HANG TIME WEST – Las Vegas on Thursday night for a game against the Kings and a planned post-game departure back to Los Angeles. Then, early in the afternoon Friday, about half-day after returning home, the Lakers are scheduled to fly to China. If all goes according to the itinerary, they will arrive Saturday evening.
Two games against the Warriors, Tuesday in Beijing (7:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV) and Friday in Shanghai (7:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV), and the long ride the other way across the Pacific. Arrive in L.A. late-night Oct. 18 or early-morning Oct. 19. One scheduled day off. A final exhibition, Oct. 25 versus the Jazz in Anaheim, Calif. Open the regular season four nights after that.
Most any season in recent Lakers history, this is a challenging stretch of calendar and getting tapped on the shoulder by the league for ambassador duty is something to push through. In this one, when rest for several members of the core is a priority and Mike D’Antoni is trying to capitalize on his first training camp as coach, ocean-hopping is likely the last thing they need.
As if that matters. This isn’t volunteer work. The league annually dispatches teams around the world during preseason in the name of global marketing, with Asia, South America and Europe on this year’s schedule. Some organizations appreciate the opportunity, maybe even a couple of the players and coaches who prefer more stable practice routines and fewer plane trips before airports and hotels come on a conveyor belt in the regular season.
The Lakers, a glamour team even in difficult times, get it. Boy, do they ever get it. Right in the gut.
“Nobody wants it, but that’s part of our business and that’s what we do,” D’Antoni said. “And you know what? We’ll make the best of it and try to get positive stuff out of it. But, yeah, if you had your druthers, you’d keep them locked up in a hotel for 30 days. But that’s not our reality.
“It happens sometimes. But we’ll make it work. Whatever. January, nobody’s going to say, ‘Yeah, that China trip just kicked our butt.’ ”
Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are being nursed along to the regular season, at which point Nash, at least, will play with rationed minutes. Kobe Bryant has yet to participate in a full practice and his availability for the opener against the Clippers, an uncertainty as camp opened, is looking more unlikely by the day.
And now they nearly get a Las Vegas-Beijing back-to-back travel, a series of appearances in China (the Great Wall, community-service events such as an NBA Cares clinic with participants from the Special Olympics, etc.), their body clocks tossed into a clothes dryer and the need for a quick re-adjustment upon returning to Los Angeles.
“If you said, ‘What’s better for me?’ obviously staying (closer to home) is better for me,” Nash said. “But that’s not an option, so I’m going to make the most of it and enjoy it. I like China and I’m going to enjoy my teammates and make it into a real positive and see if we can become closer as a group of guys that are just getting to know each other.
“It’s not ideal, obviously, to go across the world for preseason, come back from a jet-lag trip to China and play a week later. Anyone would obviously tell you physiologically that’s not what I think will draw out the best performance. But that’s the deal. We’ve got to promote. This is a business and we’ve got to go over there and do our duty. It’s about handling it the best we can.”