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Kobe Bryant and control

Posted by on Oct 30, 2014 in Kobe Bryant | 0 comments

***LISTEN TO THE NEW PODCAST HERE***

Before the start of training camp, I wrote for The Cauldron at Medium.com about the need for Kobe Bryant to recognize the limits of his will if he wants to make it through the season successfully. No easy task for the most willful athlete of the last 20 years.

Following Tuesday’s loss to Houston, Kobe Bryant spoke at length about the need to let go of that which can’t be controlled. Some of it was in the context of Julius Randle and his devastating injury, but it’s no less true for everything else that will go on for Bryant and the Lakers this season.

I wrote about it here for SheridanHoops.com.

 

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Podcast! 2014-15 NBA and Lakers Season Preview!

Posted by on Oct 28, 2014 in Jeanie Buss, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Lakers Audio, LeBron James, Miami Heat, Mitch Kupchak, Nick Young, Opinion | 0 comments

And so it begins!

All that was the preseason is gone, all that will be the regular season lay before us, kicking off Tuesday at Staples when the Lakers face Donatas Motiejunas (and Dwight Howard) and the Houston Rockets. What will the 2014-15 campaign bring, both in L.A. and across the Association? We break it down in our Big Season Preview, while also tackling a few important Lakers-related issues along the way.

Among the talking points:

  • Headlines! Slow going on contract negotiations for Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard. NBA owners reject lottery reform. Where do the Lakers land on SI.com’s entertainment index?
  • The end of Steve Nash.
  • Preseason wrap up. Where did the Lakers look encouraging, where were they discouraging, and can anyone around here play point guard for more than 20 minutes without hurting himself?
  • Jeanie Buss defends Kobe and the franchise.
  • 2014-15 NBA and Lakers Season Preview. Who wins the East? The West? The Larry O? All the major awards, plus over/under predictions on Lakers victories, MPG and games played for Kobe Bryant.
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Steve Nash is done

Posted by on Oct 24, 2014 in Lakers Analysis, Steve Nash | 3 comments

In sports, The End of Things is almost never pretty. Circumstances – whether a star’s team fading from championship relevance or the unrelenting economics of roster maintenance forcing him into a strange, uncomfortable, and likely regrettable jersey for the last season or two – frequently betray the ideal. More often, though, The End is demanded by something as personal and fundamental as the athlete’s body. The foundation, given enough time and opportunity, always crumbles. So it is for Steve Nash. The long, frustrating chain of events that began knocking legs with Damian Lillard in Nash’s first road game as a Laker has ended here, with the Lakers announcing Thursday Nash won’t play at all this season, ending both his time in purple and gold, and presumably his NBA career.

Even if’s not exactly surprising – given an over/under of 30 games played for Nash this season, I suspect most fans would have taken the under – it’s still disappointing. Nash was never going to be able to win the crowd in L.A. given the total failure of his time in purple and gold, but at the very least he could have exited the game on something resembling his own terms, paying off not only a life’s worth of training and dedication but the grueling effort put in over the last two seasons trying to get his body right.

Lakers fans could have seen glimpses of that alternate universe in which the freak chain reaction from Nash’s initial injury never happened. In that world, he may not be MVP, but still has control over his artistry. You could bring your kids to see him play, telling them to watch the way he changes speeds, how his eyes are always up, how he never gives up his dribble, and how one little guy can control the actions of nine larger men. And they would understand. That guy makes basketball more fun, and it sucks he won’t be around.

Professionally, few guys were more candid about his situation than Nash. He spoke openly about everything keeping him going, from the love of the game to the money, strong enough to express vulnerability without embarrassment. Rare qualities I’ll miss. But while the news is disappointing today, it’s less depressing than 82 games worth of “Can he play tonight?”

For the Lakers, a healthy Nash would have been a boost to their playoff hopes, but since a healthy Nash was always a long shot, the news doesn’t have a lot of practical impact. It probably nets out as a positive, really. Byron Scott won’t have to deal with the headaches caused by Nash coming in and out of the lineup. Jeremy Lin won’t be yanked around, and in the meantime will have the opportunity to play huge minutes, potentially boosting his trade value. Jordan Clarkson will get more time on the floor. Should they be granted a disabled player exception, the Lakers might be able to find another piece they can use for the rebuild. (Think modestly, though. The rules are pretty restrictive.) If Nash retires, it opens up space to take a flier on a younger player. (For a full overview of how this could all play out, Eric Pincus of the LAT, like Clarissa, explains it all.)

