Kobe Bryant

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

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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.

Rutgers uses NBA incomes of Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Andre Drummond, Steven Adams to pitch recruits

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MAY 24:  Ray Allen #20 of the Boston Celtics goes up for a shot over Richard Hamilton #32 of the Detroit Pistons in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs on May 24, 2008 at the Palace at Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  The Celtics won 94-80.  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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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College men’s basketball teams earn vast revenue on the backs of players while conspiring to pay those players no more than a scholarship and some expenses. In lieu of the market dictating player salaries, that revenue is funneled to administrators and coaches – like Rutgers’ Steve Pikiell, who earns $1.6 million per year.

But the money in basketball is real, and college players want a taste. So, many coaches try to sell players that they’ll prepare them for the NBA, where they can make millions.

Which led to this Rutgers tweet featuring former Connecticut players Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Andre Drummond and former Pittsburgh player Steven Adams:

The heck?

Rutgers’ only NBA players in the last two decades were Hamady N’Diaye and Quincy Douby. So, the Scarlet Knights got creative.

An assistant on Pikiell’s staff was an assistant at UConn when Allen and Hamilton played there. Another was an assistant when Drummond was a Huskie. Yet another was a Pitt assistant during Adams’ time.

Just when I thought college teams couldn’t get any cheaper when it comes to their players, here comes Rutgers using its barely earned currency in recruiting.

Connecticut took notice:

Here’s an idea: Instead of squabbling over who deserves credit for getting players paid later, use some of that revenue to pay players now.

(hat tip: Mark Sandritter of SB Nation)

Agent: Former Kansas star Perry Ellis to sign with Hornets

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Perry Ellis #34 of the Kansas Jayhawks handles the ball against Mikal Bridges #25 of the Villanova Wildcats and Josh Hart #3 in the second half during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Every 2016 college basketball consensus All-American has reached the NBA.

Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, Jakob Poeltl, Denzel Valentine, Brice Johnson were drafted in the first round and received their guaranteed salaries. Tyler Ulis, Malcolm Brogdon and Georges Niang were picked in the second round and signed contracts. Jarrod Uthoff signed with the Raptors as an undrafted free agent.

And now Perry Ellis is headed to Charlotte.

Gary Bedore of The Kansas City Star:

Former Kansas basketball forward Perry Ellis, who had successful sports hernia surgery Tuesday in Philadelphia, will attend preseason training camp of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and attempt to make the team as a free agent, his agent, Mark Bartelstein, told The Star on Tuesday afternoon.

He’s expected to miss three to four weeks of individual workouts prior to training camp following surgery.

Ellis, who averaged a team-leading 16.9 points for 33-5 KU last season, does not have a guaranteed contract.

The Hornets have just 13 players – two shy of the regular-season limit – with guaranteed salaries. Ellis will compete with Aaron Harrison (unguaranteed), Mike Tobey ($75,000) and Treveon Graham ($75,000 guaranteed) for those final two spots.

I’d really like the chances of Ellis, who’s polished for a rookie after four years at Kansas, if he weren’t coming off an injury. Even if he’s fully healed to begin training camp, he’ll be rusty. As is, I still think he has a solid shot.

Ellis scored well in the post against college players, but the 6-foot-8 power forward has neither the size nor explosiveness to do that dependably in the NBA. He improved his mid-range and outside shooting during his college career, but he doesn’t have NBA 3-point range. He learned to play solid defense at Kansas, but his basketball intelligence won’t get him as far against NBA opponents due to his middling athleticism.

Sense a theme?

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ellis got a larger guarantee than Tobey or Graham. If the Hornets waive him, they can assign Ellis’ D-League rights to their affiliate. A small guarantee in his NBA contract could be designed to entice him to join the D-League despite its low pay if he gets cut.

But first, he’ll have a chance to earn a regular-season roster spot. And Charlotte has two of those, creating more opportunities than most NBA teams can present. There’s a reason Ellis, one of the most prominent undrafted free agents, picked the Hornets. Soon, we’ll see whether they were justified to pick him.

Serge Ibaka writes he didn’t want trade from Thunder, excited about Orlando opportunity

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts after a play in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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After nearly every major trade or free agent move, the spin starts. “He wasn’t happy with his role” or some other story line comes out about why said player decided to leave, with the team often spinning the negative.

In the case of Serge Ibaka being traded to Orlando, it was that he thought the Thunder promised him a bigger role then didn’t deliver, and he was frustrated. That may well be true — 98 percent of NBA players think they should have a larger role on their team and get more shots. Ibaka’s role with the Thunder did fade as Enes Kanter‘s increased, he likely did want a larger role.

As you had to expect, Ibaka said none of that is true, writing a diary of his summer for Sports Illustrated. He said he learned of the trade while in Paris.

I never asked to be traded, even though there was a lot of media conjecture that I was unhappy with my role. I had an exit meeting with Billy Donovan and Sam Presti after the season, and both went well. But this is still a business, everybody has to do what’s best for them, and I let my agent deal with the business side of things. I just focus on basketball. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to go in and ask for a trade, and I would have been happy staying with the Thunder. Playing in the NBA was my dream, and I’d be happy playing anywhere…

Right now, though, I feel like a rookie again. I’m thrilled to be in Orlando. I know that might sound crazy to some people, that I’m excited to go from a contender like the Thunder to a rebuilding team, one that hasn’t made the playoffs in four years, but playing now for Frank Vogel, a coach who prides himself on defense, is very exciting for me. We have a core of like-minded, young, athletic players, which is going to be very fun. We are an old-school, smashmouth team, and I can’t wait to don a Magic uniform on opening night.

Smashmouth is a good word for it. The Magic are going to be a strong defensive team next season, the question is will they get enough points to get the wins they will need to be a playoff team? That’s where Ibaka is going to get the chances he craved — the Magic need him to space the floor and score, not just defend.

Ibaka can be a free agent next summer and he will have options, but in trading Victor Oladipo for him the Magic have made a big bet that Ibaka will stay. Of course, money will be the biggest factor, but if Ibaka likes his role and playing for Vogel, the odds of him staying in central Florida go up.

Craig Sager to get third bone marrow transplant thanks to anonymous donor

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  Legendary TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager talks with Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Sager is on a one game assignment for ESPN. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Craig Sager couldn’t be in Rio covering the Olympics for NBC, his cancer wouldn’t allow it. That didn’t stop Team USA from reaching out to him before they left. Or from Nike designing a sweet pair of shoes for him.

Now there is good news on his battle against leukemia — he will have a third bone marrow transplant, according to his son Craig Sager II.

This is fantastic news for a man and family who have been through a lot. Hopefully, this treatment is a step forward for Sager, a man beloved by everyone around the NBA.