Los Angeles Lakers: Theo Ratliff

Five roster needs for the Lakers

November, 26, 2011
11/26/11
7:28
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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While everyone is excited players and owners have reached a tentative deal to play ball again, the reality is a season starting on December 25 doesn't leave Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak much time to tweak a roster that, while not in need of a major overhaul, definitely needs some tweaking. A few after market upgrades to match a still-solid engine and transmission, so to speak.

No matter how the fine print of the CBA reads, the Lakers, well over the cap and into the luxury tax, will not only have a small window, but also won't have a ton of options available to make those changes. Meaning they'll need to shop quickly and wisely.

Below are five big areas of need,


Evan Gole/NBAE/Getty Images
The Lakers need a knock down 3-point shooter to space the floor for Kobe Bryant and their bigs.


1. Outside Shooting: If there was a single issue dogging the Lakers offensively last season, it was an inability to force opposing defenses to respect them from the perimeter. Derek Fisher, who took just under two 3's a game, was the only Laker shooting 40 percent (39.6, technically, but we'll round up) from downtown. From there, Lamar Odom and Steve Blake were around 38 percent, Metta World Peace was a tick over 35, and Kobe Bryant, who led the team with 4.3 triple attempts per game, hit only 32.3 percent of them. In the playoffs, things were even worse. 28.9 percent as a team, and only one guy (Fish) converted more than one of three.

Blake had performed at a much higher level in the seasons leading up to signing with the Lakers, and it's reasonable to expect he'll improve (I say this not only because I advocated so strongly for him last offseason, and would like to be proven correct). Unfortunately, Odom's mark was a career high, meaning regression wouldn't shock anyone, and Kobe has never been an efficient shooter from downtown. Andrew Goudelock arrives from the College of Charleston with the pedigree of a shooter, but even if he makes the team-- big if-- playing time will likely be scarce. Meaning if the Lakers want a pure 3-point specialist to stretch the floor, they'll have to do some shopping.

Lest you think the Lakers were lacking from 3, but gangbusters everywhere else, via Hoopdata.com, the Lakers were 26th in the NBA from 16-23 feet. Generally speaking long 2's are the worst shot in basketball, but they'll happen and it would be nice for the Lakers to convert at a higher rate.

As a team, the Lakers can absolutely abuse the opposition in the paint, whether with Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Odom doing what big guys do down on the block, or with Kobe operating in the high, mid, or low posts, making life miserable for defenses. Inside play will remain their calling card under Brown, but without the ability to knock down jumpers with consistency, as they did in last season's early run of dominance, the offense will never operate with the efficiency suggested by their talent.

2. Point Guard Productivity: Ask John Q. Lakers Fan where the team most needs improvement and he'll likely say point guard. And with cause! As laid out on Hoopsstats.com, the Fisher/Blake tandem scored the fewest points per game with the fewest assists than any other group in the NBA. They had the lowest combined field goal percentage, and, had the lowest efficiency and efficiency differential.

All appropriate caveats (Phil Jackson's offense didn't feature the PG, Fish and Blake are low level offensive options for the Lakers, etc.) aside, that ain't good. Unfortunately, the prospects for improvement are limited. Particularly after a grueling offseason of marathon CBA negotiations, it's hard to picture a 37-year old Fisher elevating his numbers all that much. Blake has real potential for improvement in a more traditional system, but even then it's important to remember he'll then be playing like Steve Blake should. He won't suddenly morph into Russell Westbrook.

Unfortunately, whereas the Lakers have some flexibility in how they address the shooting issue -- new blood can come in the backcourt, on the wing, as a stretch four, and so on -- only a point guard can improve the depth at point guard. It's a serious reach expecting contributions from Darius Morris, the free agency rolls at the position are extremely thin, and given their dearth of appealing trade chips beyond team cornerstones Bynum and Odom, cobbling together a solid deal in a tiny preseason while everyone is still digesting the new CBA feels like a reach.

Is the point a weakness? Yep, but more likely than not, the Lakers will have to make do, and look to compensate by strengthening the team somewhere else.

