December schedule breakdown

VIDEO: Jabari Parker discusses the Bucks’ early struggles

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Milwaukee Bucks got an important win on Monday, holding the Denver Nuggets to just 30 points in the second half.

It was important for a couple of reasons. For one, the Bucks’ defense has been awful this season. It ranked 30th prior to Monday’s game and holding an opponent to 74 points could be the first step in the long journey back to the top 10.

It was also important because the Bucks have the toughest December schedule in the league. Wednesday’s visit to San Antonio will be the first of nine December games against top-10 offenses, the first of 10 December road games and the first of 11 December games against teams currently at .500 or better. No Eastern Conference team has more December back-to-backs then Milwaukee’s four.

The Indiana Pacers (11-5) and Charlotte Hornets (10-7) have both been pleasant surprises this season. And both will be challenged by December schedules that include 11 games against teams currently at .500 or better. The Chicago Bulls can find their footing with 11 December games at home, where they’re already 6-1.

The New York Knicks have lost four straight, but could benefit from nine December games against teams on the second night of a back-to-back. The Philadelphia 76ers, searching for their first win, don’t have any such games this month.


A few more Eastern Conference notes…

  • The Hornets have been the league’s most improved offensive team by a wide margin, but have played just four of its 17 games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. They play eight games against those teams in December, and the only game in their next eight which isn’t against a top-10 defense is on the road against an opponent — Memphis — that ranks seventh defensively over the last three weeks.
  • The Cavs have a nine-day stretch (Dec. 6-14) where they play just two games.
  • The Heat‘s Christmas Day game against the Pelicans is the start of a four-game-in-five-day stretch, two home-road back-to-backs to close the calendar year.
  • The Sixers‘ two best chances at a win are this week, Tuesday night vs. the Lakers and Saturday afternoon against Denver. They do have a chance to show increased improvement on defense throughout the month, with eight games against bottom-10 offenses.

In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers will have a tough time climbing out of the basement, with 13 of their 17 December games on the road and five back-to-backs. They’re playing eight games in the first 12 days of the month. The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, meanwhile, should be able to stay near the top with relatively easy December schedules.


Some Western Conference notes..

  • The Warriors maintained their perfect record with a narrow win in Utah on Monday and the rest of their seven-game trip won’t be much easier. The only games on it against teams under .500 — Brooklyn and Milwaukee — are on the second night of a back-to-back.
  • But after that game in Milwaukee on Dec. 12, the champs play just two games over the next 10 days and they’ll be home until a Texas trip on Dec. 30 and 31.
  • Eight of the Rockets‘ first nine December games are against bottom-10 defenses.
  • After hosting Indiana and Orlando this week, the Clippers play 11 of their final 14 December games on the road (plus a “road game” against the Lakers), with two separate trips to the Eastern time zone.
  • It could be a roller-coaster month for the Timberwolves. From Dec. 9-20, they play seven straight games against teams that are currently under .500. Then they finish the month with six straight against teams currently at .500 or better.
  • It’s time for the Pelicans to start defending better, and they play only three of their 15 December games against top-10 offenses.
  • The Suns‘ 18-game month doesn’t included any 4-in-5s, but does include two stretches of six games in nine nights. One starts Tuesday and another goes from Dec. 13-21.
  • The Kings will have some practice time between Dec. 11 and 17, when they’re playing just one game.
  • The Jazz play six games in nine nights from Dec. 8-16. Four of those six games are against top-10 offenses.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 1

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 30


Lillard, Paul both leave game with injuries | Rondo: Failed Dallas stint ‘made me hungrier’ | Evans, Cole expected to debut tonight for Pelicans

No. 1: Lillard, Paul both leave Monday’s game early — Last night’s Blazers-Clippers game from Staples Center featured a showdown between two All-Star point guards that ended prematurely. Both Los Angeles star Chris Paul and Portland standout Damian Lillard exited the matchup early as injuries shortened both players’ evenings. Casey Holdahl of has more on Lillard’s injury, which sounds like he was more or less sick to his stomach all game:

Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard played the fewest minutes of any game in his career Monday night versus the Clippers, and the results were about what you would expect.

Lillard played just 17 minutes Monday night and left the game midway through the third quarter due to “abdominal pain” as the Trail Blazers fell 102-87 to the Clippers in front of a sellout crowd at Staples Center.

Portland is now 7-11 for the season and 3-7 on the road.

Though he started Monday night’s game, as he’s done for all 264 games of his NBA career, Lillard looked ill from the opening tip despite not having any flu-like symptom until less than an hour before tipoff.

“I felt fine,” said Lillard. “When I was shooting (pregame) I even felt myself getting a little bit winded, stomach felt a little bit tight, but I thought it was maybe because I took a nap, my body was waking up. I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t feel sick. Then the game was about to start and going through warmups I started to feel a little bit sick. That was pretty much that.”

Though he played the entire first quarter, Lillard never looked like his usual self on the way to shooting 3-of-8 from the field for seven points.

“As soon as the game started I just felt weak,” said Lillard, who looked queasy while taking questions from the media postgame. “I played through it just to see if I’d be able to get myself going. I had never felt like that. Turning, running different directions, I wasn’t comfortable, stomach pain. I felt like at some point I was going to throw up on the court.”

Lillard would start the second half but played less than two minutes before calling it a night.

“I don’t know how serious it is but obviously (Lillard) wasn’t himself,” said coach Terry Stotts. “If he takes himself out you know he’s not feeling pretty well cause he’s played through a lot of things.”

Next up, the Trail Blazers head home for the second night of a back-to-back versus the Dallas Mavericks at the Moda Center Tuesday night. Lillard’s status for that game, which is the first time Wesley Matthews will return to the Moda Center since signing as a free agent with Dallas this offseason, is still to be determined.

“If I’m good enough to go then I’ll play,” said Lillard. “But I can’t go out there the way I was tonight. I know I can’t.”

VIDEO: Damian Lillard talks about why he left Monday’s game

As for Paul, he left the game with a strained rib muscle in the third quarter and was done for the night. Rowan Kavner of has more:

It was not immediately apparent how the injury occurred, but Paul was favoring his ribs and left the game early in the third quarter after posting 10 points, six assists and three rebounds in 24 minutes.

Paul will be reevaluated before a determination is made on the length of his absence. Portland point guard Damian Lillard (abdominal pain) also left the game early and didn’t return.

DeAndre Jordan said with Paul out, Blake Griffin has to become more of a passer, but he added that Austin Rivers has proven he can play.

“You can’t replace Chris, obviously,” Jordan said. “But we have to learn to play with somebody down. I may be down a game, Blake might be out. You have to learn to play without guys. That’s why we have such a deep team this year. Injuries happen, things happen, and we want to be able to fill that void.”

After playing all 82 regular season games last year, it’s been a tough injury stretch for Paul. The All-Star point guard strained his hamstring in the playoffs against the Spurs and has dealt with a fractured finger, a strained groin and now a rib issue early this season. The groin injury kept Paul out for three games earlier this year.

Head coach Doc Rivers liked the pace the Clippers still managed to play with when Paul left the game, and he thought Austin Rivers picked up his play defensively. Austin Rivers will have to be counted on to do that, and Doc Rivers said the Clippers will need to look to Griffin more now to handle the ball.

“Austin and Blake, it’s a combination,” Doc Rivers said. “They share the ball. Whenever Chris is out, Blake and the point guard do the ball-handling duties. It’s nice when you have a guy like Blake that can do stuff like that.”

VIDEO: Chris Paul leaves the game Monday against the Blazers


Gasol talks of chemistry, relationship, respect and success with Kobe

VIDEO: The Starters discuss their favorite moments from Kobe’s career

CHICAGO – Plaudits have rolled in from most precincts in the NBA, rivals and friends celebrating and reminiscing about Lakers great Kobe Bryant as if he’s not going to still be around for another five months. But Pau Gasol shared a special bond with Bryant. The pair teamed for two NBA titles and three trips to the Finals in their time together in Los Angeles, yet mixed at times like oil and water given their very different demeanors.

