Los Angeles Lakers: Robert Sacre
D'Antoni scratched out four seasons with Kansas City, St. Louis and San Antonio in the mid-1970s, averaging 3.4 points, 1.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists before his only option to continue playing came with a transatlantic plane ticket.
"We're giving them an opportunity to do something, and I think it's a great opportunity for them," D'Antoni said before the Lakers lost 117-107 to the Washington Wizards on Friday. "That's why sometimes I get kind of beside myself when they don't take advantage of it in the sense of really focusing in and understanding this is like playoffs to them.
"They should understand this is their future. This is not just, 'Oh, you know, we're having a bad year.' No. Next stop is Europe. So it's like, 'You know what? Let’s buckle up.' You shouldn't have a minute where you don't play hard."
Ironically, the one Lakers player who seems to grasp the most of what D'Antoni is preaching is Steve Nash. Nash played Friday for the first time in nearly six weeks, without the benefit of a full-contact practice beforehand to test where he was but with the determination to play anyway.
"It was probably pretty stupid for me to play tonight," Nash said after racking up a season-high 11 assists to go with five points in 19 minutes. "But I just wanted to play."
Even though Nash already has 18 years of NBA experience, two MVP trophies and 10,307 career assists (Friday's game puts him just 27 dimes behind Mark Jackson for third on the all-time list), he has the urgency that D'Antoni is trying to pry out of the rest of his guys.
It's something that is so noticeable out of Nash that even Washington coach Randy Wittman marveled at the 40-year-old's dedication.
"He loves the game," Wittman said. "He loves to play. That's half the battle in our league. With as many games as we play, you got to have that love and drive."
Europe might not be the next stop for Nash, but the reality of retirement is, and he's fighting to ward that off as long as he can with the same vigor D'Antoni is hoping guys such as Kent Bazemore, Kendall Marshall, Xavier Henry, Ryan Kelly, MarShon Brooks and Wesley Johnson will show. He wants them to embrace the fight to prove they belong in the league as the Lakers play out the final 14 games of this lost season.
"Maybe he can put the 'D' back in my name," D'Antoni said of Dwight Howard. "That would be nice. Some people have been taking that out."
This week L.A. allowed the New Orleans Pelicans to score 132 points, the Los Angeles Clippers to score 142 points and the Denver Nuggets to score 134 points. All three games were in regulation no less and all three games ended up, not surprisingly, as losses.
The Lakers have no business even dreaming of winning another game this season if they're going to keep giving up 136 points per game.
"You can't win that way," D'Antoni said after a 134-126 defeat to Denver on Friday. "We are trying everything we can do and the players are trying. Just a lot of it is that we were outrun, out-strengthened, outmuscled and out-fought a little bit. I don't know if the air is going out or we're tired or what the problem is."
D'Antoni has repeatedly said the team's best chance to win is by playing with a smaller lineup, spacing the floor and getting up and down the court, but when you don't have a ton of talent on your team, most opponents will do more with that increased amount of possessions and embarrass you with video-game numbers in the process. Ty Lawson had 30 points and 17 assists Friday. Kenneth Faried had 32 points and 13 rebounds. Those stat lines aren't even easy to get on NBA 2K14.
Playing at a more balanced pace masks the talent gap.
Just take a look at the Chicago Bulls. While they lost two of their best players this season in Derrick Rose to an injury and Luol Deng to a cost-cutting trade, they've continued to stay afloat thanks to their defense and grind-it-out style. In their past four wins, they've allowed a total of 358 points.
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Maybe the Rose Garden by any other name really isn’t still the Rose Garden when it comes to giving the Los Angeles Lakers fits.
The Lakers played for the first time in the re-named Moda Center on Monday and looked nothing like the team that routinely made the 960-mile trip up the West Coast only to get their doors blown off by the Trail Blazers, even in their good years.
This season wouldn’t classify as good, or even decent. More like dreadful. But Monday’s game was an escape from all that.
For the second straight game, the Lakers came out hitting on all cylinders on offense and all the scoring fueled their effort on defense. It wasn’t quite the season-high 126 points they scored against the Sacramento Kings or a franchise record 19 made 3-pointers. Then again, this game was against a Portland team that came into the night with the third-best record in the Western Conference, including a 23-7 home mark.
“As long as they’re fighting and as long as they’re competitive and they’re playing together and showing a good spirit, then we’ll be in most games and we’ll surprise some people,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said before his team's 107-106 victory.
Surprise, not shock. With 22 games left in the season, even D’Antoni conceded at shootaround in Portland “we’re not making the playoffs.”
But what once seemed to be a death march in store for the Lakers the rest of the way -- especially with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant’s returns this campaign looking less and less likely -- is now turning into a bit of a late rebirth for the Lakers.
