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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…

  • We take a look at the latest headlines. The Atlanta Hawks have potential buyers. Why does Dwight Howard run so many red lights? Did LeBron James fix his depleted hairline?
  • We dig into some of the details of Mark Medina’s interview with Byron Scott for The Daily News. To begin, there is Scott’s desire to limit Kobe Bryant’s minutes this season. How realistic is this goal, considering Kobe’s legendary stubbornness when it comes to staying on the court? Moreover, could Byron actually convince the All-Star to sit out one end of a back-to-back? Is this even a necessary goal to begin with?
  • For the time being, Scott has penciled in a starting lineup of Steve Nash, Kobe, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Thumbs “who cares?”
  • Byron has promised a training camp so tough, dudes are gonna be puking. Kinda boss or kinda stupid?
  • It’s time for AAK!!! Disney cartoons or Looney Tunes: Who ya got? What is Dan Aykroyd’s best performance? And would you prefer Kobe Bryant as a player only, player/coach, player/owner or player/POTUS?

 

 

 

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Nine interesting things about the upcoming Lakers season

Posted by on Sep 3, 2014 in Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Lakers statistics, Opinion, Steve Nash | 12 comments

The calendar says September, still the NBA’s Season of Possibilities, where the Lakers are limited only by lack of imagination and inability to suspend disbelief. But eventually the games will begin, and like most I expect the Season of Realities will be unkind to the purple and gold. A playoff run isn’t impossible, but given the depth in the West, they’ll need a string of things to go right in specific ways, in the same way Powerball winners need a string of things to go right specific ways.

But hey, just because the end result isn’t likely to add substantively to the franchise’s illustrious history, that doesn’t mean we’re staring down the barrel at 82 games of boredom. The 2014-15 season offers plenty of legitimate intrigue, nine examples of which are listed below, in no particular order:

1. Kobe Bryant. 

As outlined here, the track record for elite scoring guards after 30 years old is borderline catastrophic. At 36, Kobe would already be defying history to play at, or even close to, career levels, even before factoring in his injuries. Mentally, how much patience will he have, whether with any new limitations placed on his ability to exert influence on games and seasons? If the Lakers fall out of the playoff race? Were he to drag this bunch into postseason contention, it would go down as one of his most impressive achievements.

Really, how much explanation does putting Kobe on this list require?

2. Julius Randle. 

Rare is the Lakers rookie counted on to develop into a franchise cornerstone (or the type of player potentially garnering one in a trade), but Randle obviously qualifies. There’s plenty to like. Randle has great athleticism for his size, and has a bunch of the requisite intangibles — excited to be a Laker, wants to be pushed, wants to learn, etc. The motor, to use the parlance, seems to be there. He’ll have to adapt to the length and size of NBA competition, which could take time, but the first big hurdle is fitness. Byron Scott has already spoken publicly about the need for Randle to get in shape, which is both a warning and a challenge, and not necessarily reflective of where he is today, physically. Could just be a helpful reminder that whatever a rookie thinks qualifies as being in shape is probably 30-40 percent away from where he actually needs to be. Watching his development, hopefully not hindered by excessive playing time for Carlos Boozer, will be a lot of fun.

3. What does Ed Davis do with a season’s worth of playing time?

When the Grizzlies managed to offload Rudy Gay to the Raptors, plenty of people believed Memphis won the deal not just because they shed Gay’s salary, but also snagged Davis in the process. To that point, particularly in the weeks leading into the trade, Davis had been a pretty efficient scorer with moments, albeit inconsistently, of solid offensive rebounding. For a variety of reasons, he never was given enough consistent playing time to grow with the Grizzlies. Still only 25 with legitimate production at the NBA level under his belt, if Davis can carve out a season’s worth of consistent playing time, he has the most breakout potential of anyone in L.A.’s Short Contract Gang.

4. The last stand of Steve Nash. 

I realize the guy has become a symbol of catastrophe and the whole “I want the money” thing didn’t endear himself to the fan base, but we’re talking about one of the greatest point guards of this or any other generation trying to exit the game on something even kind of resembling his own terms. Those rare moments last season where Nash was able to play effectively — this one, mostly – were great to watch. He doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of equity locally as Kobe, nor should he, but Nash’s story arc this season has the potential to be engrossing. Low risk, high reward.

