Kobe Bryant pleased with progress heading into season opener

Former Lakers star James Worthy said recently that Kobe Bryant “absolutely” must be consulted about the team's coaching hire, adding that anytime the star player is excluded, it has been a problem. (Danny Moloshok/The Associated Press file)

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant feels optimistic about the 2014-15 season. (Danny Moloshok/The Associated Press file)

Underneath his stoic demeanor, Kobe Bryant’s words conveyed a pure giddiness for a craft he has obsessively perfected.

Bryant’s mission statement through 19 seasons involves competing for NBA championships in June, making the Lakers’ season opener on Tuesday against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center just “one step of a long journey.” But for a player who literally could not take any steps as he stayed sidelined for all but six games last season, Bryant sounded poetic about just playing again. He gushed about “the sound of the ball, the squeak of the sneakers and the smell of the leather.”

“I’m not going to go over the top and say I’m overjoyed by it,” Bryant said on Monday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “But I’m happy to be out there and happy to be playing. It’s about finding a balance and trying to keep poised and calm without getting too over the top.”

That fine-line approach also captures how Bryant hopes to play in the 2014-15 season.

Bryant and Scott have remained pleased with how played through six games of exhibition play where he averaged 19 points on 38.47 percent shooting and four assists in 26.7 minutes. Although Bryant’s shooting accuracy could improve, his aggressiveness and rhythm increased throughout training camp. Bryant looked comfortable operating in the post. And he increased his stamina, playing 32-34 minutes in his final two preseason games before resting in the past week.

“I felt the way I thought I would,” Bryant said. “I felt normal. I felt like I could do anything I wanted. My body game after game felt good and solid. It shouldn’t be any different just because the regular season started.”

Bryant, no doubt, will remain the leader of an unproven Lakers roster both riddled by injuries and uncertain potential. Lakers coach Byron Scott wants to preserve the 36-year-old Bryant, but added he has left himself wiggle room between 30-40 minutes each game. In the Lakers’ 15 sets of back-to-backs this season, Scott plans to play Bryant between 25-40 minutes per contest.

“We’ll rely on him heavily,” Scott said. “But just like he told the guys and we’ve been telling them in preseason and training camp, we need everybody. Kobe is going to be Kobe. But we need everybody to step up and be ready to play and hopefully have their career bests.”
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Lakers’ Byron Scott believes Dwight Howard will try to “beat the crap out of us”

Houston’s Dwight Howard walked away from the Lakers as a free agent after last season, but returns to face them tonight. ANDY HOLMZMAN — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Houston’s Dwight Howard walked away from the Lakers as a free agent after last season, but returns to face them tonight. ANDY HOLMZMAN — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The noise level will rise once the Lakers take center stage in their season opener on Tuesday at Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant will play in his first regular-season game since suffering a season-ending left knee injury nearly 10 months ago. Byron Scott will coach the Lakers for the first game that matters, bringing full circle an NBA career that included winning three championships with the Showtime Lakers. Lakers guard Jeremy Lin will face his former team that traded him this offseason in a salary dump. And the Lakers’ recent top nemesis will emerge, Dwight Howard’s presence likely elicited rounds of boos and jeers after leaving unceremoniously two summers ago.

Lakers coach Byron Scott hardly addressed these topics with his teams, believing doing so just makes feeds into such storylines. But he talked plenty to the ones that always remain interested in such subjects.

“I don’t know what Dwight’s motivation is,” Scott said. “But if I’m guessing, I’m sure he would love to play and beat the crap out of us and have a great game.”

Howard has already faced the Lakers four times since leaving them. But this will mark the first time Kobe Bryant and Howard step on the court together in opposing uniforms. Bryant shattered his left Achilles tendon on April 13, 2013 just before the NBA playoffs started. Once Bryant returned, Howard had already left.

“My outside perspective is Kobe is a real serious guy and wants to win championships,” Scott said. “I don’t know if Dwight is that serious about it. I know No. 24 is and that probably was the clash.”
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Lakers’ Byron Scott says Kobe Bryant’s playing time between 30-40 minutes

os Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott, right, talks to Kobe Bryant during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

os Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott, right, talks to Kobe Bryant during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

After only playing in six games amid injuries to his left Achilles tendon and left knee, it appears that Kobe Bryant finally has a positive health report.

