Los Angeles Lakers: injury
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.
In a vacuum, with the roster fully intact, the team isn't particularly damaged with Clark sidelined. The forward doesn't project to be a part of the rotation and frankly, I'm not even sure if he has much of a role even on paper. Dude is super-athletic, but also raw like sushi and has struggled to carve out even semi-consistent niches in Phoenix or Orlando. BK and I have both wondered if the Lakers might be willing to eat his cheap contract to make space for Chris Douglas-Roberts, Darius Johnson-Odom, or another player with an non-guaranteed contract who might provide more immediate utility.
However, with Dwight Howard and Jordan Hill sidelined, the Lakers' frontline is currently thin, meaning Clark might be pressed into spot duty, at least in the short run. If he's not able to play, the team might feel compelled to bring in a seasoned (enough) insurance big. Preferably, someone happy to be part of a championship quest, even if it means spending the majority of games in warmups.
Obviously, a grain of salt should be applied to what's barely a minute of workout footage. But to my eye, that Dwight Howard is currently recovering from back surgery doesn't stand out in flashing neon lights. That's not to say Howard is clearly ready to hit the court and destroy. Even hinting this would be speculative and irresponsible. I have no idea how directly these snippets translate to Howard competing against actual NBA competition during an actual NBA game, but there's no denying he looks fairly spry for someone who went under the knife in April. His movements are fluid. His step and jump hooks contain bounce. He's able to handle some degree of pressure to his back in the form of Lakers assistant coach Darvin Ham's forearms. All welcome sights for a Lakers fan's eyes.
Plus, his celebratory handshake with video coordinator J.J. Outlaw is totally on point. And isn't that what really matters most?
Again, I'm not treating this as a sign Howard will suit up come Oct. 30 or maybe even several games afterward. As Trudell notes, "The team continues to stress that no timetable has been determined for Howard's return, but allowed that there have been no set backs to this point in his rehabilitation." In other words, caution is being exercised, just as it should be. Howard has repeatedly insisted on returning when he's 100 percent, whenever that may be. For the short- and long-term interests of this franchise, it's the right call, and I hope he never changes course.
But just as important, the Lakers are reporting no setbacks, and based on this video, the center in fact appears to be chugging steadily forward.
If I may, a few thoughts on the matter:
1) OUCH! That can't possibly tickle. Blake is about as tough a player as the NBA offers, but I think even my man Dalton would concede this pain does in fact hurt. A lot.
2) How does one end up stepping on the spike strip of a parking lot in the first place, much less with enough force to slice a foot presumably encased in a shoe? Was he jogging with his eyes fixed on the horizon rather than the ground? Chasing after one of his kids who'd wandered loose? Did the spike strip pick a fight with the point guard? We all know the dude doesn't back down to anybody, whether a 7-foot center, Jason Terry or perhaps even an inanimate object. I am more than a little curious to hear the back story for this particular mishap.
In any event, between this oddity and his 2011 bout with the chicken pox, Blake clearly has the local corner marketed when it comes to bizarre ailments.
3) As mentioned earlier, Blake will not be able to participate in anything deemed an "impact exercise." I don't know everything about medicine or physical therapy, but I'll go out on a limb and predict playing basketball qualifies as such. Thus, camp will almost certainly open with Blake unable to participate, which means an opportunity just presented itself to Chris Duhon and Darius Morris. I've been running with the assumption that backup point guard would begin the preseason as Blake's job to lose. Mike Brown demonstrated a ton of faith in the veteran last season, despite production more often famine than feast. It therefore stands to reason he'd offer Blake the same leeway this season, between their mutual familiarity, Blake's familiarity with his teammates, and neither Duhon nor Morris heretofore standing out as an obviously better option.
With Blake sidelined, however, Duhon and Morris have a couple of weeks (if not longer) to snag the gig. Duhon is clearly the more seasoned player, but Morris demonstrated flashes of potential during his rookie campaign and is the best of the three at penetrating into the teeth of a defense. (It also doesn't hurt he's a young player at a position the Lakers desperately need to groom.) Duhon would likely possess the edge, but anything is possible -- including neither impressing enough to take the job -- when all options are flawed.
