Los Angeles Lakers: Josh McRoberts

Josh McRoberts fitting in with Orlando

December, 2, 2012
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
LOS ANGELES -- While the reunion on everyone's mind Sunday was Dwight Howard facing off against his former team, Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said that the real emotional meeting with the Magic for Howard won't come until March 12 when Los Angeles plays in Orlando.

By D'Antoni's reasoning then, Sunday's game was actually a big one for Orlando forward Josh McRoberts, who played for the Lakers last season before being traded away during the summer as part of the Howard deal.

McRoberts, who came in as L.A.'s marquee free agent signee a year ago and only ended up averaging 2.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game as he fell out of favor with former coach Mike Brown, is making the most of his time with the Magic.

"He's been great," said first-year Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn before Sunday's game. "He's given us a lot of versatility. I've asked him to guard 2-guards, (small forwards), 4-men. ... He's given us a lot of versatility and his ability to pass the basketball has been good also. He's done a good job for us."

McRoberts' numbers have improved across the board from a year ago, chipping in 4.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game as a reserve.

"I'm kind of the utility man," McRoberts said.

A utility man who is OK with being part of the trade that sent him from the home of Disneyland to the home of Disney World because he wasn't being traded for a household utility.

"It wasn't like they traded me for a washing machine or something," McRoberts said. "It was a big-time deal for them."

McRoberts is in a contract year. He's looking to fit into Orlando's young bunch and find some long-term stability after suiting up for the fourth team of his six-year career this season.

Even though he's just 25, one way he already has distinguished himself is assuming the role of savvy veteran for the Magic.

"I think the biggest thing for me is that they treat me like I'm an old guy on this team," McRoberts said. "We got a bunch of young guys, so, going from last year when I'm one of the youngest guys on this team to this year when I'm like a super vet is a little bit different."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Source: Lakers interested in Jamison, O'Neal, Brand

July, 13, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLA's Dave McMenamin has the news here.

The Lakers, says the report, are kicking the tires on a few of the backup bigs available, while continuing contact with their own free agent, Jordan Hill. On the radar include vets Antawn Jamison, Elton Brand, and Jermaine O'Neal. The hope is any of the three could be added via veteran's minimum contracts, preserving their mini-mid level "in case a Howard deal goes down involving multiple players and they are left needing to fill a glaring void," writes McMenamin. "Not only is adding a backup big man a priority because signing Hill might not work out, but because Josh McRoberts and his expiring $3.1 million contract have drawn interest from other teams in potential Howard trade scenarios."

Seems reasonable enough.

As for the three names above, a few thoughts:
  • Jamison is still a productive offensive player -- though his efficiency slipped considerably in '11-'12 -- and certainly the Lakers could do a lot worse off the bench, at least on that end of the floor. While not a major threat from downtown, he can stretch the floor a little. Defensively he's ... very bad. The Cavs were 10 points worse with him on the floor last season, and five points worse the year before. It's possible the opportunity to play meaningful games next to teammates holding him accountable will bring out his best, but that's a tough muscle to start flexing at 36, even if you want to. So he wouldn't stiffen the D, but he'd bring badly needed points off the bench, and for a little north of a million bucks, that's no small consideration.
  • Brand would be great, but there's no way he'll make it through the amnesty waivers process and provide the Lakers an opportunity to woo him. They might as well put Kevin Durant or a brachiosaurus on their "short list."
  • O'Neal has played 49 games over the last two seasons, and was last a productive player in '08-'09 with Miami. The good news -- He missed most of last season with a wrist injury, allowing his battered knees to rest. The bad -- His knees remain suspect. If healthy, O'Neal could be a pretty useful backup big, particularly defensively where he remains pretty stout, but that's a big "if." The Lakers need reliable bodies behind Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and O'Neal seems like a frontcourt depth problem waiting to happen. Yes, he'd be cheap, but it's still a bad signing if it prevents the Lakers from inking a different player who would be more productive. Plus, while having two members of the '96 Draft class (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash) is kind of adorable, adding a third feels like a bad idea.

