Technically speaking, training camp didn't end with Thursday's 94-82 loss to Sacramento -- the cherry on an 0-8 preseason run -- in San Diego. The Lakers still have a few days of (much-needed) practice ahead of them before kicking off the 2012-13 season for real Tuesday night against Dallas at Staples Center.
The slate of dress rehearsals, however, are over. Mercifully, I'd say, given how unpleasant they were to watch. Rather than review tonight's loss, here are six takeaways from the preseason as a whole:
1. This wasn't what the Lakers hoped for.
It wasn't all bad. For example, if you had told Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak on Aug. 10 that Dwight Howard would play two preseason games and, more important, practice at full speed for most of camp, they'd have taken that deal in a heartbeat. Howard will enter the regular season healthy. Rusty, perhaps, but healthy. But while Howard's presence afforded the opportunity for greater training camp continuity, it was undercut by other realities. Kobe Bryant's foot injury pulled him off the floor early in camp, and now has him on the sideline heading into the weekend (and hopefully not beyond). Jordan Hill's injury not only stunted his own development in the offense, but also prevented coach Mike Brown from giving Antawn Jamison the sort of reps at small forward he would have liked. In game action (as it were), the Lakers played games without Hill, Howard, Kobe, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, and the much-anticipated starting five were intact for all of one game, meaning the normally inconsistent rotations of the preseason grew even more disjointed.
Almost to a man, the Lakers talk about building cohesion with a revamped roster and new offense as a process requiring weeks, even a few months. A healthier camp certainly would have helped them advance on the timeline.
It's the unfamiliarity with the offense and one another feeding the Incredible Turnover Machine, the main cause behind eight straight preseason losses. Wednesday, the Lakers had 21 giveaways leading to 33 points for the Clippers. Thursday, they granted the Kings 28 points off 21 more turnovers. It's impossible to look good on either end when so many possessions end without a shot and with a transition chance for the opposition. (When the Lakers have managed to hold on to the ball, they've been good. Their ratio of assisted buckets has been strong, and the half-court defense just fine.)
Moreover, the lack of continuity eats into the natural margin of error provided by a full 82-game season. Almost surely guys are going to get dinged up. Someone will miss a stretch of time, and the progression of the machine from dry to under-oiled to adequately oiled to well-oiled will see delays. Make no mistake, the Lakers need to be well-oiled to win a title. Without question they can still get there. Nobody should be freaking out.
It just would have been beneficial for the Lakers to hit the ground running, and that didn't quite happen.
2. Howard is as advertised.
He has now played twice in six months, but it's easy to see how his influence will impact the Lakers this season on both ends of the court. He'll be great in the pick-and-roll, will score in the post and eventually, when the Lakers clean up their offense and stop gift-wrapping points for the opposition, will bring clarity to the defensive end.
3. Nash's adjustment will take more time.
We've spent a lot of time writing and talking about Bryant's adjustment playing with Nash but have also tried to emphasize what Nash will have to do, as well. The Lakers (with good reason) don't want him doing the sort of heavy lifting required of him in Phoenix over the past few years, and they certainly have the talent to support him. So Nash won't have the ball in his hands quite as much and is also learning a new offense eventually affording him the flexibility to choose between pick-and-roll action at the top of a possession or entry into the Princeton.
Right now, though, he's feeling his way through like everyone else.
4. Jamison was easily L.A.'s most disappointing player.
He came into Thursday's game shooting 28.6 percent from the field and he didn't exactly don a rally cap in San Diego, going 1-of-3 from the field for 2 points. Jamison struggled to hit spot-up jumpers, to finish on the dribble and with everything in between. He's a savvy player who moves the ball well, but the bottom line is simple: If Jamison doesn't score, or at the very least isn't a credible threat, he'll be tough to play. He's simply not a good enough defender, whether in a team setting or as demonstrated on a first-half play Thursday in which Sacramento's James Johnson backed him down in the post before going up-and-under for an easy bucket in isolation.
Ultimately, Jamison ought to be just fine. When the Lakers get their rotation intact, he'll have more help on defense and get less attention from the opposition on offense. Still, for whatever it's worth, to this point Jamison's performance has been poor.
5. The rest of the bench has been as advertised, if not better.
Bear with me here, because I know the aesthetics of the bench play haven't exactly been pleasing. Two big points:
A. Again, it's hard to judge how these guys will look until we see them play in a normal rotation. Brown isn't going to play five reserves at a time, as we saw through much of the preseason. A starter or two will almost always be on the floor, completely changing the dynamic and making each reserve a more effective player.
B. Nobody should expect the Lakers to have the best bench in the NBA, just something better than what they had last season, namely the league's least productive crew of reserves. "Average" would be a massive improvement, and along those lines there are good signs.
After a slow start, Jodie Meeks showed a very clean 3-point stroke when the floor is properly spaced. While it would be great to see him finish better off the dribble, that's not why he's here. The Lakers need a guy who can catch and shoot, keeping defenses honest. Meeks showed the ability to do just that.
Devin Ebanks throughout camp has shown an improved skill set. He's hardly a deadeye, but the outside shot is improved. Meanwhile, his handle attacking the rim and his court awareness are both better. If Ebanks becomes a legitimate rotation player this season, it will be a major boost, almost like adding a new player in an offseason trade. He finished strong, with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists in 25 minutes Thursday night.
Robert Sacre, the 60th pick in June's draft, has shown himself to be a credible third center.
In limited minutes, Hill has flashed improved range on his jumper along with every bit of the energy making him so effective at the end of last season. Hill, who has never spent a season as a major cog on a relevant team, has a lot to prove this year, but -- small sample size acknowledged -- there's nothing to indicate he won't perform.
Sure, neither Steve Blake nor Chris Duhon have overwhelmed, but they haven't been awful, either. Again, this is a team that will live and die with its stars. The bench shouldn't be expected to carry it or compete with teams such as the Clippers in terms of pure depth.
6. Drawing conclusions about what will happen in April, May and June based on what happens in mid-October is a bad idea.
Yes, 0-8 is bad, but eventually the philanthropy will end and the Lakers will start controlling the ball again. The NBA is a talent-based league, and the Lakers have immense amounts of it at the top end, where it really matters. Assuming good (enough) health, they're simply too good not to be good. Very, very good.
Just because the real games start next week doesn't mean there won't still be moments taking fans back to an ugly slate of pretend games. It's reasonable to believe the Lakers should and will win as they go through the natural and mandatory growth process as a team. But they don't get to skip the process, and it didn't advance as far in the preseason as anyone would have liked.