Pau Gasol saw warning signs during last year’s training camp

Too many signs suggested that this Hall of Fame caliber roster would self-destruct well before the never-ending litany of injuries and competing agendas.

Lakers forward Pau Gasol traces it all the way back to the beginning of training camp last season, seeing the ominous signals that a disaster awaited. The Lakers met an 0-8 preseason start with shrugs because, well, who cares about the preseason? The Lakers shrugged off a poor start because it’s a long year. Until the Lakers front office suggested otherwise, firing Mike Brown following a 1-4 start and hiring a coach in Mike D’Antoni that has nearly opposite principles on offense and defense.

“It’s very rare in a preseason not to win a game,” Gasol said. “That was definitely a big alarm there. We knew something wasn’t clicking or working for whatever reason.”
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Mike D’Antoni to decide day of game if Steve Nash rests on back-to-backs

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni remains so reluctant on determining which games on the second night of a back-to-back Nash would sit that the coach may not decide whether he sits during the actual game.

“He’ll always dress and be available to use him in case someone gets in foul trouble or gets hurt,” D’Antoni said. “I might go into a game thinking he won’t play and then he’ll play. We’ll go that route.”

So would Nash play some games as a reserve?

“If he’s going to play, he’s going to play,” D’Antoni said. “He’s not coming off the bench. The only scenario is if someone got in foul trouble or someone got hurt.”

D’Antoni said he won’t decide how he will play Nash when the Lakers play Wednesday in Golden State after playing Tuesday night against the Clippers in a designated home game at Staples Center. D’Antoni said he wants to first see how Nash plays during the season opener and how his body responds throughout the following day leading up to tipoff.

“I’m hoping that whatever is best for the team,” Nash said. “If I can play them all, I’ll play them all. If missing a back end of some or all of the back-to-backs prevents me from mising a month or two from injuries, then I think it’s something you have to look at.”
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Shawne Williams officially to start at power forward

In what Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni tabbed as “not a well guarded secret,” Shawne Williams will start at power forward in the team’s season opener tonight against the Clippers in a designated home game at Staples Center.

Williams had already disclosed after Monday’s practice, but D’Antoni didn’t bother to keep his lips sealed anymore following Tuesday’s morning shootaround. The Lakers will field the same starting lineup in the last two exhibition games, including Steve Nash (point guard), Steve Blake (shooting guard), Nick Young (small forward), Williams (power forward) and Pau Gasol (center).

Williams, who averaged 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds through 18 minutes in the preseason, earned the nod partly because D’Antoni considers him an ideal “stretch 4″ that will space the floor and add three-point shooting. Lakers forward Chris Kaman has practiced the past two days after staying sidelined for two games and three practices because of a stomach virus stemmed from the team’s recent trip to China.

Before Kaman’s ailments, he started in four of five preseason games posting 11.2 points on 51.5 percent shooting and 7.8 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game. Once Kaman catches up on his conditioning, will he return to the starting lineup?

“I don’t envision anything,” D’Antoni said. “Those are hypotheticals. I envision that if somebody plays better or works better, then I will. We’ll see how it goes.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Chris Kaman believes Clippers will never duplicate Lakers’ success

Mix in Chris Kaman’s experience playing for both teams and his witty and on-point observations, and you have someone well versed in making sense of this Lakers-Clippers rivalry.

Everything appears on the up for the Clippers, who beat the Lakers in all four games last season by an average of 13.3 points. They hired coach Doc Rivers, who once beat the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals. They acquired Chris Pal two years ago after the NBA didn’t allow the Lakers to have first dibs on him. Meanwhile, question marks surround the Lakers everywhere. When will Kobe Bryant actually practice from a torn left Achilles tendon? Will Steve Nash play Wednesday in the Lakers’ back-to-back against Golden State. Will they even make the playoffs.

Does this mean the Clippers have now taken over Los Angeles?

“I respect what they’re doing and what they’ve done, but still, they’re nothing like the Lakers,” said Kaman, who played eight seasons there. “You look up here at all the championships. They’re never going to have that. It’s never going to happen. I don’t see it.”

“There’s just something about the Lakers. The history behind everything. It just makes it that much sweeter.”
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Kobe Bryant spends Monday’s practice on anti-gravity treadmill

For those Lakers fans believing Kobe Bryant has undersold his rehab progression on his left Achilles tendon so he can over deliver in the Lakers’ season opener Tuesday against the Clippers at Staples Center, here’s a daily dose of reality.

“There will be no Willis Reed tomorrow night,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, referring to former New York Knicks forward limping toward the court in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals after nursing a torn muscle in his right thigh. “We’re not trying to hide or pull a curtain back like the Wizard of Oz. There’s nothing behind the curtain. He’ll go when he can go.”

Bryant spent Monday’s practice on the anti-gravity treadmill instead of actually participating in practice. The Lakers maintain he hasn’t experienced any setbacks because he’s still medically cleared to run on the court and that Bryant chose to run on the weight-bearing treadmill on his own. This appears to fit Bryant’s latest strategy in which he revealed he “scaled back” his activity after participating in light jogging and shooting drills last week during the end of the Lakers’ nine-day trip in China.

“He pushed it pretty good, but now he’s trying to settle in and then he’ll up it again,” D’Antoni said. “I think there will be starts and ends. That’ the way it goes. He’ll have to monitor it. He knows better than anybody so he’ll know what to do.”

