Each week, ESPN.com Lakers beat writer Baxter Holmes, along with ESPN.com NBA writers Ramona Shelburne and Arash Markazi, will weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Los Angeles Lakers followers.
1. Is there any potential downside to having Kobe Bryant sit out practices so he can play more in games?Holmes: None that really matter. From fans to television viewers to season-ticket holders to corporate sponsors, Lakers coaches and teammates, everyone is better served if Bryant is in the best position to play well when the lights are on. Given his age and mileage, rest is what's best for him right now. If that means he misses a few practices, or even most of them, then it's for the greater good.
Markazi: In the immortal words of Allen Iverson, "Practice? We're talking about practice?" I don't think there's any downside to Kobe sitting out practices. He wasn't participating in all the practices during training camp, and I didn't expect him to participate in all of them during the season. Bryant is getting paid $25 million per season to play in all 82 games, sell out arenas and draw eyeballs to the television. Whether or not he practices in between doesn't really matter and won't affect the Lakers' fate this season.
2. Is Kobe being honest with himself when he says the contract discount he took was enough for the Lakers to be a contender?
Shelburne: In his mind he is. Others may have a different opinion. But Kobe has seen the Lakers go very deep into the luxury tax to field a championship contender (as recently as 2012-13) and has no reason to think they wouldn't do so again if the opportunity to acquire championship-caliber players presented itself. The thing is, the opportunity hasn't presented itself recently.
Markazi: Not totally. I mean, yes, he technically took a pay cut and, yes, the Lakers could have offered a max contract last offseason and will be in position to next offseason, but if Kobe had taken a deal similar to what Dirk Nowitzki accepted, the Lakers could have lured two big-name free agents as opposed to one and could have quickly positioned themselves as a contender. As it is, no big-name free agent wants to join the Lakers' rebuild with Kobe alone, and, therefore, their rebuild might not be able to fully take shape until Kobe retires.
3. On the heels of Xavier Henry's season-ending injury, is the Lakers' rash of injuries the past few seasons anything more than bad luck?Holmes: It is bad luck, but it is a pretty startling streak of bad luck. I mean, losing three players to season-ending health issues and we're not even one month into the season? Lakers coach Byron Scott said he's never seen anything like it. They might want to start bubble-wrapping their players just to be on the safe side.
Markazi: It's certainly bad luck, but at some point, it wouldn't be a bad idea to take a look at how the training staff is doing things in comparison to, say, the Phoenix Suns. Leading the league in players missing games because of injuries in consecutive seasons is a tag no training staff wants, and once it becomes a trend, it might be time to take a closer look at how players are being treated. If it was just Kobe and Steve Nash, you could chalk it up to age, but when you add Julius Randle, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly and Henry, it becomes a bigger problem.
Player of the game: Memphis’ Marc Gasol, who by the way has completely transformed his body a la Kevin Love, finished with 19 points on five of 10 shooting, adding 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals. The 2007 Laker draft pick sank nine of 10 free throws and was excellent in many facets of the game.
Stat of the night: As to be expected with Gasol and Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies outscored the Lakers 46-32 in the paint, which was really the only number on the stat sheet that was all that lopsided.
Kobe Bryant update: He played 13 minutes without taking a shot, then turned up in the second half, scoring 10 points in the third quarter. But Bryant again struggled late. He shot four of 10 through the first three quarters but just one of five in the fourth. He finished with 22 points in 36 minutes.
LOS ANGELES -- Marc Gasol had 19 points and 11 rebounds, Mike Conley added 19 points and the Memphis Grizzlies held off the Los Angeles Lakers 99-93 Wednesday night for their seventh victory in eight games.
Zach Randolph scored 16 points for the Grizzlies, who improved to 13-2 and kept pace with Toronto atop the overall NBA standings. But Western Conference-leading Memphis barely survived a strong effort from the 15th-place Lakers, who kept it close throughout a tense fourth quarter.
Coming off back-to-back 30-point games, Gasol scored 16 points in the second half, including 12 in the third quarter while the Grizzlies moved ahead.
Kobe Bryant scored 22 points for the Lakers, who have lost seven of nine. Los Angeles dropped to 1-7 at Staples Center.
Popovich also is expected to miss Friday's home game against Sacramento. Assistant Ettore Messina is running the team in Popovich's absence.
"It's not what you want, but the good thing is that obviously it's nothing big or you would not see me here so relaxed," Messina said before Wednesday's win.
Popovich, 65, is in his 18th season as head coach of the Spurs.
Messina became the first European-born coach to run an NBA team in the regular season. Referred to by many as the "Coach Pop of Europe," Messina is in his first season with the Spurs after a successful international career.
"Obviously, he's an international basketball legend," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said before the game. "I don't really know that much more about him other than he's highly, highly respected."
Messina is a two-time Euroleague coach of the year, and has coached in Russia, Italy and Spain. He served as a coaching consultant for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12.
"Everybody here tells me from day one to feel very comfortable," Messina said of San Antonio.
In recent seasons, his name was raised as a candidate to become the first European coach to become a head coach in the NBA.
David Blatt beat him to it, coming over from Israel this year to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Blatt is American born.
LOS ANGELES -- In the wake of their third player being lost to a season-ending injury, the Los Angeles Lakers are working on finalizing a one-year, pro-rated veteran minimum deal with forward Earl Clark, league sources confirmed to ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Clark, who started 36 games with the Lakers in the 2012-13 season, has been averaging nearly 29 points per game in four appearances with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League.
Clark's arrival would come after the Lakers (3-11) lost reserve swingman Xavier Henry to a season-ending Achilles injury earlier this week. Steve Nash (back) and Julius Randle (leg) are also out for the season, and Ryan Kelly (hamstring) is currently sidelined with a hamstring tear.
Lakers coach Byron Scott said Tuesday that team officials were in contact with the league office about applying for a hardship exception from the NBA to add a 16th player to the roster, one more than the regular-season maximum. Once Kelly returns, the Lakers would need to trim their roster back down to 15.
The Lakers have already been granted two disabled player exceptions this season, one each for Randle ($1.5 million) and Nash ($4.8 million). The team can use the exception to sign or trade for a player, but the exceptions, which expire March 10, cannot be combined.
RealGM first reported on the Lakers and Clark working on a possible reunion.
The injury-ravaged Lakers, who are 3-11 for the season, can use the exception to sign or trade for a player. They were previously awarded a $1.5 million disabled player exception for rookie Julius Randle, who is out for the season with a broken leg.
The two exceptions, which both expire March 10, cannot be combined.
Nash, who only played 65 games in two-plus seasons with the Lakers because of injuries, has not announced his retirement but is in the final year of his contract that pays him $9.7 million this season. He can still be used in a trade.
"It took me right back to that place again," Bryant said after practice Tuesday.
Henry's injury occurred during a non-contact drill in Monday's practice.
"It was just like mine, same thing," Bryant said. "[He] just tried to take off, drive to the basket and it just popped."
Since the injury, Bryant said, he's been in close contact with Henry, who averaged 2.2 points per game in nine appearances this season.
"Just trying to keep him positive," Bryant said. "It's an uphill battle. It's a long hill, at that. But he'll have us and he'll have me every step of the way."
"It's a fine balance at 36 [years old], trying to find the rhythm of strengthening your legs as the season goes on without wearing them out," Bryant said after his team's practice Tuesday. "We're in uncharted territory in terms of trying to figure this out, but we will."
Bryant shot 4-of-14 in the fourth quarter and overtime of Sunday's loss to the Denver Nuggets, and he shot just 3-of-10 in the second half of a blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks last week.
"The second half of games for me have been a struggle lately with my legs," Bryant said. "My shot's just been really short even though my legs feel good."
Lakers coach Byron Scott said Bryant, who is leading the league in scoring (26.7 points per game), might also play fewer minutes in an effort to conserve energy.
"It's a work in progress," Scott said. "He's played 19 years. He knows his body better than anybody, but we can see also watching the tape that everything was a tad short, which tells me that the legs were a little fatigued."
Bryant is averaging a team-high 35.7 minutes per game entering Wednesday's contest against the Memphis Grizzlies.
His metaphor centered on his team trailing by double digits -- nothing new for the Lakers this season -- and the feeling that it was up to him to do something.
To Bryant, that "something" is taking shots -- a lot of shots.
"I'd rather not have to do that, but you can't sit back and watch crime happen in front of you," he said after the Lakers' 136-115 loss to the Golden State Warriors last week, a game in which Bryant shot 34 shots in 31 minutes, scoring a season-high 44 points in a beatdown so lopsided he didn't play in the fourth quarter.
"Hero ball" is best described as the biggest name taking the biggest shot, specifically when the game is on the line. As YouTube footage attests, Bryant has buried many such shots throughout his Hall of Fame career, now in its 19th season.
But his recent late-game misfires have drawn questions from teammates.