Jackson: Lakers 'behind the eight ball'
BARCELONA --The Los Angeles Lakers were selected by the NBA to travel to Europe this preseason to promote basketball on a global scale.
So far, the team has gotten the promotion part of the trip down pat. They're still waiting for the basketball part to kick in.
"We're doing pretty good in the NBA Cares clinics, we're not doing so great with our own practices," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after the team's practice at the Palau St. Jordi on Wednesday. "Five guys missed the team bus this morning. I'd blame Pau [Gasol] for that but we won't hold it against him. He took them out last night and showed them some of the sights in Barcelona. So, we got a little bit behind the eight ball, I think, on this trip."
The Lakers played Regal FC Barcelona, the 2010 Euroleague champions and Gasol's former team, on Thursday. They lost 92-88.
It hasn't helped things for the Lakers that the amount of injured vs. healthy players on the team is approaching the same ratio as the amount of naked vs. clothed sunbathers frequenting the beach near the team's hotel in Barcelona.
Kobe Bryant has only been able to practice once since the team arrived in Europe and he played only six minutes total in the Lakers' loss to the Timberwolves in London because of a right knee that is only 60 percent healed by his estimation. Andrew Bynum cannot put weight on his surgically-repaired right knee for at least another three weeks. Luke Walton's strained hamstring is keeping him out of the lineup until the team returns to L.A. Matt Barnes sat out a practice with a tweaked right ankle Tuesday. Rookie Derrick Caracter suffered a mild sprained ankle in practice Wednesday. Theo Ratliff has been limited in practice because of knee tendinitis.
"We have to see if we'll be a competitive team tomorrow night," Jackson said. "I'm very concerned about that."
Bryant reported that his knee was feeling better and said, "I'll definitely play [Thursday], I just don't know how much."
He also said he would support an annual series between the NBA champion and Euroleague champion and wishes he was healthy for the matchup.
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Bynum responded to Jackson's recent comments to the Los Angeles Times suggesting that if the 22-year old's injuries persist, the Lakers will be forced to only use him as a "short-minute guy," similar to Houston's plan for oft-injured center Yao Ming.
"We already tried to do that -- limit minutes," Bynum said. "I think it maybe can work, maybe not. I don't know."
Bynum said that a strict cap however, like the Rockets' 24 minutes or less rule for Yao, would not be something he would agree with.
"I'm not down with that at all," Bynum said.
While Bynum's situation is a long-term challenge for the Lakers, it is Barcelona's backcourt that is poised to pose a problem in the immediate future.
Juan Carlos Navarro, who formerly played for the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA and scored 34 points against the Lakers when FCB played a preseason game in L.A. in 2008, starts at shooting guard. Nineteen year-old sensation Ricky Rubio, who was selected with the No. 5 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, starts at point guard.
"We're keen on watching the progress of Rubio," Jackson said. "He has a lot of followers in the United States who are looking to see how his game is going to improve as he goes through these next couple years as a pro."
Lakers backup point guard Steve Blake, who Jackson praised on Wednesday for having an excellent start to training camp since signing as a free agent this summer, did not place any extra emphasis on the team facing Rubio, however.
"It's just playing another guy," said Blake, a seven-year veteran.
On the occasion of playing in one of the host arenas from the 1992 Olympics, Bryant was asked if he had any memories of watching Michael Jordan and the "Dream Team" win the gold medal.
"I watched every single game," Bryant said. "It was just one of those things where there was so much energy generated around this team, all the star power and all the championships that they had, I followed it closely. It was history in the making and I think that really took basketball to another level globally."
A Spanish reporter later asked Jackson about the Bryant and Jordan comparisons that will only increase the more Bryant succeeds and the coach said the tables have turned in terms of who is watching who when it comes to the pair.
"We love the idea that it could happen -- that Kobe could win a sixth ring," Jackson said. "I'm sure Michael is watching with great anticipation of how it's going to come out, too."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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