L.A.'s needs look very familiar

June, 7, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky

Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
When Chris Paul ended up in the wrong Staples Center locker room, the Lakers' plans for the 2011-12 season hit a major snag.

At this point one year ago, the Lakers were well into their offseason, having been swept out of the second round by the (eventual champion) Dallas Mavericks. At that point, we outlined five major areas of need heading into the 2011-12 season.

12 months later, after again bowing out (or being bowed, more accurately) in the second round, again in lopsided fashion this time by Oklahoma City, it's worth looking back at those five problem areas to see how well they were addressed. The answers aren't instructive simply in terms of giving the front office crew of Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss a grade (though that's been the theme over the last 10 days or so), but also showing the challenges they face going forward.

How many items were effectively crossed off last offseason's to-do list?

1. Outside shooting.

Among the many ugly, indelible memories of the 4-0 pasting against the Mavs in 2011 was watching the Lakers clang shot after shot from beyond the arc. 15-of-76 overall, for a go-ahead-and-try-this-at-home-because-you-wouldn't-be-any-worse 19.7 percent. The spectacularly poor marksmanship left fans pining for the salad days of the regular season, when the Lakers' 35.2 3-point percentage merely made them below average (tied for 17th).

This season, the Lakers again fell short from the perimeter in the playoffs, hitting only 28.2 percent of their 3-pointers against the Thunder.Disappointing, but unfortunately not far off their 32.6 regular season mark, meaning nothing about the way L.A. shot against OKC was fluky. Throughout the year the Lakers had little floor stretching capability, limiting space inside for their high end post game or lanes for dribble penetration. Help defenders could collapse on the ball whenever it entered the paint, comfortable nobody on the perimeter would make them pay.

Jennifer Stewart/US Presswire
Yeah, so this didn't work out.

The Lakers hoped to improve their shooting in a few ways, starting internally. Steve Blake's 37.8 mark in 2010-11 was below the bar he'd set in the three seasons previous, for example. From there, they signed Jason Kapono and Troy Murphy to veteran's minimum contracts. How'd it go? Blake's percentage actually dropped this year, to 33.5 percent. In extremely limited run, Kapono went for 29.6 percent, then was tossed into the deadline day deal with Cleveland bringing in Ramon Sessions. Murphy actually hit a respectable 41.8 percent, but didn't play enough to make an impact.

One bright light, at least until the playoffs, was Sessions, who hit 48.6 percent of his 3's in 23 games post trade. Overall, though, the guys taking the most triples game to game (Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, and Blake particularly) were wildly inefficient. The Lakers clearly didn't fix the problem, meaning perimeter shooting -- genuine leave open at your own risk perimeter shooting -- remains a screaming neon need this summer.

2. Point guard productivity.

In 2010-11, Lakers point guards (Blake and Derek Fisher) scored less than any other combo in the league, at 10.9 points a game, and only generated 4.9 assists.

That had to change, particularly after shifting away from the triangle towards a more traditional point guard driven, pick-and-roll offense under Mike Brown. This season there was some improvement, as the Lakers PG's boosted their output to 14.9 points and 6.5 assists. Still their efficiency differential was again just off the bottom of the barrel.

But while the final numbers weren't ideal, the front office hardly ignored the issue.

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2011-2012 report card: Josh McRoberts

May, 26, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
If you're a reserve looking to become a fan favorite, a recent blueprint has been firmly established. You can be a relentless hustler who pursues every loose ball and relishes the dirty work, ala Ronny Turiaf and Josh Powell. You can be a highlight dunk waiting to happen, ala Shannon Brown. Or you can be both, ala Josh McRoberts this season, at least for a while. With his high socks and higher elevation, the energizer bunny began the season as the reserve fans looked most forward to see check into a game. (Adding to the fun was the way he shattered some stereotypes. Nobody expects much athleticism from big white players, much less big white players from Duke. As it turns out, McRoberts ain't Cherokee Parks 2.0, and not simply because his body isn't a mural.)

Brett Deering/Getty Images
McRoberts was fun to watch above the rim.

