Los Angeles Lakers: Jodie Meeks
After two and a half solid seasons in Philadelphia, where Meeks established himself as a valued contributor on playoff teams, the sweet-shooting guard signed with L.A. at a discount with the hopes of winning a ring.
While he witnessed his teammates go down left and right with injuries as the season wore on, Meeks fortunately avoided any health problems. With Kobe Bryant out with a torn Achilles tendon, it was Meeks who was on the court at shooting guard in Bryant's place in the regular-season finale against the Houston Rockets, driving baseline and throwing down a game-sealing dunk in overtime to secure L.A. the seventh seed in the postseason.
But whoever was holding the purple and gold Voodoo doll spared Meeks only for so long. He suffered a third-degree sprain in his left ankle in the Lakers' opening playoff loss to the San Antonio Spurs, ending his season three games sooner than his team did after the Lakers' decimated roster was swept by the Spurs.
"It was really bad timing," Meeks told ESPNLosAngeles.com in a phone interview from his offseason home in Atlanta on Monday. "I was very frustrated just because, selfishly, I was like, ‘Man, I can get as many shots as I want now and I can’t even play.’
"I felt like it was a good opportunity for me to kind of showcase what I could do on a more productive level because the guys were hurt."
As this upcoming season approaches, all Meeks wants is that opportunity again.
You can certainly ask him; just don’t expect to get much of a response. Not yet anyway.
Moments after streamers came down onto the court at Staples Center as the Lakers celebrated a 101-100 win over the Charlotte Bobcats -- a game in which they were behind by as many as 18 points in the third quarter -- D’Antoni could only smile as he sat in front of a room full of speechless reporters.
“It’s hard to ask questions, I know,” D’Antoni said. “I feel for you. I don’t know what to answer and I don’t think you guys know what to ask but I think we’ll try.”
That seems to be D’Antoni’s philosophy when it comes to figuring out the Lakers as well. He might not know the answers but he’s certainly trying to find them.
Coaches normally hate lineup and rotation questions. They’ll tell you they aren’t looking to change anything and if they do, well, you’ll be the last to find out.
D’Antoni, on the other hand, nodded his head Tuesday night whenever he was asked about a player changing his role with the team. Whether that’s Metta World Peace coming off the bench, as he did Tuesday, Jodie Meeks becoming the starting shooting guard, Kobe Bryant moving to small forward or Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill being taken out of the rotation. Everything is seemingly on the table at the moment and few things, if any, are set in stone.
The first domino in what could be a never-ending spiral of lineup changes this season was Devin Ebanks starting at small forward with World Peace coming off the bench and playing power forward. Ebanks wound up playing less than five minutes but the tweak and the return of Pau Gasol earned Jamison and Hill DNP-CDs and a spot at the end of the bench next to Robert Sacre’s dance party.
“I want (World Peace) to play the four,” D’Antoni said. “We have to be able to change our team. I hate it for Jordan Hill right now, because he's the odd man out. He's played well. He's a good player. But for us to have a different team, a different look, Metta has to play the four. If he starts at the three, then once I get him to the four, it's too many minutes for him. He needs rest. So that's a whole process. And I think Metta, going forward, once he gets more comfortable with the four role, will be very productive as a four and our team will be very productive.”
As D’Antoni explained his reasoning, he finally paused before saying, “That's the thought. We'll keep looking at it.”
These are the kind of thoughts and moves a coach would fiddle with in training camp or the preseason or maybe in the first few games of the season. D’Antoni, of course, didn’t have the luxury of doing that so he is doing it now, as the 12-14 Lakers try to work their way above .500 for the first time since they were 6-5, following D’Antoni’s debut with the team last month.
“I'm just trying to figure out the best way to play the team,” D’Antoni said. “We'll keep looking at film, keep revisiting it. We have a couple of practices, and we'll keep looking at different combinations. And there'll be a couple of times during the season, injuries, sicknesses, illnesses, whatever, that we'll give another look to different people. And hopefully they'll be ready. I hope they understand. I tried to talk to them and get them to understand, but . . .”