Best of luck to Blake in his recovery.
Once again, injury tripped up Barnes heading into the postseason.
Last season, Barnes performed as a solid, if not necessarily spectacular, reserve before a knee injury rendered him a stiff-legged shell of himself in the playoffs. Barnes returned this season healthy and determined to make up that disappointment, and largely found success despite obstacles in the way. Everyone not named "Kobe," "Pau" or "Andrew (Bynum)" experienced fluctuating minutes under Mike Brown, but Barnes' roller-coaster ride was arguably the wildest. He's been everything from a bench-warmer to a starting small forward to a key reserve, and in every case, performed admirably.
Barnes began the season buried in favor of then-starter Devin Ebanks and then-bench captain Metta World Peace. But rather than pout, he cheered enthusiastically for teammates from the bench and said all the proverbial "right things." Five games in, Barnes took Ebanks' place, and held the gig until late-January when Brown flip-flopped him and MWP. All the while, his minutes were sometimes difficult to predict. Barnes openly admitted how frustrating this topsy-turvy backdrop could be, but never allowed that to bleed onto the court. In fact, he was arguably the Lakers' fourth best player for the season as a whole.
On a macro level, and without disrespect intended, a career journeyman being the most productive Laker beyond the Big 3 epitomizes why things rarely came easy. Barnes is a nice player, but for a squad seeking a title, he shouldn't end up so pivotal, whether by design or accident. However, that's an "other guys who needed to step more consistently" problem, not a "Matt Barnes" problem. He's responsible for his own actions, and for the most part, rose to the challenge of contributing a fair share. (To put the consistency in perspective, Barnes averaged 7.8 points as a starter and a reserve, underscoring his general reliability in a season marked by chaos.)
What Barnes brought to the table became evident after he badly sprained his ankle in the 64th regular season game. Severely hobbled for the postseason, the small forward gave it his best, but his effectiveness rapidly declined with each game. Barnes is a player who thrives off whirlwind motion, which makes immobility a difficult thorn in his side. And whether because of the ankle or declining confidence, his stroke went missing. In seven games against Denver, he averaged 12 percent from 3-point land, and down the stretch against OKC, the ball in his hands seemed to cause anxiety.
By Game 5 against the Thunder, Barnes was too big a liability to put on the floor, a crummy conclusion to an otherwise quality season.
63 games, 22.9 mpg, 7.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, .8 bpg, .458 FG, .333 3-pt
Against Denver on 4/13, with players needing to make up for Kobe's absence against a quality opponent, Barnes had among the best games I've ever seen him play: 24 points off the bench. Nine-for-11 from the field. Four triples in as many tries. A halftime buzzer-beater. 10 rebounds. Two assists. Generally speaking, Barnes lent a nice hand while the Mamba nursed his shin injury, notching double figures in five of those seven games. A career 32.9 percent shooter from Downtown, Barnes has long carried a "sniper" reputation I've never quite understood. But in March and April, his respective 38 and 37 percent monthly averages made him look much closer to the real deal.
Barnes began the season on the bench and that's unfortunately the way things ended.
Prospects for 2012-13 (contract, likelihood of being on the team)
As much as any Laker, Barnes is well aware most players can and often will be deemed expendable by their teams. Based on his exit interview comments, Matt didn't seem like a guy counting on a return. If both Ebanks and MWP are retained, I can't imagine Barnes will be. And honestly, he could be out the door no matter who's on the Lakers roster. After a few years taking offers below market value in search of a ring, it sounds like money will play a larger role in signing his next contract. Obviously, Barnes ain't getting a max deal from anybody, but he could command more than the $1.9 million the Lakers paid him this season. Given the tight purse strings these days, I don't know if the front office would give him a raise. Thus, the well-traveled Cali native could be on the move again.
If that's the case, while coming up short in a bid for a title with the franchise he grew up rooting for is obviously disappointing, Barnes can take solace knowing he carved together a credible showing as a purple and gold role player.
