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L.A. Lakers Training Camp Report: Latest News and Preseason Predictions

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIISeptember 30, 2012

L.A. Lakers Training Camp Report: Latest News and Preseason Predictions

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    Perhaps no team in the NBA has higher expectations than the revamped Los Angeles Lakers. October marks the start of training camp for the 2012-13 NBA season, and fans league-wide will be able to enjoy a normal 82-game regular season without the looming threat of a lockout.

    While some teams are in full-blown rebuilding mode, the Lakers, after an offseason that netted LA two superstar talents in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, as well as improvements to the bench by way of Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill, are eying another championship run.

    With that said, there are a lot of factors that need to fall into place for the Lakers to compete with juggernauts like Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Miami.

    As training camp gets underway, with preseason and regular season following close behind, it’s time to analyze any and all storylines in Los Angeles before the season finally gets going.

Latest News/Roster Moves

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    Update: Oct. 2, 2012 by Stephen Babb

    The Los Angeles Lakers have already made huge strides in adding some depth to their bench, but ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin reports that they've added some insurance for the wing as well:

    Chris Douglas-Roberts was a surprise to see today. The Lakers signed him to a training camp contract, w/ hope he will play for the D-Fenders

    — Dave McMenamin (@mcten) October 1, 2012

    The 25-year-old spent his first two seasons with the New Jersey Nets before playing 44 games with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2010-11. He averaged 7.7 points per game during that stretch, but watched his shooting efficiency steadily decline in each of his three seasons.

    Douglas-Roberts most recently played overseas for Virtus Bologna, but he'll be looking to eventually find his way to the Lakers' roster, perhaps in the event things don't pan out with either Devin Ebanks or Earl Clark.

    ---End of Update---

     

    As far as latest news is concerned for Lakers fans, it starts with the health of Dwight Howard.

    According to multiple reports, including an article by Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles, Howard will miss training camp and the start of preseason. Markazi’s article also said that Howard is cautiously optimistic he’ll be ready to start the season opener on Oct. 30, but whether or not D12 will be cleared by doctors to play by that time remains a mystery.

    According to an injury update by Mike Trudell of NBA.com, Howard has begun working with the Lakers training staff, led by head trainer Gary Vitti.

    “The physical therapy (Howard) is doing consists of core stabilization, upper and lower body strengthening, light running and shooting,” Trudell’s article said.

    The injury update hammered home the point that Howard will not be ready for training camp or the beginning of the preseason schedule, but said nothing about Howard’s availability to start the regular season, which could be taken as a positive sign.

    In other news, Lakers forward/center Jordan Hill will not face jail time for allegedly choking his ex-girlfriend during an altercation in Houston back in February, according to TMZ. Hill reportedly reached a plea deal with prosecutors.

    There’s plenty of player news coming out of Laker Nation, but the team news from a business aspect should be the real concern for fans.

    In an ESPN article by Henry Abbott, an email by ESPN.com CBA expert Larry Coon delved into the Lakers’ ramifications of keeping such an expensive roster intact:

    The Lakers will have a tax bill of around $30 million next July, and in retrospect, will view this season as their salad days -- it’s the last one where the tax rate is dollar-for-dollar. Starting in 2013-14 the new “incremental” tax takes over, where being $30 million above the tax line will mean paying a whopping $85 million tax bill.

    And it gets worse. Starting in 2014-15 teams will pay an even higher rate for being repeat offenders -- defined as paying tax in at least three of the four previous seasons. A team $30 million over the tax line will pay -- brace yourself -- an additional $115 million in luxury tax.

    After adding up their payroll, luxury tax bill and revenue sharing contribution (projected to be $49.4 million in 2013-14), even the Lakers have to stop to consider whether this simply can be written off as the cost of doing business -- and that’s the future if they’re paying players with salaries like Bryant, Howard, Gasol and Nash.

    Abbott asked Coon to give a rough estimate of what the Lakers’ total cost could be in 2013-14, and the answer was a massive $240 million.

    Needless to say, the Lakers are strapped for cash and will have some big decisions to make down the road.

    Roster moves, meanwhile, are hard to come by for a team as solidified as the Lakers. The team currently has 19 players on the roster, which will need to be trimmed down to 15 at least before the start of the season.

    Most recently via NBA.com, the Lakers signed center Ronnie Aguilar. The 7’1” center played most recently for the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA D-League.