It’s hard to reverse engineer the what if’s had the Lakers not made the Nash trade, or granted him the contract, or if Nash had fallen on his sword last season and taken a medical retirement. Interesting questions to ask, with no obvious answers.* We do know the end has come – grand, sad, disappointing failure for the Lakers and Nash – and are again reminded how unforgiving professional sports can be, particularly for those wrestling for control of their final days as a participant.

Hopefully it’s the last one Lakers fans get this year.

*That said, I still believe the logic of the trade was sound. Yes, there was always a chance he’d get hurt, but Nash hadn’t missed many games in the seasons leading to the trade and the injury ending his career was a freaky thing even those predicting doom couldn’t see coming. It’s like a doctor saying his patient has a 75 percent chance of dying from cancer within a year, and two months later the guy gets hit by a bus. Yes, the patient is dead, but the doctor can’t chalk one up to his forecasting skills. 

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Words of Wisdom from Erica Wilson

Posted by on Oct 10, 2014 in Kobe Bryant, Uncategorized | 3 comments

The first twelve years of Erica Wilson’s life were pretty uneventful. She developed a love for dancing, and went about her days like the rest of her peers. Then, upon experiencing extreme cramps in her legs after a gym class, Wilson was rushed to the hospital. An MRI revealed she had transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder that took away use of her legs. Soon afterward, Wilson was introduced to wheelchair basketball. Initially pessimistic about her acumen and enjoyment for the sport, she nonetheless gave it a whirl. Before long Wilson was hooked, then quickly shrunk some of the experience gap between her and other teammates through sweat and effort. By season’s end, she was a starter. And while her chair skills and overall prowess admittedly still need sharpening, Wilson describes herself as “probably a co-captain on the court,” because of a natural ability to communicate. As part of Alabama’s Lakeshore Lakers, she lent a hand towards winning the National Wheelchair Basketball Association’s Junior National Invitational Tournament.

Wilson attended Lakers practice on Thursday with Gatorade, who’ve featured her as part of “Win From Within: The series,” a group of shorts about athletes overcoming huge odds. (The emotional video can be seen here.) Hers is obviously a powerful story, and everybody on hand couldn’t help but be moved by her circumstances and resolve. (But lest anybody fear the morning got too schmaltzy, Wilson used some face time with Kobe Bryant to get a few pointers for improving her left hand, because… well… he’s Kobe Bryant and she isn’t stupid.)

In the “Win From Within” video, Wilson says she wouldn’t change a thing about her life, including her battle with transverse myelitis. The notion of choosing a life that doesn’t include walking is difficult to wrap your head around, and I asked why she felt this way.

“I walked for twelve years before I got T.M., so I know kind of the best of both worlds,” explained Wilson. “What it’s like to walk and what it’s like not to. Before I did wheelchair basketball, I did dance. My life was very average. I didn’t really have any big experiences like this right here, and I wasn’t very passionate towards anything. It was just kind of going to school, going to dance class, hanging out with friends. Nothing super special.

“But after I got transverse myelitis, and being pushed to playing wheelchair basketball, because this wasn’t initially what I had in mind. (laughs) I just kind of wanted to lay in bed all day. Just something about wheelchair basketball makes me not want to change anything, because I really do love this sport so much.

“If I had to choose between being able to walk or not being able to play wheelchair basketball, I’m probably gonna choose being able to play wheelchair basketball because it’s just more important to me than walking, because walking doesn’t make you who you are as a person. But the experiences I’ve learned through wheelchair basketball have made me who I am as a person.”

Pretty profound for a sixteen year old.

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Degree of Ifficulty and the 2014-15 Lakers

Posted by on Oct 2, 2014 in Jordan Hill, Kobe Bryant, Mike D'Antoni, Opinion, Steve Nash, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry |

Like most people in the hoops (or gambling) industry, I don’t think the 2014-15 Lakers will be a playoff team, for a variety of reasons. I can’t, for example, definitively answer the question, “Who is the second best player on the Lakers?”, but can say definitively that all of the potential answers point to trouble. The Western Conference is stacked too deep. Phoenix missed the postseason last year, despite winning 48 games. None of the teams ahead of them are obvious candidates to fall out, and meanwhile Denver, who won 57 games two seasons ago but was decimated by injuries last year, should be healthier and added Arron Afflalo. Anthony Davis leads a New Orleans team potentially capable of breaking out (though they have injury issues as well).

The Lakers on paper aren’t better than any of them, unless a line of things play out very favorably. String enough “ifs” together and anything is possible.