“He’s good,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said.

Bryant averaged 19 points and four assists in 26.7 minutes through six exhibition appearances. The good: Bryant increased his aggressiveness each game and resorted to a post-oriented game that seemed consistently effective. The bad: Bryant only shot 38.47 percent from the field.

But Scott feels optimistic considering Bryant’s skillset and after resting for the final two preseason games. Scott sounded expansive on his strategy toward conserving Bryant’s minutes after playing in only six games last season because of injuries to his left Achilles tendon and left knee.

“We got a certain number of mine and we’ll stick to that certain number as much as possible,” Scott said. “I’m not going to sacrifice a game for his health. We felt the number we all came to an agreement with is a number that is obtainable and a number that he can play at a high level. But it is a number that keeps him fresh in March and April.”
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Lakers’ Jeremy Lin to start Tuesday against Houston

It appears like the perfect storyline. Jeremy Lin will make his first career start in Lakers’ season opener on Tuesday against his former team, the Houston Rockets.

But Lin mused that “the headline’s Kobe vs. Dwight,” the obvious reference to the contentious relationship Bryant and Howard had as Lakers teammates two years ago. So Lin won’t try to exact revenge against the Rockets?

“No,” Lin said, smiling. “No.

Yet, Lin conceded it’s “a little ironic” he will start against the Rockets after he lost his starting position with them last year. But he noted, “I’m a starter I feel like because I’m healthy.” The Lakers recently ruled Steve Nash out for the 2014-15 season because of recurring back problems. Veteran guard Ronnie Price has a bone bruise in his right knee, leaving coach Byron Scott skeptical he will play against Houston.

But it’s fair to ask. With Lin facing his former team, did he feel like he received a fair shake during his two seasons with Houston after eventually losing his starting position to Patrick Beverley?

“Do I feel like I got a fair shake?” Lin repeated the question before pausing for six seconds. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I have to think about that one.”
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Lakers waive Jabari Brown, Roscoe Smith

The Lakers made what mark their last round of roster cuts, waiving training camp invitees Jabari Brown and Roscoe Smith.

The Lakers currently have 15 players on their roster heading into their season opener on Tuesday against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center. That marks the maximum number of players NBA teams can field during the regular season.

It remains to be seen if the Lakers will make any more cuts. Lakers guard Steve Nash remains on the roster because of a guaranteed $9.8 million contract despite the team sidelining him for the 2014-15 season because of persisting nerve irritation in his back. So the Lakers hoped to create a roster vacancy elsewhere since they will apply for the disabled players exception, which would allow them either to sign a free agent or trade for a player for $4.85 million.

Yet, the Lakers may not cut training camp invitee Wayne Ellington considering his current concussion would mean they would have to pay his full salary. Lakers veteran guard Ronnie Price seems assured of a roster spot to maximize the tema’s point guard depth, but he suffered a right knee injury in the Lakers’ preseason loss on Friday to Sacramento in Las Vegas.

Brown and Smith were both undrafted rookies that landed an invite to the training camp roster on September 23. Brown posted a total of five points, two rebounds and an assist in 22 minutes through four preseason games. Smith averaged 3.1 points on 45 percent shooting and 3.1 rebounds and appeared in seven of the Lakers’ eight exhibition games.

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Lakers offer sympathy for Steve Nash, while trying to move on

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

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Lakers’ 93-92 preseason loss to Kings ends with injuries to Ronnie Price, Wayne Ellington

LAS VEGAS — So many questions linger as the Lakers’ 93-92 loss to the Sacramento Kings at MGM Grand Arena officially ended the team’s exhibition season.

Will Kobe Bryant become an elite player again? Will Bryant have a reliable sidekick. Can the Lakers thrive on defense?

No one knows the full answer yet. But it already has become clear on one other issue. The Lakers continue to struggle to stay healthy.

Lakers point guard Ronnie Price suffered a sore right knee that limited him for only three minutes, a devastating blow considering the Lakers already lost Steve Nash for the season because of a recurring back injury. Meanwhile, Lakers guard Wayne Ellington suffered a concussion.

