Mike D'Antoni was struggling early to find a lineup he liked—10 different players have started, eight have averaged more than 20 minutes per game—and the Lakers have fallen to 5-7 to start the season.
But more than anything else, it's a stretch that has showcased their impressive depth, as they have gotten some really solid contributions from guys like Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry and others.
And with one of the best players in NBA history on the verge of making his return to the lineup, the Lakers, albeit not likely a championship team, will be very compelling over the course of the season.
Mike D'Antoni: Official Party Pooper
On Saturday, Kobe Bryant practiced for the first time since having surgery on his Achilles last April. Couple that with the fact that he told Rick Fox a day earlier he could play—albeit with unknown effectiveness—if it was a playoff game, and the optimism surrounding Mamba's return was growing.
Leave it to Mike D'Antoni to put the kibosh on all of our hopes and dreams.
From ESPN's Dave McMenamin:
"You're dealing with, 'Is he sore today? Is there a setback tomorrow? How [hard] can he go?'" D'Antoni said after shootaround in advance of the Lakers' game against the Detroit Pistons. "That's the first step and there's a lot of steps to be taken. So, I just think we need to be cautious. We best just be cool and chill out a little bit."
No, YOU chill out, D'Antoni! This is Kobe we're dealing with!
The mustached head coach went on to say that "there's going to be a bunch of [games] before [Bryant] comes back," and that "nobody knows" when questioned about how many practices the superstar shooting guard would need before returning.
OK, so it's understandable. Bryant hasn't played an NBA game in over seventh months, and it's going to take some time for him to get back to game speed. Moreover, if the Lakers keep playing like they did during Sunday's 114-99 drubbing of the Detroit Pistons, they can afford to exercise some caution with the future Hall of Famer.
That being said, normal timetables don't really exist for Bryant, who, according to Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding, has been given full medical clearance. I still think—and this is pure speculation—he's going to return right around Thanksgiving. We'll say Dec. 1—Los Angeles' first home game after Turkey Day.
Either way, it's important to exercise a little bit of patience—even if we don't really want to.
Chris Kaman: The New Robert Sacre
After starting off his Laker career with five double-digit scoring outings (and over a block per contest) in seven games, Chris Kaman has seen his role steadily decrease.
On Sunday, the veteran seven-footer played just five minutes and never got off the bench in the second half.
Mike D'Antoni gave his reasoning, via the OC Register's Bill Oram:
Now, that sure sounds a lot like "Kaman stinks," but it's more likely a result of Jordan Hill's outstanding play than anything else.
Since being inserted into the starting lineup four games ago, Hill is averaging 18.75 points, 12.0 rebounds, 0.75 steals and 1.75 blocks per contest. Just for funsies, take a look at his per-36-minute numbers compared to some random player:
|Jordan Hill vs. Dwight Howard, 2013-14, Per-36 Minutes|
Don't jump to conclusions. There are lots of underlying factors, but it's still a fun comparison.
The advanced statistics aren't bad either. Hill has a 0.3 net rating (of the Lakers averaging 20.0 minutes per contest, only he and Jodie Meeks have a positive rating) and has been an absolute monster on the glass with an 18.1 offensive-rebounding percentage (ORB) and 26.0 defensive-rebounding percentage (DRB).
Among players averaging at least 15 minutes, he is first in the league in ORB and 13th in DRB.
Hill isn't the most skilled player on the planet, but his energy, hustle, defense and prowess on the boards is a dynamic the Lakers shouldn't want to lose.
Kaman is a nice defensive role player, but the combo of Hill and Gasol in D'Antoni's lineup is working well right now. Don't expect to see much more than 15 minutes of the former Central Michigan star on most nights going forward.
Steve Nash: Not Retired Quite Yet
There have been rumblings of a possible retirement for the 39-year-old Steve Nash, who can't seem to stay healthy and most recently was sidelined with a nerve root irritation in his back.
The veteran point guard is going to be out at least another week, at which point he'll be reevaluated, but most believe he'll be sidelined for much longer.
As such, this update from Mark Medina from the Los Angeles Daily News is at least a little promising:
It's not much, but being able to do any type of activity during what was originally supposed to be a two-week rest period is definitely good news.
That being said, with Steve Blake (11.7 points, 10.5 assists, 1.5 steals in his last six games) playing well, Kobe nearing a return and the Lakers boasting solid depth in the backcourt, it's unlikely the Lakers rush back the former MVP.
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