EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Five things everyone is about to learn about the Lakers, with training camp opening Saturday…
1. Steve Nash Is Still Amazing
As hard as it is to remember, there was overwhelming optimism about Nash joining the Lakers a year ago. Now it’s all skepticism, with Nash coming off an injury-plagued season and just four months away from turning 40.
Here are a couple reminders from last year, though: Lakers executive VP Jim Buss told me his private basketball valuations, counting offense and defense, had Nash pegged as a top-10 guard in the NBA, maybe top five. And after the Lakers’ first practice of that 2012 training camp under Mike Brown, Nash said, “I feel as good as I’ve ever felt. So we'll see if that's the truth or if Father Time's catching up with me. But I have to say I feel as good as I've ever felt.”
Nash does need to be careful with his body, but the guy with the chronic back condition has had to do that his whole career. He comes into this season motivated to prove he’s not nearly done and, according to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, has been at 100 percent health for the past month and a half.
Don’t go out and draft Nash in your fantasy basketball league as if he’s going to put up his old numbers, because the Lakers want to limit him to 25 to 31 minutes per game. But he is going to show right off the bat how great he remains at what he does—especially in the familiar Mike D’Antoni system—knowing he only has to do it for shorter bursts.
2. Jordan Farmar Is Kind of Amazing Too!
I kidded in a recent column about “Farmar-velousness” being the second coming of “Lin-sanity,” but there is real potential for a breakthrough.
Farmar, nearly 27, is hitting the sweet spot of his career, where he has more maturity to go with the physical skills—and he’s here and not collecting that bigger paycheck in Turkey because he knows how good he can be in D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll system. There are not many point guards as quick as Farmar who can handle themselves so well upon entering the paint.
D’Antoni’s system needs guards who can make those plays, and the Lakers didn’t have that last season, except when Kobe Bryant was in distributor mode.
It’s no stretch to envision Nash and Farmar creating all game long, and by the time training camp is over, the Lakers will have that identity set—bumping Steve Blake over to compete with Jodie Meeks for whatever time Bryant leaves for them at shooting guard.
Nick Young’s arrival has gotten a lot more notice than Farmar’s return, and Young does have a clearer path to playing time, but Farmar might actually be a bigger difference-maker. You’ll also see how Farmar’s defensive agility on the perimeter and ability to accelerate the pace of the game fill other major voids for the Lakers.
3. Chris Kaman Is an Awkward Fit Here
Of the many additions to the roster, Kaman was given the most money by the Lakers to come—and there’s logic in that considering Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill are coming off substantial injury issues.
Both big men appear healthy, though, and the idea that Kaman helps solve the Lakers’ massive defensive problem is undermined by the reality that Kaman is a brutal pick-and-roll defender. And opponents are going to pick-and-roll Nash and Bryant like crazy.
Throw in the reality that D’Antoni’s reflex is to go small whenever he can, and playing time at power forward will be scarce when D’Antoni feeds guys such as Shawne Williams and Wes Johnson minutes there too. Because Hill has much more to offer as an energetic, defensive guy, it’s entirely possible Kaman won’t have much of a role at all.
4. Wes Johnson Shows Pau Gasol's Harshest Critics What "Soft" Really Looks Like
Johnson just said a lot of the right things—fresh start, just let it fly, play better defense, great system for him—in an interview with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com. Then the guy who has done basically nothing in the NBA since being drafted fourth overall three years ago also said, “I wouldn’t change anything in the world as far as my career has gone.”
Someone who has been labeled a bust and still says that is lacking something inside, no matter his sweet skills and how good a soft player can look in D’Antoni’s offense.
Johnson will get all sorts of opportunities throughout the exhibition season—and he catches the break of not having to deal with Bryant’s complete willingness in practice to shred new wing teammates who can’t stand up to him—but the hope that Johnson just turns it on is pretty far-fetched.
5. Shawne Williams Has Three Drug-Related Arrests in His Six-Year NBA Career
You might not have known that about Williams, but if he gives the Lakers as much as he can on the court, there will be a lot of people writing about this comeback the coming month—and maybe a lot more after that.
Williams, 27, was out of the NBA entirely last season, but the Lakers are giving him a chance—in large part because then-Knicks coach D’Antoni tapped into some good in Williams before. Williams can shoot the three-pointer and defend anyone in the frontcourt, which makes him the perfect guy to play big minutes for D’Antoni.
Williams also plays with a tough-guy chip, something else the Lakers can use after using their amnesty provision to cut Metta World Peace. In fact, Williams had a memorable moment for D’Antoni at Staples Center in January 2011, walking into the house of the defending NBA champions and daring to step to Ron Artest. When Artest reached his right hand up to Williams’ throat, Williams did not shiver.
Even though Marcus Landry is another D’Antoni favorite and Xavier Henry and Elias Harris have the tools to be defensive stalwarts, Williams will do much more than those guys if he can keep it together.
Kevin Ding is the Los Angeles Lakers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. He has been a sportswriter covering the NBA and Lakers for the Orange County Register since 1999. His column on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James was judged the No. 1 column of 2011 by the Pro Basketball Writers Association; his column on Jeremy Lin won second place in 2012.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinDing.