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Lakers Q&A: Joe Smith maintains positive attitude in limited role, indulges passion for rap music and collecting hats

Joe SmithThis is the fifth post in an occasional series of Q&As with a member of the Lakers organization.

Below is a recent conversation with Lakers backup forward Joe Smith, whom the Lakers acquired Dec. 15, 2010 from New Jersey for Sasha Vujacic and a 2011 first-round draft pick. He holds the league record with Chucky Brown, Tony Massenburg and Jim Jackson for most franchises played for (12),including the Golden State Warriors (1995-98), Philadelphia 76ers (1998), Minnesota Timberwolves (1999-2000), Detroit Pistons (2000-01), Timberwolves again (2001-03), Milwaukee Bucks (2003-06), Denver Nuggets (2006), Chicago Bulls (2007-08), Oklahoma City Thunder (2008-09), Cleveland Cavaliers (2008, 2009), Atlanta Hawks (2009-10) and New Jersey Nets (2010)

From a basketball standpoint, what have you gotten out of being a Laker so far? I’ve enjoyed being on the team that competes the way we do. It hasn’t been perfect, but at the same time as of late we’ve been competing and playing the best type of basketball I’ve seen this team play from afar for years.

I noticed you have assumed Josh Powell’s role last year where you shake everyone’s hand before the starters step on the court. What do you think that does? That’s something that I’ve been doing for maybe half of my career. Every team I’ve been on, especially as of late for the last five or six years where I’ve been coming off the bench and I haven’t been starting. It’s something that I just picked up on. It’s a last-second, ‘let’s-get-'em’ before the tipoff. I look at as when you see a veteran as long as I have out there, it should be something that gets everybody going. Usually it’s a younger guy and the last guy you might see is a guy in the first couple years in the league, but when you see a veteran that’s been around and into it as anybody out there, I think it feeds into everybody.

What role, at least from what they tell you, do Phil [Jackson] and the rest of the coaching staff envision for you? We haven’t really talked about that. I guess we’re still trying to get a feel for each other. I’m picking up the offense more and more every day. Defensive schemes are something I’ve always known. The defense is no problem. Just trying to be as ready as I can whenever my number is called. As much as I do want to play, I understand this team already has a rotation. We have Lamar [Odom], Pau [Gasol], Andrew [Bynum] and that’s a rotation that he’s been going with. As long as we win, I’m good.

You’ve talked a lot about learning the triangle offense to be an ongoing process. Where are you with that? I’m pretty close. There’ still some terminology I have to listen very closely to in order to unscramble it and put it in basic basketball terms. Other than that, I’m pretty close. We go through the triangle every day, in shootaround, practice. Whether it’s three-on-three or four-on-four, whatever it is, we use some form of the triangle. I’m picking it up in all types of angles. It’s now having to do it without thinking about it. I hate to be out on the floor and having to think about a lot of things. It takes you a second behind once you have to think about it. Now it’s just being able to be out there and read and react. That’s something that will help me out a lot once I really get it down.

Do you feel settled yet in L.A.? Not all the way. When I first moved into my place we went on a 12-day, 13-day trip and then it was the All-Star break. We had a day here and then went to Portland. I’m still trying to get settled in my home. But it’s good to have a home to go to. I’m still waiting for my car to get here. I still have some stuff in New Jersey that I’m getting shipped out. Everything is happening slowly but surely.

And you just rent at this point? Just rent. I did the buying thing earlier in my career. After a while it gets hard to get the houses off your shoulder, especially nowadays.

When did you stop buying and start renting? The last home I purchased was in Milwaukee [in 2003]. I stopped purchasing houses and started renting. We found a place in Arizona and that’s where my family got established there. It made it easier for me to uproot my stuff than having to uproot wife and kids and everybody. I rent everything. I rented in Denver, Chicago, Oklahoma, Cleveland, Atlanta, New Jersey and rent here.

You hold the record for the most franchises played for. How do you handle that? A lot of people might look at it as a negative thing. But I look at it as a blessing. First of all, to be able to stick around for so long and be able to adjust my role on different teams where my worth is appreciated. A lot of guys I’ve seen come and go throughout this league. For me to be able to stick around and play with so many teams and so many players and meet so many people, it’s been a blessing for me.