The Lakers will evaluate both Price and Ellington on Saturday, leaving the team unsure of its depth entering its season opener on Tuesday against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center.

“I don’t know what the status is going to be with Ronnie going into the season,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “He’s a tough kid though. If I had to bet money, he’ll be ready by Tuesday.”

The outlook on Ellington seems less optimistic simply because his evaluation will entail visiting neurologist Dr. Vern Williams. The NBA concussion policies require players to go through a series of exercises symptom free before being cleared to play. Those tests include ones on the stationary bike, light jogging, running, jumping and agility drills, team drills with limited contact and then full court contact drills.

“Wayne because of the protocol with the NBA, that’s probably going to be dicey,” Scott said.

It’s also dicey how the Lakers handle their 17-player roster. They can hold a maximum of 15 players for the 2014-15 season. The Lakers also want to keep a roster spot open to coincide with applying for the disabled player exception, which will allow the Lakers to sign a free agent or acquire a player through a trade that is worth $4.85 million, which is roughly half of Nash’s $9.8 million salary.

Price, Ellington, Roscoe Smith and Jabari Brown have non-guaranteed contracts. Price is expected to stay, especially because of Nash’s absence. But Ellington’s injury complicates issues considering the Lakers would owe him a full salary if he was cut while hurt.

Meanwhile, Lakers center Jordan Hill sat out for his consecutive game because of a neck strain, but he indicated he will play on opening night. The Lakers also have injuries to Nick Young (right thumb), Ryan Kelly (right hamstring) and Xavier Henry (back spasms, right knee).

Still, it’s clear what remains on Scott’s mind entering the 2014-15 campaign.

“Injuries,” Scott said. “That’s the main concern. We hope most of our guys are healthy by Tuesday.”

RELATED:

Steve Nash injury: Kobe Bryant relates to Nash’s injury struggles, longevity

Steve Nash injury: Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak unsure about adding point guard

Lakers sympathetic for Steve Nash’s season-ending injury

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

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Steve Nash injury: Kobe Bryant relates to Nash’s injury struggles, longevity

Los Angeles Lakers guards Kobe Bryant, left, and Steve Nash confer during a break in action in the fourth quarter of the Denver Nuggets' 126-114 victory over the Lakers in an NBA game in Denver on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. (David Zalubowski/AP File Photo)

Los Angeles Lakers guards Kobe Bryant, left, and Steve Nash confer during a break in action in the fourth quarter of the Denver Nuggets’ 126-114 victory over the Lakers in an NBA game in Denver on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. (David Zalubowski/AP File Photo)

LAS VEGAS — The partnership seemed unlikely given how they spent so many years competing against each other in heated playoff battles. But both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash rightfully gushed about the possibilities once they became teammates two years ago, knowing the NBA’s best scorer and passer of this past generation would give defenses fits every single night.

That dream scenario never happened, though. Nash played in only a combined 65 games in the past two years before the Lakers ruled him out for the 2014-15 season because of recurring nerve damage in his back. Meanwhile, Bryant tore his left Achilles tendon shortly before the 2013 playoffs, only to appear in six games the following season because of a left knee injury.

So even if Bryant reported Nash feeling in good spirits after the two touched base on Thursday night, how much can Bryant relate to any frustration Nash may currently experience? After all, both have earned universal praise regarding their methodical approach toward training, rehabbing and dieting.

“You can control what you can control, so he did everything possible to get back to playing at a high level so from that standpoint he should be able to sleep at night,” Bryant said. “I know I would. I could only think about that in my situation and I just tried to do everything possible to be ready, and it wasn’t in the cards, if I couldn’t get back to being at that level then you just have to accept it. But you have to know that when you put your head down at night that you did everything possible.”
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Steve Nash injury: Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak unsure about adding point guard

"The Lakers' Steve Nash does a behind the back pass after driving the key on the Wizards' Trevor Ariza, Friday, March 21, 2014, at Staples Center. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker/L.A. Daily News)"

“The Lakers’ Steve Nash does a behind the back pass after driving the key on the Wizards’ Trevor Ariza, Friday, March 21, 2014, at Staples Center. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker/L.A. Daily News)”

LAS VEGAS — Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak no longer has to handle the uncertainty on whether Steve Nash can either stay healthy or recover quickly enough to return to the court. But with the Lakers announcing that they have ruled Nash out for the 2014-15 season because of recurring back problems, how will they address their point guard vacancy?