That’s why Gasol’s thoughts on Bryant’s announcement that this season would be his last were of extra interest to fans of Bryant, the Lakers and the league.

“He’s got that alpha-personality character,” Gasol said Monday evening before his Chicago Bulls team faced San Antonio at United Center. “You just have to understand where he’s coming from and work with that the best you can. Don’t try to bump heads with him. That’s not going to work out really well.

“So I understood. And my personality fit in perfectly with his and the team at the time. I never searched for the spotlight. I wasn’t trying to step on anybody’s toes. I was just trying to do whatever it took to win championships and help the team. And we did it great. I think we developed great chemistry, a great relationship and great respect.”

Gasol said he wasn’t given any heads-up from Bryant prior to his announcement Sunday via the Players Tribune Web site. But like a lot of insiders, putting 2 + 2 together – Bryant’s declining skills and the Lakers’ losing ways – wasn’t exactly calculus.

“I had a feeling this was probably going to be his last season,” Gasol said. “I was just hoping he would just have a healthy season, where he could enjoy himself in a situation where, team-wise, it’s a franchise that’s rebuilding with a lot of young talent. They’re probably not going to win a lot of games, so I just want him to have as much fun as possible in his last year.”


A photo posted by Pau (@paugasol) on

The team at the other end of the hallway Monday night, the Spurs, has more than its share of Bryant-vintage players, including Tim Duncan (39), Manu Ginobili (38), Matt Bonner and David West (35 each) and Tony Parker and Boris Diaw (33 each).

Ginobili’s thought upon hearing Bryant’s news? ” ‘I’m next?’ It’s coming,” the Spurs wing player said. “Of course it happened with Steve [Nash] last year, when he announced it. It surprised me [with Bryant] because it’s so early in the season. I guess he’s going through a tough time, so that’s what made him call it now.”

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich initially didn’t have much to say about the approaching departure of a prime nemesis. “All my Kobe memories are when he beat us somehow or other,” Popovich said. “They’re not very fun.”

But then Popovich’s appreciation for Kobe as competitor kicked in. “Beyond his ability, he’s one of those guys who brought it every night,” he said. “He wanted to destroy the opponent every night. Just a fierce competitor for all those years, night after night after night. Most players don’t know what that is, and he did it.”

Blogtable: What will Kobe’s legacy be?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s place in Top 5 Lakers hierarchy? | What will Kobe’s legacy be? | What was Kobe’s defining moment? | Do you see coaching in Kobe’s future?

VIDEORelive Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan’s career showdowns

> When it’s all said and done, what will the legacy of Kobe Bryant be?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAt a time when the NBA was wondering “who’s got next?” as it pertained to Michael Jordan, with some such as Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady falling short for various reasons, Kobe Bryant was the real deal. Almost eerily so, in fact, with certain mannerisms, priorities and speech patterns that seemed to mimic Jordan’s a bit too closely. But that’s what the league wanted, that’s what we wanted, and that’s what Bryant gave us, hitting his target like no others. He didn’t surpass the original, but he barged into the conversation, kept Jordan alive through the ongoing comparisons and bridged the gap till LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry came along.

Fran Blinebury, A single-minded, ferocious competitor with a penchant for the dramatic and a fearlessness in the face of any situation. For all the talent and the breathtaking exploits, he’ll also be remembered as a virtuoso talent who could never truly enjoy playing with the rest of the kids.

Scott Howard-Cooper, The rings. Within that, though, as the guy who did it his way no matter what. No matter how many teammates it turned off. No matter how many extra hours of preparation it took. No matter how unpopular he became for a time in Los Angeles. Determination was what made him and what hurt him, but either way it set him apart.