You came in as the No. 1 draft pick in 1995 out of Maryland and averaged double digits in your first few seasons. Then you were traded multiple times. What was the process in coping with that? The first time I got traded was tough. The first time is always the toughest. Then after that, a few times I signed as a free agent. But most of the time I have been traded. I look at is as a new opportunity every time now. I don’t take it as personal or a negative like I used to.

How do you explain what happened with Minnesota? [Following the 1999-2000 season, the NBA discovered Smith and then team executive Kevin McHale were involved in a salary cap tampering scandal. Smith was allegedly promised a future multimillion-dollar contract if he signed with the team for below market value, prompting the league to void the last year of his contract, fine Minnesota $3.5 million and take away from the team five first-round draft picks]. That was something that was out of my control. I was a young guy and was kind of being misled at the time. It was pretty much out of my control. That’s something I don’t look back at or hold a raincloud over my head because I didn’t have too much to do with that.

Reflecting back do you feel that affected your standing in the league? It opened my eyes a little bit more. It made me feel a little more as if I couldn’t trust certain people as much as I thought I could. It takes a lot of time to have trust in certain people. Other than that, it’s water under the bridge. I went to Detroit for half a year and then went right back to Minnesota. It showed my appreciating with the Timberwolves and how much they appreciated what I brought to the team.

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Phil Jackson says Andrew Bynum plans to play against San Antonio

After performing "limited work" during Wednesday's practice, Lakers center Andrew Bynum says he feels comfortable enough to play Thursday against San Antonio, Coach Phil Jackson said.

"He says he wants to," Jackson said of Bynum, who sat out of Tuesday's 114-106 overtime victory over the Houston Rockets because of a bone bruise in his left knee. "He was out performing."

Asked how Bynum looked in practice, Jackson said, "It's not high energy, but he looked OK. It looked like he was ready."

Bynum didn't talks to reporters after Wednesday's practice, but speaking briefly following Tuesday's game, he said that his knee "feels good" and that he planned on playing against the Spurs.

--Mark Medina
Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Andrew Bynum says he plans to play Thursday against San Antonio

After missing the Lakers' 114-106 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday because of a bone bruise in his left knee, center Andrew Bynum said he plans to play in Thursday's game at San Antonio.

"It's good," Bynum said of his knee, speaking briefly outside the Lakers' locker room following the game. "I should be back."

Lakers forward Lamar Odom posted 20 points on eight-of-18 shooting and 20 rebounds while starting in Bynum's place against the Rockets, a role he filled in the first 24 games of the season while Bynum rehabbed his surgically repaired right knee.

Before the game, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said he didn't consider Bynum's injury serious, but he expressed uncertainty about how many games the center would miss.

"We don't know how quickly he'll get over this," Jackson said of Bynum, who's averaged 11.4 points on 57.2% shooting and 7.3 rebounds per game in 24 contests, 17 as a starter. "We're going to miss him, but we're relieved that it's not anything worse than that."

-- Mark Medina
Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Kobe Bryant, Robert Rodriguez talk about Black Mamba Nike ads, six-minute film

Kobe Bryant hadn't met Robert Rodriguez before he called him up on the phone last summer. But Bryant isn't known to be shy about much of anything.

Black Mamba poster His product team at Nike got Rodriguez's phone number and the man known as the Black Mamba dialed up the filmmaker.

Bryant wanted to recruit the groundbreaking filmmaker to direct a series of commercials for his new sneaker, the Nike Zoom Kobe VI.

Rodriguez said Sunday, at a press event at the Nike Vault, that he was in on the project from the first call.

Bryant, who scored 41 points in the Lakers loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday, said Rodriguez is a filmmaker unlike any other, someone who could set the ads apart from other shoe commercials.

"I wanted it to kind of jump off the screen," Bryant said on Sunday of his vision for the ad campaign. "And there's nobody better to do it than Robert."

Bryant then called up rapper-producer Kanye West.

"He and I had something in the works a couple years ago with Nike that just never materialized, so the opportunity came up again and he and I always kind of talk back and forth," Bryant said of West.

And Rodriguez too made a couple of phone calls of his own.

One to Danny Trejo, the cult-film actor who has played villains and heroes in many of Rodriguez's movies, and another call into Bruce Willis.

But while Bryant knew West and Trejo were in, Willis was a pleasant surprise when the Lakers guard stepped on Rodriguez's makeshift L.A. set for two days of filming last off season.

EastLA_KobeVI "Bruce was -- that was a surprise to me," Bryant said of Willis. "I had no idea about that until I showed up and then I was like oh ... damn."

Rodriguez made a six-minute film, titled appropriately "The Black Mamba." West plays a villain known as the Boss, with Willis as his henchman. And the Boss wants Bryant's shoes.

In typical over-the-top Rodriguez style, Bryant ends up playing a game of basketball against Danny Trejo and a mutant-like defense, on top of a skyscraper in downtown L.A.

In the film, out of bounds mean falling off the roof. Holywood_KobeVI

The process of shooting the film in two days also fits with Rodriguez's method of making films at a lower-than-normal cost, quickly, using a lot of special effects to create environments that would otherwise take a lot of time and money to build.

Getting Bryant up to speed as a thespian wasn't a problem either, Rodriguez said.

"He can act because he just knows how to get in the zone," he said of Bryant. "You throw him the basketball, you better have the cameras running. You better have the cameras running because then you see him doing what we does best which is truly unbelievable."

Bryant said he saw parallels between acting and what he does on the hardwood.

OrangeCounty_KobeVI "It's always about the details and the passion for what you do and kind of letting things to flow naturally -- a lot of the same things I do on the court," Bryant said. 

 The film will air on TV during the NBA All-Star break, Bryant said, not offering details on what channels just yet.

Also being released around the All-Star Game, which will take place at the Staples Center on Feb. 19, will be a set of Zoom Kobe VI sneakers called the Neighborhood Pack. The pack, made up of three colorways of Bryant's shoe, represents different parts of the L.A. metropolitan area -- East L.A., Hollywood and Orange County.

The East L.A. shoe is drenched in Dodger Blue. The Hollywood Pack features a 3-D reptile print that pops out when viewed with a pair of old-school red-and-blue glasses that come with the kicks. And the OC shoe is orange with a translucent green sole -- printed with a yellow and orange sunset.

Bryant is hoping the ad campaign with Rodriguez will be something people remember and he might be looking to do more with the filmmaker.

"We'll see," he said. "Robert [and] I talked about doing something. But in terms of the spot itself having a sequel it's -- we may, we may not. We'll see."

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog 

Top video: Kobe Bryant talks about the project. Credit: Nathan Olivarez-Giles / Los Angeles Times

Bottom video: Kobe Bryant and Robert Rodriguez talk about the making of "The Black Mamba" film and ad campaign at a press event at the Nike Vault on Sunday. Credit: Nathan Olivarez-Giles / Los Angeles Times

Top image: "The Black Mamba" movie poster. Credit: Nike

Second image: Nike Zoom Kobe East L.A. Credit: Nike

Third image: Nike Zoom Kobe Hollywood. Credit: Nike

Bottom image: Nike Zoom Kobe OC. Credit: Nike

Lakers center Andrew Bynum plans to start Friday's game against Philadelphia

Lakers center Andrew Bynum plans to start Friday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers and reported no pain or swelling in his right knee after Thursday's practice, two signs he's making progress with the conditioning of the surgically repaired knee.

"It was fine," Bynum said at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo. "It was nothing."

The only treatment Bynum received on his knee entailed therapy and ice, two procedures considered fairly routine. The only limitations involve what he calls his "explosiveness," a quality Bynum says will improve with more repetition. It's been 15 days since Bynum returned to the Lakers' lineup after spending all of training camp and the first month and a half of the regular season recovering from the offseason surgery. But Bynum made particular progress this week and was the lone bright spot in the Lakers' 97-82 loss Tuesday to the San Antonio Spurs with an efficient 10 points on four-of-four shooting in 22 minutes, though he went two of eight from the free-throw line.

Bynum made his first start of the season in the Lakers' 103-88 victory Wednesday over the New Orleans Hornets, helping end the Lakers' three-game losing streak, playing an integral role on defensive rotations and post presence and scoring 18 points on eight-of-12 shooting in 30 minutes.