Everyone won’t understand right now because D’Antoni doesn’t even fully understand at the moment. He’s still trying to figure out what kind of team he has and he’s not the only one with questions. His players are still trying to figure out what kind of coach they have and how they fit into his system.
Even when Steve Nash returns to the lineup, D’Antoni still wasn’t sure how much that would settle things.
“Obviously, I'll have Nash at the point guard, “ D’Antoni said. “But other than that, I've still got the same little problem.”
That “little” problem is figuring out where to play everyone else around Nash. It may seem like a daunting task at the moment but Kobe Bryant, who has had countless conversations with D’Antoni about his rotations and adjustments, thinks the Lakers are closer to figuring it out than it looks.
“I'm probably the one that's enjoying this process the most because it's the most challenging,” Bryant said. “I'm focused; I enjoy being focused about something and digging my heels in and figuring out the puzzle…. It's coming. We're still going to have peaks and valleys, but it's coming.”
After scoring a total of 45 points in the first 12 games of the season, Antawn Jamison went for 16 against Memphis on Friday night, then added 19 in Dallas on Saturday. In each, he hoisted 11 shots, a veritable explosion relative to the four a night he'd put up to that point. He was productive on the boards as well, grabbing 22 in total. Basically, Jamison looked like the guy Lakers fans (and Lakers management) expected when he was signed over the summer, but hadn't yet seen.
He wasn't the only member of the bench coming alive. Jodie Meeks was a man in exile under Mike Brown, playing only 22 minutes through the first five games. While his playing time increased under Bernie Bickerstaff, Meeks' production didn't. He hit only three of his 15 3-point attempts in the season's second five games and struggled with turnovers. In Sacramento, though, he broke through with a 12-point fourth quarter, and 15 overall. In Memphis, he hit a pair of second half triples, and in Dallas made 3-of-5 from downtown.
For both guys, a big key was a change in how they were deployed. Brown had played Jamison almost exclusively at small forward, in part to utilize his shooting skills but mostly to make room for Jordan Hill, who was among the team's best players in camp. The impulse to play Hill made plenty of sense, but in the process Jamison was pulled out of his comfort zone.
"It was difficult to get into a rhythm when my first three or four shots are three pointers. You’re going to hit one here or there, but it was just tough for me to get into a rhythm. And I’ve always been a guy who can get it from anywhere," he said Monday following practice. "Whether it’s driving to the basket, a put-back, or something off the dribble. Pick and pop. Those are the things that kind of get me into a rhythm, and honestly it was tough getting into one coming in, trying to come in and knock down three’s after sitting down for eight or nine minutes."
In Memphis, Jamison entered the game as a power forward with only one other big on the court, and was almost instantly more productive, able to use the entire floor. In Dallas, he started at the 3, quickly scoring twice with excellent off-ball movement, but again spent plenty of time at the 4 and again produced a good looking shot chart.
Some positive messaging helped as well, helping Jamison push past hesitation that had been dogging him.
No, the locals wanted Phil Jackson, and thought they were getting him. (In fairness to them, Phil thought the same thing.)
Instead, the Lakers made the bold, less popular choice of bypassing Jackson for Mike D'Antoni, who would otherwise have been welcomed with open arms by most fans as a real upgrade over Mike Brown. At some point down the road, we'll all be treated to the definitive story of exactly what happened last weekend. Who said what, who asked for what, what promises were made, and so on. When it comes, I'll definitely read it.
But in the meantime, the Lakers have a new -- and very, very good -- head coach on the way, prompting a host of big-picture questions, the answers to which will have a major impact on the season going forward.
Here's a peek at five:
1. How do things work with Dwight Howard?
D'Antoni utilizes multiple pick-and-roll sets in his offense, and can trigger them with either (a) Steve Nash, perhaps the best p-and-r ballhandling point guard in recent memory, or (b) Kobe Bryant, who ain't bad either. Put Howard, statistically speaking the best roll man in the league on the other end, and big things can happen. Remember what Amar'e Stoudemire did with the Suns? Howard can do that sort of damage. Down low, D'Antoni hasn't really had much access to top-shelf low-post talent of Howard's quality, and the closest thing -- an ill-fitting, aging Shaquille O'Neal in '07-08 -- wasn't exactly a rousing success. Anchored down on the block, Shaq shot the ball efficiently but also got in Nash's way, trapping him -- in the words of TrueHoop's Kevin Arnovitz -- like "a hummingbird in a paper bag."