Shaun Powell, That he tried very, very hard to be like Michael Jordan and almost pulled it off. By “almost” I mean in terms of scoring and flair and titles. There’s a clear distinction with regard to greatness and icon status, which Michael has over everybody. Kobe won 5 titles, 2 without Shaq, and was fun to watch. That’s his legacy.

John Schuhmann,  In general, it’s positive. He’s the third leading scorer in NBA history and he has five championships, 17 All-Star selections (and counting), and two gold medals. He had a relentless work ethic and an incredible competitive spirit. But I’ll always wonder if he could have won another championship or two if he had the willingness to trust his teammates and the desire to make them better. Sometimes, that competitive spirit got in his own way.

Sekou Smith, Kobe’s legacy is a mix of defiance (I’m old enough to remember the reaction of many when he donned those shades and announced he was skipping college for the Draft), rip-your-heart-out competitiveness (roll any of his highlights) and, ultimately, triumph (see all five of his championships) and inspiration (see his millions of fans). For an iconic star whose path to stardom was paved in a most unconventional way, Kobe exceeded all expectations. Spending his formative years away from the U.S. always made his story something totally different from his contemporaries. It’s also what gave him the global appeal that has marked his time in the spotlight. He inspired the next generation in the same ways Michael Jordan did for his generation.

Ian Thomsen, At a time when high school draft picks were being criticized for their sense of entitlement, Kobe (not unlike Kevin Garnett) went old-school. He made the most of what he had. He prepared and played as hard as he could until there was nothing more to give.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: Kobe was the greatest player of his generation, as well as the fiercest competitor of his generation, and perhaps the most mentally tough player to ever play the game. Did he shoot too much? Did he not get along with teammates or coaches? Maybe, but in the reflection of history, those things won’t be as important to remember when recalling what made Kobe, Kobe.

Blogtable: Coaching in Kobe’s future?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s place in Top 5 Lakers hierarchy? | What will Kobe’s legacy be? | What was Kobe’s defining moment? | Do you see coaching in Kobe’s future?

VIDEOKobe Bryant talks about why he decided to retire after 2015-16

> Now that he announced his retirement, do you see coaching in Kobe’s future? And if not, then what will he do with this free time he has?

Steve Aschburner, Can’t see Kobe as an NBA coach because he seems to burn too hot. It’s also a level or two too removed from the sort of individual mastery that matters so much to him and for which he’s so famous. I could see him as an entrepreneur in the business world not unlike Magic Johnson or delving into entertainment as the driving force of a studio or production house. Or, most of all, really going global in cultivating international markets in apparel, media and other basketball-related enterprises. His candor would be terrific on one of the NBA studio shows, if he could keep it light enough to avoid appearing harsh. Owner of a team? Well, the guy Bryant’s always chased has left sneaker prints in which to follow, if that’s what he craves.

Fran Blinebury, Not a chance. No patience. No tolerance. No empathy. In fact, I’d pity his players. I’m sure he’ll pop up occasionally on TV, but not for a regular talking head gig. A life of royal repose.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Mamba Enterprises. Kobe Inc. His drive does not stop at wanting to take over the basketball world. It’s more likely he owns a team than coaches one. I think most anything is more likely than coaching, actually. But he won’t go away. Bryant will remain a presence.

Shaun Powell, Coaching? No chance in hell. Kobe wouldn’t have the patience for it. I’d love to see him become a basketball ambassador, given his passion for all things international, and buy a piece of the Lakers at some point. Of course a fair amount of people will want him to sit behind a microphone. Kobe will be fine with whatever he decides to do. 

John Schuhmann, I do not see him as a coach, because he doesn’t seem to have the temperament. He’ll likely get into TV and/or radio, because he’s not afraid to speak his mind and people will always want to hear what he has to say.

Sekou Smith, No way can I see Kobe coaching. Not in the NBA or anywhere else. The way he battled his coaches (namely Phil Jackson) … not a chance. Ownership seems more appropriate for a superstar of his ilk.

