For obvious reasons, Monday's news of Jordan Hill's herniated disc prompted frowns throughout Laker Nation. Hill is expected to be a key contributor for a theoretically improved bench, and his presence prevents Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol from logging too many minutes. Thus, an extended absence could start the season on the wrong foot. Well, seeing is believing, but for the time being, the forward is confident he won't miss much time. During Tuesday's practice, Hill assured the surrounding media that surgery isn't on the horizon and that his condition is "definitely not that serious." The team and athlete are simply being proactive to prevent a debilitating situation.
"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."
As for Sunday's loss, most coaches treat preseason results with a grain of salt and Mike Brown is no exception. Case in point, the lowpoint of Fresno-palooza was a 35-0 second half run by Golden State, and while Brown was certainly aware the Warriors were outscoring his team, he didn't know the exact differential until informed Tuesday. Upon learning those exacts, he remained largely unconcerned. In part, this is because the preseason is more about the big picture than the record accumulated, but also because Brown's starters sat the entire second half while Mark Jackson utilized his best players. Quite sensibly, the Lakers coach doesn't expect back-of-the-rotation players and designated camp bodies to hang with the Warriors' core.
"I'm not gonna lie," Brown said "It's tough for Greg Somogyi to stop David Lee. Somogyi is not used to guarding David Lee. It's tough for Darius Johnson-Odom to guard Richard Jefferson. Those are tough matchups, you know? Golden State played well, picked it up defensively and offensively, they did a nice job moving the ball and they took it right to us. I didn't even know it was 35-0. I wasn't concentrating on that. I was concentrating basically on each play and making sure we tried to play the defense right and played to play the offense right.
"Not only that, I didn't care what the score was. I was gonna stick to my substitution script going into the game."
Speaking of the rotation, Devin Ebanks was the first shooting guard off the bench in relief of Kobe Bryant, and has played with the second team during much of the action open to the media. Based on appearances, he has the early edge over offseason acquisition (and natural shooting guard) Jodie Meeks as the Mamba's primary backup, but Brown emphasized this was a trend written in pencil rather than pen.
"I'm not gonna always [go with Ebanks]," Brown said. "I think Jodie Meeks has played well. He's gonna get an opportunity. Also, I think CDR (Chris Douglas-Roberts) has played well, too. So he may get an opportunity. But the one thing Devin is doing is he's trying to play within himself. He's playing confidently. He's trying to play defense. And he's trying to rebound. We all know he can shoot. We all know he can score at 6-9. As long as he plays within himself and doesn't try to do too much, which he's done a decent job of doing, he could be productive of us. But the thing I like more than anything else is his length. If we have him at the two, and Antawn (Jamison) at the three and Jordan at the four, we're a long, athletic team.
"But Devin's gotta go earn it, because Jodie Meeks is turning some heads. I thought he had good day today. I thought he played well in the scrimmage and same with CDR. He's done some nice things out there."
Ebanks would certainly be wise to heed his coach's mantra about working hard, but I still got the sense Brown is keeping a fire lit beneath the player in the driver's seat. Brown was intrigued enough by Ebanks to begin last season with him as the starting small forward and generally speaking, when given a reasonable chance to perform at any position, I think he acquitted himself nicely. There's familiarity between the player and coach, always a plus. Devin's put in a lot of time improving his guard skills and the two and three are fairly interchangeable in this system, anyway. Ebanks also possesses greater defensive potential than Meeks or Douglas-Roberts, and Brown always places a premium on lockdown.
A lot can happen between now and Oct. 30, but if the job isn't quite Ebanks' to lose, I do think he's in a nice position to win it.
Bryant on his eventual retirement (BK will have more on this later):
Kobe, on the finish line at the end of his career:
Brown on the preseason:
Steve Nash on the new system and Dwight Howard: