Lakers have mixed assessment of European trip
The NBA had hoped the Lakers' trip to Europe would help showcase the league's best talent before an international audience. Instead, fans from London and Barcelona saw the defending champs lose to the Minnesota Timberwolves and FC Barcelona.
This trip included plenty of sightseeing for the Lakers -- but also 11-hour flights, a travel alert in London because of perceived terrorist threats and multiple NBA Cares events.
The Lakers' visit to Spain marked a homecoming of sorts for forward Pau Gasol, a Barcelona native who, with all the activity, seemed to feel more drained than inspired.
"It was more or less what I expected," said Gasol, who visited with family and friends and had, as well, numerous publicity and media obligations. "That's why it was filled with mixed feelings."
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson already had called training camp a "bust" because the European trip would interfere with the process of implementing team concepts and solidifying team chemistry. Gasol had predicted earlier he'd feel stretched thin with all the responsibilities surrounding returning to his native country. And the entire team found out how much energy it required to help promote the NBA.
"This is entirely different," Jackson said in comparing other preseasons with this one. "But it's OK. It is what it is. We got this out of the way, and now we can focus on our business."
The first order of business? Jackson ran a three-hour practice that all attended, with the exceptions of Kobe Bryant (right knee), Andrew Bynum (right knee) and Luke Walton (right hamstring). The team has an off-day Sunday, "surprisingly" as Gasol put it, and then practice Monday and Tuesday before the exhibition game Wednesday in Las Vegas against Sacramento. That's followed by home games at Staples Center against Denver on Saturday and an undetermined opponent on Sunday, a matchup with Utah on Oct. 19 at the Honda Center in Anaheim and a pair of exhibition games against Golden State Oct. 21 and Oct 22 in San Diego and Ontario, respectively.
The Lakers hope that a schedule void of promotional appearances and heavy travel will begin to make up for the lost time overseas.
"It's been a demanding trip, exhausting a little bit," Gasol said. "We didn't have a lot of time to make improvements as far as our preparation. Now we're looking forward to get to work here and settle down and be able to get in a normal rhythm."
Here are some highlights from the trip, courtesy of Jackson, Gasol and Ron Artest.
Jackson: "The guys had a good time. I think Barcelona was enjoyable. In London, we were still getting our feet on the ground, and there was lots to do. The soccer game on Sunday with Chelsea versus Aresenal was probably the highlight for the guys on our trip."
Gasol: "Everybody was thrilled about being [in Barcelona]. They liked the city and what they saw. ... I tried to make some room and time so the guys could go to dinner and enjoy ourselves a little bit and enjoy a little bit of the city."
Artest: "Spain was unbelievable. I didn't know everybody was able to speak English as well. There were a lot of English-speaking people out there. It was great. It was a city you'd actually want to go to."
Here are some of the down sides.
Jackson: "We were out of focus a little bit. We didn't have a lot of practice time in Europe."
Gasol: "We spent more time on the bus in London than I probably did in my life."
Artest: "Our training camp has been weird. Practice, then on the road, then back to practice, then jet lag, then jet lag on the road. I don't know if we're in shape or not right now."
Jackson doesn't think they're in great shape. He has said that Lamar Odom is the only player in "basketball shape." Fresh off a stint with Team USA in the 2010 FIBA World Championships, Odom already looks to be in midseason form. He led the Lakers with 17 points in 27 minutes against Minnesota in the team's exhibition opener and followed with a double double (12 points, 18 rebounds) against FC Barcelona in 41 minutes.
Aside from that positive development, the Lakers still have issues. Bynum continues to recover from his surgically repaired right knee, and he's not expected to play at all during the preseason. Jackson expects Walton to be out another week with his strained right hamstring. And Jackson believes Bryant lacks strength in his right leg after seeing him go two of 19 in two games.
"He's not feeling well. I didn't like the way he looked on the floor, personally," Jackson said of Bryant, who logged 25 minutes against FC Barcelona. "He wanted to be competitive and tried to keep the game competitive. He's entirely not ready to play. Yet, he went out and gave an effort, which is nice. But I'm going to have to talk to him about some of the progress as we go through this training camp."
The Lakers essentially have two weeks left before the regular season starts Oct. 26 against Houston to fully address Bryant's recovery and the team's overall readiness. But for now, Jackson just wants incremental improvement, a development he had deemed absent during the European trip.
"We just want to make progress," Jackson said. That's all."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant watches, with a smile, during the game against Minnesota. Credit: Dylan Martinez / Reuters