How it happened: The Lakers led by as many as 15 points in the first half and took a seven-point lead into intermission by improbably controlling the boards 26-23 through the first two quarters and outscoring Portland 22-4 in fast-break points and 32-18 in points in the paint. L.A. kept its cushion for most of the third quarter before it got sloppy with the ball, leading to back-to-back 3-pointers by Dorell Wright to cut the Lakers’ lead from nine to three with 1:55 remaining.
The Lakers’ lead stood at the start of the fourth quarter. But things seemed to be slipping away when Jodie Meeks was called for a five-second violation for not inbounding the ball to Jordan Farmar in time from the sidelines. Farmar pounded the ball on the floor in frustration and had a few sharp words for Meeks for not passing it in sooner. But on the very next possession, the Lakers forced a turnover and it was Meeks and Farmar running the two-on-one break with Farmar finding Meeks for a 3 that put L.A. up by eight.
Portland got it back down to six thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge scoring two of his 21 points, but L.A. surged right back with a 5-0 run thanks to a 3-point play by Meeks and a Robert Sacre deuce, giving the Lakers an 11-point advantage.
Portland responded, cutting it back down to two after Wes Matthews stripped Farmar of the ball and passed it back down court to a wide-open Nicolas Batum for a 3 with 3:37 to go. Portland had a chance to tie it a couple minutes later, but Damian Lillard was called for a travel after dragging his pivot foot with 1:35 remaining, giving L.A. new life. Pau Gasol missed a shot, however, opening the door for Matthews to tie it up with a fadeaway jumper with 1:10 remaining.
The Blazers finally broke through on their next possession, with Lillard going 1-for-2 from the free throw line to give the Blazers their first lead since the first quarter and corralling the ball after he missed the second one, to boot. Matthews missed a shot from the corner after a Portland timeout, leading to Kent Bazemore streaking up the floor with a chance to get L.A. the lead back, but he lost it out of bounds.
At least that was the call on the floor. The referees went to the video monitor to check the replay after it was unclear if Matthews had hit the ball out of Bazemore’s hands clean or Bazemore touched it last. The call was overturned and L.A. got the ball back with 7.1 seconds left leading to an excellent play call -- Bazemore finding Wesley Johnson with a lob at the rim to give the Lakers a 107-106 edge with 6.4 seconds remaining.
Portland went to their Mr. Everything on their final possession, but Lillard was defended well by Meeks and his shot fell short at the buzzer.
What it means: The Lakers have some fight in them yet. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing for a team with a first-round pick in June’s upcoming draft.
Hits: Johnson had 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, two blocks and the game winner.
Bazemore hit a career-high four 3-pointers en route to 14 points.
That dunk Meeks had on Batum in the second quarter.
Gasol chipped in 22 points, Meeks had 21.
Farmar and Kendall Marshall combined for 16 points and 17 assists playing the point jointly.
Misses: That dunk Robin Lopez had on Robert Sacre in the second quarter.
Stat of the game: 0.7. The amount of time that went off the clock from the time Bazemore threw the ball in with 7.1 seconds left to the time Johnson put in the winning layup with 6.4 seconds remaining.
Up next: The Lakers play the second night of a back-to-back Tuesday at home against the New Orleans Pelicans. They follow that up with another back-to-back this week by hosting the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, then traveling to Denver to play the Nuggets on Friday.
While the NBA’s pre-draft camp in Chicago isn’t until May, and its player draft won’t take place until June 26 in New York, forgive L.A. fans if they’re perhaps counting down to those events more than investing in the 26 games left on the team’s regular season schedule.
In the first of those remaining 26 games, the Lakers face the league-best Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where Indiana is 26-3. The Lakers beat the Pacers in Indiana last season. But things were a little different then. Dwight Howard racked up 20 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. Steve Nash chipped in 15 points and nine assists in perhaps his best game as a Laker and Metta World Peace (remember him?) added 19 points, seven rebounds and two steals.
Now Howard is in Houston, of course, and Nash, still sidelined with nerve irritation, isn’t walking through that door. In fact, the only active Lakers remaining from last year’s win in Indy are Robert Sacre (who played just three minutes in that game) and Jodie Meeks (who went 0-for-7 from the field).
Currently owners of the worst record in the Western Conference at 19-37, the Lakers are just behind Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Orlando and Boston in the “race” for the worst record in the NBA. And with 26 games left to play, a look at the schedule has essentially become a look ahead to how many games they might lose, and to where that total might put them in the upcoming draft.
Tuesday’s game against the Pacers is the first half of a back-to-back for L.A., followed by Wednesday in Memphis. It’s the first of a brutal string of seven back-to-backs the Lakers face to close out the season.
