The first month of NBA free agency was arguably one of the worst in franchise history. July saw Dwight Howard leave for Houston, the team scramble to find replacement production and the ever-looming reality of this team's aging core.
Steve Nash is pushing 40, Pau Gasol is coming off the worst year of his career and Kobe Bryant, well, we all know what's going on with him. While there remained a cautious optimism in Los Angeles—most of which was Dwight-related nonsense, but still—the most realistic fans spent most of their July with an internal sense of dread that had rarely been seen in this franchise's history.
The last few weeks have been much kinder—thus far. Those longing for a Phil Jackson return got at least a small treat, as right-hand man Kurt Rambis made his return to the Lakers' bench as an assistant. That move seemingly sparked some good vibes within the organization, reverberating throughout the news cycle this week.
While August hasn't brought a guarantee of LeBron James donning the purple and gold next summer, it has been good for those who have maintained this Lakers team could make the playoffs.
How so? Here is a quick look at the latest news and notes coming out of the City of Angels.
Kobe Says He's "Shattering" Expected Recovery Time
It's no secret that much of the Lakers' hopes are pinned on Bryant's Achilles. The future Hall of Famer went down with a ruptured Achilles last April, sparking a cascade of doubt upon the franchise before Dwight Howard even took his talents to Magnolia City.
In the aftermath of Howard's decision, Bryant's recovery became the foremost focus of the franchise. Chris Kaman and Nick "Swaggy P" Young might help mitigate the effect of Howard's departure a bit, but not as not as much as Kobe suiting up for opening night.
Thus far the prognosis has been nothing but splendid. Team vice president Jim Buss has been optimistic enough about Mamba's recovery to even open up the possibility of him playing in a preseason game. Keep in mind that his initial prognosis was anywhere between six-to-nine months, with the latter being by far the likeliest scenario with Bryant's age factored in. Being available for training camp would be at the very earliest reaches of that time frame.
While one could quickly write off Buss as being overly optimistic, Bryant isn't doing much to quell the excitement. The soon-to-be 35-year-old guard was in China this week on tour, where he told reporters in attendance that he has "shattered" the expected recovery time, per Sporting News:
We don’t know. That’s the thing about this injury is that the surgical procedure was different, how we did it, was different. Because of that the recovery has been different, the timetable has been different, the normal timetable for recovering from an Achilles, we’ve shattered that. Three-and-a-half months, I can already walk just fine, I am lifting weight just fine. So we don’t know what that timetable is going to be, this is new territory for us all.
Again, there's nothing concrete here about what Kobe says. He doesn't note a particular month he expects to be back in the lineup, nor even say when he'll be able to resume normal basketball activities. It's one thing to be able to walk around better than expected and to not be feeling any pain at this point. It's another to go out and play 35 minutes on a back-to-back, while doing at the elite level he's accustomed.
Not to temper expectations—OK, I'm totally tempering expectations—but Bryant returning before November or December still seems far-fetched. The history of Achilles injuries is such that him returning on opening night would literally be unprecedented in the sport's history. For an aging player, this is about the worst injury one could suffer outside some freak Shaun Livingston incident.
That's not to say Kobe won't be on the floor opening night. It is possible that he shattered the recovery time and that the dude is just a freak of nature. However, the only correct answer to this entire situation at this juncture is "we'll see."
Want to Watch the Lakers Next Season? You're in Luck
In some ways, the NBA's yearly schedule release is an indicator of which teams the league thinks will contend next season. They're not going to throw the Bobcats, Magic or Sixers on the Christmas showcase, nor will they be throwing these tanking squads on national television unless it's under the guise of "well, in the interest of fairness..."
It's a completely understandable stance. MLB isn't going to subject its networks to games featuring the Marlins, Florida Panthers coverage isn't getting thrown down our throats during hockey season and, well, the NFL is probably an exception. Quit ruining my point with your parity and gobs of money, NFL.
Back to the NBA. The league isn't putting teams on its national schedule folks have no interest in watching. If you want to watch Al Jefferson hoist 25 shots per game next season in Charlotte, we have NBA League Pass for that.
So, if Lakers fans are looking for any sign of subtle encouragement, the league's schedule announcement Tuesday could have been it. Los Angeles opens the season with three straight nationally televised games, has a Christmas date against the Miami Heat and finds itself on the TV schedule far more than any other expected playoff scrambler in recent memory.
In fact, here's an interesting tidbit courtesy of Pro Basketball Talk's Brett Pollakoff: The Lakers will have more televised games this season than the defending champs. The Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks lead the pack with 33 nationally televised contests, the Oklahoma City Thunder come in third with 30 and the Lakers fourth with 29.
Miami? A mere 27 games, which seems awfully strange considering the whole having the best player in the world thing and winning two straight titles. But, as Pollakoff points out, the Heat are likely to win many "fan vote" contests for NBATV Tuesday night games and major markets mean just as much (if not more) than individual name value.
It's also worth noting that an overwhelming abundance of these national TV contests are after the New Year. Perhaps the networks are just trying to get a leg up on Kobe's triumphant return. Either way, Howard's departure isn't going to take the Purple and Gold off a national stage anytime soon it seems.
Bob MacKinnon Hired to Coach D-Fenders
This offseason has not just been one of turnover for the Lakers' big club. They've also seen quite the turnover at their developmental level, specifically at the head coach spot for their Los Angeles D-Fenders.
The D-League outfit was coached last season by former Sacrament Kings head man Reggie Theus, who had been four years out of coaching before the hire. Theus parlayed his 21-29 record with the club into a job at Cal State Northridge, understandably leaving the D-Fenders for a more permanent position.
In Theus' place, though, Los Angeles found the perfect hire—dancing fiend Mark Madsen. The Lakers hired the former NBA forward, who won two titles in three seasons with the club, in May to take over for Theus. Madsen had served as an assistant coach for the Stanford men's basketball team for the 2012-13 season and previously worked with the Utah Flash at the D-League level.
However, it seems Mike D'Antoni came away a little too impressed with Madsen's coaching skills. The Lakers coach poached Madsen away from the D-Fenders before ever even conducting a practice, hiring him for a role in player development.
All of a sudden, the D-Fenders again had no one to teach them how to d-fend (sorry). But, alas, almost two months after Madsen's semi-ceremonious promotion, the D-Leaguers have finally found their head coach for this season. According to the Los Angeles Times' Eric Pincus, the club officially hired Bob MacKinnon as its head coach Wednesday:
We are excited to announce Bob MacKinnon as the next head coach of the D-Fenders. Bob brings a successful coaching background to our franchise, winning at multiple levels and developing countless players at different stages of their careers. Most importantly, Bob shares our vision of cultivating prospects who can deliver quality minutes for the Lakers and the NBA while also contending for an NBA Development League championship.
MacKinnon is a veteran D-League coach, if such things exist. He previously spent time with the Springfield Armor and Colorado 14ers. He is the son of former New Jersey Nets general manager and former NBA and ABA head coach Bob MacKinnon, Sr.
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