Without Nick Young, this Lakers season might be over before it begins

On just the fourth day of training camp, it seems that the injury bug that’s been swarming the Lakers for the past two seasons has already descended upon them.
 
Likely starting small forward Nick Young has been sidelined for 6 to 8 weeks with a tear of his radial collateral ligament in his right shooting hand. He reportedly was injured while defending Kobe Bryant in practice in what seems to be a complete fluke accident.
 
This, my friends, could very well kill this Lakers season even before the first preseason game.
 
Nick Young, an almost lone bright spot in an otherwise dreary last year, was coming into this season as either the second or third most important man on the roster. Despite missing 18 games in 2013-2014, Young set career highs in points, three-pointers made, assists and steals. By almost any definable metric, as well as the simple eye test, Young played arguably the best defense of his career, most of which could probably summed up to him finally giving a crap. In many ways, he was the Lakers’ most complete player on the court, as well as, unbelievably so, a locker room leader. There is almost no way I could properly convey just how valuable he was to a putrid Lakers squad last year, and also no way I could properly convey just how utterly shocked I’d have been last year if I knew I’d be writing these words 12 months later.
 
(Read the rest here at SS&R!)

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Can Kobe Bryant’s exit echo Derek Jeter’s?

As his latest and greatest of his opposite field singles dribbled into the hands of Baltimore Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis on Thursday night, Derek Jeter rounded first base as his neck snapped to his left. He stared with rapt attention as pinch runner Antoan Richardson raced home and barely beat out Markakis’s laser throw from 250 feet out. Jeter had singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, ending his career at Yankee Stadium with a walk-off, opposite field single in the clutch. No, there was nothing really on the line here except for a meaningless late September win. However, one of the greatest competitors in the history of North American professional sports left the stage on his own two feet as a walk-off winner with a hit that exemplified his entire career.
 
Now, let’s pay no nevermind to the fact that Jeter played both Saturday and Sunday in Boston, though his last at-bat yesterday was an infield single. What the Yankees shortstop will always be remembered for is surely his grand finale at Yankee Stadium on Thursday. As the latest major market sports star retires after a glittering career, it brings into clear focus the same exact scene we could be seeing two years from now when our own Kobe Bryant hangs up his sneakers for good.
 
(More at SS&R)

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The Dodgers are in the playoffs! Time to freak out!

The Dodgers are in the playoffs! I feel nauseous!
 
For any True Blue fan out there, they each know that October merely brings heartache and anxiety. Nothing more, nothing less. I kind of have to hurl right now!
 
As always, my man Que-Ese and I were commiserating about the causes for the potential ulcers likely to befall us in the coming days and (hopefully) weeks. But, like a true friends (who will never ever ever leave each other), we’ve tried to serve as the salve to one another’s Dodger blues. Below is an e-mail exchange in which we’ve both finely laid out our biggest reservations, then a rebuttal why it might not be a big deal and finally, our predictions for the series.
 
KOBEsh: The bullpen. Duh.
 
Some writers have suggested that the Dodgers only have two reliable pitchers in their bullpen, which is a disconcerting thought all on its own. However, I think that may be outshooting the truth altogether.
 
Kenley Jansen has been pretty great this season, though I wouldn’t say absolutely dominant. Sure, he’s got 101 strikeouts and allowed just 55 hits in 65 innings pitched, but he also got himself into trouble unnecessarily. With no outs, Jansen allowed a .779 OPS, as opposed to .567 and .466 on the second and third outs. In other words, he’s letting a leadoff man on at an alarming rate and then relying on his dominant stuff to make up for it. Not the type of breathing room you want to give up to a fellow division-winning team.
 
The only other “reliable” bullpen pitcher has this stat line for September: 7 games, 5.1 innings pitched, 9 hits and 2 homers allowed and a 11.81 ERA. That’s J.P. Howell, who had emerged into the team’s best 8th inning reliever.
 
Other than that, we’re looking at Brandon League (a nice 2.57 ERA, but an ugly 1.46 WHIP) Brian Wilson (a nice K%, but giving up hits and walks by the boatload), 39 year-old Jamey Wright (72 hits in 70 IP), Chris Perez (who had a nice September, but still walked 4 batters in 7 innings) and rookie Pedro Baez.
 