McRoberts' first season wasn't all fun and games, however. Like every member of the bench, he was yanked in and out of the rotation, often unsure of when he'd enter the game and for how long. As time went on, his limitations were also driven home. At his best, McRoberts resembles something of a poor man's Lamar Odom (or as the Dallas Mavericks called such a player this season, "Lamar Odom.") Another lefty with a surprisingly good handle for somebody 6'10", McRoberts isn't quite the playmaker on the break as LO, but he's capable of taking a defensive rebound past halfcourt, and from a halfcourt set actually passes the ball very well. Unfortunately, that's also where the comparison basically ends. As a scorer, McRoberts' range is more or less the rim. Unless putting back an offensive rebound or dunking, the guy provides no ability to spread the floor or even a presence worth guarding. And while his 24/7 effort is commendable, it didn't always translate into quality defense.

The day McRoberts was signed, I asked Jared Wade of the Eight Points, Nine Seconds blog for a scouting report on McRoberts. Among other things, he told me this:

Like the vast majority of players in the league, the best way to maximize his contribution is simply not to ask too much of him. He'll hustle, get some dunks, get some boards, and do little things. If you ask for him to be a prominent part of the offense, or a defensive stopper, he'll let you down.

Sounds about right.

50 games, 14.4 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1 apg, .4 bpg, .475 FG

McRoberts wasted no time making a strong impression while filling in for a suspended Andrew Bynum. Eight rebounds were pulled down in the season opener against Chicago. Three games later, he scored a season-high 10 against the Knicks, with two blocks and three steals thrown in for good measure. Kobe Bryant praised on a few occasions the team's early-season gritty vibe as a byproduct of adding McRoberts. Josh also developed a fast alley-oop chemistry with Steve Blake, which led to Lakers fans puffing out their chests about their own "Lob City." On a few occasions, the big lug opted to play the enforcer role in defense of a teammate, always a crowd-pleaser.

A strong start was thwarted by a January toe injury that sidelined McRoberts for six games. February and the first half of March was spent out of the rotation altogether, as Mike Brown opted to run with a floor-stretching Troy Murphy as the primary reserve big man. After winning back the gig in late-March, he eventually lost it again to Jordan Hill heading into the playoffs.

Prospects for 2012-13
Mitch Kupchak warned big changes could be afoot, and if Pau Gasol and even Andrew Bynum aren't immune to relocation, one can safely assume McRoberts isn't untouchable. The need for his services in L.A. will be dictated by a lot of variables. Will Gasol and/or Bynum be traded? If so, will an incoming big man be part of the haul? Will Hill be resigned? What are the projected minutes available for Josh? Should he be deemed expendable, a $3 million expiring contract makes him reasonably easy to trade or package into a larger deal.

McRoberts ultimately provided as advertised upon getting signed, and he can't be heavily docked for being the player he's supposed to be. But the inability to rise above expectations often left the Lakers wanting, and perhaps even searching this offseason. They could do worse than McRoberts, but perhaps better as well.


Previous 2011-12 report cards:

Josh McRoberts Exit Interview: Reflecting on a difficult season

May, 23, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
When Josh McRoberts arrived last fall, it seemed like a good fit. Young and athletic with decent ball skills, and his career appeared to be on an upward trajectory after a mini-breakout campaign with the Pacers in 2010-11. The Lakers needed bodies behind Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol -- particularly with the departure of Lamar Odom -- and for a reasonable $3 million, McRoberts made sense.

Initially, at least, returns were solid. Starting the first four games of the year in place of a suspended Bynum, McRoberts quickly grew into a fan favorite for his hustle and ability to finish on the break. "McLob" became a common hashtag on Twitter during Lakers games. "It was a lot of fun," he said. "It was a new experience coming here and getting an opportunity to play right away. It was kind of a whirlwind."

Unfortunately, it didn't last long. In early January McRoberts injured the big toe on his left foot, and from there everything about his season grew totally inconsistent. He fell out of the rotation entirely, found himself back in, then back on the bench when Mike Brown went to Jordan Hill, who basically out-McRoberts-ed McRoberts.