Ian Thomsen, The example for him to emulate would be Pat Riley. He would surely be willing to prepare and compete like Riley. But would Kobe be interested in relating to players who fall short of his high competitive standard? Riley, as an NBA role player, approached coaching from a different perspective than Kobe would. His career in coaching defined Riley, whereas Kobe already knows who he is and has no need to prove himself.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog I can’t see Kobe as a coach — dealing with the media demands alone would probably be too much. I could see him in a GM/president role, overseeing a franchise and thinking bigger picture. But really, I think he’ll be done with basketball for a while. He’s already set the groundwork for a career in something other than basketball, and knowing what a competitor Kobe is, my guess is he will want to see what kind of success he can have if he pursues a full-time career in the business world.

Blogtable: Kobe’s place among Top 5 Lakers of all-time?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s place in Top 5 Lakers hierarchy? | What will Kobe’s legacy be? | What was Kobe’s defining moment? | Do you see coaching in Kobe’s future?

VIDEOKobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talk on GameTime after a game in 2012

> Where does Kobe rank in your Top 5 Lakers of all-time?

Steve Aschburner, Kobe ranks second on my top-5, all-time Lakers list. And since I give bonus points to those who spent their entire career with the franchise in question, my list is 1) Magic Johnson, 2) Kobe Bryant, 3) Jerry West, 4) Elgin Baylor and 5) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kobe’s talents, drive, capabilities and accomplishments are second to none but Magic helped to revive both the Lakers and the league, is the point guard on my by-position all-time NBA team (Kobe is a backup) and remains my word-association response when I hear “Laker.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comTwo decades, five rings, 17 All-Star teams. It’s certainly enough to put Kobe into the conversation and I’ll respectfully listen. But Kareem and Magic are at the top of my list. One is the all-time leading NBA scorer with six MVPs and the other was the spark that lit the flame on five championship teams, nine Finals appearances in 12 years and began the modern era of the Lakers as the league’s most dominant franchise. I’ll put him a tie for third with Jerry West.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Second or third. I have always said Jerry West is No. 1 because he was a positive for the organization at most every level, a superstar as a player and executive and good in a brief run as a coach. After that, it’s Kobe and Magic or Magic and Kobe. Years after this question became commonplace, I still don’t know how to split 2 and 2A. Johnson was a great player, a leader and merely had a hand in turning the NBA into a global brand. Their ruthless pursuit of winning is similar. They both had to fit in with other Hall of Famers. There is no wrong answer. After that, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain follow in some order. I would put Wilt a tier below because he only had five seasons with the Lakers. Then it’s a Chamberlain-Shaquille O’Neal debate for the start of the second five.

Shaun Powell, Here’s the order: 1. Magic, 2. Kobe, 3. Kareem, 4. Jerry, 5. George Mikan. I give Kobe the edge on Kareem based on Laker longevity (Kareem started in Milwaukee) and Kobe owns more titles than West, although as players, they rate very close in my opinion. Nobody touches Magic. He’s Mr. Laker.

John Schuhmann, Second, behind Magic Johnson and ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and either Elgin Baylor or James Worthy. Longevity puts him ahead of Kareem and West, but I can’t put him ahead of Magic, who also played his entire career in L.A., had a much better winning percentage (.728 vs. .635), and was more of a galvanizing force, for both his teammates and the Lakers’ fanbase.

Sekou Smith, As great as Kobe has been over the course of his career, I’ve always been a believer that Magic Johnson is the all-time iconic Laker, over Kobe, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq and any of their other Hall of Famers. Magic remains No. 1 on my list with Kareem a close second and Kobe third. Being in the top three with two of the greatest five players in NBA history speaks volumes about the legacy Kobe has built during his unbelievable 20-year run in purple and gold.