3. Center Depth: The roots of Gasol's postseason meltdown could very well be found in Theo Ratliff's bum knee.

(Read full post)

Offseason needs: Center depth

June, 7, 2011
6/07/11
10:20
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
At the risk of offending D.J. Mbenga, the Lakers weren't supposed to miss D.J. Mbenga this season as much as they did.

Unfortunately, the Theo Ratliff Era wasn't. Slowed in the preseason, Ratliff played a total of eight games before a bum knee put him on the shelf, and eventually the operating table in mid-November. It wasn't until a two-minute, "Hey, did you know Theo Ratliff was available?" appearance against the Mavs March 31 that he played again, and from there logged three more minutes through the rest of the regular and post seasons.


Harry How/Getty Images

The whole Theo Ratliff thing didn't really work out.

He was a nice idea for a team on a budget as a shot-blocking, defense-minded third center capable of stepping in to play minutes when needed, without upsetting the apple cart in the long stretches when not. I'm sure he filled that role beautifully for Lakers fans playing NBA 2K at home.

In theory, the loss of a third-string center on a team front-loaded with serious talent and championship expectations shouldn't be a big deal. In practice, it was. When Andrew Bynum's recovery from offseason surgery took longer than expected, without a credible alternative Pau Gasol was asked to play an unhealthy amount of minutes, straining a lower body already dinged with hamstring issues and completely exhausting any benefit gained skipping international play last summer.

Given how poorly he finished, it's easy to forget Gasol's incredible start to the season, when people were tossing his name into (very, very early) MVP conversations. As the minutes piled up, Gasol's play became more erratic. Even when Bynum returned, Gasol never quite did, completing what was still an All-Star season, but easily his most inconsistent as a Laker. To chalk up all of his problems to Ratliff's absence is too simplistic, but there's no question the demands put on him by a thinned out frontcourt hurt Gasol.

Assuming for now the Lakers keep the band together, tweaking the roster by swapping out the horn section as opposed to singers and guitarists, when all is well with the world, the third-string center will at best play spot minutes in relief of Bynum and Gasol. Foul trouble here, a matchup there.

However, it's a mistake, particularly on a team with Bynum, to presume all will always be well.

The Lakers have plenty of needs this summer. Outside shooting is paramount, and they must figure out a way to get more production from the point. From there, the list (our list, too) moves on to athleticism, perhaps finding another player capable of creating off the dribble, and more. In that context, a third-string center can't be considered the most pressing order of business. Still, there are plenty of ways to undermine the viability of a potentially elite roster. We focus a great deal on injuries at the top, but not enough to what happens to the guys at the end of the rotation. When those guys can't play, whether because they're hurt or ineffective, the impact of their absence trickles up and touches the stars.

Next year, the Lakers would be wise to get themselves a higher quality insurance policy. Fortunately for them, the free agent rolls are actually filled with a decent amount of viable names. Unlike, say, the crop of available point guards.

Scale of Importance (1-10): 5

PREVIOUS OFFSEASON NEEDS POSTS:

2010-2011 Lakers Report Card: Pau Gasol

May, 19, 2011
5/19/11
9:17
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Pau Gasol's disastrous postseason has already been dissected like a biology class frog, so we'll skip the rehash. The dirty little secret of this wipe out, however, is that his regular season actually signaled what laid ahead, albeit in more subtle fashion. Gasol's 2011 campaign was, by his high standards, spotty. That's not to say Pau played badly, because he didn't. Plenty of big men would be plenty satisfied with his numbers -- 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.6 blocks -- in line with the best of his career, much less as a Laker. But one of El Spaniard's greatest strengths is his consistency, and he wasn't nearly as reliable game to game this season.

Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
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.

(Read full post)

Sunday roundup: Ratliff back to practice

January, 23, 2011
1/23/11
2:05
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The Lakers, eager to absorb a Sunday of football, scattered pretty quickly after this morning's practice in El Segundo, but there were a few notable nuggets:

-- Theo Ratliff, who hasn't played since Nov. 9 and underwent surgery on his left knee on Nov. 17, returned to the practice floor, participating in the day's drills and scrimmage work. Phil Jackson was pleased with his performance, but needs to see how he responds tomorrow before making projections about his return to the lineup. Once he's back, Ratliff only plays if things go wrong for the Lakers (foul trouble, injuries), but P.J. sees value in his presence. “There are a couple of things that help us out. Obviously both of our centers can get into foul trouble, and [Ratliff] can play. He’s probably not going to be in the rotation, but he’s going to be necessary," he said. "He gives us an opportunity to send Derrick Caracter down to the D-League and get some playing experience, which is important. His practice, what he brings to practice, is kind of important to us, too. A lot of times people don’t understand that. His experience, his ability to contest, it can change things up so we have to work a little harder [in practice]."

-- Jackson smiled wide when asked about Jerry West's comments to the Orange County Automobile Dealers Association, in which he appeared to say the Lakers were, more-or-less, too old to play defense effectively. "He's right," Jackson said.

He was kidding, of course, but Jackson did elaborate. "We have to do a lot of things right to be able to play defense the way we want to, and most of it is about controlling the tempo of a game," he said. "There’s something about just speed. Outright speed. We’re not the fastest team on the boards here in the NBA, but we can do it if we control things in the right way.”

-- We broke down the team's problems in transition this morning in our chalk talk with 710 ESPN's Dave Miller. Jackson also elaborated on how the Lakers try to set up their transition D: “We have a pattern that we set up, so that we have guys on the boards [and able to get back]. The right sequence is that you always have guys coming back on defense, you always have guys attacking the boards, and the shooter has the option to follow his own shot because he knows where it’s going. So it’s usually two on two. Two guys, and half a man if it’s the shooter’s choice to go after it. Two guys going after [the ball] and two guys back on defense, and then you have to work at getting back and walling in teams. That’s the toughest time to play defense in the NBA. And you can’t do it off turnovers, and you can’t do it a lot of times off bad shots. So it’s got to be good shots, and it’s got to be the right time [to shoot]."

You can now return to your regularly scheduled football watching.

Meet Joe Smith: Lakers video

December, 21, 2010
12/21/10
9:00
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Factoids learned at Monday's practice about the newest Laker:
  • Smith is enjoying his 16th season in the NBA, long enough to have been included in a 1998 trade with Brian Shaw, now his assistant coach. (In a more recent development, he was also included in a three-way 2008 trade involving Shannon Brown.)
  • He's a well traveled athlete. It's been 12 teams for Smith, six alone since 2006. He even managed to get traded to, from, and be reacquired by the Cleveland Cavaliers between February 2008 and March 2009. But incredibly, save half a season in Philly with Theo Ratliff, Smith has somehow managed to never have played with any of his current teammates. This feels mathematically impossible, between his tenure and the amount of times Ratliff, Steve Blake and Matt Barnes have also changed squads. Apparently not.
  • A career as an NBA vagabond has made the big man a renter just like the rest of us. Save a place in Arizona, he has no permanent residence. Sensible man, that Joe Smith.
  • Because work has uprooted Smith so many times, he's a pro at the art of moving. The art of "making small spaces bigger than they appear," as he phrased it. However, constant relocation hasn't turned him into a bitter, bossy crab. He brought 12 suitcases (non-matching) with him for the road trip and eventual arrival in L.A., which turned problematic in Toronto where players have to lug their own bags. Um, hello! Wasn't he aware of Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks, who are on the team in large part to schlep his stuff around?"I know, but I'm new, so I didn't want to put them to work," smiled Smith.
  • Smith was a huge Lakers fan growing up, and Magic Johnson was his "idol." Thus, even as a bona fide journeyman, landing here doesn't feel like just place to drop his luggage. "This is a little more special than all the other stops I've been," confirmed Smith. "I'm not saying those stops weren't special. This has just a little more edge to it."
  • You can follow Smith on twitter at @JoeBeast95. And prepare to get in line, because the dude's tweeps have multiplied like rabbits the second he was traded to the Lakers. 3,000 followers and counting, he noted proudly.

As for his role with the Lakers, Smith isn't putting cart ahead of horse. First, he needs to learn the triangle, then worry about how he's being used. (Credentials, however, include the ability to stretch the floor from mid-range, plus solid rebounding and defense.) Along those same lines, Smith is a famously good locker room guy, but with a team like this one, veteran-laden and possessing a clear hierarchy, he'll likely ease back before making his presence felt. Mostly, he just wants a shot at a championship and relishes being in what he considers the best position of his entire career of getting one. Whatever is asked of him while in L.A., I'm guessing the answer will be "yes."

Check out the videos below from Smith's first meeting with the L.A. media.

(Read full post)

Podkast: Bomani Jones on Kobe, Pau, LeBron and Prince

November, 20, 2010
11/20/10
3:09
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The latest batch of ear candy, featuring a smorgasbord of topics. Your breakdown ...
    PODCAST
    Andy and Brian welcome ESPN.com Page 2 columnist Bomani Jones to the show, discussing L.A.'s hot start, Kobe's Call of Duty commercial, and Prince's discography. Plus, Miami's embarrassing call to "Fan up!"" Podcast Listen
  • We kick off the show with our Bomani Jones ("The Morning Jones,"ESPN.com Page 2). Living on the other side of the country makes Pacific time zone games tough to catch, which annually prevents Jones from realizing the Lakers' talent. Hence, the recurrent cycle: Bomani underestimates the purple and gold during the regular season, then the playoffs quickly make him a believer.
  • The notion of Pau Gasol as an elite player wasn't for Jones to accept, particularly after the 2008 Finals, when he looked "scared to death of Kevin Garnett." But enough time has now passed and Bomani sees a completely different player.
  • We discuss the controversy surrounding Kobe Bryant's Black Opps commercial. Many pundits have debated the "appropriateness" of Kobe appearing in a commercial for a violent video game, but Jones was more intrigued by the league's non-reaction. After all, David Stern was once bent out of shape about Allen Iverson's potentially offensive rap CD. But despite the media making a big issue of Kobe's participation, the general public hasn't raised a fuss, so Stern doesn't appear outwardly bothered. To Jones, this entire issue reflects how the NBA controls its image and how society perceives war violence vs. street violence.
  • Kanye West is compared to LeBron James, since both have been painted as talented guys with too much ego. We also debate the backlash over "The Decision."
  • The three of us are ginormous Prince fans, so a discussion about the iconic musician was mandatory.
  • After Bomani departed, Brian and I discuss whether Theo Ratliff's knee surgery, combined with Andrew Bynum's uncertain return date, should prompt the Lakers to add a big man. We wouldn't mind a new body on hand, if for no other reason than to enhance practices. But anybody signed isn't likely to play much with Drew and Theo out, much less when they're back. Thus, someone like Erick Dampier could be more trouble than he's worth. Just get a guy who can be landed with a non-guaranteed contract and call it a day.
  • If you're trying to find a promotion more insulting than the Miami Heat's "Fan Up!" campaign, just stop, because it doesn't exist.

Andrew Bynum to return some time during your holiday season

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
11:55
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
We've mentioned this before, but over the course of his career it has become clear there are few things in this world more unreliable than a time table for Andrew Bynum's return delivered by Andrew Bynum. In fairness, pinpointing his various recoveries, whether for this most recent injuries or the ones coming before, has long evolved into a sort of parlor game. And in fairness, when it comes to knee problems- particularly knees attached to giant, seven foot bodies- forecasting is hardly an exact science.

Bynum


So really, it should come as no surprise to hear the "late November" preseason target for Bynum's 2010-'11 debut won't be met, but as Dave McMenamin reports, his expectation is to return at some point before Christmas. Bynum has begun individual drills and straight-ahead running ("no lateral stuff," he says) and will rejoin the team on the practice floor "hopefully" by next week's Thanksgiving holiday. Give or take.

Don't treat any of these dates as the gospel. Instead, save your sanity: When you see Bynum on the practice court, you'll know he's improving. When you see him dress for a game, you'll know he's back.

(Read full post)

MRI's reveal bone bruise for Odom, bad news for Ratliff

November, 15, 2010
11/15/10
11:10
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive


The available joke goes like this: Had Lamar Odom hurt his right hand, he could keep playing and never know the difference.

(Hi-yo!)

His right foot, though, is another matter. Doesn't matter how left-hand dominant a guy might be, he still needs both feet to run. After complaining of sharp pain in his foot after Sunday's loss to Phoenix, Odom underwent an MRI exam Monday. The results: a bone bruise, not insignificant, but also not expected to force him to the sidelines for Tuesday's game in Milwaukee. Losing Odom would have been a huge blow, even before this season's all-star caliber play. That he'll likely suit up vs. the Bucks is top-shelf news. Still, bone bruises are painful and can linger. It would, particularly while Andrew Bynum is on the sidelines, benefit the Lakers to figure out ways to limit Odom's minutes until the injury heals up, because the Lakers don't have much depth up front should the problem worsen.

Particularly given the other half of Monday's injury news: Theo Ratliff will require arthroscopic surgery to relieve the pain in his left knee. There's currently no timetable set for his return.

(Read full post)

Lakers 108, Raptors 103: At the Buzzer

November, 5, 2010
11/05/10
10:45
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Earning a win and adding a win to your column are sometimes two very different things. This W over Toronto falls into the latter category.

Three Up:

Derek Fisher
Double digit scoring (11) on a super-efficient four-of-six from the floor, but the positives stretched well beyond the stat sheet. As is often the case with El Presidente, it was the proverbial "little things" adding up to make an impact. Charges were drawn. Four steals decorate his line, but there were also Toronto possessions interrupted by Fish breaking up a passes in proximity of the Laker basket. It's an uncanny ability Fisher boasts, and put on crucial display when he tipped the ball out of bounds off DeMar DeRozan during an otherwise uncontested attack, protecting a 93-90 lead from further vulnerability.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Fisher shot the ball well, but his impact measured beyond the box score.



Mind you, the vet also did the proverbial "big things" as well. A baseline runner with 2:40 remaining pushed the lead to seven, prompted Toronto to burn a full time out, and helped bring the crowd as listless as its team back into the game.

The bench
As a unit, they didn't consistently jell until late in the third quarter, when Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Shannon Brown helped convert a one point deficit into a four point lead to close the frame. But even discombobulated (particularly on defense), the reserves found ways to make a difference.

Blake drained four shots from behind the arc during the first half. Brown, who chipped in a dozen points, made up for a second quarter turnover by chasing down Sonny Weems from behind and blocking his layup. He also drew a foul behind the arc and sank all three charity chances. Barnes created a three-pointer by faking his own trey after Pau Gasol kicked him the rock, then firing a cross-court bullet to Shanon in the corner. (Generally speaking, the second unit was fantastic at making the extra pass.)

All in all, the reserves provided considerably more energy than the starting five, and arguably outplayed them in the process.

Turnovers/Free Throws
As Brian and I have noted many times, you can overcome bad play by taking care of the ball and capitalizing at the stripe. A dozen turnovers is acceptable, and 84.4 percent on freebies is even better. This is often the difference between a win and a loss when cruise control threatens to bite a team in the butt.

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Thoughts on Bynum, Odom and the starting five

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
2:23
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Courtesy of Dave "McTen" McMenamin, we learned Wednesday Andrew Bynum, upon his eventual return, will immediately join the starting lineup, a move that slides Pau Gasol back to power forward and Lamar Odom back to second unit kingpin. During yesterday's chat, several readers asked how we felt Phil would handle this eventual scenario, given Gasol's and LO's chemistry and Odom's through-the-roof production. Dude's averaging 16.6/11.4/3.6, plus gaudy percentages from the field (70.8) and behind the arc (80). Throw in Lamar's typically underrated defense and the success experienced with him as a triangular conduit, and it's understandable fans and media alike have wondered if Jackson might opt to flip the presumed script.

Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol will keep a
lot of opponents off the glass as a starting
duo.



As I predicted, he won't. And as I stated, he's making the right decision.

For starters, starting is easier on Andrew from a physical standpoint. Knee injuries have a way of stiffening if idle on the bench too long. Upon warming up before a game, it's important to get him on the court ASAP and keep everything loose. McMenamin noted how Jackson's general use of Bynum will bear this in mind, so health interests alone could arguably trump everything on the court.

But that's even not the case. From an on-court perspective, the logic is also sound.

As a pure force, Bynum and Gasol form an unmatchable frontcourt. I can't think of any two players with more collective skills and -- especially -- size playing side by side. Beyond whatever stats and the ability to compliment each other, Drew and Pau are flat out overwhelming. No doubt, Odom's value as a starter can't be questioned, and the early returns are hardly chopped liver. But there are inherent limits, because he and Gasol are similarly built. Bynum brings a different, larger dimension to the starting five, which should ramp up the basket protection and defensive rebounds snatched.

Equally as important, Lamar brings more to the second unit table than Drew.

(Read full post)

Practice report and videos: Blake and bling

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
7:16
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Tuesday's 112-110 win over the Houston Rockets marked quite the purple and gold debut for Steve Blake. A pair of third quarter triples to help spark a rally. The game-winning three-pointer to ice a come-from-behind victory. An entire fourth quarter of run. Not too shabby a way to kick off four seasons in purple and gold.

Blake told Brian and me during our Media Day show
he wasn't pulling a Ron Artest and placing the blame over a failure to Three-peat on his shoulders. As he noted, championships are won and lost by teams, not individuals. That doesn't mean, however, there was not relief in immediately demonstrating his worth to a demanding fan base right off the bat.

"It's just nice to start off and show people you belong. I'm happy to be here and I want to contribute," acknowledged the Maryland University product.


Blake's game winner was set up on a gorgeous cross-court pass from Kobe with 18.8 seconds remaining. Much was made last night and today in El Segundo about Bryant's willingness to trust Blake in this critical situation. In Bryant's mind, however, this decision to give up the ball would only surprise those not paying attention to Blake's career, because there's been plenty of precedent established.

"I've seen him play for years now," explained a nonchalant Bryant. "I've seen him make big shots before. I know he's not scared of the moment. He doesn't shy away from the moment."

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Lakers vs. Rockets: What to Watch

October, 26, 2010
10/26/10
12:17
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Tom Petty noted back in '81 how the waiting is the hardest part. Nearly 30 years have passed, and science has yet to discover a cure for the anxiousness during the countdown to an epic event. Like, say, the quest for a third consecutive NBA title. Thankfully, pins and needles can go the way of the T-Rex, because the season is officially on like Donkey Kong!

The two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers will do battle tonight at Staples Center against Houston Rockets. Just seeing their boys back in action would be enough for the Laker nation, but against a team capable of a compelling contest? Bonus! Here are a few items worth watching:

Pau Gasol vs. Yao Ming

This marks the Chinese icon's first meaningful NBA minutes since suffering a devastating foot injury during the 2009 playoffs (coincidentally enough, against the Lakers en route to the first of consecutive championships). Yao will be competing on the roundball equivalent of a pitch count, capped at what's been routinely described as a strictly monitored 24-minute mark.


Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

The last time these two tangled also marks the last time Yao tangled, period.




While this limit obviously affects Rick Adelman's substitutions and options, Yao is nonetheless present, accounted for, and able to play hard. His presence alone, much less his enviable all-around skills, drastically change the complexion of Tuesday's opponents (who still toughed out a 42-40 record last season minus the services of a true star).