Though he never caused a stir, I know from conversations throughout the year the lack of rhythm and consistency in his minutes was frustrating, as it would be for any player. "I would have loved to be out there. I would have done everything I could to try to help where we needed help," McRoberts said Wednesday in El Segundo.

Now McRoberts, entering the second of a two-year deal with the Lakers, faces a significant season in 2012-13, not only in regards to his future in L.A. (assuming there is one). "It's not something I'm going to lose sleep over, because I know I'm going to put in the work to get to where I need to be and to have the opportunity to show what I can do," he said, "but I definitely understand it's going to be a big year for me, career wise."

(Click below for video from McRoberts' exit interview)

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Sunday, Jordan Hill put in a great performance in his postseason debut, scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in L.A.'s 103-88 win over Denver.

On Monday, a promising beginning may have been derailed.

Hill has been charged with choking a family member in an incident on February 29th, while still a member of the Houston Rockets. A warrant for his arrest will be issued, and Hill will have to return to Houston to face the charge -- third degree felony assault on a family member. According to the Houston district attorney's office, Hill faces a sentence of two to 10 years, and a $10,000 fine.

Hill posted two posts on his Twitter feed this morning, "Wowwwww," and "Unbelievable!!!!!!!!"

Obviously this has very serious implications, first for Hill -- this is a serious charge with real prison time potentially attached.

UPDATE (2:15 pm PT)- Hill issued the following statement Monday:

"I'm saddened to learn of the accusations that were filed against me today. At this time, i cannot comment further other than to say that my attorneys are working to gather all of the facts and evidence and I plan to cooperate completely with the authorities.

"I'd like to apologize to the Lakers organization and to all of their fans or the untimeliness of these accusations. I promise to keep my focus and attention on the playoffs during this time and to helping my team win another championship."

UPDATE (3:10 pm PT) - Speaking to the media directly, Hill said he didn't anticipate missing any games. Mike Brown said as well, based on his understanding Hill should be available.

Here is Hill's brief time with the media Monday:

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Lakers Late Night replay vs. Dallas, plus postgame video

April, 15, 2012
By The Kamenetzky Brothers
It wasn't always pretty -- actually, it rarely was -- but the Lakers nonetheless pulled out a 112-108 overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks Sunday afternoon at Staples. The team hunkered down and ragained control of the contest after a sluggish start, and consistent with their victorious ways short Kobe Bryant, a group effort ruled the day. Andrew Bynum (playing with an upper-respiratory illness), Pau Gasol, Matt Barnes, Metta World Peace and Ramon Sessions all reached double figures. Defensively, everyone who stepped on the floor chipped in his two cents. As a team, they clamped down in the second half (44 points allowed in Q's three and four) and kept the Mavs off the line.

We hit on their strong games, and more, including how the Lakers managed to win when three big cogs (Gasol, Bynum, and MWP) weren't models of efficiency, what happens when Bryant returns, and whether the Lakers are actually peaking heading into the postseason. If so, who gets the credit?

Good clips in the show from Mike Brown and Gasol. Click below for more from the head coach, Gasol, and Ramon Sessions.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Last season, even with eventual 6MOY Lamar Odom leading the way, the most reliable element offered by the Lakers' bench was unreliability. With LO in Dallas, the bench predictably floundered most of this season, but slowly experienced an uptick in effectiveness (if not raw numbers) as the trade deadline approached. Enter Ramon Sessions and his instant chemistry with Matt Barnes and Josh McRoberts, and the reserves suddenly resembled a credible unit. When Sessions inevitably was tabbed to start, I was optimistic Steve Blake, who looked stiff as a cadaver among the starters as a transparent place-holder, would regain his comfort level quarterbacking the reserves. Assuming that theory was correct, the second unit might suffer a dip losing the more talented player in Sessions, but would play well enough to avoid being a liability.

