammates.”

On who are the toughest players he’s played against:

“Allen Iverson was a load to handle. Stephon Marbury dropped 50 on me once. Gilbert Arenas. Today, probably Carmelo Anthony because he’s so strong. Kevin Durant too. The guy who gave me the most trouble though was Tracy McGrady.”

When asked if he was certain he’d be a Laker for life, Bryant responded: “Yeah.”

Bryant on Dwight Howard and his exodus from Los Angeles:

“Dwight is a great kid. We have different perspectives on what it takes to win and what it takes to be successful.”

On trying to convince Howard to stay:

“It’s all about the organization and trying to set them up the best I can for when I retire.”

On his once volatile relationship with Shaq:

“It never bothered me when other people said, ‘You only won because of Shaq.’ It bothered me when Shaq said it.”

On his evolution as both a player and a person:

“I was so consumed with my craft in the beginning of my career. … I go into games now looking at what my guys are going through and who’s struggling, and how I can help. I look at my teammates now as partners.”

When asked if he could have one former teammate return, who would it be:

“I’d take Derek Fisher back … that’s my guy.”

On what he’s most proud of:

“Being a 17-year-old kid and challenging the system at the time.”

Is Bryant chasing Kareem Abdul-Jabar’s all-time scoring mark?

“I’m so obsessed with winning that those type of things don’t really matter to me.”

Which is Bryant’s favorite nickname right now?

“I like Vino right now. Black Mamba is my alter-ego.”

On the ESPN experts projecting the Lakers to finish 12th in the West this season:

“I use it as motivation, as fuel. We were the favorites last year and they were wrong about that.”

On who is the ‘next Kobe Bryant’:

“There’s several. Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Even Nick Young. They all have that gene.”

The event ended with Terrell Owens asking Bryant a few questions. The two share a common neuro-muscular scientist consultant in Barrence Baytos. Both Bryant and Owens raved about Baytos and Bryant called him a “genius” who has helped prolong his career.

The Kobe Up Close event was a great opportunity to delve into the mind of Kobe Bryant.

This revealing ‘other side’ to the ever-intense Black Mamba was certainly riveting and quite interesting.

Bryant will continue what he called an “aggressive” rehabilitation process as he prepares to return from his Achilles tendon tear.

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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.