Yes, I’m really worried.
 
Que-Ese: Here’s why you shouldn’t fret about the bullpen:
 
Jansen is a stud. His premium pitch is a cut fastball. The thing about those, is that sometimes they get put into play. If they hit their spots, he’ll be fine.… Read more…

If Kobe only plays for titles, how could this Lakers team become contenders?

On Lakers Media Day, Kobe Bryant, still in his late-career, filterless swoon, mentioned this to Ramona Shelburne amidst commentary on former coach Mike D’Antoni:

“For me, it’s winning and no in between…it’s championship or a waste of time”

This is nothing new from Kobe. If you’ve heard this once, you’ve heard it dozens of times…like later that day, to ESPN’s Arash Markazi:

“He [Byron Scott] agrees with me and it’s the Lakers organization we’re here for one reason only and that’s to hang championship banners, not division banners or conference banners or anything else. We don’t do that. We focus on winning championships and that’s very important for our young guys to understand.”

Kobe Bryant does not play for anything besides Larry O’Brien trophies. Even insinuating that he’s ever satisfied with less than that would be taken as an insult. He’d probably give you one of his patented “furrowed-brow-flared-nostril-frowny-face” snarls if you said anything like that (amongst his many amazing physical feats, Kobe has the unreal ability to make anyone feel like they’ve asked the most ridiculous question ever with a simple look). Bryant begins every year believing that he can help get his team to the promised land.
 
Coming off a season where the Lakers went 27-55 and the team’s two best players departed via free agency (in Pau Gasol and Jodie Meeks), a championship seems…unlikely, to say the least. Even the most optimistic (read: delusional) fan couldn’t possibly see this squad, as currently constructed, as title contenders. It’d be like asking Jimmy Buss to get an adult haircut–I guess it could happen, but holding out hope is just a waste of your time.
 
This isn’t to say that Kobe truly believes this team is championship material. Until he comes out and says that, let’s not paint the psychotically competitive Black Mamba as a certified psychotic. Well, at least in this sense.
 
However, Bryant has spurred an interesting idea: in the most far-fetched of scenarios, what would have to happen this season for the Lakers to even sniff championship contender status?
 
(Peep the rest at SS&R)

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2014-2015′s Best Reality Show: Your L.A. Lakers

Less than two months from the start of training camp, the Los Angeles Lakers are in a unique position that the franchise has seldom faced going into any NBA season: with long odds against them to make the postseason.
 
There’s really little to argue against that premise, with the exception of citing intangible motivating factors like “Kobe Bryant’s undying will to win” or looking to an even higher power (some would argue) and saying that God loves the Lakers too much for them to be bad for this long. But examining all the empirical evidence, the damning facts are there.
 
After the Lakers struck out almost completely in free agency this past summer, the team will once again revolve around the excellence of Kobe Bryant. While this has obviously behooved the organization for the past decade–and even further past that–the Black Mamba is 36 years old, past his prime and coming off of two devastating leg injuries. Bryant is still the straw that stirs the purple & gold drink, but even as much as he’d like to channel his inner 30-something Reggie Jackson, time–and NBA history–are against him.
 
That right there should be enough to make any rational Lakers fan a bit dour on the team’s prospects. But the rest of the supporting cast isn’t helping matters. The roster is filled with reclamation projects (Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Ed Davis), unproven youngsters (Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre), faded stars (Steve Nash, Carlos Boozer) and young veterans still trying to find their games (Jeremy Lin, Jordan Hill). Altogether, the fit just doesn’t look quite there. Offensively, this team doesn’t even remotely resemble any of the teams that Byron Scott’s had success with, and that’s even with Kobe Bryant performing at the peak of his powers. Defensively, the word “disaster” comes to mind, but that term may not even be adequate for what could lie ahead for this Lakers team.
 
All in all, placing your emotional stock in this team right now looks about as heady of an investment as throwing down for a piece of Myspace in 2014. Beyond the factors that the Lakers can control, they’re looking at a Western Conference that will be (cliché alert) as competitive as it’s ever been. There could be as many as 9 teams that win close to 50 games and that’s discounting any possible strides that New Orleans might make. To me, the Lakers have virtually no chance at making the playoffs. Combine that with an uncertain forecast for the 2015 offseason and free agency (Kevin Love may not be an option any longer) and the Phoenix Suns owning the team’s upcoming draft pick (thus all but eliminating the motivation to tank), LA’s road map back to title contention is as muddled as we’ve ever seen. We saw this almost unprecedented situation for the franchise at the end of last season: a Los Angeles Lakers team flirting on the fringes of NBA irrelevance. Come February, March and April, why should anyone pay attention to a team that’s well out of the race for even the bottom rungs of the playoff bracket? With the future on hold for yet another season, there’s a chance that we’re not even witnessing more than one Julius Randle-sized building block for the next great Lakers team. Besides a guttural, instinctive urge to follow this team, what’s there to watch? What’s there to care about?
 
Controversy. Isn’t that always the case with the Lo… Read more…

The highs and lows of the 2014-2015 LA Lakers schedule

It’s Christmas in August!
 
Or at the very least, we all know what we’ll be doing on Christmas…while we’re still in August.
 
The 2014-2015 NBA schedule was released for all 30 teams Wednesday afternoon, including the 82-game slate for every franchise. Topping the list are the all-important opening night, home opener and of course prestigious Christmas Day roster of games that has been known to cause quite a few angry barbs thrown my way at the MAMBINO house.
 
Looking at LA’s season, a few distinct points fly out at me:

  • For all of our negativity and pessimistic outlooks on the team’s chances next season, the Lakers still have 28 nationally televised games on ABC, ESPN, NBA TV and TNT. That’s just 1 less than last year’s 29, which, as we all know was slightly less as the Lake Show was taken off ESPN and NBA TV several times on their way to the lottery.

(Read the rest at SS&R)

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The perils of Linsanity: How effective will Jeremy Lin really be?

There’s a chance Jeremy Lin will never be fairly judged as an NBA player. He’s undoubtedly an asset offensively, but defensively he may never be anything less than a liability. Is he the guy who dropped 38 points on the Los Angeles Lakers in Madison Square Garden two-and-a-half years ago, or is he the dude pointing fingers after Steve Blake rifled off a game-winning jumper in his face last season?
 
Easy answer: He’s both. He’s the hero and the goat, but in the eyes of some, the G.O.A.T. and a hero.
 
And that’s exactly where Jeremy Lin’s perceived value is murky even in the clear light of day. He’s proven to be a productive player, but yet, is worth more to any team he plays on because of his heritage or facial features. Lin is a marketer’s dream, especially in such an Asian-American heavy region like Southern California. He’s a draw all on his own, a ready-to-go community builder just by virtue of his race and ethnicity. The Lakers have never had a player quite like him: Equal parts novelty act and living folk hero. This, more than his on-court dichotomy of skills, will always skew what Lin’s true value is as basketball player.
 
It’s important to move past what Lin is as a cult figure and examine exactly what he is as a basketball player.
 
But this is who and what he is, and there’s likely nothing he can ever do about it. Off the court, he’ll mean more to the Asian-American community in the Southland than any other place in North America, save for the Bay Area. Many Lakers fans will never know just how much he means in those circles and what a monumental acquisition this is to a segment of the largest fan base in the entire world.
 
(read on at SS&R)

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WWE Battleground 2014 Preview

There was only one PPV big enough to get me to come back and write another column. And that PPV is WWE Battleground.
 
I’m just kidding, I’m on summer vacation and really, really bored. Free advice to all my Cena fans out there (people 12 and under), go into the public education field. You get summers off, just do something productive with your time unlike me who has pretty much just been taste testing different brands of salsa. Back to wrestling, I’ve fallen victim to the post Wrestlemania lull. Yes, I’m still watching RAW, but the whole Daniel Bryan situation has gotten me pretty down as a fan. Hopefully Battleground will be a good show and the WWE will have some strong momentum going into Summerslam. On to the preview.… Read more…

The longest goodbye for Pau Gasol

Six and a half years ago, my friend was batting around balls on a picturesque Northern California tennis court, the sun beaming down on another perfect day in the best state in this country. Right then and there, nothing could interrupt his leisurely pace as he fired yet another scorching serve. Nothing except for a friend running towards him with a cell phone.
 