As it turns out, we're back to square one. The reserves have regressed to their collectively non-scoring ways. Any lead is jeopardized every time the Lakers roll largely with substitutes. And Blake is way out of sorts, which to me is the single-biggest reason this group is floundering. I asked Mike Brown what he has seen in the point guard that could explain his struggles.

"I haven't specifically asked him about it," Brown said. "I just want him to keep trying to be aggressive and keep trying to run the team in the same breath. The one thing I told him is I'm OK with you being aggressive more than anything else. I thought he played well at the beginning of the season and then he got hurt. And then he came back in basically the same role and there was a stretch where he didn't play as well and he really hasn't consistently gotten back to where he was in the beginning of the year.

"More than anything else, I think it's just him being confident and aggressive is going to play a huge role in that. The last couple of games, I thought he tried to be aggressive. Now, he hadn't made shots yet, but some of the things that he's doing out on the floor have helped a lot in my opinion."

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Rapid Reaction: Lakers 97, Timberwolves 92

March, 16, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
The Lakers started their post-trade deadline era in the same way they finished the pre, as a dominant squad on their home floor. Led by Kobe Bryant's 28 points and double-doubles from Pau Gasol (17/11) and Andrew Bynum (15/14), the Lakers built a lead against Minnesota and never let the game get away.

They won by five but were in control the whole way. Here are five takeaways ...

1. Ramon Sessions showed why the Lakers wanted him.

Sessions received a nice ovation checking into the game, and even got cheers the first time he put the ball on the floor. Literally. People clapped because Sessions dribbled. So you can imagine how excited they got when he crossed half court, penetrated, and hit a little floater in the lane for his first two points in purple and gold. Later, he put a wicked crossover on Wayne Ellington on the left wing, beating him clean and finishing at the rack, and followed that with a burst in the open floor, beating three Wolves on the break for another two points. Twice Sessions came over screens on the right wing and fed left to Matt Barnes for 3-pointers. In the second half, he penetrated and made a slick pass to Barnes, cutting through the paint for easy points, and later earned free throws against J.J. Barea going coast to coast in transition.

Moral of the story? Sessions gives the Lakers an element they haven't had in a long, long time, namely a point guard who not only has great speed in the open floor and can distribute effectively but forces opposing teams to respect his ability to finish in the lane. He creates easy points, something not easily found for the Lakers this year.

Final line: 7 points, 5 assists (against 3 turnovers), 4 rebounds in 19:26 of playing time. Not bad for a guy who hasn't practiced with the team yet.

2. Generally speaking, L.A.'s ball movement was great.

Eight players finished with an assist, and five had multiple helpers. Overall the Lakers had 21 dimes on their 33 field goals. Sessions and Steve Blake combined for 11 against only three turnovers. Bynum did some effective work passing out of double-teams in the post, as did Gasol (nothing new there). Best of all, they made extra passes without over-passing. While overall the mark from the floor wasn't anything special (41.2 percent), any deficiencies can't be blamed on stagnation.

3. Outside shooting was a plus.

Friday was the rare game for Kobe in which he was far more effective from beyond the arc than inside it. Kobe stuck five of his eight triples, but made only 4 of 12 2-pointers. It helps that most of his hoists from downtown came in rhythm, on clean catch-and-shoot chances, and his proficiency along with a few trips to the line left him with a tidy 28 points on 20 attempts from the floor. Barnes, who had a great game overall with 17 points, 3 boards, and a pair of steals, hit 3 of 4, and as a group the Lakers were a red-hot 45.5 percent (10-of-22). When they shoot that well, the Lakers are a tough team to beat.

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The McTen: No road redemption in Phoenix

February, 19, 2012
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
Here are your 10 additional things to take away from the Lakers' 102-90 road loss against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday ...


The Lakers followed a familiar script in Phoenix on Sunday.

Fall down double digits early while playing on the road. Expend a lot of effort attempting to mount a comeback. End up falling short because the hole was too deep.

It could have been Orlando or Miami or Sacramento or Denver. Same script, different day.

Knowing that his team had strung together three wins in a row and dismissed the Suns pretty easily just two days before, Lakers coach Mike Brown tried to cut complacency off at the pass by doing something he doesn't usually do: deliver a speech before tip-off.

