Kobe Bryant

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Los Angeles Lakers


Last season: It was supposed to be yet another year spent contending for a championship for a storied Lakers franchise that already has 16 of them. L.A. loaded up with free agent talent in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, and was on paper the team most believed would stand in the way of a second straight Miami Heat title.

Instead, it was a season full of drama and disaster. The Lakers were decimated by injuries to nearly anyone that mattered, Howard struggled to embrace head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system and playing alongside Kobe Bryant, and the team snuck into the playoffs only to be swept in the first round by the Spurs.

If all of that wasn’t bad enough, Bryant went down with a torn Achilles injury near the end of last season that will have a lingering effect on the team entering this one.

Signature highlight from last season: Bryant’s Achilles injury and subsequent free throws that helped give the Lakers a much-needed late season win to keep their playoff hopes alive was a candidate here, as was Steve Nash, literally the best teammate in the game, losing his temper Dwight Howard. But those were both bummers for Lakers fans, so instead let’s revisit some vintage Bryant heroics during one of the team’s most exciting wins of the year.

Key player changes: The loss of Dwight Howard in free agency immediately dropped the Lakers out of championship contention in the eyes of most pundits. But L.A. did a nice job of adding talented role players at below market value to support the stars still in place on the roster.

  • IN: Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, and Wesley Johnson were all signed to guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season.
  • OUT: Dwight Howard choose to sign in Houston in free agency; Earl Clark did the same with the Cavaliers, as did Antawn Jamison, now with the Clippers. Metta World Peace was waived using the amnesty provision, and was picked up by the Knicks. Other seldom-used players who are no longer Lakers: Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, Devin Ebanks.

Keys to the Lakers season:

1) The health of Kobe Bryant: Recovering from an injury as severe as a torn Achilles is no small task, even for someone with a ruthless work ethic and insanely high pain tolerance as Kobe Bryant. While his rehabilitation appears to be going well and Bryant has said that he’s ahead of schedule, the timing of his return isn’t nearly as important as the quality of his play whenever he does see the court this season for the first time.

Assuming a healthy Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, with the latter playing in a contract year as the featured big man in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, there is still legitimate star power on the Lakers roster beyond whatever Bryant brings. He puts the team over the top, however, in terms of having enough talent to do real damage — but only if he’s back playing close to the level we’ve come to expect, at least for the majority of the season.

2) Pau Gasol returning to All-Star form: Ever since coming to the Lakers via trade during the 2008 season, Gasol has been the one who largely was blamed publicly when things weren’t right with the team. He’s been the constant subject of trade rumors, and due to a variety of factors, many thought it was a long shot that he’d even be back with the Lakers this season.

Gasol appears healthy now, and after being marginalized in favor of Dwight Howard, D’Antoni has spent every opportunity praising Gasol’s abilities, and seems genuinely excited about being able to feature him in the offense. There should be a monster year on the horizon for the Spaniard, and depending on what version of Bryant we see, Gasol’s return to form could help the Lakers overachieve by most people’s standards.

On the flip side, Gasol is in the final year of his contract, and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. If he stumbles at all or the team doesn’t produce wins in spite of his stellar play, the Lakers could look to dump him at the trade deadline in order to make sure they get something in return for a player of his caliber. A lot will hinge on Gasol’s play this season, both in terms of the team’s fortunes, as well as what the future may hold for him personally.

3) One word — Defense: The good news for the Lakers is that Mike D’Antoni has had a full training camp to put in his offense, and the Lakers have added players like Nick Young and Jordan Farmar who should thrive in his system while having no trouble putting up big numbers.

But D’antoni teams have never been known for their lock-down defense, and the personnel in place this year looks to be woefully inadequate on that end of the floor. Nash, Young, and Chris Kaman have a history of struggling defensively, yet all are expected to play big minutes this season. Bryant has proven he can play above average defense over the years, but was dreadful there a season ago, largely by personal choice.

These Lakers don’t have quite enough firepower to outscore teams, and don’t have nearly enough defensively to shut their opponents down for extended stretches .That middle ground is likely going to be troublesome to escape, and along with the uncertainty surrounding Bryant, it’s the primary reason that most have the Lakers finishing out of the playoffs.

Why you should watch: Well, the first reason is you won’t have much of a choice — the Lakers will be on national television 29 times. Beyond that, the intrigue surrounding how Bryant returns, what Nash has left to give in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, and what ends up happening with Gasol are each reasons on their own, and combined they’ll make the Lakers as interesting as usual.

Prediction: 46-36, one more regular season win than last year’s supposed world-beater squad, and enough to secure one of the final two playoff spots in the West.

Look, there are six teams that are essentially guaranteed to make the postseason in the Western Conference, which only leaves two spots up for grabs. There are a lot of “ifs” surrounding this Lakers team, but I’m taking the optimistic approach on Kobe’s health and the overall team talent being enough to finish in seventh or eighth place when the regular season is finished.

Justin Anderson cuts under basket, reaches back for putback dunk (video)

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One player dunking on another is always fantastic.

But some of the best jams come when the dunker artfully dodges defenders in the first place.

Mavericks forward Justin Anderson did that with this putback slam against the Pacers last night.