“Dave! Dave! You’ll never believe what just happened! The Lakers traded for Pau Gasol!”
 
“Oh my God! Seriously? Who did we give up? Bynum?”
 
“No! The trade is Gasol for…let me look…Kwame Brown! Gasol for Kwame!”
 
“….dude, shut the eff up.”
 
Dave fired up one more scorching serve. And another. And another. Until he was done. He couldn’t believe that someone tried to pull a fast one on him with such a ridiculous, clearly fabricated story.
 
And then he went back to his apartment, looked at his computer and said “Oh my God! The Lakers traded for Pau Gasol with….Kwame Brown!??!?”
 
Was that your reaction that day? Wasn’t that everyone’s? Was there a Lakers fan alive that said anything else?
 
On February 1st, 2008, the Los Angeles Lakers traded Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Pau’s fat kid brother and a handful of draft picks for All-Star center Gasol. For a Lakers team that had languished in foreign territory at the bottom of the playoff bracket, it felt like a seismic trade … that couldn’t have come at a better time. LA had the best record in the Western Conference, a stunning development following a middling 42-40 record in the 2006-2007 regular season and a solid but not overwhelming signing of Derek Fisher in the offseason. A primary reason was the development of Andrew Bynum, who had emerged into an All-Star-caliber player, but had fallen victim to the first of several severe knee injuries.
 
The addition of Gasol buoyed the Lakers when they needed a life preserver the most, replacing the production of a young, inconsistent center with that of a tenured professional. At the time, Pau was just 27 years old and entering his prime. As much as we all felt that this deal put the Lakers on the precipice of a championship, very few could have anticipated the monumental heights the Spaniard would take us to. That doubt wasn’t without good reason.
 
Gasol was coming off a string of disappointing seasons, including three consecutive first-round playoff sweeps, falling victim to the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs. Critics had panned Pau as just another gutless Euro baller, whose game looked closer to a soft cloud on a clear day than a thundering tempest in the middle of the ocean. While there was no denying his talent, Gasol was portrayed as nothing more than a nice player that couldn’t ever lead a team to a title. Ever.
 
But even if that was the word swirling around the Spaniard, Lakers fans hardly noticed in his first half season with the team. With Gasol in the fold, the team went 27-6 the rest of the regular season, with their new center immediately fitting into Phil Jackson’s triangle offense and igniting a chemistry with Kobe Bryant that hadn’t been seen since his best days with Shaquille O’Neal. Praise was heaped on Pau as not just the season savior, but as perhaps the primary catalyst in hurtling the Lakers towards their 15th NBA Championship.
 
Two months after that concluding regular season contest, Pau went from a scraggly … Read more…

The Lakers are executing ‘Plan B’ in free agency

Going into this summer, Los Angeles Lakers fans were skeptical, to say the least. There were just four players under contract, including a $33 million dollar backcourt that played less than 20 combined games last season. The team had over $20 million dollars worth of cap room, more than enough for LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh, but very few building blocks in which to attract those players to L.A.. Even after an excellent draft night including acquiring Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, the prospects of the Lakers transforming back into a contender were slim.
 
But then…
 
Carmelo seemed to be changing his mind after a “very convincing” presentation from Lakers brass. There were rumors that LeBron James felt the same way. Kyle Lowry seemed interested in signing. Pau Gasol, for all the trade rumors swirling around him the previous three seasons, was locked in to re-sign in the event that the Lakers made positive strides with any other free agents. Despite what some felt would be a bleak summer, as always, the sunlight was peering through the clouds in Southern California.
 
This is what I called “Plan A” in a piece I penned right here on Silver Screen & Roll weeks ago. The Lakers, despite Kobe’s massive contract and all the mistakes made with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, would rise from the ashes and begin the latest championship era of Los Angeles basketball. With either James, Anthony or both in the fold and Bryant’s deal coming off the books in two seasons, the Show would be locked and loaded for years to come.
 
Plan A, it seems, has been a massive failure. What now?
 
Plan B is well underway.
 
(Read more of this desolation at SS&R)

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