5 Things We Learned About the LA Lakers During Second Week of Preseason
The Los Angeles Lakers are just two weeks into their preseason, and already we're learning things about this team we might not have thought about this last spring after they'd been unceremoniously dumped from the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Talk about turning over a new leaf:
The Lakers have a host of new players, an enormous new television contract and several new high-profile assistant coaches. They even unveiled hip new flooring at Staples Center last Saturday when they played the Utah Jazz in a meaningless exhibition game.
What's not new is the way L.A.'s second unit is unable to hold any sort of lead, having blown three second-half advantages on their way to three consecutive preseason losses.
In what will certainly be one of the most entertaining, dramatic and potentially dynamic seasons in recent memory, the Lakers are already laying out plot lines that have their fans and detractors emailing, texting, calling and pontificating.
Kobe Bryant has plenty of reasons to be smiling, even if Dwight Howard has not played yet and the Lakers have lost all three exhibition games. The Black Mamba has more weapons surrounding him than ever before and he has Steve Nash to orchestrate it all.
We learned that Kobe still thinks very little of Smush Parker, but frankly that ranks low on the list of what's truly important. What truly matters for this year's team is taking place at its training facility and on the court during this momentous preseason.
Let's take a look.
Dwight Howard's Leg Went "Dead" Last Year
Dwight Howard had back issues last season that eventually resulted in surgery to repair a herniated disc. The extent of that injury was even more severe than originally reported.
Howard told L.A. Times beat writer Mike Breshnahan, "What a lot of people don't know is when I hurt my back, it affected my nerves to the point where my whole left leg just went dead basically. I couldn't do a calf raise."
The revelation certainly raised eyebrows last Thursday at Lakers' training facilities in El Segundo. The basketball world knew about the back problems but had no idea how close Howard was to shutting down his entire career.
The good news is that Howard continues to make exceptional progress towards his return to the hardwood later this month or shortly after the regular season starts on October 30. He's been participating in most drills and showing occasional flashes of Superman D12 that fans have come to expect from the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Howard was in pain for most of last season, another piece of new information for Lakers fans. Most everyone would argue that Howard now should take as much time as he needs to feel 100 percent. He's not only a big, imposing center who dominates games; Dwight Howard is a major investment for a Lakers franchise that is counting on him to be their cornerstone for the next decade.
Metta World Peace Hasn't Looked This Good in Years
Metta World Peace experienced one of the worst seasons of his professional life last year.
Outside of 2004, when then Ron Artest was suspended for the entire season after leading a brawl against the Pistons in Detroit while a member of the Indiana Pacers, MWP was a ghost of himself for much of the strike-shortened campaign in 2011-12.
MWP averaged career lows in points (7.7), minutes played (26.9) and steals (1.1) last year. He also shot just 39.4 percent from the floor, marking the second-worst season in accuracy for him in his 13-year career.
Nagging injuries hampered MWP last year and just as he was rounding into shape towards the end of the regular season, he hammered James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder in an out-of-control moment and was suspended for several playoff games.
As of this past week, that MWP seems to have vanished and a new, sleek, quicker, happier model has emerged.
MWP has been a bright spot for the Lakers in the preseason—he came to camp slim and trim and more determined to re-establish himself as an option in the new Lakers' Princeton-style offense and be his usual menacing self on defense.
Center Robert Sacre Has Been a Pleasant Surprise
The Lakers have had some success over the years in drafting good role players with lower picks—consider names like Ronny Turiaf (57), Devin Ebanks (43) and Andrew Goudelock (44).
They have also traded for backups who later helped the team win championships (think Rick Fox, Shannon Brown).
This year Los Angeles had just one pick and it was the 60th in the draft. The Lakers found seven-foot center Robert Sacre from Gonzaga still available, so they grabbed the college senior with the thought that adequate backup big men are in short supply these days.
Pau Gasol had some nice things to say (h/t cbssports.com) about Sacre, who scored nine points, had 10 rebounds and three assists in Saturday's exhibition loss to the Jazz. Kobe Bryant also likes what he sees (h/t latimes.com) in the 23-year-old with the seven-foot wingspan.
If Sacre makes the roster—and he should—and stays with the Lakers through January, he will have a guaranteed contract of $474,000 for the season.
And though he'll see few minutes playing behind both Dwight Howard and Jordan Hill, Sacre is one of those special players who will add passion, hustle and heart simply because he is young and hungry.
The Lakers, full of high-priced veteran superstars, will surely welcome the raw energy that Robert Sacre brings.
The Lakers Bench Is a Work in Progress
First, the bad news: The Lakers bench seems disorganized and unable to hold onto leads. Haven't we heard this tune before?
The good news: It's still the preseason so there's no need to panic just yet.
The other piece of good news is that the Lakers realized how lousy their second unit was in 2011-12 and did something about it. They got new players.
So far, after three exhibition games, the verdict on the Lakers bench is that it's a work in progress and can only get better. Or so we think.
Antawn Jamison is the biggest name leading the Lakers Bench Mob. The former North Carolina standout is a proven scorer who took a huge cut in pay in order to sign and seek his first NBA Championship with the purple and gold.
Jamison has averaged over 20 points six times in his 14-year career, with a career mark of 19.5. He's also used to playing a lot of minutes, mainly as a starter, so expect to see him on the court with the first team in L.A., switching off with Metta World Peace, who will probably be the opening-game starter for the Lakers at the small forward spot.
After their sixth man, the Lakers bench falls off substantially. Newcomer Jodie Meeks has been an NBA starter at shooting guard and should add depth at the position. Steve Blake, Devan Ebanks, Jordan Hill, Andrew Goudelock and Chris Duhon can all score but have not shown extensive consistency with the Lakers.
For the Lakers to advance deep into the playoffs this year, their bench will need to be dramatically better. The potential is there, but thus far that's all it is.
Mike Brown and His Revised Staff Have Their Work Cut out for Them
It's reasonable to assume that very few point guards in the NBA are adequately prepared to run the intricate Princeton offense that's been integrated into the Lakers' system this year.
Steve Nash is certainly one of them and that's good news for the Lakers.
But, after two weeks of preseason play, the Princeton is getting just average reviews. It's a complicated offense that will take time to learn.
Still, the Lakers possess some of the smartest players in the game in Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, and that bodes well. If Gasol and Bryant could flourish under Phil Jackson and Tex Winter's Triangle offense, then certainly the "Fab Four" will make good use of the Princeton.
The Princeton is all about ball movement, and who better to facilitate that than Nash, Bryant, Gasol, Howard and Metta World Peace?
Assistant Eddie Jordan, who was brought in by Mike Brown to teach the new scheme, likens the system to a bygone era when teams actually moved the ball around the perimeter and set up screens to find the open shooter.
"The offense revolves around the center," Jordan told the L.A. Times. "But everybody has equal opportunity. Each player will find their niche and their strength in this offense."
"Metta [World Peace] is a great cutter, a great slasher. He's probably one of the most prototypical players we have for the offense. He can make a shot from the perimeter, he can post up, he can dribble handoff."
For a team that averaged a pathetic 94 points a game last year with an offense that often stalled out deep into shot clocks, the Princeton offers the Lakers and their fans an opportunity to increase that number by almost 10 points per contest if executed well.
All the ingredients for success are in place. There are no more excuses. Class is in session.