"One thing I talked to our ballclub about before the game was, and I don’t say much, but I told our ballclub that this is going to be an interesting game because this is a mental game right here," Brown said. "It would be interesting to see how mentally we come out and we try to play the game tonight because for us, it could be a task mentally. So, 'Let’s go.'"

Instead of "let's go" it was "no go" as the Lakers trailed by 16 after the first quarter, gave up 63 points in the first half and never got the lead under 10 from then on.

The Lakers are now 5-11 away from Staples Center on the season and have a difficult road back-to-back looming this week against Dallas and Oklahoma City.

"It’s easy to play at home because you have your crowd there, so you’re ready to go and the energy is there," Jason Kapono said, and it was such a difficult night for L.A. that Kapono was worthy of commenting after going from two straight DNPs to playing 19 minutes. "For some reason, we lack that on the road. So, we need to find a way to come out here at the start of games and find a way to not start out down 8-10 [points] and always try to claw back and fight back."


Before the Lakers think about the road again, they must first worry about a home game against Portland on Monday. The Lakers might be 13-2 at home this season, but they will have some weary stars with Kobe Bryant playing 40 minutes and Pau Gasol playing 37 minutes against Phoenix.

Bryant finished with a game-high 32 points on 11-for-24 shooting, with 20 of those points coming in the second half when L.A. tried to get back in it.

"He was scoring and making plays for us so we kept the ball in his hands," Brown said of playing Bryant so long despite the fact that A) he had 10 turnovers and B) the Lakers have a game against Portland on Monday. "Is that something he can do? Yeah. But that’s a lot of pressure on one guy to make plays for everybody and then also to score the basketball."

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McRoberts odd man out of bigs rotation

February, 4, 2012
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
With his high-flying dunks and gritty style of play, Josh McRoberts quickly became a fan favorite after signing with the Lakers as a free agent during training camp.

It seems that just as quickly as the "McRambis" and "McLoberts" nicknames became part of Lakers fans' vernacular, McRoberts ceased to be a part of the Lakers' rotation.

McRoberts received a DNP-CD against Denver and played just 10 minutes combined in the Lakers' previous two games against the Bobcats and Timberwolves. Meanwhile, Troy Murphy's playing time has shot up as the 11-year veteran averaged 21.7 minutes and 7.3 points on 58.3 percent shooting in the last three games and the Lakers have gone 3-0.

"Troy has just played pretty good basketball," Lakers coach Mike Brown said before the Lakers played Utah on Saturday. "We’ve played pretty good basketball with him in the lineup. So, that’s the only reason why. We tried to start the season rotating four bigs. Then we went to three bigs. Then I think we went to four bigs again. We’re back at three bigs and I feel comfortable with where we’re at right now. It can average out to about 27-28 minutes for Troy and right about 34-35 for Pau [Gasol] and Andrew [Bynum]. If I can keep it there, then that’s pretty good."

When the season tipped off, McRoberts was in the starting lineup as Bynum served a four-game suspension. He had his moments -- six points, eight rebounds and two blocks on Christmas Day against Chicago and 10 points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks against New York -- before a sprained big toe on his left foot caused him to miss seven games. As the Lakers struggled to shoot from the outside, falling to last in the league in team 3-point shooting percentage at one point, Murphy established value with his shot-making ability.

"He’s helped space the floor with the second unit. He’s helped with the young kid, relieving some pressure off of him when he’s in trouble – playing pick-and-roll off of him or pick-and-pop with him," Brown said, referring to Murphy's chemistry on the court with rookie Andrew Goudelock. "He’s been solid defensively. He’s been OK rebounding the ball. Mainly, he hasn’t hurt us defensively and he hasn’t really hurt us rebounding the ball and so I think he’s helped us more than anything else on the offensive end where we need a little bit of help with production, especially spacing the floor to give Andrew some room."

So, Brown was asked, is McRoberts simply the odd man out?