Injury Updates

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    Update: Oct. 25, 2012 by Stephen Babb

    Kobe Bryant will be out indefinitely with a strained foot according to the Lakers. Though no one's predicted an extended absence as of yet, Bryant may miss the team's season opener (via ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne and Dave McMenamin): 

    "I don't know if he'll be ready," Brown said after the Lakers' 97-91 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. "So yeah, I guess there is question. I'm just going to wait for [Lakers trainer] Gary Vitti to tell me he can play, because there's nothing I can do about it until they release him anyway."

    That's not quite what Lakers fans were looking to hear, but things could certainly be worse. Dwight Howard is humming along, Jordan Hill recovered quickly and Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are just itching to run some pick-and-pop plays.

    Los Angeles opens its season against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday. It can take some solace in the fact Dallas will be playing without Dirk Nowitzki, who's recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.

    ---End of Update---

     

    Update: Oct. 24, 2012 by Stephen Babb

    Not all herniated discs are equal, and Jordan Hill is proof. Where's Dwight Howard's situation required season-ending surgery and over five months of recovery, Hill's has proven relatively minor thus far.

    Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the 25-year-old's return is imminent:

    After sitting out two weeks to rehabilitate a herniated disc in his back, Los Angeles Lakers forward Jordan Hill will return to the lineup against the Los Angeles Clippers, a league source told Yahoo! Sports.

    Hill is expected to play Wednesday against the Clippers, and likely again in the final preseason game on Thursday against Sacramento in preparation for opening night on Oct. 30 against Dallas.

    Hill's return is important to the club's depth, and it could become even more vital in the event Dwight Howard needs to take things more slowly (an admittedly unlikely event based on what we've seen of Howard).

    The Lakers don't have many bigs on the bench (excepting rookie Robert Sacre), so Hill's presence is more crucial than his numbers might suggest.

    ---End of Update---

     

    Update: Oct. 24, 2012 by Stephen Babb

    With Dwight Howard mended, the Los Angeles Lakers are now facing down troubles with Kobe Bryant's foot. What was initially described as a "bruised" and "strained" right foot didn't sound any alarms at first, but the soreness is bad enough that the he'll probably get some time off according to Lakers reporter Mike Trudell:

    Kobe (foot) said he's "probably not" going to play tomorrow night. The foot is pretty painful. Still listed as "day to day."

    — Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) October 23, 2012

    This won't become a long-term issue, but it's not inconceivable that Bryant could be slowed a bit to start the season.

    With the season-opener just around the corner, you can also expect that Kobe will get all the rest he needs in the meantime.

    ---End of Update---

     

    Update: Oct. 22, 2012 by Stephen Babb

    He's back.

    After progressing from basic one-on-one drills to full scrimmages, Dwight Howard's dutiful commitment to his rehabilitation has paid off in the form of his first preseason game as a Los Angeles Laker. The club may have dropped their sixth contest in six tries, but that wasn't the big story this weekend.

    Needless to say, onlookers were more interested in Howard's performance than wins and losses.

    He looked pretty good, ending up with 19 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and five turnovers. Still, Dwight understood as well as anyone that there was a lot of work to be done (via the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan):

    "I think there were a lot of bright spots even though we lost the game," Howard said. "We're going continue to get better. I'll say midseason, we'll have everything flowing just the right way."

    If that indeed turns out to be the case, Howard's timely return will have a lot to do with it. More than any statistical production, Howard's biggest impact at this early stage is enabling the team to develop some chemistry before the season's fully underway.

    ---End of Update---

     

    Update: Oct. 19, 2012 by Stephen Babb

    Dwight Howard's fought through a long road to recovery, and it appears he's on the brink of finally reaping the rewards outside of practice according to Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears:

    Barring any complications with Howard's back over the next couple days, the Lakers are optimistic the All-Star center will make [his] first appearance for them on Sunday.

    "He is making progress," one Lakers source told Yahoo! Sports. "There is a good chance he can play Sunday."

    Spears also notes that Los Angeles is unlikely to play Howard in back-to-back preseason games, meaning he'll probably only suit of for two of the three remaining contests. Needless to say, the Lakers will take it.

    The three-time Defensive Player of the Year has been rehabilitating from back surgery for over five months, so his competitive debut with his new club marks something of a milestone. More importantly, it suggests we shouldn't have to worry too much about his availability for the games that will actually count in November.