"We knew we would have to make this move eventually, getting Drew out there on the floor," said Jackson, who had originally estimated that Bynum wouldn't return to the starting lineup for at least a couple of weeks. "It would take a little bit of an experimental stage and getting-to-know-you stage again. Fortunately, we came through it with flying colors. I thought it would be a lot more clumsy than it happened to be."

Still, anything involving Bynum entails continuous concern over his health. Jackson said he is always curious how Bynum responds a day after activity, particularly on a back-to-back. But a night after testing out his jumping, including an alley-oop lob from Kobe Bryant, Jackson said Bynum told him before practice that he "felt OK."

"The only way to get in shape is to play game-time minutes," Bynum said. "You can practice and you can run on the court, but it's not the same. "The longer you're out there on the floor, the more comfortable you're going to be and the more in shape you're going to get. Everything just works itself out."

-- Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Lakers' Devin Ebanks heads to D-League

Now that the Lakers have enough healthy frontcourt players, they have sent rookie forward Devin Ebanks to play for the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Development League.

The 6-foot-9 second-round draft pick has shown flashes of athleticism this season, but he only played in 12 games for the Lakers and was averaging 2.9 points and 1.5 rebounds.

-- Barry Stavro

Lakers talking to free agent Jake Voskuhl

Voskuhl_300 In search of a big man to add to an ever-thinning front court, the Lakers have talked to the representative for free agent Jake Voskuhl, a 6-foot-11 center known for his physical play.

Voskuhl, 33, did not play in the NBA last season. He was invited to the Clippers' training camp this season but was cut in favor of reserve center Jarron Collins.

With Andrew Bynum out until around Thanksgiving and Theo Ratliff out at least four to six weeks after knee surgery, the Lakers need a player down low.

"The Lakers are a great situation," said Voskuhl's agent, Mark Bartelstein. "Any time they call, you're certainly going to listen. Hopefully something's going to happen."

Voskuhl was close to being signed by a couple of teams last season and mulled some offers in Europe, but he sat out the season in part because his wife was having a baby, Bartelstein said.

"He's stayed in shape," Bartelsetin said. "There's no doubt he can help an NBA team."

Players cannot be signed to 10-day contracts until later in the season, but the Lakers can sign Voskuhl to a non-guaranteed contract on a weekly basis.

Voskuhl has played for five teams in a nine-year career. The Lakers consider him to be an active defender and rebounder despite career averages of 3.4 rebounds and 0.4 blocked shots a game.

-- Mike Bresnahan

Photo: Jake Voskuhl during Clippers' media day in September. Credit: Jayne Oncea / US Presswire

Lakers waive Trey Johnson and Drew Naymick

The Lakers released training camp invitees Trey Johnson and Drew Naymick on Thursday, putting the team's roster at 14.

The Lakers entered the preseason with four training camp invitees but released Anthony Roberson and Russell Hicks just before the team's European trip.

With the Lakers limiting Kobe Bryant's minutes and Sasha Vujacic missing the last two games because of a concussion, Johnson played the most minutes, appearing five games and averaging 2.8 points and 1.2 assists in 8.8 minutes per contest. He spent the last three seasons playing with the NBA Development League's Bakersfield Jam and international teams in France, Italy and Serbia. His only other NBA experience entailed signing a 10-day contract with Cleveland in February 2009 and playing in four games for an average of 3.5 minutes.

Naymick was on the Lakers' summer league team and played in only two preseason games for a total of 16 minutes. He finished his college career in 2008 as Michigan State's career leader in blocked shots (134), received little attention from NBA scouts and then played in Spanish and Polish leagues. At least landing on the Lakers' summer league roster serves as a small victory for Naymick, considering he couldn't crack Indiana's squad last year.

-- Mark Medina
Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Matt Barnes acknowledges struggles with learning the triangle offense

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There was a tipping point at which Lakers forward Matt Barnes said he felt he asked too many questions, appeared tentative on where to move on the floor and wondered aloud why things weren't clicking.

"This is the most thinking I've had to do about playing," Barnes said he remarked to a teammate during Tuesday's practice. "I feel like a robot sometimes because I don't really want to do something wrong."

