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Kobe Bryant

Can Kobe Bryant’s exit echo Derek Jeter’s?

As his latest and greatest of his opposite field singles dribbled into the hands of Baltimore Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis on Thursday night, Derek Jeter rounded first base as his neck snapped to his left. He stared with rapt attention as pinch runner Antoan Richardson raced home and barely beat out Markakis’s laser throw from 250 feet out. Jeter had singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, ending his career at Yankee Stadium with a walk-off, opposite field single in the clutch. No, there was nothing really on the line here except for a meaningless late September win. However, one of the greatest competitors in the history of North American professional sports left the stage on his own two feet as a walk-off winner with a hit that exemplified his entire career.
 
Now, let’s pay no nevermind to the fact that Jeter played both Saturday and Sunday in Boston, though his last at-bat yesterday was an infield single. What the Yankees shortstop will always be remembered for is surely his grand finale at Yankee Stadium on Thursday. As the latest major market sports star retires after a glittering career, it brings into clear focus the same exact scene we could be seeing two years from now when our own Kobe Bryant hangs up his sneakers for good.
 
(More at SS&R)

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If Kobe only plays for titles, how could this Lakers team become contenders?

On Lakers Media Day, Kobe Bryant, still in his late-career, filterless swoon, mentioned this to Ramona Shelburne amidst commentary on former coach Mike D’Antoni:

“For me, it’s winning and no in between…it’s championship or a waste of time”

This is nothing new from Kobe. If you’ve heard this once, you’ve heard it dozens of times…like later that day, to ESPN’s Arash Markazi:

“He [Byron Scott] agrees with me and it’s the Lakers organization we’re here for one reason only and that’s to hang championship banners, not division banners or conference banners or anything else. We don’t do that. We focus on winning championships and that’s very important for our young guys to understand.”

Kobe Bryant does not play for anything besides Larry O’Brien trophies. Even insinuating that he’s ever satisfied with less than that would be taken as an insult. He’d probably give you one of his patented “furrowed-brow-flared-nostril-frowny-face” snarls if you said anything like that (amongst his many amazing physical feats, Kobe has the unreal ability to make anyone feel like they’ve asked the most ridiculous question ever with a simple look). Bryant begins every year believing that he can help get his team to the promised land.
 
Coming off a season where the Lakers went 27-55 and the team’s two best players departed via free agency (in Pau Gasol and Jodie Meeks), a championship seems…unlikely, to say the least. Even the most optimistic (read: delusional) fan couldn’t possibly see this squad, as currently constructed, as title contenders. It’d be like asking Jimmy Buss to get an adult haircut–I guess it could happen, but holding out hope is just a waste of your time.
 
This isn’t to say that Kobe truly believes this team is championship material. Until he comes out and says that, let’s not paint the psychotically competitive Black Mamba as a certified psychotic. Well, at least in this sense.
 
However, Bryant has spurred an interesting idea: in the most far-fetched of scenarios, what would have to happen this season for the Lakers to even sniff championship contender status?
 
(Peep the rest at SS&R)

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2014-2015’s Best Reality Show: Your L.A. Lakers

Less than two months from the start of training camp, the Los Angeles Lakers are in a unique position that the franchise has seldom faced going into any NBA season: with long odds against them to make the postseason.
 
There’s really little to argue against that premise, with the exception of citing intangible motivating factors like “Kobe Bryant’s undying will to win” or looking to an even higher power (some would argue) and saying that God loves the Lakers too much for them to be bad for this long. But examining all the empirical evidence, the damning facts are there.
 
After the Lakers struck out almost completely in free agency this past summer, the team will once again revolve around the excellence of Kobe Bryant. While this has obviously behooved the organization for the past decade–and even further past that–the Black Mamba is 36 years old, past his prime and coming off of two devastating leg injuries. Bryant is still the straw that stirs the purple & gold drink, but even as much as he’d like to channel his inner 30-something Reggie Jackson, time–and NBA history–are against him.
 
That right there should be enough to make any rational Lakers fan a bit dour on the team’s prospects. But the rest of the supporting cast isn’t helping matters. The roster is filled with reclamation projects (Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Ed Davis), unproven youngsters (Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre), faded stars (Steve Nash, Carlos Boozer) and young veterans still trying to find their games (Jeremy Lin, Jordan Hill). Altogether, the fit just doesn’t look quite there. Offensively, this team doesn’t even remotely resemble any of the teams that Byron Scott’s had success with, and that’s even with Kobe Bryant performing at the peak of his powers. Defensively, the word “disaster” comes to mind, but that term may not even be adequate for what could lie ahead for this Lakers team.
 
All in all, placing your emotional stock in this team right now looks about as heady of an investment as throwing down for a piece of Myspace in 2014. Beyond the factors that the Lakers can control, they’re looking at a Western Conference that will be (cliché alert) as competitive as it’s ever been. There could be as many as 9 teams that win close to 50 games and that’s discounting any possible strides that New Orleans might make. To me, the Lakers have virtually no chance at making the playoffs. Combine that with an uncertain forecast for the 2015 offseason and free agency (Kevin Love may not be an option any longer) and the Phoenix Suns owning the team’s upcoming draft pick (thus all but eliminating the motivation to tank), LA’s road map back to title contention is as muddled as we’ve ever seen. We saw this almost unprecedented situation for the franchise at the end of last season: a Los Angeles Lakers team flirting on the fringes of NBA irrelevance. Come February, March and April, why should anyone pay attention to a team that’s well out of the race for even the bottom rungs of the playoff bracket? With the future on hold for yet another season, there’s a chance that we’re not even witnessing more than one Julius Randle-sized building block for the next great Lakers team. Besides a guttural, instinctive urge to follow this team, what’s there to watch? What’s there to care about?
 
Controversy. Isn’t that always the case with the Lo… Read more...

What’s the plan for the Lakers in free agency?

The Lakers have already fired their opening shot in getting together their next great championship squad: drafting Jordan Clarkson.

But they also picked up a fellow named Julius Randle–the number 7 overall pick–who hopefully will be a building block in LA for the next decade or so.
 
Beyond that? This year’s free agency could tell us a lot about where the Lakers are headed…or if we’re just going to be asking the same questions for another twelve months. What are the Lakers aiming to do in the coming months?
 
Plan A: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. Or many of them.
 
As with most offseasons, even with no cap room or assets, the Lakers are going to be involved in the free agent rumor mill. But in an offseason where the team has room for a maximum salary contract? They’ll be involved in every whisper, no matter how farfetched.
 
Which is exactly what this situation is.
 
The Lakers have virtually no shot at the former four-time MVP, nor the former scoring champion nor the former Miami Heat Harlem Shake video MVP. The Lakers are essentially bereft of proven talent, the largest factor that any of these free agents will take into consideration before committing to another team. In short, the Show kind of stinks right now and I’m not sure any of these All-Stars want to descend into this pit.
 
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Is LeBron James threatening Kobe Bryant’s legacy?

Last season, with the Lakers well out of the playoffs and primary nemeses in the Boston Celtics and Clippers out of contention, I shifted my ire towards the remaining final four teams. Like everything else in my life, my passion was directed against all that may do my beloved Lake Show harm. Contrary to the emotional slings and arrows of my purple and gold loving brethren, I almost didn’t mind seeing a Miami Heat victory in the Finals. But watching another chip going to Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs? Nothing would upset me more.
 
I conveyed my thoughts in a lengthy post, centered around the notion that we as fans should be most concerned about the clear and present danger to the legacy of Lakers and one Kobe Bean Bryant.That of course, was the Spurs.
 
With a fifth title for Timmy and Pop, San Antonio would tie LA for the most chips this millennium and Duncan–with two MVPs, five ‘ships and what would have almost certainly been three Finals MVPs–would supersede Kobe for the informal title as player of his generation. Double stampies, no takebacks.
 
However, thanks to a most unlikely (and mostly hated) source–a Ray Allen three-pointer–the Spurs and Timmy couldn’t add those accolades to the argument. The Miami Heat prevailed in an epic seven-game classic, giving LeBron James and Allen their second titles and Dwyane Wade his third.
 
This year, the conversation should be largely the same for me, no? Duncan has already built his resume to the point where I don’t even know if you could call Bryant the player of his generation anymore, especially after Kobe’s lost 2013-2014 season. Another championship would etch this in stone.
 
As a Kobe Bryant fan, I can’t root for the Spurs in this Finals matchup. On the surface, they are still the clear and present danger to the Lakers (and Kobe’s) legacy. Those things, more than any lingering hatred I have for The Decision, Jesus Shuttlesworth or Wade’s errant elbows, are what dominate the frontlines of my protective basketball fandom.
 
(Silver Screen and Roll has got the rest…)

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Walking the Line of Kobe’s Criticisms

If the Lakers are rebuilding, it seems that everyone besides Kobe Bryant has gotten the memo. In an interview this week, the sidelined Mamba went in specifically on how he sees this team next season and what his expectations are:

“How can I be satisfied with it? We’re like 100 games under .500,” Bryant said. “I can’t be satisfied with that at all. This is not what we stand for. This is not what we play for. A lot of times it’s hard to understand that message if you’re not a diehard Laker fan. It’s hard to really understand where we’re coming from and what we’re accustomed to, which is playing for championships and everything else is a complete failure. That’s just how it is. That’s how it was explained to me by Jerry (West) and all the other great Lakers who have played here and that’s how I grew up thinking. So that’s just how it is.”

 

“Oh yeah, let’s just play next year and let’s just suck again,” Bryant said, sarcastically. “No. Absolutely not. Absolutely not. It’s my job to go out there on the court and perform. No excuses for it. Right? You got to get things done. It’s the same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court is the same expectations I have for them up there. You got to be able to figure out a way to do both.”

It’s clear from Kobe’s comments that he expects the team to do whatever is necessary to get back to an elite level as quick as humanly possible. After all, isn’t that what he’s going to do this summer? He’s going to train and train and train, bringing his body back to as close to peak form as humanly possible at age 36. Kobe Bryant is going to do what he has done for 17 of the last 18 years–he is going to work harder than everyone else to make sure he’s still one of the best in the game.

 

For the Lakers? Their timetable isn’t nearly on the same spectrum.

 
(Read on at Silver Screen & Roll)

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The inevitability of another cursed season

I’ve been angry, Silver Screen & Rollers. Very, very angry.
 
We’re watching one of the worst seasons possibly in the history of the Lakers franchise. One of the team’s–and the league’s–greatest players ever is on the shelf and soon facing the very real end of his career. Another all-time great, respected Lakers competitor and now starting point guard (well, according to his checks, anyway), isn’t just at his twilight–this may very well be the end. The team has been an absolutely horrible, injury-riddled mess, tumbling down the hill from 2012-2013 preseason title contenders to 2013-2014 lottery-bound losers.
 
Again, I am displeased. Very, very displeased.
 
Part of it is just how putrid the team has been on the court. It might very well be by design, but regardless of how much of a “plan for the future” type of team this is, a particularly terrible defense is unbearable to witness on a day to day basis. Friday’s bombardment at the hands of the Clippers was just the latest in unwatchable blowouts to old foes that the Lakers used to own.
 
But part of my discontented disposition is the fact that some people didn’t think it could be this way this year. Here is a summary of some of the thoughts I heard from around the internet, the Twitters, my e-mail inbox and in every day conversation:
 
“The Lakers couldn’t possibly be as unlucky as they were last year!”
 
“There is no way the Lakers will be as banged up as they were last season with Dwight, Kobe and Nash. It’s just not possible that the team could face a wave like that again.”
 
“With a little more luck, this team could be better than most people think.”
 
Well, here we are, nearly halfway through the season and lo and behold: different season, same disappointment.
 
(Finish up over at SS&R)

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The nightmare season, all over again

In the midst of the Lakers fumbling their way to a loss against the Golden State Warriors, newly signed point guard Kendall Marshall made his LA debut. In just six minutes of playing time, Marshall looked every bit the draft bust that his reputation dictated. The former 13th overall pick just 18 months ago in the 2012 NBA Draft committed nearly one turnover per minute played with a combination of ragged half-baked pass attempts. Marshall looked completely unprepared to play with his new team, grasping to adjust to the nuances of Mike D’Antoni’s offense and misreading the habits of his new teammates. One can hardly blame Marshall in a sense, seeing as he was plucked out of the Delaware 87ers D-League rotation and 24 hours later put right back into a NBA game.
 