It doesn’t appear they will settle this right away. Kupchak said he feels “okay” with the Lakers current crop of point guards, including veteran Ronnie Price, Jeremy Lina and rookie Jordan Clarkson. But the Lakers will apply for the disabled player exception, which will allow them to sign a free agent or trade for a player worth half of Nash’s salary ($4.85 million). The Lakers also plan to trim their 17-player roster to 14 by the season opener next Tuesday against Houston at Staples Center. Nash will still take up a roster spot because he is owed a guaranteed $9.8 million before his contract ends after this season. Meanwhile, Price suffered a sore right knee in the Lakers’ preseason game against the Sacramento Kings at MGM Grand Arena.

“Will we look to get another backcourt player?” Kupchak said. “I don’t know.”

Kupchak also sounded unsure on the likelihood that Nash would serve as a de facto assistant coach, a role that Lakers coach Byron Scott and players have endorsed because of his vast experience as a
two-time NBA MVP and third-place standing on the league’s all-time assists list.

“I think he needs to get away,” Kupchak said. “We talked about how welcome he’d be and how he wants to support his teammmates and how he’d like to come back. I’d like to see him out there working out there shooting. But I don’t see him as a shooting coach. He has so many things going on in his life. Maybe one day he would want to coach. Hes a pretty diverse business man. He has a lot of opportunities.”
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Lakers sympathetic for Steve Nash’s season-ending injury

"The Lakers' Steve Nash drives the baseline on the Wizards' Andre Miller, Friday, March 21, 2014, at Staples Center. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker/L.A. Daily News)"

“The Lakers’ Steve Nash drives the baseline on the Wizards’ Andre Miller, Friday, March 21, 2014, at Staples Center. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker/L.A. Daily News)”

LAS VEGAS — The Lakers prepared for their upcoming game the same way they have always done for most of them the past two seasons. They knew that Steve Nash would stay sidelined because of another injury.

But this time, the circumstances changed. The Lakers tried absorbing the unsettling reality that Nash would remain out for the entire 2014-15 season before it even began because of recurring nerve irritation in his back.

“We feel more for Steve than anybody because I saw how hard this kid worked out all summer long to get ready for the season,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “It hurts the team. He’s obviously the best point guard and one of the best that ever played the game. I know it hurts him. This is something he wants to do. He loves playing basketball.”

Scott has not spoken with Nash since the the Lakers announced the news on Thursday evening. He figured the 40-year-old point guard would “need some space” in digesting the latest string of injury news that has become constant in the past two seasons. Nash had stayed sidelined for the past week and a half because of worsening back issues, but Scott said deferred to Nash and the Lakers’ training staff on determining he could not play at all this season.

“I got a sense it would probably be like last year,” said Scott, mindful that Nash played only 15 games sprinkled throughout the 2013-14 campaign. “I got the sense this is probably something that will be ongoing and I have to figure out which games he can play and which games he can’t.”
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Steve Nash – Images from a Hall of Fame career

Lakers guard Steve Nash was officially ruled out for the 2014-15 season on Thursday after having recurring back problems. Staff photo: Keith Birmingham Pasadena Star-News

Lakers guard Steve Nash was officially ruled out for the 2014-15 season on Thursday after having recurring back problems. Staff photo: Keith Birmingham Pasadena Star-News

You read about Lakers guard Steve Nash being ruled out for the 2014-15 season because of recurring nerve damage in his back, likely marking the end of a Hall of Fame career that entails two NBA MVP’s and a third place standing on the league’s all-time assists list. You read about how the Lakers grew more concerned about Nash’s health and future after staying sidelined for the past week and a half. You read about how the Lakers and Nash felt cautiously optimistic about his health early in training camp.

But pictures always tell a 1,000 words. And in the case of LANG’s photo gallery of Nash, plenty of images tell various stories how he had still etched a Hall of Fame career before his endless health struggles the past three seasons with the Lakers.

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Steve Nash out for the season; Hall of Fame career likely at an end

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Lakers growing more concerned with Steve Nash’s health


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

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