Last year was a long one for Los Angeles Lakers fans, with the squad plagued by a seemingly endless series of injuries. With the 2014-2015 season looking like it was over just a few weeks in, it was a long wait until Sunday, when Laker fans got their first look at the Lake Show in action. Were the new-look Lakers worth the wait?
The answer to that is a bit tricky. Sunday saw the return of 37-year-old Laker star Kobe Bryant. The aging Laker centerpiece had been out of action since tearing the rotator cuff in his right shoulder just 35 games into the season. At issue was just how much rust Bryant would have in his first game back in nearly nine months, and Bryant did, indeed, look rusty. The Laker guard missed his first shot by a mile, noted ESPN, as Kobe’s contested three-pointer from the left corner caromed off the side of the backboard.
Subsequent minutes didn’t see any flashes of the Kobe Bryant Laker fans have come to know and depend on, as Bryant went 1-of-5 from the field in just 12 minutes of play. Laker coach Byron Scott says he’ll be taking it easy on Kobe as far as Bryant’s minutes are concerned, so Kobe played the entirety of the first quarter and then sat the rest of the preseason matchup against the Jazz.
With Kobe on the bench, the load fell to the rest of the squad, and all eyes were on Los Angeles’ newest addition, rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell and Kobe started the game alongside Jordan Clarkson and the Lakers’ new frontcourt of Julius Randle and Roy Hibbert. Russell showed that he still has a ways to go in learning the NBA game, but the No. 2 overall pick was able to dish out three assists and notch five points on 2-of-8 shooting.
Hibbert, who is coming off of a truly disappointing stretch in Indiana, tried to set the tone defensively for the Lakers, who will likely be in need of a strong interior presence this year. The former Pacer was able to pull down 10 rebounds in his time on the floor.
Another new Laker led the way for the team in the preseason matchup, as 2015 Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams put in 14 points, four assists, and four rebounds. Nick Young chipped 10 points, as well.
Of course, the Lakers still came up way short, as they were blown away by the Jazz in the fourth quarter and dropped their first preseason match 90-71. Was there anything worth praising in this new-look Laker squad’s preseason debut?
Kobe definitely looked rusty, but Laker fans can rest assured that a good deal of that is due to the fact that Bryant was only medically cleared for all basketball duties just two weeks ago. The Laker superstar has been limited in just what he could do as he recovered from rotator cuff surgery, and it’s likely that errant first shot was just evidence of just how long Kobe’s been away from the game. Coach Scott was pleased with Bryant’s performance, even considering the limited minutes.
“He was pretty good,” Scott told ESPN of Bryant. “He moved well.”
Kobe himself said that it “felt good to get out there” following his first game in the better part of a year. Bryant also had words of praise for his young teammates, saying Julius Randle was “an animal” out there, and noting Randle’s “terrific combination” of competitiveness and athleticism. Bryant was also impressed by D’Angelo Russell’s signs of prowess at the point guard position, and he praised the Laker rookie for his “astronomical” court vision.
Laker fans shouldn’t get ahead of themselves and start envisioning June parades in Los Angeles, though. Coach Scott seemed to be trying to temper expectations after the game when he said the squad has a long road ahead of it.
Byron Scott: “I just told our guys, we’ve got a lot of work to do. There’s no way in the world we’re even close to where we want to be.”
— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) October 5, 2015
Still, after multiple years of truly disappointing play, the Lakers look like they’ve at least got a direction they’re heading in, and fans just might have something to look forward to this season.
[Photo by Nick Laham / Getty Images]