By his own admission, Barnes' insecurity stems from the fact that he's not fully grasping the triangle offense. However, Lakers fans shouldn't overreact so early into the preseason and conclude that Barnes, who's joining his seventh team by signing a two-year, $3.6-million deal, won't grasp the concepts as quickly as another Lakers free-agent pickup: backup point guard Steve Blake. They also shouldn't believe Barnes will go through a frustrating learning curve, much like Lakers forward Ron Artest did last season. And it's too speculative to claim that Barnes' upcoming court case on Oct. 18 -- in connection to his off-season arrest on suspicion of domestic violence -- has distracted him from his studies.

It's frankly too early to make such assessments as the Lakers enter their third exhibition game, Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Las Vegas against the Sacramento Kings, particularly because a snapshot of Barnes' 4.5 points per game on 40% shooting in 16.5 minutes doesn't reveal much.

Sure, how quickly Barnes masters the triangle will determine whether he can fulfill the reasons Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak acquired him. Barnes' defensive toughness makes for what he calls a "dangerous combination" with Kobe Bryant and Artest. His 6-foot-7, 226-pound frame and playing history provide practical reasons why Barnes could play at multiple positions, including shooting guard, small forward and power forward. And Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said it's conceivable Barnes may play with the first unit at times, considering the team's hope that Artest won't have to shoulder as many minutes this season and Luke Walton's current absence due to a strained right hamstring.

I actually found that Barnes' brief interview with reporters after Tuesday's practice was a good sign that he will become a good fit for the Lakers. He brought up his struggles without prompting, delivered them in a matter-of-fact tone and sounded incredibly pragmatic on how to improve.

"The offense is coming," Barnes said. "I just need to learn the counters. Everyone here is so accustomed to the offense. When they make a certain move that's not really drawn up, I have a problem recognizing that. I think it's going to come with some time."

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Preseason question of the day: How will Luke Walton's back hold up this season?

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The mere mention of his name creates hysteria around this corner of the blogosphere. His injury history and three-year, $16-million contract draw sarcastic remarks. His passing ability, strong understanding of the triangle offense and team-first mentality go unappreciated. And the thought that this would serve as a preseason question of the day may create an uprising among the L.A. Times Lakers blog masses.

But there's no way around it. How Luke Walton's back holds up this season is one of the most important preseason questions for the Lakers. It'll dictate whether he'll be able to bounce back from a 2009-2010 season he described as "frustrating" because a pinched nerve in his lower back limited him to only 29 games. Walton's health will strongly influence how Phil Jackson will use his rotations, and determine Walton's future with the team.

The answer to this question won't make or break the Lakers' season, but it'll likely affect a bunch of moving parts. That's why it's no coincidence that General Manager Mitch Kupchak got West Virginia forward Devin Ebanks with the 43rd pick of the NBA Draft and acquired free agent Matt Barnes. If Walton experiences more back problems this season, the Lakers want to b able to absorb his absence.

"With Luke's back, we're not sure what the future holds for him," Kupchak told reporters after the NBA Draft. "He struggled this year and, to his credit, came back and was available during the playoffs. But he really struggled. He's going to devote the summer to rehabilitation. But if Luke can't really make a contribution next year, we felt we really had to get somebody who could back him up."

Walton recently told Lakers.com's Mike Trudell that he spent a good portion of the offseason visiting with Lakers strength coach Chip Schaefer, a back specialist, a Pilates teacher and a yoga instructor, all in the hope that his back wouldn't require surgery and that he'd feel as strong as possible heading into training camp.

"My back feels great right now," Walton said. "It’s a lot stronger. I’m feeling confident in it and am excited to test it out. That being said, at the same time I’m a little nervous, just because I know how much of a grind the season and training camp can be. I dedicated the whole summer to making it strong enough to last, and that’s what I’m hoping for. If it doesn’t, I’m in a pretty bad spot."

It would also cause a lot of shuffling for the Lakers, likely giving Barnes and Ebanks more playing time. The team would be without a fluid passer -- though Steve Blake could fill that role once he nails down the triangle offense -- and would lose one of its experts in running the offense at a time the newcomers need to quickly learn the system.

Again, this won't make or break the Lakers' chances of three-peating, but that could be a whole lot easier if Walton's back holds up.

We'll find out soon enough.

-- Mark Medina
Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Luke Walton. Credit: Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press

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