- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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When the Los Angeles Lakers depart for their nine-day preseason trip to China on Friday, it will be 1 p.m. PT in L.A. When they arrive in Beijing, it will be approximately 5:45 p.m. China Standard Time on Saturday.
The time warp is unavoidable. The Lakers are hoping to sidestep any other pitfalls associated with the journey, however.
Culture shock? That’s being framed as potential for personal enrichment. Non-stop schedule of events and appearances? That’s being looked at as a chance to be ambassadors for the NBA and the game of basketball on a global scale. A pair of games against a Golden State Warriors team that made it to the second round of last season’s playoffs and only got better on paper with the addition of Andre Iguodala? That’s being spun as a helpful measuring stick for the Lakers to see where they stand with the regular season fast approaching.
“It will affect us just because you have to be worried if they’re jetlagged and things like that, but it shouldn’t disrupt us too much,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. “We have a younger team and some of it’s good. The bonding and all that supposedly is good . . . Hopefully is good.”
If you thought that sounded like D’Antoni was trying to talk himself into the plus-side that the trip has to offer, you were right.
“I would rather bond at home,” added D’Antoni. “But if we can bond over there, we’ll bond over there.”
Indeed, the Lakers have already begun to come together as a unit far quicker this season than they ever did during last year’s disastrous campaign. Training camp unofficially began a month early with daily voluntary workouts with the majority of the roster present and the team already has won two of their four preseason games heading into China after going 0-8 in exhibition games a year ago.
Even though Steve Blake called Thursday’s 104-86 loss to the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas “a step back” for L.A., the two-day jaunt to Vegas right before the nine-day trek to Beijing and Shanghai had a silver lining: Kobe Bryant took the entire team out to dinner at STK steakhouse at the Cosmopolitan on Wednesday.
This Lakers group -- with the additions of players like Jordan Farmar and Nick Young who already share a lifelong friendship, Shawne Williams who has a connection with D’Antoni from their New York days, and coaches in Kurt Rambis and Mark Madsen who have been reunited with the purple and gold -- should grow even closer halfway around the world with nobody but each other to lean on.
“Usually when you travel that far and you go through something like that, it can bring people together,” said Steve Nash. “We have a pretty good crew. We’ve had a lot of fun so far. Everyone seems to enjoy being around each other. So, it’s been really positive and I think we have the kind of group that will do really well on this trip.”
The majority of the Lakers seem to be keeping an open mind to the experience. Nash, for instance, could use the time back in the states to nurse his sore left ankle and he’s already been to China a handful of times so he has plenty of reason to curb his excitement about it, but he’s accepting it nonetheless. “I have a feeling that I will be dragged to the Great Wall again, but that’s OK,” said Nash. “It will be an honor.”
Blake, 33, has never been to China before and looks at the trip as a bonus.
“I’m extremely curious,” Blake said. “I’m someone that follows world politics a lot, so I’m curious about their landmarks and historical sites . . . So, for me personally, it’s a big deal.”
Marcus Landry, one of the four remaining training camp invitees on fully non-guaranteed deals along with Xavier Henry, Ryan Kelly and Darius Johnson-Odom vying for a maximum two roster spots, sees it as a reunion of sorts. He played for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association in 2011-12.
“Now that we’re about to go over there and half of these guys haven’t been, they’re like, ‘What is it all about?’ and things like that,” said Landry who is set to upgrade his status on the team from sparsely-used bench player to relied-upon tour guide. “I know we’re on this grass-fed thing right now, but I’ll take them to probably my favorite restaurant in Shanghai.”
Landry is also being counted on to take some of the team to have custom suits tailored.
“If you had a $1,000 suit here, you take it over there and probably could get it for no more than $200,” said Landry. “It’s a good deal.”
Chris Kaman believes the Lakers are getting a bit of a raw deal in terms of the timing of the trip, however.
“I wish they would have done it in the beginning (of training camp), because basically what’s going to happen, we’re going to get back and everybody is going to be all off kilter with their time schedules and sleep schedules are going to be all over the place,” Kaman said. “It’s kind of hard to do in the middle like that. You work hard for like a week and a half of training camp, then another week for preseason games and then you go and leave and your schedule gets all changed all over the place. Then you come back after a week and right as you’re leaving and get adjusted to the China time, you got to come back and switch your time back again. So, it’s not an easy thing.”
Timing is a huge factor in the trip. From what they’ll do on the 12-hour flight each way (books for D’Antoni, books and movies for Pau Gasol, Ambien for Kaman). To how they’ll get the most out of their practice time while there (“It’s important that, OK, we might only have an hour of practice, but that hour has got to be good so they need to concentrate on the time that we have on the court,” said D’Antoni). To how they’ll respond to only having 10 days remaining before their first regular season game when they get back to L.A. (“We got to get through the jetlag, continue our training and preparation and be ready to play opening night,” said Nash).
While the Lakers’ last overseas adventure might have been a sign of bad things to come -- they lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves in London and FC Barcelona in Spain during Phil Jackson’s final preseason with the team before they were swept out of the playoffs by Dallas months later -- other teams have actually responded well to the experience. The Boston Celtics went to Rome and London when the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce first came together in 2007 and went on to win the championship in June by beating L.A. Just last fall the Miami Heat went to China during the preseason to kick off a season that ended with a second-consecutive title.
“We owe a lot to the NBA and they’ve given us a pretty good living, so we have to go on a trip,” said D’Antoni. “Wow. I think that’s OK.”