    ---End of Update---

     

    Update: Oct. 9, 2012 by Stephen Babb

    While it might feel like Dwight Howard's been taking baby steps back to the floor, his return to action has already surpassed most expectations. The news that he's taking yet another step forward is sure to surpass a few more.

    Though he isn't playing in Wednesday's preseason game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Times' Mark Medina reports that he's now much closer to real competition:

    Lakers say Dwight Howard has been cleared for full court five on five for limited minutes.

    — Mark Medina (@MarkGMedina) October 9, 2012

    Howard's did just about everything else on the practice court during the first week of training camp, but the decision to clear him for five-on-fives suggests his back is close to full strength and capable of handling some serious contact.

    Of course, any Laker that decides to test that won't be making any friends around camp. Dwight isn't out of the woods just yet, and you can rest assured the trainers are keeping a close eye on him.

    ---End of Update---

     

    Update: Oct. 9, 2012 by Stephen Babb

    Who knew herniated discs were contagious?

    The Lakers' greatest competitive advantage has been its interior depth, but that depth will take a hit—at least temporarily (via ESPN Los Angeles' Andy Kamenetzky):

    Thus, news that Jordan Hill was diagnosed Monday with a herniated disc (L5, S1) is a bit unsettling. Presumably, the injury took place during Sunday's preseason loss, during which the Orange County Register's Kevin Ding tweeted that Hill spent time on the sideline with a pad on his back and in consultation with trainer Gary Vitti. 

    It's still too soon to make long-term predictions about how this will affect Hill's season, but there's certainly nothing good that can come of it. At best, Hill will miss a little bit of time and dodge a bullet. At worst, this could turn into something requiring surgery.

    And, somewhere in between, there's simply the risk that this will become a nagging problem for Hill throughout the season.

    Fortunately, Pau Gasol can fend for himself at the center spot, so he's always available to man the position when Dwight Howard needs a rest. If Hill misses considerable time, expect to see a lot of Antawn Jamison at the 4. 

    ---End of Update---

     

    Update: Oct. 5, 2012 by Stephen Babb

    No one is sounding any alarms, but it's worth keep an eye on Kobe Bryant's left foot this preseason. The Lakers were doing just that Friday morning according to the Los Angeles Times' Mark Medina:

    Lakers guard Kobe Bryant missed morning practice Friday because of an injury to his left foot, but team officials said they don't consider it serious.

    The Lakers didn't provide details on how the injury happened, but officials said they expect that Bryant will take part in Friday's evening practice, scheduled for between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the team's facility in El Segundo.

    It's a bit strange Kobe would sit out one practice but not the other, and we can only speculate about what drove the Lakers to take what appears to be a precautionary measure. This probably won't be the last time Bryant misses some preseason action on account of minor aches and pains.

    Lakers reporter Mike Trudell has already indicated that coach Mike Brown will be looking to curb Bryant's minutes this season, and of course we've heard that before. So we probably shouldn't read too much into any decision to limit his practice burden as well.

    ---End of Update---

     

    Update: Oct. 3, 2012 by Ben Leibowitz

    Some good news has surfaced for Lakers fans regarding the health of Dwight Howard.

    According to an article by Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, not only could Howard be ready to start the regular season on Oct. 30, but he may be back even sooner to knock off some rust in preseason.

    "Hopefully, I will be back for some preseason games," Howard said.

    Considering the new-look Lakers will need time to gel together on the court and create team chemistry, getting D12 back for some preseason games would greatly help the team as far as regular season preparation is concerned.

    Howard participated in the team's first practice on Oct. 2 as he continues to rehab from back surgery.

    ---End of Update---

     

    Update: Oct. 2, 2012 by Stephen Babb

    The biggest Dwight Howard news coming out of media day is that the superstar center still hasn't been cleared to play five-on-five at training camp. Still, Shaun Powell gives us this little nugget of hope:

    Dwight Howard says he's not 100 percent but a source who saw his workouts said Howard dunked with authority.

    — Shaun Powell (@Powell2daPeople) October 1, 2012

    Something things never change—Dwight dunking authoritatively being one of them.

    Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Howard was targeting the regular-season opener as his return while also cautioning that, "The Lakers have been reluctant to make public a timetable on Howard's return, and have maintained a cautious approach to protect his long-term health."