"At least for the time being he is, but that can change at any time," Brown said. "You know how this league is injury wise, knock on wood, or anything else. They just have to kind of keep themselves ready."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 106, Bobcats 73

January, 31, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Man alive, the Bobcats are bad. I mean, really bad. If there is a prime takeaway from this evening, it's that Michael Jordan's new team is eons away from becoming Michael Jordan's old team … the Wizards.

Here are four more takeaways.

1. Kobe Bryant 18, Bobcats 15.

This was the score when Kobe finally took his first breather with 1:34 remaining in the first quarter. From minute one of this contest, Bryant was on a clear mission to take advantage of Charlotte's dearth of defenders capable of slowing him. He scored the Lakers' first eight points en route to an 18-point first quarter. Back-to-back triples were drilled. An easy score was manufactured after Derek Fisher spotted him so far under the basket he was practically sitting courtside. The lane was attacked with aggression.

I actually felt sorry for Gerald Henderson (charged for much of the game with checking 24) on a sequence in which, with the clock running down, he wound up faced up against Bryant just inside the arc. Kobe busted a series of his patented head fakes, but Henderson refused to take the bait. No matter. Bryant simply drained the jumper with the buzzer sounding. It reminded me of the scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" when Indiana Jones just shoots the guy twirling the sword, except Kobe was both Indy and the other guy.

Unfortunately, like the rest of his teammates, Kobe grew too loose during the third quarter, and as a result, his overall efficiency went out the window. I could have also done without 11 3-pointers. But during that first half, The Mamba put on one heckuva show.

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Early-season progress report: Answering 34 questions about the Lakers

January, 27, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky

Wednesday night, the Lakers knocked off the Clippers in what was their 19th game of a lockout-shortened 66-game campaign. For those not doing the math at home, one month in the Lakers have already completed 29 percent of their schedule.

A lot of time? No, but by this season's standard not a bad sample size, either.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire
Kobe Bryant and Mike Brown have been like peas and carrots.

From a scheduling standpoint, Wednesday also marked a natural dividing line between the home-heavy start and what amounts to a national tour for the purple and gold, as 11 of their next 16 games come away from Staples Center. Put together, it makes for a natural moment to stop and assess what we know about this season's Lakers. When the lockout (tentatively) ended back on Nov. 26, we published a list of 34 questions facing the team this year in the wake of last spring's playoff disaster.

Why 34? Because 20 isn't enough when the league lets you sit around all summer thinking about stuff. Below is that list, each with some answers.

Strap in, people. We've got a lot of ground to cover.

1. Who wins the battle between the well-rested knee of Kobe Bryant (and his ankle, back, finger and general skeletal structure) and a compressed schedule?

Knee? What knee? I thought we were worried about his wrist. (Which, by the way, we’re increasingly less worried about.) Meaning 19 games in, the answer is Bryant in a walk. He leads the league in scoring (30.2), a nearly five-point improvement over last season, while maintaining a solid shooting percentage (45 percent). Asked to carry an almost comical burden in the Lakers offense, at least as measured by his league-leading usage rate (35.9), Bryant has been outstanding. And spry. Very, very spry.

Basically, the man is a running, leaping billboard for German medical engineering.

2. Who wins the battle between the well-rested will of Bryant and the authority of Mike Brown?

The relationship between Kobe and Brown has been a success. Bryant has expressed nothing but admiration for his new coach, praising on multiple occasions Brown’s work ethic and emphasis on defense, noting the team wants to win for him because they see how much Brown wants to win, too. They know he puts in the work.

Doesn't mean the questions about Bryant's shot selection, balance, or how he's used offensively have stopped, but those would be asked whether the coach was Brown, Phil Jackson, Brian Shaw or Rick Adelman. They are, in sports terms at least, eternal.

To this point, though, one major concern -- Brown's ability to "manage" Kobe, has been a non-issue.

3. What will Brown's system look like, and how quickly will the Lakers be able to pick it up?

Not totally sure, and not very.

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Rapid Reaction: Lakers 96, Clippers 91

January, 25, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Man alive, would this be a good playoff series. I mean, gooooooooooooooood.