Still, don’t expect Bryant to return anytime this week with games including Wednesday at Golden State, Friday against San Antonio and Sunday against Atlanta. Bryant has yet to participate in a full practice, and has said he needs at least three weeks of that to restore his conditioning, explosiveness and flexibility in his Achilles tendon.

“I would think he has to at least pick the ball up and shoot some,” D’Antoni said, laughing. “We can convene a special practice for him if we need to if he’s ready to go.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Mike D’Antoni hopes to hold Steve Nash under 30 minutes per game

In what will likely become a pressing question everyday throughout the season, both Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash offered no more clarity on whether he’d sit out Wednesday at Golden State after playing in the season opener Tuesday against the Clippers at Staples Center.

But D’Antoni offered that he “probably” will try to play Nash under 30 minutes in games that he suits up. It’s likely though that the Lakers won’t decide until after the Lakers’ season opener Tuesday against the Clippers in a designated home game at Staples Center. It’s also possible the Lakers won’t decide until shortly before the Lakers play Wednesday in Golden State.

“I’m not having any preconceived notions,” Nash said. “If I play 35 minutes tomorrow night, I’m fine with that. If he doesn’t need me that much, I’m fine too. I’m not going with any preconceived notions. I’m just going to go out and play the game hard and go out anyway I can and let Mike decide what he wants to do.”
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Nick Young “enjoyed” playing with Clippers, but calls them Lakers’ “little brother”

His infectious smile shows off Nick Young’s happy-go-lucky mindset. But his purple and rose colored eyes stemmed from growing up here in Los Angeles shows everything on how Young views the basketball landscape.

That’s why he considered it “disrespectful” that Clippers coach Doc Rivers proved instrumental in convincing the franchise to feature posters of their players that cover up the Lakers’ championship banners and retired jerseys during home games. That’s partly why Young signed with the Lakers to a two-year, $2.3 million deal with a team option for the second second. And that’s why even if he describes his half-season stint with the Clippers as “fun” and called them a “deep squad,” he still considers the Lakers superior to them.

“It was fun. I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed it,” said Young, who played for the Clippers for 22 games after being traded from Washington during the 2011-12 season. “But the feeling of being a Laker is much different. The atmosphere is crazy and the fans are better. The Clippers are like our little brothers.”
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Pau Gasol: “I feel better than what I expected”

Time slowly passed as teammates and coaches eventually left the Lakers’ practice facility.

But Pau Gasol stayed longer, spending more than an hour in the training room following Sunday’s practice in hopes of ensuring a healthy 2013-14 season.

A cause for concern? Hardly.

Gasol finished the Lakers’ training camp as a huge bright spot, averaging a team-leading 13.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists through eight preseason games as the team’s focal point in the post. A season removed from missing a combined 33 games because of a variety of ailments in his knees and right foot, Gasol provided a positive assessment on his health.

“I feel better than what I expected,” Gasol said. “I’m really happy with how I feel right now.”

Dwight Howard’s departure to the offseason with the Houston Rockets set up Gasol to have more of a post presence. But his added effectiveness go beyond that.

“I get more comfortable within the offense because I’m in better rhythm, getting better looks and I can pick and choose my shots and decisions,” Gasol said. “Everything flows more naturally. It’s not forced.”

That was hardly the case last season.

Gasol played a facilitating role along the elbows and the perimeter because of Howard’s post limitations. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has conceded he also featured Howard in a more prominent role in hopes of enticing him to stay. D’Antoni also pinned Gasol as a reserve and sat him for parts of the fourth quarter in favor of Earl Clark because of the coach’s preference for a smaller and quicker lineup.

It also doesn’t help that Gasol suffered a variety of ailments that made him sit 33 games, including knee tendinitis (eight games), plantar fascia in his right foot (20 games) and a concussion (five games). Combine all those ingredients, and Gasol averaged a career-low 13.7 points on 46.6 percent shooting.

“When I came in, he was hurt and he had struggled with his knees all year,” D’Antoni said. “He never got a great training regiment in there to be able to overcome sitting out for a long time. He physically feels better. He knows a lot of stuff is going through him. He’s not the afterthought. He’s the main guy out there.”

And as a result, Gasol feels more empowered in leading the Lakers in the same way that once brought them two consecutive NBA championships.

“Psychologically, nothing against Dwight, but psychologically you know the ball is coming through you,” D’Antoni said. “You also don’t know, Am I the center, Am I this or am I that?’ It was a tough spot he was put in last year. But I think the combo of him knowing how important he is and feeling good makes him a great player. He is a great player.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Chris Kaman relishes Clippers experience, still upset how they handled trade

When it’s all said and done, Chris Kaman’s contribution toward the Clippers’ history may point more to his departure than his actual on-court production.

The Clippers acquired Chris Paul by trading Kaman along with Eric Gordon, Al-Faroug Aminu and a 2012 first-round pick, a move that instantly brought credibility to the organization and improved the team’s culture. And though Kaman hardly takes offense toward the Clippers shedding ties with him, he still sounded disturbed on how they handled it.

“I didn’t think they were respectful about it,” Kaman said. “After playing eight years, at least they could’ve told me what was going on. I wasn’t going to fight it. I understand it. Who wouldn’t want to make a trade to get Chris Paul. Look what it’s done for the organization. But just tell me. I would’ve appreciated if someone told me instead of finding out on ESPN.”

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