But all “if’s” are not created equally, whether in importance or likelihood of occurring. So below, I present a (not completely comprehensive) list of things that would lead to the Lakers winning more games than expected, perhaps many more, and the chances of them actually happening. A Degree of “Ifficulty,” so to speak.

1. If Kobe Bryant stays healthy and produces…

On a 1-10 scale of importance, where 10 signifies “most important,” this rates at eleventybillion. Nothing is more important to the fortunes of the Lakers than a healthy Kobe. Last year, he played six games, and we saw how that went. And that was on a team featuring Pau Gasol, who while no longer a star is still a player capable of opening space for others. If Kobe sustains some sort of long-term injury, their already long playoff odds almost surely grow insurmountable.

The good news? I’ve long maintained that if Kobe plays, he’ll play well. He’ll score, he’ll rebound, he’ll grease the wheels for others. He can’t be expected to be a defensive force anymore, but that’s not new. The difference in pre- and post-Achilles/knee Kobe won’t be drastic, but a continuation of the evolution his game has undergone for a few years. To his credit, Monday at Media Day Byron Scott said his job isn’t just to keep Kobe healthy for the season, but to make sure he’s able to play comfortably with his girls once Bryant hangs up his sneakers. Kobe says he understands the need to monitor his minutes, and I don’t think he’ll chafe until it looks like Plan Preservation might impact Plan Playoffs, which given the strength of the Western Conference could come sooner than people think.

The bad? No matter how Kobe feels now — excellent, he says — there’s no way to predict what the season will do to him. The time off hasn’t erased nearly two decades worth of wear and tear, and as soon as the season cranks up all the old infirmities will rear their heads. 70+ games feels like a realistic possibility, but as noted here, Kobe isn’t trying to cheat time this season, he’s trying to cheat time again. At some point, things break down, and when it happens, it can come quickly. Just ask Steve Nash. I’m optimistic. Like most people, my default is that Kobe can find a way. But that’s not exactly high end scientific insight.

Degree of Ifficulty (1-10): 5


2. If Steve Nash plays often, and well…

Nobody expects MVP-level Steve Nash to take the floor this year, but were he to play around 65 games at something in the general ZIP code of his final season in Phoenix on a per-minute basis, it could completely change the complexion of the roster. Suddenly, even if it’s only for 20 minutes a night, the Lakers have two great facilitators in their lineup, with Nash and Bryant. Their presence opens the floor for others (defensive problems notwithstanding). The easy bucket count rises. There is lineup flexibility, giving Scott more combinations to choose from. Some pressure comes off Jeremy Lin to play at Linsanity levels. Jordan Clarkson gets minutes out of merit, not necessity.

Nash will always be remembered in L.A. as a symbol of failure and disappointment. A good final season helping the Lakers push towards the playoffs won’t change that, but at least it would leave fans with more positive memories, and perhaps more importantly would let one of the greatest players of this generation leave the game on something resembling his terms. Can he do it? I really hope so, but it’s much easier to believe in Bryant’s chances to rebound, physically. Until Nash shows he can play regularly, absorbing contact without his nerves firing out of control, it’s hard for optimism to morph into confidence.

Degree of Ifficulty: 8.5

3. If Wesley Johnson* makes a leap…

Look at the dude’s game log for 2013-14 – he was all over the place. 24 points one night, one point the next. Blame Mike D’Antoni if you’d like, but much of that is on Wes. Some games, Johnson was a force on one end or the other, or occasionally both. Too often, though, he’d disappear like a wood-grain chameleon, on the floor but basically invisible. He’s not untalented, but Johnson has rarely managed to display his gifts effectively for any length of time. He’ll have another chance this year, because the Lakers don’t have another wing who can defend at his level, nor a bunch of pure 3′s trying to steal his minutes. Johnson has been working out with Kobe a lot over the summer, and combined with the opportunity to play real games with him, maybe it’s enough to help realize more of the potential making him the fourth pick in the 2010 Draft.

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PODCAST!!! Kobe’s minutes, the rotation, Dwight’s driving record, and President Mamba(?)

Posted by on Sep 19, 2014 in Byron Scott, Dwight Howard, Jim Buss, Jordan Hill, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, LeBron James, Opinion, Podcast, Steve Nash, Wesley Johnson | 3 comments

With every waking hour, we inch closer and closer to September 29th’s Media Day, and the official start to the Lakers’ new season. Granted, Brian has the day circled on his calender mostly because of the El Segundo facility’s high-end air conditioning system, but the ensuing basketball is a nice bonus, right?

The show can be heard by clicking on the module, and a list of talking points can be found below. Among the high points…

 

 

 

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