The championship banners and retired jerseys remained plastered along the walls of the Lakers’ practice court, serving as a visual reminder on what drives this franchise.
The Lakers (18-35) enter tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets (36-17) at Staples Center far removed from that goal. But the Lakers provided another looming championship presence during Tuesday’s practice in hopes of inspiring the injury-laden roster. Former UCLA and Lakers great Gail Goodrich observed practice and addressed the team in a question and answer format.
“It was about enjoying the moment and preparing for life after basketball,” Lakers guard Jordan Farmar said. “That’s what’s going to happen for all of us one day and one day soon. Just really go to school, network, stay passionate about the things you enjoy doing the same way you’re passionate about the other things with the basketball world. There’s other things you can enjoy after basketball too.”
But Goodrich offered plenty of insight on basketball, too.
Goodrich, who’s one of nine Lakers to have their jersey retired, still watches the Lakers from his home in Connecticut via NBA League pass. He doesn’t watch every game, but enough to attribute the Lakers’ struggles on their never-ending list of injuries and a “lack of consistency” also stemmed from evolving lineup changes.
“Do they make mistakes? Yes. Do they turn the ball over too much? Yes. They rely too much on the three-point shot as well,” said Goodrich, who helped the Lakers to an NBA title in the 1971-72 season and remains the franchise’s eighth all-time leading scorer (13,044 points). “But all you can do as a player, and I learned this from John Wooden, you look at yourself in the mirror and ask if I gave the best I could and I gave 100 percent. I think this team does that.”
After talking with Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, Goodrich also received a sense on what’s accounted for so many injuries. The Lakers lead the league with a combined 191 games missed due to injury.
“He explained he thought the speed of play is one reason,” Goodrich said of D’Antoni, who also pushes for a faster pace. “The game is played so much above the rim. Today’s game is much faster and it’s a full 94 foot game and everybody is running at full speed. Anything that goes a awry increases the chance for injury. When I played, the game was much slower.”
Still, it doesn’t help that the Lakers also nurse serious injuries to Kobe Bryant (fractured left knee) and Steve Nash (nerve irritation in his back).
Nash has appeared in only 10 games, averaging 7.6 points on 36 percent shooting and 4.7 assists in 22.5 minutes. He will sit out tonight against Houston and remains day-to-day after feeling more nerve pain last week stemmed from a collision with Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich. Bryant has appeared in only six games, averaging 13.8 points on 42.5 percent shooting, 6.3 assists and 5.7 turnovers. He missed the first 19 games while rehabbing his left Achilles tendon. Bryant has sat out the past 29 contests after experiencing continuous swelling and soreness in his fractured left knee. Bryant plans to see a team doctor today, but the Lakers expect him to need to practice at least a couple more weeks before returning considering he has remained confined to stationary bike exercises.
“Both of those players are really smart and have a lot of experience,” Goodrich said. “You start to cede a step here or there, Because you have that experience, you can play under control. It’s hard because both of them have been great players and are Hall of Famers. For them mentally, it’s a little tough. You have to fight through it.”
Goodrich had particular insight on Bryant’s injury. Goodrich strained his right Achilles tendon in his first game with the New Orleans Jazz in the 1976-77 season after the Lakers traded him. He still averaged 12.6 points for 27 games before ultimately having surgery in January and missing the rest of the season. Goodrich returned the following year averaging 16.1 points on a career-high 49.5 percent shooting. He played one more year before retiring after 14 seasons.
“No one in the game works harder than Kobe, but it’ll take some time,” Goodrich said. “Will he be the same Kobe we’re used to seeing? That’s a good question. But even if he loses a half step, he’ll still be better than most players out there.”
This all makes for a tough transition period for the Lakers.
“You have to be patient. They’re in a good position from a salalry cap position moving forward,” Goodrich said. “The front office has their work cut out for them. But in a year or two, you can turn this around. You have to be patient and draft well. Maybe they can make a deal here or there. The structure now is they have to make some good decisions. It’s possible to do that in the next couple of years.”
The Lakers traded Goodrich in 1976 to New Orleans for a draft pick that ultimately secured Magic Johnson. The Lakers will have a first-round pick for the first time since 1997. But leading into Thursday’s trade deadline, the Lakers are hoping to acquire more.
“That first round draft pick is important and particularly important for this coming year,” Goodrich said. “You have to continue to look at the future and build through the draft. You’ll have chances with free agency, but the salary cap presents an interesting situation that you have to navigate through.”
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