With injuries to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake, it’s clear that whether or not he’s ready for it, Kendall Marshall must play a role with the Los Angeles Lakers this season. As the 15th and final man on the roster, he’s quite literally the last resort for a broken, battered team that looks to be careening down the mountain quickly. Not that we’re at all foreign to this situation.
 
Last season, starting point guard Steve Nash broke his leg in just the year’s second game. His primary back-up, Steve Blake, was hurt shortly thereafter with an abdominal tear that required surgery. With Kobe playing heavy minutes at point guard, soon players like a washed-up Chris Duhon and unprepared second-year man Darius Morris were sopping up major minutes when, quite frankly, they had no business as serious NBA contributors. We watched on with a sort of bemused disbelief as Duhon launched 35-foot jumpers and Morris struggled to finish shots at the rim even Duhon couldn’t miss. It was embarrassing and unfathomable, a similar feeling that I got watching the Lakers on Saturday night.
 
(Read on at Silver Screen and Roll)

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With Kobe Bryant’s injury, what do the Lakers do next?

Yesterday afternoon we learned that Kobe Bryant, with just six games of the 2013-2014 season under his belt, will miss six weeks with a fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee. The injury occurred in the very same leg that his tore his Achilles tendon back in April, fueling the rampant speculation that the two problems are related to one another. Regardless of the chain of events, one thing is for certain: the Lakers will be missing their franchise player for at least half of the season, if not more because of the ramp-up time his mileage-wracked, 35 year-old body needs in his 18th season.
 
For Kobe, this could very well be just a lost season. He’s certain to play in less than 45 games, which would incredibly be just a fraction of his previous career low even in strike-shortened years (58 games). Whether he returns in February or later, there’s speculation that he simply won’t have the time to round into shape and become the elite player he’s vowed to return to. As I’ve written before, I firmly believe the Kobe Bryant we’ve enjoyed for the previous 17 seasons is gone forever. That guy–the killer Mamba playing a merciless 42 minutes a night, dunking on multiple defenders and blocking shots on breakaways–won’t ever be coming back. In his place will be someone else who will most likely be very good, but very, very different.
 
But for the moment, an exposition on Kobe’s past and future is premature. He’ll come back, he’ll fight against the odds and he’ll find a way to return to effectiveness one way or another, one year or another. I’m not worried about that. The more compelling argument I’m hearing revolves around a more pertinent question: what do the Lakers do now?
 
(Read on at Silver Screen & Roll…)

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5 thoughts on Kobe Bryant’s return

We’re three games into Kobe Bryant’s grand return to the NBA, but despite Bean’s entrance music last Sunday, thus far the sequel’s been much more Attack of the Clones than Empire Strikes Back.  After a small three game sample size, I’ve got a few thoughts on the matter:

     
  1. The defense is moving closer to preseason predictions

    Up until this week, the Lakers haven’t been as terrible defensively as many of us figured they’d be. They’ve wavered between 14th to 16th in defensive efficiency, a metric that measures points given up per possession. With their performance over the past two weeks, they’ve slipped to 18th…and still falling. The Lakers are 0-3 thus far with KB back in the fold, giving up an increasing point total every time; 106 to the Phoenix Suns, 114 to the Portland Trailblazers and a whopping 122 in a dominant beatdown from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Show has yielded a 47% or better field goal percentage in every game, with opponents averaging better than 55 points in the paint all three nights.A lot of the blame goes to Pau Gasol. He’s been horrible as rim protector this season, a partial indictment of his physical ability, but in part his willingness to embrace being the team’s willing stopper in the paint. Part of me wishes that he simply cannot do this anymore, because it’d be much worse if this was just a question of effort. Regardless, he’s been completely ineffective deterring opposing guards from taking him off of pick and rolls or just on straight drives to the rack. Even more discouraging is how he’s been bullied by his fellow big men, who routinely break him off the dribble or outmaneuver him beneath the rim. This is not to say it’s completely Pau’s fault; after all, the max effort guards on the Lakers may try really hard to stay in front of their opponents, but often times trying isn’t doing.

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