But while Shaq was by that point a massive, sedentary body, Howard is extremely mobile. He can enter and exit the lane in rhythm with Nash, and D'Antoni will come up with plenty of ways to get him traditional post touches, as well. This has the potential to be a wildly productive relationship, offensively.
But it's at the other end where Howard will be most empowered. As you may have heard, D'Antoni's teams have never been known for their defense. For the Lakers to be successful, he'll have to fix that. If it happens, the guy receiving the lion's share of the credit will be Howard.
2. How will D'Antoni use his bench?
Put kindly, D'Antoni has a (generally well-earned) reputation for employing a rotation so short that it seems inspired by that "Hoosiers" scene when the coach portrayed by Gene Hackman plays only four guys. In D'Antoni's final season with the Suns, for example, there was about a 1,000-minute gap between Steve Nash at No. 1 and Shawn Marion (who played only 47 games) at No. 8, then about 1,000 minutes between Marion (8) and Brian Skinner (9). Not a perfect measurement by any stretch, but you get the point. It's not all that hard to look at the Lakers' starters and their bench and decide not to go all that deep into the latter, but D'Antoni has little choice but to devise some sort of plan to squeeze as much from that group as possible.
In other words, the preseason hasn't really taught us much about the Lakers.
Today's game against the Clippers may not buck that trend. Kobe Bryant is likely to sit out the action with a foot injury, and Dwight Howard will be a game-time decision due to lingering soreness after his debut Sunday. Yet another game without the starting five intact, and the same may hold true for the Clips' first five as well. Whatever comes from this contest, it's unlikely to reveal much about the championship prospects for the new-look Lakers. That said, a handful of specifics could be revealed, even with incomplete rosters on both sides. Here are five things we might learn about the Lakers tonight.
1) Who's got the edge at backup shooting guard?
For those seeking silver-ish linings to Kobe being sidelined, at least Mike Brown will get the rare opportunity to see Devin Ebanks and Jodie Meeks in extended minutes at shooting guard, where he's earmarked both to play with a full roster. As the coach explained during Monday's practice, in a perfect world, he'll employ a big man rotation of Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, with Antawn Jamison the primary backup at small forward behind Metta World Peace. This leaves Ebanks and Meeks penciled in for Kobe's leftovers. Unfortunately, Hill's absence has forced Brown to slide Jamison to the 4, Ebanks to the 3 and clarity to the side.
With Hill potentially on hand for a big man rotation with Gasol and Robert Sacre tonight, Brown can perhaps watch Ebanks and Meeks in his preferred spot. Brown has been complimentary of both, but their skill sets are fairly different and equally useful. Ebanks is more of a slasher, with a higher upside as a rebounder, defender and general athlete. Meeks is the more proven shooter, and this team desperately needs floor spreaders. Talking with the coach Monday, he didn't tip his hand much about the direction he's headed, but acknowledged the small sample size for making a decision. Perhaps this game can narrow down his decision.
No question, some nerves were settled by the debut of Dwight Howard, whose mere presence provided glimpses of the high ceiling possessed by these Lakers. But as with any player returning from injury, there's always fear of setbacks. And in a game in which Steve Nash and Metta World Peace also suffered injuries (a sore ankle and a dislocated right middle finger, respectively), those concerns are compounded.
Well, so far so good.
Howard told reporters of notable soreness, but those aches are a part of the process. The center was told his body would react this way, and treatment was part of today's agenda. In other words, nothing out of the ordinary. For that matter, Nash and MWP practiced -- albeit in a session with no heavy contact -- and neither is expected to miss any games. The same can be said for Kobe Bryant, who skipped today's workout with a strained right foot. The injury took place during Sunday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings, but nobody seemed particularly nervous about an extended absence. Mike Brown confirmed that Jordan Hill is close to a return.
The benefits to having all hands on deck extend beyond just the roster's collective strength. It allows Brown to finally develop an informed opinion for a desired rotation. Between the third-stringers he's been forced to give obligatory looks and some key players being absent, the coach hasn't been able to utilize players as envisioned. And the results have been obvious, especially with the reserves on the floor.
Here are five takeaways:
1. Game play has offered few clues to how this whole thing will work.
Dwight Howard has yet to suit up. Jordan Hill is on the shelf. Kobe Bryant has missed a game. Tuesday, it was Pau Gasol's turn to observe in street clothes, as coach Mike Brown gave him the night off. These aren't peripheral players we're talking about, here. No surprise, then, to see the quality of play ebb and flow, whether in the starting lineup or among the reserves. Tonight's first five -- Bryant, Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Antawn Jamison, and Metta World Peace -- led a first quarter in which L.A. scored a mere 15 points, on 4-for-15 shooting from the field. Even Kobe and Nash weren't on the same page. Late in the first, Kobe cut back door when Nash expected him to pop out high on the wing. Turnover. (The Lakers compounded the error by not getting back in transition, giving up a bucket sure to tick off Brown when the game film is reviewed. For that matter, the defensive effort as a whole, particularly in transition, was shoddy.)
The second quarter (and beyond) featured too many players who won't make the regular-season media guide to glean heaps of meaning. Nash didn't play after the first quarter, and so on.
The important thing is how the Lakers are able to practice, because that's where the real work of training camp gets done. In that regard, they're fine. Everyone (save Hill) has been on the floor consistently and with little restriction. Still, it can be argued actual game play hasn't offered a whole lot of clues as to what the Lakers will look like when the real games start.
2. Jamison still hasn't found the range.
There were positive signs Saturday, when Jamison canned a couple of jumpers and finished a well-executed set baseline inbounds play at the rack. Still, he entered Tuesday's game a paltry 6-of-18 from the field, and didn't do himself many favors in Anaheim. He turned an on-time, on-target feed from Nash into a first-quarter 3-pointer, but it was Jamison's only bucket among his first five attempts. His sixth, a hurried shot at the end of the clock, went off the front rim. Finally, he put one in off a nice feed inside from Bryant. In the second half, he missed each of his four attempts. Final line, 2-for-11, seven points.
He'll be fine, but for the time being Jamison isn't looking good.
Lakers center Dwight Howard and forward Jordan Hill remained out with back injuries while Lakers coach Mike Brown said back-up point guard Steve Blake was unlikely to play much if at all Saturday in order to give more playing time to second-year guard Darius Morris and veteran guard Chris Duhon.
"Nothing is wrong with Steve Blake," Brown said. "If he doesn't play, he and I have already talked about it. I'm going to continue to take a look at different combinations. So tonight I'm going to play Darius Morris at some back-up point guards. And I'll probably play somebody else some minutes there the next game."
After participating in practices on Thursday and Friday, Bryant was expected to play Saturday but the Lakers held off making a final decision until game time.
Bryant said he initially hurt the shoulder Tuesday during practice when he dunked over teammate Antawn Jamison.
At the time, he didn't feel pain and finished the practice.
Bryant then spent another 35 minutes on the court working with assistant coach Phil Handy on shooting and ballhandling drills. Later Tuesday night, though, his shoulder swelled up.
"(Tuesday) night it was very painful," Bryant said Wednesday night. "It hurt to even lay down. But it's a lot better right now."
Bryant had surgery on his right shoulder in 2003, but said this injury is completely unrelated to that one and he didn't need an MRI.
Third-year guard Jodie Meeks started in Bryant's place Wednesday and would do so again if he missed another game.
But whatever it is, this latest "entanglement" between the former teammates has been highly amusing to watch.
It all started up again Wednesday evening when Bryant was in the kind of mood to dish, or rather, playfully diss pretty much anyone in sight as he got treatment on his strained shoulder before the Lakers' exhibition game. Third-year guard Jodie Meeks was his first target.
Asked by reporters how Meeks -- who was starting in his place that night -- had looked in practice, Bryant laughed and said, "I've been murdering that guy" and proceeded to quiz any teammate in sight to see if anyone would disagree with him.
A couple of minutes later in a bit of comedic timing you could never script, Meeks walked up and sat down at the locker next to Bryant. Reporters started asking Meeks about starting in the game while Bryant basically heckled him from two feet away.
Eventually the topic turned to Parker and Bryant cracked, "Smush, was the worst. He shouldn't have been in the NBA, but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard so we let him walk on and had Tierre Brown back him up."
It didn't take long for the quote to go viral and get back to Parker, who had started all this in the first place a few years ago when he called Bryant "overrated."
Within 12 hours Parker was on an internet radio station based in New York to fire back.
ONTARIO, Calif. -- Dwight Howard's best moves came as he danced to "Gangnam Style" during a third-quarter time out. Kobe Bryant's came before the game as he unleashed a new set of hysterical insults directed at one of his favorite targets, former Lakers point guard Smush Parker.
As for the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers, well, they got some work in during a 93-75 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
Another stop on the annual barnstorming tour, another loss that basically means nothing in the grand scheme. But at some point before the start of the regular season on Oct. 30, you'd like to see what the Lakers look like at full strength for one of these games. Or at least be playing with more of their key players as they get closer to the games that count.
That obviously didn't happen Wednesday night as Bryant was a late scratch because of a strained right shoulder and Howard sat out again as he continues to cautiously make his way from back surgery.
Bryant said he didn't think his injury was serious. "Just a little pinch," he said before the game. He was pretty confident he'd be back by Saturday's exhibition game against Utah at Staples Center, if not sooner.
So mostly it was the fans in the Inland Empire who missed much by him not playing Wednesday. And Bryant actually seemed to feel a little bad about it.
"This stuff is fun," he said, referring to the Lakers' tradition of playing exhibition games all over California. "You don't get a chance to play in front of them often. So now you get a chance to see the team up close and personal."
A nice sentiment, sure. But not a good enough reason to risk making his shoulder any worse.
"It's just a coaches' decision," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "He always champs at the bit to play. But today I said, 'You can fight me on it, but it's done.' He's like, 'Oh, it's like that?' I was like, 'Yes.'
"But Kobe always wants to play. I don't know when the guy doesn't want to play. He's a competitor, that's his nature."
Meeks starts, never really gets started
Jodie Meeks started in place of Bryant, but it didn't exactly go well. The third-year guard from Kentucky has impressed Brown with his intelligence and toughness. It was his shooting stroke that let him down Wednesday though as he went 1-for-7 from the field. He did haul in five rebounds and make all of his four free throws. Brown said afterward that he was impressed with Meeks overall, despite his rough shooting night, because of the toughness he showed on defense.
Steve Nash played 25 minutes and seemed totally in control of the game when he was in there. Nash made six of his nine shots to finish with 13 points. He also grabbed four rebounds and passed out four assists.
Pau, Jamison go deep
So much for spreading the minutes out. With Howard and backup Jordan Hill out because of back injuries, Pau Gasol played a healthy 30 minutes and Antawn Jamison played nearly 25 minutes. Earl Clark, whom Brown had singled out as a guy who'd pick up some of the slack for Hill at practice Tuesday, didn't get off the bench until late in the fourth quarter.
Gasol went just 3-for-12 from the field (eight points) with only three rebounds. Jamison was just 2-for-7 (four points) but pulled down five rebounds. Brown said Gasol played a lot of minutes because "he's working on his conditioning."
"It can get serious if you don't get your core right and stretched," acknowledged Hill. "So that's what we're doing now. We're gonna reevaluate it in a week and hopefully I'll be back in a week."
The forward couldn't pinpoint the exact first-half possession Sunday that caused his injury, but one thing was certain. "I just knew something was wrong," Hill said. "It wasn't really that much pain, but it was just a feeling that I'd never had before, that I just wanted to check it to make sure to see if it was okay. The MRI showed something was wrong with it, but nothing too serious."
Still, better safe than sorry, a mantra reinforced to Hill by none other than Howard, who has learned a thing or two about trying to play through back pain. As Hill explained, Howard "had a same short, little tear on his disc and he kept playing on it, and didn't get his core right, really stretching it. And it got worse. So that's what we gotta do. We just gotta get it strong."
Fair to say, there are a few items on the to-do list, and some interesting things for fans to look for as the preseason develops. We look at a few in the newest edition of The Forum.