5. The trade deadline. 

If the Lakers aren’t legitimate playoff contenders in mid-February, attempting to flip Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, and anything else not to the floor isn’t a problem. But what if they’re within imagination’s reach of the top eight? On the one hand, even if they beat the odds to make the postseason, as things stand now you’d have to be smoking, and probably eating, piles of northern California’s finest to believe a title is a genuine possibility. Is it worth preserving a quick first round loss to hold assets that might otherwise be traded? On the other, does the front office think they can sell the fan base (and Kobe) on short-circuiting a season in the name of a rebuild? Will they believe they’re obligated to?

6. The Jeremy Lin Phenomenon. 

More than the player himself, who I don’t think lasts more than a year in L.A., I’m interested in the culture around him. The Lakers have a massive following in China. Or maybe more specifically, Kobe does. Still, the brand is powerful there, as is Lin. Moreover, Los Angeles itself has a thriving Chinese community. Linsanity was a phenomenon unlikely to be repeated, but could there be some sort of small scale revival, locally and abroad?

7. What can Byron fix? 

For about six thousand different reasons, ranging from coaching to personnel to psychology, the Lakers were a catastrophe on their end last year. Scott is expected to bring a much more developed sense of defensive commitment, but unless his thinner mustache has supernatural rock-bleeding powers not granted Mike D’Antoni’s somewhat thicker mustache, the results could still be spotty given their lack of perimeter defenders and rim protectors. Yes, teams can exceed the sum of their parts, but the parts do matter. Pushing the Lakers somewhere near league average in defensive efficiency would be a significant achievement. They’ll be all over it early, while everyone’s fresh and full of commitment. Except even last year’s team was 13th in efficiency through the first 16 games. How well do they sustain things through injuries, attrition, and the natural ebbs and flows of 82 games?

8. Swaggy P, Year 2: Electric Swaggaloo. 

Last season, he was solid gold. Imagine how he’ll be now, with a four year deal under his belt?

9. Phil is gone, so does everyone get along? 

He was the elephant in the family room for a long time, but now Phil Jackson is officially, positively, unequivocally not coming back. The Possibility of Phil was a great source of tension between Jim and Jeanie (and for that matter, the organization and fans), but now he’s in New York. So does that help everyone here stay on the same page for good?

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Podcast!!! Kobe v. Dwight, Swaggy’s P and T, Byron Scott, Steve Ballmer, and Robin Williams

Posted by on Aug 16, 2014 in Byron Scott, Carmelo Anthony, Donald Sterling, Dwight Howard, Greg Monroe, Jeanie Buss, Jerry Buss, Jim Buss, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, LeBron James, Opinion | 1 comment

A few weeks ago, it was silly season. Now, it’s slow season, but that doesn’t mean “no” season! (As in no-thing to talk about… I’ll show myself out.) As training camp creeps a little closer by the day, there is definitely some ground to cover.

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

  • A look at the latest headlines. DeMarcus Cousins had an injury scare practicing with Team USA. He should be fine, but does this add to the concerns about NBA players’ offseason commitments? Steph Curry says he’s a better offensive player than LeBron James. Believable? And speaking of LeBron, he and Carmelo Anthony are really, really skinny.
  • The Lakers have an official schedule, but given how the team isn’t realistically in contention, the specifics feel inherently less exciting. For example, are fans (much less the participants themselves) still geeked to see Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard finally square off more than one year after their separation? Generally speaking, the stakes aren’t pressing, and stakes are what make schedule intriguing.
  • Having said that, the Lakers play 28 nationally-televised games this season despite strong odds of missing the playoffs. Safe to say, Kobe remains one helluva draw.
  • What does it do for Byron Scott’s legacy with the Lakers if he ends up a rousing success as a coach?
  • How does the Lakers’ apparent non-pursuit of Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe feel with the players reportedly set to accept respective qualifying offers from Phoenix and Detroit?
  • We discuss Brian’s recent article for The Cauldron about Steve Ballmer taking over as owner of the Clippers, and how it changes the L.A. basketball landscape.
  • It’s time for AAK!!! What doubles tournament sport would the K Bros fare best at? Is it possible to barbeque a Hot Pocket? How long should one wait before dating again after the death of a treasured pet lizard?
  • We take a look at the life, legacy and career of Robin Williams.

 

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