Lakers' three-peat trek starts in Europe
L.A. is the perfect squad to represent the NBA on an international tour
One of the many upsides of playing for the Los Angeles Lakers is the franchise's high profile, which offers plenty of opportunities for exposure. This makes the Lakers the perfect squad to represent the NBA for a pair of exhibition games in London and Barcelona against the Minnesota Timberwolves and FC Barcelona, respectively next week.
That these contests exist for no other purpose than marketing is hardly a secret, but it does serve as a serious interruption in training camp. Last Friday in a pre-media day press conference, Lakers coach Phil Jackson acknowledged that the setup leaves plenty to be desired as the foundation for a three-peat quest.
"This training camp is kind of a bust. You just have to try to do the best you can in this training camp. We'll try to incorporate these new players, embrace them, educate them in what we do [but] we don't anticipate in the first two weeks that we're going to gain any ground, so to speak."
"I think I can respect [Jackson's] point," nodded Derek Fisher after Friday's practice in El Segundo, just a few hours before the plane was boarded. "I do think it's tough to prepare for the type of season that we have in front of us with a disjointed month here in October."
Of course, a transatlantic flight is hardly the only issue facing the Lakers in October.
Andrew Bynum will miss the preseason -- along with, by his estimation, at least the entire month of November -- while recovering from offseason knee surgery. Kobe Bryant is hoping to play while in Europe, but has nonetheless been limited thus far while recovering from his own knee surgery. Luke Walton has taken part in practices, but his regular-season availability isn't yet defined after back problems forced him to miss large chunks of the Lakers' title defense. Plus, there's the acclimation of new veterans Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Theo Ratliff, plus rookies Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks, the former a candidate for unexpected early minutes with Bynum shelved.
Without question, these issues would exist whether or not passports were in need of updating. But at the same time, the obstacles are undoubtedly complicated by hours spent on a plane rather than on the practice court. A time change. Jet lag. The natural desire to see Big Ben and grab some paella, as long as you happen to be in either neighborhood.
But despite every reason traveling to Europe is anything but ideal, the Lakers are probably as well-equipped a team as any to make the most of this scenario.
For starters, several key players are fresh off a summer spent either vacationing or playing basketball around the globe (and in the case of Lamar Odom, both), so they're fairly acclimated to the lifestyle. Certainly, everyone will be tired upon touching down in London, but there may not be a big shock to the collective system.
As Bryant noted at Friday's practice, "Honestly, it doesn't even feel like I have a 12-hour plane [ride] coming up. We've all been traveling this summer."
That the core new players have been around the NBA block a few times also makes Jackson being forced to explain the triangle on a plane rather than the hardwood a relatively smaller deal. In particular, the well-traveled Barnes and Blake have spent their entire careers picking up new schemes on the fly, and that experience is already bearing fruit as they learn the finer points of Jackson's famously difficult system.
"They've been fantastic," praised Bryant when asked about the progress made by those wings. They're ahead of the curve."
Even building on-court chemistry with the duo doesn't strike Bryant as a mission pushed behind the eight ball by the trip. After several seasons engaged in various head-to-head battles, Kobe feels like the two newbies are pretty versed in his game.
"Blake knows where I go in the post," Bryant said. "He's gotten some of that. Matt, too. They know how to play with me."
That general experience oozing through the Lakers roster makes the bothersome setup easier to negotiate. Since the moment training camp opened, the focus has been palpable. Fisher noted how Barnes, Blake and Ratliff have raised the team's collective intensity, accentuating even further the task at hand.
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"We have a workmanlike attitude that's developed in this first week already," Fisher explained. "There's not a lot of joking around and laughing and being silly. You come in. Practice starts. You get it done, and we're out.
"I think it's going to go well for us going forward."
That this jaunt isn't being treated like a vacation on somebody else's dime is readily apparent. Yes, Odom expressed some interest in sightseeing and shopping ("Maybe getting my wife [Khloe Kardashian] some shoes"), and a Chelsea-Arsenal soccer match is among a few fun items on the itinerary. But the vibe upon undertaking this journey was uniformly business.
"I think the experience can be great," Fisher said. "At the same time, for us, it's a work trip. Even the times when we've gone to places like Hawaii for training camp, there's not much laying out on the beach and enjoying the sights. Regardless of what city or location you're in. It's kind of the same thing. We're not so focused on where we're even going. We just know we have to take a trip, but we're going to be committed to the process and most importantly, the fans and the people that are gonna come out and be a part of the events that we're attending. Still be respectful and do the things we have to do.
"But I think we'll be looking forward to coming back as well and just kind of getting back to work on our home turf."