    In other words, we can't be sure about Dwight's timeframe, but we know he's trying.

    And in Steve Blake news, the doctor had some good things to say (as reported by none other than Steve Blake):

    He said I am healing great and I'm cleared to use my heel now and start spot shooting. I'll be playing again in no time. Can't wait.

    — Steve Blake (@SteveBlake5) October 1, 2012

    Okay, so it might not rival the anticipation surrounding Howard's return, but Blake remains an important part of this second unit. He could be an especially important part if anything happens to 38-year-old starter Steve Nash.

    ---End of Update---

     

    The bulk of injury news coming out of Lakerland regards Dwight Howard’s surgically repaired back. Howard will miss the start of training camp and preseason, but whether or not he’s back for the season opener on Oct. 30 remains to be seen.

    Howard may miss the start of the regular season, but barring a setback, he will be ready to play in the not-so-distant future. Honestly speaking, Howard missing a handful of games isn’t the end of the world for a talented Lakers squad.

    D12 isn’t the only Lakers player recuperating from injury though. According to an article by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Lakers’ backup point guard Steve Blake stepped on a parking lot spike strip, puncturing his foot. The organization said Blake will be out approximately three weeks.

    Blake’s spike strip incident will likely go down as one of the more unique injuries in sports, but regardless of how Blake managed to injure himself, he’s not helping to solidify his backup point guard spot over new addition Chris Duhon.

Projected Depth Chart

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    Point Guard:

    Steve Nash, Chris Duhon, Steve Blake, Darius Morris.

     

    Shooting Guard:

    Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks, Andrew Goudelock.

     

    Small Forward:

    Metta World Peace, Devin Ebanks, Earl Clark.

     

    Power Forward:

    Pau Gasol, Antawn Jamison.

     

    Center:

    Dwight Howard, Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre.

     

    Notes:

    Although each player is only listed once, some players could bounce around the depth chart. For instance, Jordan Hill is listed as the backup center, but he could spend time at power forward. Also, Earl Clark is listed as a small forward, but he could spend time at power forward as well.

    Chris Duhon gets my early nod as the backup point guard behind Steve Nash, given his past success in New York and Steve Blake’s setback of a foot injury.

Player Under Most Pressure to Perform: Pau Gasol

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    You could easily make a case for Dwight Howard, Steve Nash or even Antawn Jamison here.

    Howard is entering the final year of his contract and will have to overcome the first significant injury he’s ever encountered in his career. Nash is joining a new team and new offensive system for the first time in nearly a decade and will have to coexist with Kobe Bryant in the backcourt. Jamison’s job will be to improve the Lakers’ horrendous bench from a year ago.

    Even given all of these cases, the player under the most pressure to perform next season for the Lakers is Pau Gasol.

    The 32-year-old Spaniard has been a warrior during the regular season, consistently putting up big double-double numbers. However, where his performance truly matters for the Lakers is in the playoffs, and recently Gasol simply has not performed there.

    In 2011, Gasol shot a paltry 42 percent from the field, scored just 13.1 points per game and grabbed only 7.8 rebounds per game. Those were all well below his regular season numbers that year.

    In 2012, it was the same story. Gasol shot just 43.4 percent from the field, scored 12.5 points per game and added 9.5 rebounds per game. Again, those were all statistical dips from his regular season numbers.

    Gasol will be able to fly under the radar this season with the superstar-laden Lakers, but when the postseason rolls around, he’ll have to step up and play to the level everyone expects of him.

    If he fails to do so, the Lakers could get ousted from the playoffs sooner rather than later.

Most Critical Area Where Team Must Improve: Bench

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    The Los Angeles Lakers’ most critical area that needs improvement for the 2012-13 season is rather obvious.

    The second unit simply has to be better.

    Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and a full season of Jordan Hill should go a long way toward improving a lackluster bench, but they have a lot of work to do.

    Last season, the Lakers’ bench averaged just 20.5 points per game, which was the worst in the NBA according to Hoops Stats.

    The Lakers’ two leading scorers off the bench from a season ago, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, averaged just 13 points combined.

    Being able to hold on to leads when the starters need a breather separates championship teams from the pack. Having a second unit that can carry the load off the bench for brief stints will be invaluable to the Lakers moving forward. Adding Jamison, a former Sixth Man of the Year award winner to lead the charge, should dramatically improve what the Lakers’ options can be off the bench.