Gasol, charged with the task of slowing Yao, knows this:

"It's always a test to play against Yao. Such a big presence inside. So many moves also. So it's always a challenge. So you have to give your best effort against him if you want to be successful against him."

The meaty task is quite possibly a blessing in disguise for Gasol. As ESPNLA.com's Dave McMenamin notes, El Spaniard's coaches haven't been especially pleased with his exhibition season gusto, and even the player has admitted getting psyched for meaningless October games can be tough after the thrill of back-to-back titles. In fairness, Gasol is hardly the first decorated veteran to feel this way, nor will he be the last. But with Kobe Bryant still on the mend, Andrew Bynum unavailable, and key players still learning the triangular ropes (see below), the early leg of the season isn't just an opportunity for Gasol to further boost his credentials as a player capable of carrying a team through stretches. It's being counted on.

Playtime now over, Gasol can start taking the challenge to heart.

(Read full post)

Lakers 105, Warriors 102 (OT): Three up, three down, plus videos

October, 23, 2010
10/23/10
12:21
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Overtime preseason roundball! You gotta love it! Actually, not so much. At least it was a Laker win keeping me out late. 105-102 over the Golden State Warriors, pushing the exhibition season record to an even .500 (4-4).

As usual, a trio of highlights and lowlights to consider:

Three up

Kobe Bryant
Keeping with an October theme, the Mamba's shot didn't drop much (six-for-19 for 22 points). But as I've hammered home, that will take time and his percentage doesn't matter to me. I care how Kobe looks, and overall, his activity was terrific.

Nine trips to the line, as he drew fouls on double clutches, drives and his patented "hand sweep." He set up Shannon Brown for a three-pointer off a fantastic display of footwork in the lane, swinging right and left without losing his pivot, then releasing a perfect catch-and-shoot pass. This was just one of seven assists, including a critical dime near the end of regulation.

Brian Shaw, filling in for an "ill" Phil Jackson (ill at the prospect of shlepping on the 10 Freeway, I'm guessing), said Bryant requested to play in the OT period, obviously a good sign. Shaw eventually replaced Bryant not because of anything physical, but fear of doomsday under his watch.

"After the first one or two times up the court, I was like, 'I don't want it to be on me if something happens,'" smiled Kobe's Three-peat bud.

In any event, a positive outing for Bryant after missing Thursday's contest.

The fourth quarter push
Since Bryant isn't himself yet, the 12-time All-Star can't necessarily be counted to carry a come-from-behind win. Thankfully, he didn't have to. A sizable deficit was initially cut with Kobe on the bench, and the lead eventually secured with Kobe on the floor, but role players hitting big shots.

A group effort from Ron Artest, Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, Derrick Caracter, Devin Ebanks and Vujacic sparked a 12 point swing in less than six minutes, with everyone finding ways to chip in. Half a dozen points each for Caracter (perfect on three attempts) and Vujacic (highlighted by a gorgeous reverse layup). Two dimes for Blake. Turnovers forced and energy galore, which set the table for the starters to close out.

From there, Brown hit a three pushing the game into OT, and all seven OT points were racked by Brown and Artest. For certain, Kobe did his part, notably the assist to Brown. But like the Game 7 win over the Celtics, this game served as a reminder of how his supporting cast shouldn't need him to do it all.

Which works out fantastic, since right now he can't.

Ron Artest
With 11 points (four in OT), seven rebounds, three assists, five steals, and a pair of blocks, this was a terrific all-around game to put the bow on a strong preseason for Ron-Ron.

(Read full post)

Lakers in Las Vegas: What to watch for

October, 13, 2010
10/13/10
10:47
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The Lakers are back on American soil, meaning from this point forward -- starting Wednesday against Sacramento in Las Vegas -- their preseason games can again be about prepping for the ones that count, and less about cool photo ops in front of impressive foreign landmarks.

(Though if they'd like to snap a few more location-specific pics in Sin City, here are a few suggestions.)

It's still preseason, so final scores aren't really the point. With opening night two weeks away, the goal for the Lakers is rhythm, in whatever form they can find it. Phil Jackson has been disappointed not necessarily in the quality of his team's effort in practice, but the schedule with which the Lakers have been able to get on the floor, thanks to the European swing. Six games in the next 10 days won't necessarily help matters, either, since more games equal less practice time. If they're to hit the ground running come Oct. 26, the Lakers need to address a few things on the to-do list.

Here are a few things to watch Wednesday night:

Kobe's minutes

Monday, Jackson said he'd try to limit Kobe Bryant to about 16 minutes against Sacramento, and going forward through the preseason. While Bryant hasn't shot the ball well at all (2-18 through the first two games), nobody really cares about his field goal percentage two games into the preseason. It's about freedom and explosion. In the eight-ish minute stints he'll play Wednesday, is Kobe moving with confidence and purpose, or does he look like he's holding back? If he's holding back, is it because he understands discretion is the better part of valor, or because he has no choice?

Is he willing to try to take a defender off the dribble? How much separation can he create on his midrange turnaround jumper? This is the stuff that matters more than what happens once the ball leaves his hands.

New players, new decisions

Tuesday afternoon, I learned something about the triangle from Steve Blake sure to ease concerns about the difficulty in learning the offense. "They say all the time, you can't screw up. Someone might make the wrong cut, but it turns out to be the right cut because everyone else will fill in to where he was supposed to go," he said. "It's OK, because everyone can read off that guy."

If you're waiting for the caveat, here it comes: Players can read off their teammates only if everyone understands the language.

"Right," Blake smiled. "That's the challenge."

One that is magnified when the Lakers use any of their five new players in bulk, as has happened frequently through the first two preseason games, thanks to injuries and the normal practice of extending minutes for reserves during the exhibition season. Nobody expects even heady players like Blake -- let alone rookies like Derrick Caracter or Devin Ebanks -- to understand the offense like Kobe so soon in their triangle education. One way to measure fluency is in the speed with which players make decisions, whether on or off the ball. If a cartoon-like thought bubble forms over a player's head, that's not good.

(Read full post)

A Laker-centric look at the NBA.com General Manager Survey

October, 8, 2010
10/08/10
10:26
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
As Brian recently noted, an NBA.com survey conducted among General Managers revealed oodles of front office confidence (or resigned acceptance) in the Lakers' ability to Three-peat. 63 percent are predicting another championship, to be exact. And as one would reasonably suspect, other aspects polled in the extensive survey featured even more props for the Laker weaponry.

It would be too lengthy a process to analyze quite literally every mention of a Laker, but I wanted to at least address a fair share of the high points.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant was a staple in this poll.



Who will win the 2011 MVP?
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City (66.7 percent), Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers (25.9 percent)
Also receiving votes: Dwight Howard, Orlando; LeBron James, Miami
Last year: LeBron James 69 percent

These numbers somewhat reflect my MVP voting prediction from our panel back in September. There are differences, to be sure. In particular, my opinion Kobe will edge out Durant by a nose. But General Managers are picturing the same front-running pair, as well as a precipitous fall for the two-time reigning hardware owner. It'll take at least one title to quash the backlash currently dogging The King, which I'm predicting won't happen come this particular June. Certainly not before the MVP votes are counted in April, at any rate. I still think it's a two-man race between Kobe and Durant.

If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be?
Kevin Durant (55.6 percent), LeBron James (25.9 percent), Kobe Bryant/Dwight Howard (7.4 percent) Dwyane Wade, Miami (3.7 percent)
Last year: LeBron James 78.6 percent

Of any place Bryant was cited, you could argue this represents the greatest display of respect. Put aside any "Who's the best player in the league?" arguments, and simply take the question at its most literal. A franchise is being started from scratch, meaning it might take time to become good. Practically speaking, this means you'd prefer a superstar in his prime (if even that old), which makes a 32-year old Mamba less than ideal. Even taking into account the high level Kobe's still playing at, the shelf life is relatively pronounced. That Bryant sparks even this much anti-conventional wisdom speaks to how valued he is around the league.

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0