What’s more, 17 of the Lakers’ 26 remaining games come against teams with a .500 record or better, including three games against San Antonio (two on the road), two against Oklahoma City, two against the L.A. Clippers, two against Portland and one against Houston. Those last five are, you may have noticed, the top five teams in the Western Conference.
Mike D'Antoni and Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis have noticed.
"I came into work about two weeks ago and Kurt goes, 'You know who has the hardest schedule left?' I go, 'No. Who would that be?'," D'Antoni related after shootaround on Tuesday.
"'The Lakers,'" Rambis told him.
"'Oh good. That's good news,'" D'Antoni said sarcastically. "I guess it hasn't changed any."
There has been a lot of talk about “tanking” this season, an idea the Lakers organization has rejected at every turn. But beyond the injuries the team still faces, and the revolving door of players they have had to incorporate throughout the season, the quality of their opponents is the biggest reason wins will be difficult to come by down the stretch.
They may not be easy to watch, but the games left on the schedule may put the team in a decent position come draft night.
Now that he has played more than half a season for the purple and gold, he's wondering where those winning ways have gone.
"Especially the owners and especially the fans who are coming out watching us and supporting us. You know it's going to get better, it's just no one planned on these injuries. No one can anticipate that kind of stuff. It just happens."
What has happened is hard to believe. From a seemingly daily injury occurrence to a cold streak that's getting more frigid by the day, this season's Lakers look nothing like the team that Kaman once viewed from the outside.
The loss was the Lakers' 21st defeat in their past 26 games, dropping them into sole possession of 14th place in the Western Conference, a half game behind the Jazz, a team that is "trying to go for picks," according to Kaman.
While the net result might look like a team going through the motions, the Lakers vow that plummeting isn't part of their plan.
"Everybody knows we want to win," Kaman said. "It's not like we're out here chasing picks. That's not what we're doing at all. I promise."
Happy 40th birthday, Steve Nash:
Steve Nash's strict diet that has aided him in extending his NBA career into its 18th season probably wouldn't permit him to celebrate his 40th birthday with a big ol' slab of birthday cake so he had to settle for a win against the Philadelphia 76ers instead. Nash led L.A. with 19 points, scoring the most points for a 40-year-old since Karl Malone scored 20 for the Lakers on April 1, 2004, and chipped in five assists and four rebounds, mixing in a highlight-reel shimmy-shake on Evan Turner and a teardrop jumper to ice the game late.
Lakers survive some controversy in Cleveland:
In one of the most bizarre finishes to an NBA game, the Lakers closed out their 119-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers with only four eligible players on the roster. Thanks to a little-known NBA rule, Robert Sacre was allowed to stay in the game for the final minutes even though he had already fouled out because the Lakers didn't have any other healthy players available. Steve Blake, playing in only his second game back from a right elbow injury, hit two big 3-pointers down the stretch to lift L.A. to the win, finishing with a triple-double line of 11 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds.
Jordan Farmar's return is short-lived:
The good news about Farmar's return against the Cavaliers after being out since Dec. 31 because of a left hamstring tear? He came out sharp as a tack, racking up 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting (including going 5-for-8 from 3), along with eight assists and two steals. The bad news? He played 33 minutes and the extended work load took its toll as he ended the game on the bench with a cramp in his left calf which led to tightness in that left hamstring again. After the fact, coach Mike D'Antoni said he tried to sub out Farmar for Wesley Johnson in the third quarter, but Johnson was in the bathroom at the time. Yikes. Farmar went back to being sidelined after the Cavs game and his status is day-to-day.
Injuries continue to mount:
As if Farmar going out at the end of the Cavs game wasn't enough, the Lakers lost Nick Young just before halftime as he twisted his left knee trying to avoid contact with Cleveland's C.J. Miles while trying to finish a fast break opportunity. Young went in for an MRI exam and was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture of the patella and a bone bruise in his left knee and will miss a minimum of two weeks. Add in Jodie Meeks suffering a severely sprained right ankle this past week and Pau Gasol (right groin strain) and Xavier Henry (bone bruise in his right knee) having their timelines for return extended -- not to mention Kobe Bryant continuing to miss time because of his left knee injury -- and it's plain to see how much injuries have hurt this team.
Minnesota runs roughshod over the Lakers' defense:
The Lakers' defense has had its struggles this season -- those three straight games it gave up 120 points or more in January leading to three straight losses come to mind -- but even though it allowed "only" 109 points in a loss to Minnesota, it looked just about as bad as it has ever been. L.A. allowed Minnesota to score 38 points in the first quarter en route to a long night when both Kevin Martin (32 points) and Kevin Love (31) hit the 30-point plateau, Minnesota shot 8-for-17 from 3 (47.1 percent) and led by as many as 25 before settling in for a comfortable 10-point victory.