    Even if the Lakers don’t get major contributions off the bench, they can’t possibly be worse than they were a season ago. The Lakers' bench during the 2012-13 season could rank 20th in the league and they’d still be improved by 10 spots.

    Building a solid bench behind the Lakers’ "core four" of superstars has to be a critical focal point this season.

Predictions

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    W-L: 59-23 (Pacific Division: 1st place; Overall Seed: 3rd in Western Conference)

    Although Metta World Peace believes the Lakers' goal this season is to go 73-9 and break the 1996 Chicago Bulls regular season mark of 72-10, I simply can't see that happening.

    Right now, there's too much uncertainty surrounding this Lakers squad.

    World Peace isn't one to talk about breaking records, considering how shaky he's been in recent years, Howard's back remains a daunting question mark and there's no telling how well Steve Nash can fit in with Kobe Bryant in the backcourt. That's not to mention the fact that the Lakers have a tough schedule in 2012-13 with a fair amount of back-to-back games and difficult road trips (the Lakers were 15-18 on the road last season).

    Flashback, if you will, to the Miami Heat's first season with their big three.

    The team got off to a rocky start under intense media scrutiny before righting the ship with a 12-game win streak. However, even the mighty Heat encountered a five-game losing streak that year and finished the season with a 58-24 record.

    Given this fact, projecting 59 wins for a much older Lakers squad may prove generous. An injury could happen at any time with this group, and considering that they'll rely heavily on the "core four," an injury to Nash, Bryant, Gasol or Howard could prove devastating.

    Nevertheless, I project the Lakers to win the Pacific Division even with the improved Los Angeles Clippers breathing down their neck. I have the Lakers finishing third in the Western Conference behind the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.

    Before you scoff, the Spurs won 50 games last season over the course of a 66-game schedule, Manu Ginobili was constantly injured and Kawhi Leonard was just getting his feet wet in the NBA.

    I look for the Thunder and Spurs to repeat their regular season success by winning 60 games or more.

     

    How Season Ends: Lakers fall 4-3 to Oklahoma City Thunder in Western Conference Finals

    On paper, the Lakers are one of the best teams in the league. However, team chemistry is a gigantic factor at play. The Lakers' new additions will need time to gel and become familiar with one another. Whether or not they can come together as a championship team in such a short time will be extremely difficult.

    When you factor in the Lakers' age and lack of significant depth should an injury occur, they still have to prove they're the new juggernaut in the west.

    Can they beat the Thunder in a seven-game series? Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden will prove to be a huge obstacle, especially since Steve Nash will have to defend one of those three.

     

    Top Players:

    PPG: Kobe Bryant (26.1 points per game)

    RPG: Dwight Howard (13.9 rebounds per game)

    APG: Steve Nash (11.1 assists per game)

    These stat projections are straight forward. Kobe Bryant will lead the team in scoring yet again, but will see a slight dip in scoring now that new additions can help shoulder the load.

    Dwight Howard, one of the best rebounders in the league, will lead the Lakers next year. However, Pau Gasol is a solid rebounder in his own right, so Howard may not crack the 14-rebound threshold as he shares the workload.

    Steve Nash will be Steve Nash, racking up assists on a team loaded with talent when compared to last season's Phoenix Suns squad.

Most Significant Storyline and How It Will Play out

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    The most significant storyline facing the Los Angeles Lakers this season is their championship hype.

    Writers from the Los Angeles Times: Mike Bresnahan, Ben Bolch and Mark Medina, put together an article saying that they expect the Lakers to win the NBA championship this season. With those expectations that extend throughout the NBA community, comes a great deal of pressure.

    Metta World Peace already voiced that the goal during the regular season is to win 73 games, so scrutiny will be driving the Lakers. They’ll be under the microscope all season long.

    The Miami Heat weren’t perfect in their first season and still had some flaws a season ago, so the Lakers may need a transition year before they attain the Larry O’Brien trophy. Unfortunately with an aging roster, that may not be a possibility.

    Putting all of the pieces together successfully in their first year together would be a miraculous feat. The Lakers' success this season starts and ends with team chemistry. If they can gel and play as a unit throughout the season, they’ll have a shot at glory when they inevitably reach the playoffs.

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