Previous 2011-12 report cards:
"I've just been patient with it, trying to let it heal," Blake said during Wednesday's practice. "I really had no preconception of when I was coming back. I didn't know if it was going to be sooner or later. I really had no idea. To me, it's on time...[Practice] felt good. My rhythm is a little off, but that will come with time. Hopefully whenever I do play, I'll be ready to play and able to contribute."
Obviously, Blake's potential availability is a big deal. Not that the bench ran like a Swiss watch with him in the lineup, but he was nonetheless the best second unit play-maker, and by a long shot. That the reserves have struggled to do much in Blake's absence beyond feed the ball to Andrew Bynum or watch Andrew Goudelock generate his own looks is no coincidence, nor terribly surprising. With Blake back, the second unit offense will hopefully run a little smoother, and he'll hopefully add a few buckets to the mix.
In the meantime, I assume Goudelock will assume two-guard duties, allowing him to operate more of a pure scorer, rather than outside his comfort zone as a quasi-point guard. I also imagine Mike Brown will give more minutes to Goudelock than Jason Kapono as a reserve shooting guard, which will hopefully help limit Kobe Bryant minutes. For that matter, Blake on hand should also mean equal Derek Fisher's minutes reduced, which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Blake and Fisher can also finish games together with Kobe at small forward in games where Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes aren't offering much, which has been too often these days.
Considering the glaring limitations of the Lakers roster, any options gained are a welcome development.
"I should be fine," said Kobe when asked about his availability for the Christmas Day season opener against the Bulls.
Of course, "fine" isn't necessarily quite sunshine and lollipops. Kobe described his wrist as "swollen and painful," and I'm guessing that won't change by the time Sunday rolls around. The Mamba has a famously absurd tolerance for pain, but I have a hard time believing lacing 'em up on Sunday won't entail enduring an exceptional amount of discomfort.
There's also the question of the effects the injury will have on Bryant as a player. After all, right-handed players tend to use their right wrists a decent amount of time over the course of a basketball game. Plus, that wrist is connected to a hand with some jacked up fingers. Kobe's handle occasionally suffers due to those digits. With the wrist now a factor, it's fair to wonder how Bryant's shot, or ability to create for himself or others could suffer. Even as one of the best athletes I've ever seen playing through injuries, there are limits, especially as you get older.
Predictably, Bryant downplayed the issue.
"If you can play through the pain and you can catch a ball, pass a ball, you should be fine," he said.
For those concerned playing through the injury will stymie the healing process, that's a valid fear. Why? Because Kobe said so himself. However, this is just being viewed as a fact of life, rather than a sticking point to consider.
"It's not really going to heal," Bryant conceded. "I mean, it's gone. The ligament is gone. So there's nothing I can do about it. But I've dealt with so many hand injuries. It should be all right."
The ligament is "gone?" Wowza, that's dark. I'm not even disagreeing with him. I've just never heard an injury framed in such "dust in the wind" terms. Kobe always claims he's not very sentimental. Clearly, he's not kidding.
EL SEGUNDO -- Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who suffered a right wrist injury in Monday night’s game against the Clippers, was examined today by Dr. Steven Shin of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic and underwent an MRI exam. Results show that Bryant has a torn lunotriquetral ligament.
Bryant will not play in tonight’s game against the Clippers and his status is day-to-day.
The Lakers can't seem to catch a break this preseason.
Phil used to do this stuff, from everything I've gathered, as a means of maintaining momentum or sending a message, neither a good enough reason to risk injury, in my humble opinion. Brown, however, has two preseason games and a shortened training camp to teach new offensive and defensive systems, figure out floor combinations, develop chemistry and condition his players. Thus, Kobe's time on the floor, even while injured, contained tangible purpose. The setting may not have been ideal, and I wouldn't have blamed Brown if he took the precautionary route with Bryant, but I don't think he deserves any criticism in this case.