Wednesday featured a ridiculous number of players getting dunked on (videos)

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 26:  Willie Cauley-Stein #00 of the Sacramento Kings slam dunks the ball over Marquese Chriss #0 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the preseason NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 26, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Twenty NBA teams started their seasons last night, providing a glorious onslaught of basketball unlike anything we’ve seen in months.

One of the best parts? It seems players forgot they were supposed to duck out of the way, rather than defend, dunks.

That led to some fantastic slams

Gerald Henderson on Domantas Sabonis:

Lance Stephenson on Kenneth Faried:

Jonas Valanciunas on Boban Marjanovic:

Willie-Cauley Stein on Marquese Chriss:

‘Our 49 Pulse angels’: Orlando Magic honor those killed in nightclub

A banner printed with the names of the Pulse nightclub shooting victims and 49, the number of people who died in the shooting, is unveiled in the Amway Center during a tribute prior to an NBA basketball game between the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — There’s nothing that can give Mayra Alvear back what she lost, or ease her pain, or calm her anger.

With one gesture, she at least felt some joy again.

Underneath a softly swaying banner displaying the number 49 – commemorating the number of lives lost – and as first responders unfurled and held a massive American flag for the national anthem, the Orlando Magic paid tribute Wednesday night to the victims and survivors of the Pulse gay nightclub massacre with an emotional ceremony immediately before the team’s season-opener against the Miami Heat.

“We felt the recognition needed to be significant,” Magic president Alex Martins said. “We think part of the healing process for our community is making sure we don’t forget. And we felt it was most appropriate that we do it on opening night, so it receives the proper recognition and exposure – but also gave the greatest number of our fans the opportunity to recognize and remember.”

Some survivors were present, as were some relatives of those who were killed on June 12 in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman, Omar Mateen, was killed after a three-hour standoff during an exchange of fire with SWAT team members.

“What the Orlando Magic are doing is amazing, is beautiful. I’m honored and grateful,” said Alvear, the mother of Pulse victim Amanda Alvear. “That they are lifting the number 49 out of respect, a symbol for our 49 Pulse angels, it has a deep meaning – demonstration of love and that they care, that all of them will be remembered.”

The nightclub remains fenced off, yet is still attracting a daily stream of mourners. Banners on the fence are dotted with thousands of handwritten messages from visitors, with some flowers and candles on the ground.

Martins was the chair of OneOrlando, a fund that collected $29.5 million in donations that’s being distributed to 299 claimants. At the time of the shooting, the Magic were just a few weeks removed from the hiring of Frank Vogel as their new coach, and less than three weeks away from a free-agent period where the roster would be greatly revamped.

But Martins quickly volunteered anyway, helping oversee the massive task.

“One of the ways that I felt I could help, that I could assist, was to help with the administration of the fund,” Martins said. “So I raised my hand immediately.”

The tribute coming before a Magic-Heat game was fitting, given how many of those affected by the events of that night were from South Florida.

It was particularly poignant to one survivor.

Heat employee Laura Vargas was shot twice that night. She can recall every detail – the strobe lights, the Heineken in her hand, how she was putting away her ID as she heard the first shots. She remembers watching Mateen reload a weapon, the blood pouring from her wounds, even the look on the police officer’s face when she was rescued.

Her best friend, Luis Vielma, who Vargas said was straight, was one of the victims.

“It’s not even just about me,” Vargas said. “It’s coping that he’s not there anymore. It’s a lot to carry around.”

Vargas isn’t able yet to resume work. She was at the arena the Heat call home last week for an event called “Loud And Proud” that celebrated the LGBTQ community, but couldn’t shake the feeling Mateen was there. Her flashbacks and nightmares are terrifying – she said she had “a total breakdown” recently at Disney when a fireworks show sounded like gunfire.

Nights like Wednesday, she said, make it all a bit easier.

“The love that’s come out of this is not fading,” Vargas said. “It brings me comfort to know that my best friend is one of the reasons why this world is a little bit less crappy, that his life isn’t just forgotten. No. He made a difference. And he would be happy to know that even with the chaos, the horror, he made a change.”

This was not a one-night commitment for the Magic, who have contributed both money and staff resources to the ongoing healing process and plan to continue. In addition to the banner, the team aired a video in tribute and invited singer Brandon Parsons – who composed a song called “Forty-Nine Times” – to perform pregame.

Parsons’ song included this phrase: “Takes more than just a gun, more than you to tear us down, so let your colors fly free.”

“It’s been so impactful since the day of that event,” said Otto Drozd, the Fire Chief for Orange County Fire Rescue. “This is part of the healing process. We continue to remember the 49 that lost their lives and those that were injured that night, and really, we do that because we don’t want to relive it.”

Joel Embiid hits shots, blocks Westbrook, looks good in debut


And somewhere, Sam Hinkie weeps.

After two seasons on the sidelines with foot injuries, Joel Embiid played his first NBA game Wednesday night — and he looked good — 20 points, seven rebounds, and a couple of blocked shots. The Philadelphia crowd loved him — when he opened the game with a nice move and free-throw line jumper, followed by a block of Russell Westbrook, the arena nearly exploded. He was later serenaded with “trust the process” chants as he shot free throws.

He’s still a work in progress — he tried to do too much rather than let the game come to him. That led to 7-of-17 shooting and him chasing blocks on defense and getting out of position. He played like an over-amped rookie. Which he was. (Apparently, some Philly fans were a little over-amped, too.)

But one with a world of talent. The Sixers have something here.