It was the moment many people in the basketball world first became aware of Rule No. 3, Section I, Part A of the NBA's rulebook.
"Each team shall consist of five players. No team shall be reduced to less than five players. If a player in the game receives his sixth personal foul and all substitutes have already been disqualified, said player shall remain in the game and shall be charged with a personal and team foul. A technical foul also shall be assessed against his team. All subsequent personal fouls, including offensive fouls, shall be treated similarly. All players who have six or more personal fouls and remain in the game shall be treated similarly."
Ignore the archaic language for a second (I could do with never having to hear the word "shall" again after that paragraph) and you'll find the reason why Robert Sacre (aka "said player") was allowed to stay in the game with 3:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, even though he just picked up his sixth personal foul, which normally would foul a player out of the game.
Did coach Mike D'Antoni know what was going to happen when Sacre picked up his sixth foul?
"Yeah ," D'Antoni said with his voice trailing off and his eyes letting reporters know he wasn't being truthful. "Not really. But it’s a nice rule."
"I never knew when you fouled out, you could go back in," 11-year veteran Chris Kaman said. "I never knew that was a rule. So, I had my shoes untied and I was like lying down on the bench because we had like a really long bench. There was like 30 feet of extra space."
Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis and trainer Gary Vitti, who began their respective NBA careers in 1981-82, both said they had never seen anything like that before.
Said Jordan Farmar: "I didn't even know half the rules that just went into effect right now."
"I've never heard of it," Steve Blake added. "It's crazy. But it was a fun way to finish it off."
CLEVELAND -- Despite the Los Angeles Lakers coming into Wednesday night's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers with just eight healthy bodies available to play, coach Mike D'Antoni refused to use injuries as a crutch.
"We can play better, and we need to concentrate on that and not worry about the other stuff we can’t control," D'Antoni said with a little defiance, perhaps a little hopefulness. "Our guys are going to battle through it, and we’re just trying to stay positive and get better -- individually better and the team better -- and every game try to make a win out of it."
And the Lakers made D'Antoni look prophetic, for a little while, at least.
They tied their season high with 36 points in the first quarter and then set a new season high with 70 points in the first half, shooting 62.5 percent from the field as a team in the process. They led by 21 at the break.
But then Nick Young twisted his left knee on a fast break and did not return, and L.A. was down to seven players.
And then Chris Kaman fouled out, and the Lakers were down to six.
And then Jordan Farmar felt something tighten up in his left calf, and they were down to five.
And then Robert Sacre fouled out with 3:32 to go and the Lakers were down to five? Still? Sacre was allowed to stay in the game by virtue of a little-known NBA rule that requires teams to keep five players on the court at all times, even if a player has fouled out. The Cavs were simply rewarded a technical foul on top of Sacre's sixth personal foul and play continued on.
"I've never seen this situation before!!" Pau Gasol tweeted as he followed along from L.A. "Did anybody know about this rule!?"
It was bizarre. It was extraordinary. It was par for the course for this topsy-turvy Lakers season.
Steve Nash, who was supposed to have the night off, even scrambled to put on a jersey and get back to the bench in case the Lakers needed him.
They didn't need him. They actually won, breaking their seven-game losing streak.
How it happened: The Cavs cut the Lakers' 29-point lead all the way down to eight with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Blake hit two 3-pointers in the final minutes to keep L.A. afloat.
What it means: Sure, the Lakers almost blew a huge lead, and, true, they allowed a 16th straight opponent to score 100-plus points. But they somehow pulled it off and got the win despite some serious adversity.
Hits: Blake finished with a triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists.
Farmar had 21 points and eight assists in his first game since Dec. 31 because of a left hamstring tear.
Ryan Kelly scored a career-high 26.
Wes Johnson kept up his strong road trip with 20 points and nine rebounds.
L.A. shot 18-for-37 from 3 as a team (48.6 percent).
Misses: Both Jodie Meeks (right ankle sprain) and Jordan Hill (neck strain) missed their first game all season long by sitting out against Cleveland. They had been the only Lakers players to appear in every game this season up to that point.
The Lakers were outrebounded 57-40.
Stat of the game: 6-for-6. That's what L.A. started from 3 as a team.
Up next: The Lakers close out their three-game road trip Friday in Philadelphia against the 76ers. They have an off day Thursday.
Nash, who was actually in a different part of Canada, visiting Vancouver, British Columbia for the fourth time this season to undergo a rehab session with personal trainer Rick Celebrini while the Lakers continued on their seven-game road trip Sunday, took to his Twitter account to express his remorse.
"I love playing in Toronto," Nash tweeted during the first half of the Lakers eventual 112-106 win. "It hurts more to miss this one."
While the 39-year-old Nash is the most successful player ever to come out of Canada, the 24-year-old Sacre represents the hoops movement going on north of the border.
Sacre said when he was growing up, there were only a few Canadian pro players to look up to in Nash, former All-Star and current Raptors assistant coach Jamaal Magloire and Carl English, who played college ball at Hawaii before failing to latch on in the league after tryouts with the Indiana Pacers and Seattle Sonics.
These days, that crop of talent has exploded with a slew of top-tier NBA draft picks -- from Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson in Cleveland, to Kelly Olynyk in Boston and Andrew Nicholson in Orlando -- recently entering the league. It only promises to continue with guys like Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State), Olivier Hanlan (Boston College) and Nik Stauskas (Michigan) playing in the NCAA, to name a few.
"It’s a new breed of new athleticism coming into the game," Sacre said. "I’m just proud to say they’re Canadian."
Before there were so few Canadians to make the leap to the American basketball scene that Sacre found himself being judged against his current teammate in Nash.
"It was weird," Sacre said. "A lot of people compared me to Nash. But I’m like, ‘We play two different positions. Like, two different spectrums completely.’ But, they compared the recruiting aspect and all that. Again, I didn’t really compare myself because he’s a point guard and I’m a center, it’s two different things, but Nash has always been an inspiration for a lot of Canadians, especially for myself."
The Lakers couldn't care less about Sacre's Vancouver roots when they drafted him with the last pick of the second round, No. 60, in 2012. They were more concerned with whether the lumbering 7-foot, 260-pound center could handle the speed of the game at the next level.
"He’s improving," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. "He plays well. He has a nice role in a sense of he brings energy, he anchors our defense a lot of times, he creates room underneath and I think he’ll keep getting better."
Sacre is averaging 4.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor in his sophomore season, up from 1.3 points and 1.1 rebounds on 37.5 percent as a rookie. He had two points and one rebound in six minutes Sunday.
"He has his little jump-shot hook that with the more confidence he gets, the better it will get and the more confidence that we have in him we’ll be able to use that," said D'Antoni. "His whole thing is he has to go in with the mindset to bring us an unbelievable amount of energy and to run the floor, to pick and dive hard, to post up when needed and he’s got to keep it right there. That’s his role. I think he does it well."
Beyond being Canadian, Sacre draws some of his identity by being an against-the-odds second round pick.
"You know, you have to go through the struggle, man," said Sacre, who is one of four second-round picks currently on the Lakers along with Steve Blake (No. 38 in 2003 by Washington), Jodie Meeks (No. 41 in 2009 by Milwaukee) and Ryan Kelly (No. 48 by the Lakers in 2013). "That’s no joke. That non-guarantee (contract) is overwhelming for a little bit."
Whereas being a first-round pick comes with a minimum of two years of guaranteed money, second-round picks usually have to prove themselves as a rookie before their deal becomes fully vested. Kelly, for instance, did not have his salary become guaranteed until he made it with the team past Jan. 7 of this season. Less than two weeks later, Kelly scored 17 points in his first start of his career against the Raptors on Sunday.
"I think second-round picks are extremely important," said D'Antoni. "You don’t hit them all the time, but if you don’t hit them, it doesn’t cost you anything and if you hit it then you got something free. Because, really, there’s not that much difference between a guy picked 10th and a guy picked 30th. It’s just the opportunity and sometimes they have more potential at 10, but if you know how to play and you work at your craft and you come in and you get a chance (to play), then you have a good chance for a second-rounder to be good. Again, that’s found money. That’s good stuff."
Unfortunately, the Lakers do not have a second-round pick in 2014 after trading theirs away in the Nash deal.
Fortunately, they have a pretty good second-rounder in Sacre, who they already have locked into a deal for the veteran's minimum next season.
It doesn't hurt that he's Canadian either, especially on a trip to Toronto.
"He got us right through customs really easily," D'Antoni joked. "It was good."
"Both of them, we're hopeful," D'Antoni said. "But, obviously, they took a day off."
Gasol missed Friday's 105-103 road loss to the Utah Jazz because of the respiratory issue, the second time in the past four games he has sat out because of the condition. Kaman started in Gasol's place against Utah, putting up 19 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks before turning his ankle in the final minute.
D'Antoni said Kaman appeared to have a better chance of playing than Gasol.
"It looks pretty favorable," D'Antoni said. "He feels better about it. The swelling's not too bad."
Gasol and Kaman did not speak to reporters after practice, but Kaman spoke up about his vacillating role after the Utah loss.
"It’s not easy, but it’s part of the job," he said. "People are paying me to do a job. I need to do it the best I can, and so that’s what I try to do. It’s not easy, but I’m trying to be a pro here and do the right thing, and so we’ll see. Everything changes constantly."
If Gasol or Kaman cannot give it a go, D'Antoni said the team will look to Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill.
"Of course we want to win, but we definitely know it's going to be different," said Xavier Henry after L.A.'s 114-108 loss to the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night at Staples Center, their second straight defeat since Bryant's comeback. "Everybody in the world knows it's going to be different."
But (to continue the play on Green's epic meltdown) just because everyone was aware of the challenges that Bryant's return presents, does that mean they should be let off the hook and given a pass to figure things out before any judgment is cast?
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni saw it coming from a mile away, warning his team and repeating his message time and again to the media that the Lakers would have to do more to help out Bryant in the early going than Bryant would be doing to help them.
"We hoped we would win at home and then maybe have some problems [later]," D'Antoni said. "I'm not out of my mind just because we're struggling. I knew we could, that could happen, it's going to be up to the coaching staff and players to figure this out."
In D'Antoni's ideal scenario, somehow the Lakers will figure out how to master the balance between patient minds and active bodies as Bryant reintegrates himself.
In essence, he's asking for his team to compartmentalize how it welcomes Bryant's presence and how it still can execute the way it did without him for the first month and a half of the season.
It sounds like a tall task and actually stirs up memories of D'Antoni's predecessor on the Lakers' sidelines, Mike Brown, who used to tell his team when it complained about the clunky offense they were running that the solution would be just to play more defense.
Last season, things got so bad between D'Antoni and Antawn Jamison that the coach and player got into a verbal spat on the sidelines during a road game in Houston and Jamison aired his grievances through the media. This season, it's Chris Kaman feeling like the odd man out, but doing his best to be diplomatic about it.
Before Kaman received his fourth straight DNP in Wednesday's 99-94 win over the Brooklyn Nets, the Lakers' center said not only was he over the back injury he recently suffered in practice, he was cleared to play in the Lakers' 116-111 loss to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday but D'Antoni did not call his number.
"I was actually good last game, I just couldn't get in there, I guess," Kaman said. "I don't know. I'm ready to go."
The 11-year veteran is averaging 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds this season and started three games for L.A., however he had already begun to find himself on the outskirts of D'Antoni's rotation before the back injury.
Kaman played only six minutes in his most recent game action -- a 114-99 win over the Detroit Pistons -- going 1-for-4 from the field for two points to go with one rebound off the bench, while Jordan Hill put up career highs in points (24) and rebounds (17) in 36 minutes as the starter alongside Pau Gasol.
This isn't the first time Kaman has found himself searching for his role in his first season with the Lakers. The 11-year veteran performed well in the preseason before coming down with salmonella poisoning during the team's trip to China, causing him to miss 10 days of training camp and lose his spot in the starting lineup to Shawne Williams when the regular season opened.
"I thought I was playing pretty well before I got sick and then I come back and things are kind of changed for me," Kaman said. "I didn't plan on getting sick, it just happened. And then at the start of the regular season I thought I played pretty well and then we change all the lineups around."
This isn't like Billy Crystal's pet cow Norman in "City Slickers." The three of them are going in together on a full cow's worth of beef after it's been to the butcher, or approximately 400 pounds of cuts of meat for their freezers.
DiFrancesco, who has picked up the nickname "Grass-Fed Tim" around the team because of his belief in the health benefits of eating grass-fed beef, came up with the idea after connecting with a farm that raises grass-fed cows down in San Diego.
Kaman is getting half, 200 pounds, while Sacre and DiFrancesco are getting a quarter, 100 pounds, each.
It was originally supposed to be a four-way split, but longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti backed out.
"Gary Vitti ran out of freezer space, so I think he’s out," Kaman said. "So, I got to pick up the slack. I’m happy to, though."
Freezer space was an issue for Sacre, too, so he did something about it.
"I had to go to a Best Buy to go buy me a 15 cubic foot freezer," said Sacre, who estimated that the freezer and the beef will end up costing him about $1,300 combined. "It’s, uh, it’s intense."
The trio of beef eaters scheduled the meat delivery to arrive after they return from the Lakers' upcoming eight-day-long trip to China to play two preseason games.
"I've never won a preseason game," Lakers second-year center Robert Sacre said before Saturday's exhibition opener against the Golden State Warriors. "So that will be a nice thing one day."
In all, it had been nearly three years since the Lakers won a preseason game, beating these same Golden State Warriors, at this same at Citizen's Business Bank Arena.
At long last, and possibly signifying very little except that it felt good for a night, that 10-game preseason losing streak is over. With vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss making a rare public appearance in courtside seats, the Lakers beat the Warriors 104-95.
How it happened: Nick Young had 17 points and Xavier Henry had 29 points as the Lakers looked surprisingly good against Golden State, the team fast becoming everybody's favorite sleeper pick to win the Western Conference.
Jordan Farmar had 12 points and seven assists after drawing the loudest ovation of the night in his first game back with the Lakers.
What it means: It's always hard to gauge much of anything from preseason games -- except when the team goes 0-8. It's actually more instructive to look at which players got minutes, and how many they got, to see who is really in contention to make the regular-season roster. Henry, Shawne Williams, and Wesley Johnson played significant minutes. Elias Harris, Dan Gadzuric and Marcus Landry didn't get into the game until the fourth quarter. Darius Johnson-Odom and Eric Boateng didn't play at all.
Hits: The Lakers have been championing Young's defensive abilities in training camp, but let's not kid ourselves. The guy is on the team because he can score. A lot. And quickly. Saturday night he poured in 17 points, 14 of which came in the second quarter.
Misses: Fans who expected to see one of the Lakers three future Hall of Famers. Neither Steve Nash nor Pau Gasol played in Saturday's exhibition opener, both opting to wait until Sunday's exhibition game at Staples Center against Denver. Kobe Bryant was in Germany undergoing a medical procedure.
Stat of the night: 33. That's the number of wins the Lakers are being projected to win this year by sports books in Las Vegas.
But the past is the past. A new season is right around the corner. Hope springs eternal, right?
A lot has changed in Laker Land in the five months between the Spurs series, which ended in a 21-point loss to complete the sweep on April 28, and when training camp opens up Saturday. Most notably, the will-he-or-won’t-he game the team played with Dwight Howard ended with the Lakers stranded on the dance floor as Howard made his Texas two-step to the Houston Rockets. Beyond that, L.A. said goodbye to key contributors Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark, and hello to a handful of hopeful replacements in Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar and Wesley Johnson.
With that said, it’s time to count down to training camp. Let's take a look at the 10 storylines to keep in mind as the Lakers open up the 2013-14 season.
Seemingly whenever Bryant’s Achilles tear was brought up this offseason, one would point to Bryant’s age (35), his amount of career minutes logged (54,000 and counting between the regular season and playoffs) and other players to be decimated by the same injury (Chauncey Billups, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Elton Brand, etc.) to analyze Bryant’s chances of returning to form, but then couch all that with a statement along the lines of, “But I wouldn’t bet against him.” The speculation will end soon enough. Beyond the perfunctory questions of when Bryant will actually return to the lineup and how much playing time he’ll receive, there’s the more meta cloud of mystery as to what type of approach Bryant will take once he is back. Did all this time away from the game change him? Will he still be the player with individual iron will who demands his teammates to follow, or will he be more willing to meet them halfway? If the Lakers struggle, as ESPN.com’s NBA panel suggested, how will Bryant respond to potentially playing on a noncontending team for the first time in nearly a decade? After tapping into the fountain of youth for his “Vino” resurgence the past couple of seasons, does he have anything left for an encore? It’s sure to be fascinating.
2. What will a full training camp do for Mike D’Antoni?
"This year we should start off finding and solving some problems in October and in September when you watch guys play and [find out] what's their tendencies, and then you formulate your ideas and you try to get it going by November," D'Antoni told ESPN 710 in August. There were excuses built in from the start of D’Antoni’s tenure with the team last year, from the disadvantage of taking over a team that was 1-4 in the regular season following an 0-8 preseason to a roster that included a starting point guard with a broken leg (Steve Nash), a backup point guard with a lingering abdominal strain (Steve Blake) and a starting center still rehabbing a major back injury (Howard). Not to mention D’Antoni was coming off knee replacement surgery of his own when he took the gig and facing the fallout of being the guy the franchise chose over Phil Jackson. He’ll go into this season with a roster that better fits his style of play, a clean 0-0 record and more manageable expectations from a fan base that is no longer thinking championship or bust.
3. Who will make the team?
The Lakers have 11 guaranteed contracts for next season in Bryant, Nash, Blake, Young, Kaman, Farmar, Johnson, Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill. They have also signed Shawne Williams, Elias Harris, Marcus Landry, Xavier Henry and Ryan Kelly as camp invitees. How many out of those five will make the team? The most who can make it is four, as the maximum number of players allowed on an NBA roster is 15. The Lakers will indeed likely open the season with a 15-man roster according to a team source, with several of those players on partially guaranteed deals that become fully vetted only if they stick around the team later in the season. Williams already has a partially guaranteed deal, according to a league source, so you figure he would put the roster at 12 (D’Antoni recently raved about him in an interview with Time Warner Cable SportsNet). And Elias Harris also has a partially guaranteed deal, according to the L.A. Times, so let's say he's No. 13. From there, who out of Kelly, Landry and Henry will be the odd man out when it comes to cut day?
Yes, Blake will turn 33 this season, while Farmar will only be turning 27. And yes, Farmar has proved to be a championship-caliber player in L.A., helping to capture two rings before leaving as a free agent in the summer of 2010, but let’s not diminish what Blake is capable of. The 11-year veteran was at his best when the Lakers needed him the most last season, averaging 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists while shooting 40.7 percent from 3 during eight games in the month of April when L.A. made its playoff push. There could be plenty of time for both of them if D’Antoni is committed to cutting down on Nash’s minutes, but on nights when Nash receives a lot of burn, either Farmar or Blake will find himself riding the pine.
5. How long before the next Phil Jackson rumor pops up?
As long as Phil Jackson doesn’t have a job with another NBA team, his presence will continue to swirl around the Lakers like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. His name was already linked to the failed Seattle ownership group, the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons in the past year, but none of that has quieted the calls by fans for him to return to the Lakers in some capacity (and consulting on a scripted television series about the team for Showtime won’t be enough). With the Jeanie Buss-Jim Buss relationship continuing to be played out in the public eye, it’s doubtful we’ve heard the last of Jackson when it comes to the team he coached to five championships.
6. Can Kurt Rambis get these guys to play defense?
In a move that is still somewhat puzzling considering D’Antoni’s natural motivation to remove himself from Jackson comparisons, Rambis was brought in as an assistant coach this offseason. While D’Antoni hasn’t made any delineations as to which one of his aides will responsible for what next season, Rambis’ defensive mind will surely be explored to help the Lakers start to find a way to get stops. The Lakers were tied with Brooklyn for 18th in the league in defensive efficiency last season, allowing opponents to score 103.6 points per 100 possessions. In a word: dreadful. Now, without the services of two former defensive player of the year award winners in Howard and World Peace, the Lakers will try to figure out a way to improve in that all-important end of the court.
7. What does Pau Gasol have left?
After he turned in a masterpiece of a Game 7 in the 2010 NBA Finals with 19 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks, it’s been pretty much all downhill for Gasol. In the 2011 season he fizzled in the playoffs as Jackson’s “Last Stand” season went up in smoke. In the 2012 season, he was demoted in the pecking order as Mike Brown tried to develop a system around Andrew Bynum. And last season, D’Antoni felt compelled to go through Howard rather than Gasol to appease the impending free agent, not to mention that the Spaniard’s health was an issue during the entire campaign. With Bynum and Howard out of the picture and Gasol's body supposedly in good shape after he took the summer off from international competition for the first time in a long time, can he return to the form that made him a four-time All-Star and two-time champion, or will the 2013-14 season be a continuation of his rapid descent?
8. Will history be made?
Bryant enters the season with 31,617 career points, placing him fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. The next name ahead of him? None other than Michael Jordan, sitting 675 points away with 32,292 career points. If Bryant can maintain his 25.5 points per game career average, it will take him somewhere in the neighborhood of 27 games to catch MJ. Nash enters the season with 10,249 career assists, putting him fourth on the all-time list. He is just 85 assists away from Mark Jackson for third. If he can distribute dimes at his 8.5 per game career rate, it will take him a mere 10 games to move up the ranks.
9. Will there be a Howard hangover?
By most estimations, having Howard in Houston will help clear the chemistry in the Lakers' locker room and allow the team to start fresh with a much-needed attitude adjustment. But what happens if the Rockets soar to the top of the Western Conference standings and L.A. is left with a roster devoid of rim protectors? The prevailing sentiment from Laker Nation after Howard skipped town was “good riddance,” but will regret creep up if a healthy Howard has an MVP-type season for Houston? Will everything that went down with Howard haunt the franchise in the way that the vetoed Chris Paul trade still lingers around the Lakers? Or will Howard wear out his welcome with the Rockets in the same fashion he did with the Lakers and the Orlando Magic?
10. How will those new jerseys look?
Being a fan isn’t just about analyzing the rotation and cheering for what the players do on the court, it’s about having an opinion on how they look while they’re doing it, too. It’s not all serious stuff. Paul Lukas of Uni Watch recently ranked the Lakers’ jerseys as the No. 2 best kit in the league, just behind their rival Boston Celtics. It’s tough to mess with a classic look like that, but the Lakers are giving it a try, introducing a black alternative “Hollywood Nights” uniform as well as a white, short-sleeved jersey. If that wasn’t enough new wardrobe possibilities, the NBA is considering allowing players from the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets to put nicknames on the back of their jerseys, which could lead to a “Black Mamba” No. 24 uniform down the road.