It'll be interesting to see how Kobe approaches this injury. He famously grits his teeth through nearly any injury known to mankind, having played with an aching ankle, knee, back and neck, plus that permanently screwed up pinkie. Depending on the severity of the injury (that information is unknown as of now), perhaps this will be present the latest chapter of Kobe gutting it out through pain.
However, this might not be pretty. Kobe's fondness of left-handed shots acknowledged, he's gonna need that right wrist to remain as effective a scorer. And beyond whatever shooting issues could be caused, when you factor in a right hand that's already problematic at times, Kobe's handle in general could be greatly compromised. Whether creating for himself or others, I wouldn't be surprised to see him struggle.
Plus, playing through this injury prevents the healing process from taking effect.
Even games against a front line like Phoenix's sometimes provided a challenge for Pau.
The inconsistencies are revealed in his splits: December and January scoring averages below 17 points, including a December in which he shot below 50 percent from the field, which is basically unheard of for Pau. The inconsistencies are also revealed in his game log. Seven games with 16+ rebounds, but also pockets of multiple-game streaks with single digit grabs. Even during the Lakers' post All-Star break dominance, there were four consecutive games with just five rebounds. That's a modest haul by Kobe Bryant's standard, much less a seven-footer's.
But beyond the numbers, there was Gasol's general presence, or frequent lack thereof. Too many games where he wasn't effective facilitating in the triangle or displaying his versatility. Too many games with wayward body language or defensive intensity. And too few games imposing his will. Throughout the season, something felt intermittently off. As I noted in a post questioning his All-Star inclusion, there were an awful lot of "what's wrong with Pau Gasol?" questions being tossed around.
Cut to the playoffs, then to the decidedly melancholy exit interview.
But this season, similar to David Stern, the fans didn't have The Zen Master to kick around anymore.
Walton averaged a career-low nine minutes, and unlike last season, when his 29 game appearances and 9.4 nightly minutes were in part due to recurring back problems, Walton was relatively healthy. That he entered 54 games was more about Matt Barnes (and perhaps even Devin Ebanks) getting injured than PJ's desire to play him. All things being equal, the guy was buried in 2011.
The situation didn't sit well with Walton, despite PJ's explanation of a desire to push tempo with the second unit, which obviously isn't Luke's strong suit. Thus, after a season of playing the good soldier, his exit meeting turned into an old fashioned Festivus celebration.
"I felt like I had to get some things off my chest that had been bothering me for most of the season and the postseason. But all in a very respectful way," Walton said. "I told [Jackson] he means the world to me. Just so we can have an open conversation, I had to get some stuff off my chest and tell him how I felt about some things. He gave his opinion on what he thinks I should be doing in the future and he was proud to see me fight my way back through that back injury and get to a place where I could continue to play. And then he left the room and then Mitch and I talked a little bit about the future of the team and that stuff.
"You know, most times exit meetings are about what they want you to do in the summer. What kind of work outs. Where you're gonna be. Who you're gonna be working out with. But obviously with Phil gone and who knows what's gonna happen next season, it wasn't that kind of talk. It was more just about this past season and that type of stuff.
"I respect him too much to hold any anger towards him. He's been unbelievable to me and I told him that. Like I said earlier, it hurt not being able to help my teammates this year. I felt like I could have helped this team succeed and with him retiring and probably going back to Montana, I didn't want to not see him and still have these thoughts of, 'Dang!' It hurt not letting me be a part of this thing down the stretch. I felt like if I could get that off my chest it would just be better for our relationship and the way I feel towards him."
So what to make of this heart to heart?
Even as a great coach, Phil can still make curious decisions
Except one recurrent issue, which presented itself during Thursday's win over the Hornets.
With 5:22 remaining in the game and a 19 point lead, Phil Jackson decided to empty his bench... of starters. Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol took the floor to relieve Andrew Bynum and The Killer B's. Jackson has a curious habit of using starters late in games iced by any reasonable standard. Sometimes it's a matter of leaving them to play excessive minutes another team's scrubs. Other times, like Thursday, he'll actually go out of his way to put them back on the floor. But whatever the methodology, as I noted on Twitter, it never fails to drive me insane.
Predictably, several tweeps sent responses along the lines of "After 11 rings, you can't possibly question Phil Jackson's judgment."
Actually, yes I can. For that matter, so can you.
Andrew Bynum missing games has become as inevitable as death and taxes.
But we wondered, knowing what Bynum knows now, if he would have altered his time line? He said he wouldn't:
"Nope. I had to have the surgery when I was ready for it. I was coming off the emotional high of going out and winning your second championship. I just kind of needed a little me time. Me and the family. I just took it from there. I went to go see the World Cup, it was a great time for me, one of the best of my life. I got to stay on safari. And then when I got back home, I took care of business."
This unfiltered wasn't what either of us expected to hear. We debated the issue the following day during a Sunday broadcast of ESPNLA.com On Air, my brother somewhat undecided on how he felt and me okay with the decision. Since then, Brian has expressed unhappiness with Bynum's call.
I remain okay with the decision.
Before I present my opinion, I want to make clear my expectations of being in the minority, along with my awareness of the legitimate reasons for displeasure with Bynum's statement. The Lakers are attempting to keep this championship train rolling, and Bynum is a big piece of the puzzle. These missed games could affect the team's overall record, which could jeopardize home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Bynum has already missed considerable time due to injury throughout his career, which has possibly affected his growth as a player and without question limited his comfort level playing alongside Pau Gasol. These are legitimate issues.
Plus, for many fans, there is a principle involved. Yes, Bynum isn't even 23 yet, and most folks have a lot of growing up to do at such a tender young age. However, they're typically not offered an eight figure salary as an incentive for rapid maturity. Players making $14 million are expected to be accountable professionals, which in this case means exhibiting a thorough concern for the team employing them. At face value, I understand why fans might label Bynum's willingness to delay the surgery, even in the face of games missed, as something showing questionable dedication to the Lakers.
But looking deeper, I'm reminded of Bynum gutting through the playoffs on one leg last season. And I'm compelled to examine Bynum's words explaining himself; how he needed to be "ready" for the surgery, how he expressed a desire for "me time" after coming off an "emotional high," and talked about the importance of being with family and about taking "care of business" once he returned home.
I'm sure Bynum felt a World Cup and European jaunt would be a unique and fun experience, but I wonder if the trip may not have been about indelible memories as much as it was about what he needed to forget:
It feels like about 1976 since Kobe Bryant last missed a game due to injury, but in reality, it's been a still-impressive Dec. 8, 2006. And upon returning -- oddly enough, from a sprained ankle-- in a 106-99 win over the San Antonio Spurs, Kobe barely missed a beat over 39 minutes.
34 points on 13-of-25 shooting. Eight rebounds. A quartet of makes from behind the arc. Three steals. An assist. Very little to sneeze at it.
For that matter, his teammates' contributions required no "Gesundheit."
Lamar Odom fell one assist shy of trip-dubbing 18 points and 11 rebounds. Luke Walton scored 17 points. Double-digit scoring was spread out among the remaining starters, as Kwame Brown chipped in 11 while doing his part to limit Tim Duncan to just nine shots and Smush Parker added another 10 (plus three steals). A very young Andrew Bynum notched six points and eight rebounds and a rookie Jordan Farmar dished four assists, both playing off the bench in under 20 minutes. And as described in our postgame report from the "old" blog, terrific D all around, highlighted by a third quarter Odom deemed "the best defensive quarter that I've ever played as a Laker."
Also impressive? The 106-95 win against Atlanta two days prior sans the Mamba's services, also secured through team-wide contributions.
The news represents a shift in developments presented yesterday by the L.A. Times. Kobe, unavailable to the media after participating in practice, didn't provide a personal thumbs up, but Phil Jackson thought 24 would be able to play, even though his ankle wasn't back to peak strength. As Lakers.com BasketBlog's Mike Trudell shares, however, the team was disappointed today by how the ankle responded to activity, which explains Mamba's status downgrade.
To the best of my knowledge, nothing has changed in regards to Andrew Bynum, who said on Monday he'd try to give tonight's game a whirl despite being "limited."