Here are five takeaways from the best game we've seen the Lakers play since probably the 17-1 stretch after the 2011 All-Star break.

1) Pau Gasol walked the walk after talking it.

El Spaniard entered this contest under a seriously high-powered microscope, having recently made perfectly clear on any occasion possible the displeasure with his role. In his eyes, it involved being parked on the elbow to either facilitate the offense or pop long jumpers, and little more. Gasol is of the opinion the team -- and he -- would be better served with him getting more post touches and more scoring opportunities in general.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire
Gasol stepped up after airing grievances.

His case was demonstrated almost immediately with a layup 49 seconds after the ball was jumped. Gasol maintained this "thirst to score," as Kobe Bryant would put it, throughout the entire game. Nine points on 4-5 shooting during the first quarter, none from further than 14 feet out. By the first half's end, he had 17 points on just nine shots. He also seemed hyper-conscious of who was defending him and exploiting the matchup. Reggie Evans may be a rebounding machine, but as a man-defender, he's pretty average. Gasol forced the issue against Evans, the highlight coming on a baseline drive precluded by a dizzying array of pump fakes and spins. He also called for clear-outs while faced up against the power forward behind the free throw line.

23 points were accumulated in all, plus 10 rebounds, four assists and a steal tossed in for good measure. There was also an outstanding defensive stand against Griffin, where he stayed in front of the All-Star during a series of twists and spins, then blocked the scoop shot.

After the final horn, Pau even found his way into a confrontation with Chris Paul, as competitive a player as the NBA offers.

It'll be interesting to see how Gasol and the Lakers plot to build off this explosion, but during his postgame interviews, the satisfaction in this performance was evident.

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Lakers vs. Clippers: What to watch

January, 25, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Mike Brown can insist he's not worried about the Clippers. Matt Barnes and Blake Griffin can claim there's no bad blood between these teams (if not necessarily each other). And people can debate whether the Lakers and Clippers have entered a "rivalry." Some will say the Clippers need to win more games (or banners) to make this a "rivalry." Others won't be able to agree on what constitutes a "rivalry" to begin with.

But this much can't be disputed. There are stakes riding on this game.

The winner of the Pacific Division is probably guaranteed at least one round of home-court advantage in the playoffs. The runner-up could end up fighting just to make the postseason in a loaded Western Conference. If the Lakers can't snap a three-game losing streak with a win against their Staples Center roommates, they've lost any shot at forcing a tiebreaker. Winning the division would require leapfrogging the Clips, which means making up the ground of four losses in the standings. With only 47 games remaining afterward, the mission's not impossible, but it won't be easy.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Metta needs to repeat his performance against the Pacers. Others need to pitch in as well.

Here are four items to watch once the ball is jumped:

1. Bench production

The upside of Metta World Peace's 11 points against Indiana on Sunday? It provided hope of a corner potentially turned, or at the very least, evidence of a concerted effort to park him in the lane that essentially makes or breaks his effectiveness. The downside? It was a stark reminder of how rare such an outburst is for a Lakers reserve. Before this night, the last Lakers reserve to hit double figures was Steve Blake on Jan. 8 against the Grizzlies.

The second unit's struggles to chip in points is an issue during any game, but could be spotlighted in particularly painful fashion against the Clippers. In an extreme example, you have Mo Williams, whose 14.5 points off the bench bests the combined averages of MWP (5.5), Josh McRoberts (3.7) and Darius Morris (3.6), the top three scorers among healthy reserves. There's even a reminder in the form of second-leading bench scorer Randy Foye, whose 7.9 points is hardly eye-opening ... except on the Lakers, where he'd be the clubhouse leader among subs. And despite Williams' presence, the Clippers remain just the 28th-ranked team for bench scoring and 29th for efficiency ... and still beat the Lakers on both counts.

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Nick Young
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
ReboundsP. Gasol 9.7
AssistsK. Marshall 8.8
StealsJ. Meeks 1.4
BlocksP. Gasol 1.5