Ian Thomsen, Kobe and Magic Johnson are tied for first. They can’t be compared directly – head-to-head – because their eras were so different. Some will downgrade Kobe’s first three championships because he had Shaq, but can’t the same be said of Magic’s partnership with Kareem throughout the early 1980s? This is going to make more sense in a few years, when it will be easier to put Bryant’s career into perspective, but for now I don’t feel right choosing between him and Magic.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog Same as I had him last time — I think he’s the second-greatest Laker of all-time. But even if he won a title this season, I don’t know if he would leapfrog Magic Johnson, the greatest Laker in my estimation. (Then again, if Kobe could win a title with this Lakers team, he might be the greatest NBA player of all-time.)

Blogtable: What was Kobe’s defining moment?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s place in Top 5 Lakers hierarchy? | What will Kobe’s legacy be? | What was Kobe’s defining moment? | Do you see coaching in Kobe’s future?

VIDEORelive Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game in 3 minutes

> What was Kobe Bryant’s defining moment?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHe’ll probably get some love here for the championship teams he led in 2009 and 2010 without Shaquille O’Neal sharing the load. Someone might mention his MVP year or even a season in which he arguably should have won it. But to me, it’s the audacity, the brashness and the irrepressibility of his 81 points against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006. Bryant “went” where only the great Wilt Chamberlain ever had gone, as far as points in a single game, surpassing anything his role model Michael Jordan had done. Bryant might prefer the rings, partly because they’re more politically correct as personal achievements in a team sport, but let’s face it: he was a scorer and only one guy on one night ever did that bigger – and maybe not even better, in shot selection or highlight plays – than Kobe.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comGame 5 of the Western Conference semifinal playoff series against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City in 1997. Kobe the rookie fired up airball after airball after airball in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Lakers were eliminated.  And the 18-year-old simply didn’t give a damn and kept right on shooting. That’s who Kobe has been for 20 NBA seasons — not always right, but never unsure.

Scott Howard-Cooper, There are five of them. One on each finger. Choose a hand.

Shaun Powell, If we mean a singular moment, then it’s his 81-point game. In terms of moment on a bit grander and more important scale, then I’d say his fifth championship. That gave him one more than Shaq, one less than Jordan.

John Schuhmann, The fourth quarter of the 2008 Olympic gold medal game. Shaquille O’Neal was the more important player in the Lakers’ three-peat, Bryant’s fourth title came in a lopsided series, and his fifth came with him shooting 6-for-24 in Game 7 against Boston. The gold medal game in Beijing was a do-or-die situation that the U.S. had worked three years to get to and one of the best games I’ve ever seen. After struggling through the first 7 1/2 games of the tournament, Bryant took over late and lived up to his reputation as the game’s best closer.

Sekou Smith, It’s nearly impossible to boil it down to just one. The title and Finals MVP he captured in 2009, his first title sans Shaq, sticks out to me. In order for him to shake the tag of being Shaq’s sidekick on those first three titles, he had to secure his legacy by showing that he could do it without the big fella. Once that was accomplished, he was elevated in the eyes of many. I think it validated all of the things he’d done up to that point and made him the unquestioned best player of his generation.

Ian Thomsen, He is going to be defined by the Lakers’ Game 7 victory over the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals. Bryant was injured and shooting poorly and yet he fought to the end, true to his character.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogSo many things come to mind, but when I hear Kobe Bryant, the first thing I think of is Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals, with the series on the line, as Kobe drove the lane, pulled up for a jumper and…dished a perfect alley-oop to Shaq. To me, that play perfectly encapsulated just how great Kobe was, as well as how dangerous a duo those two could be, at least when they wanted to be.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 30

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 29

Kupchak knew all along this season was Kobe’s last | Warriors will experiment without Barnes | Kobe’s long walk has finally begun | Kings try to stay strong without Cousins

No. 1: Kupchak knew all along this season was Kobe’s last — The timing might have caught some off guard. But Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak knew all along that this season would be Kobe Bryant’s last in the NBA and in purple and gold. Kobe’s Sunday announcement, via poem on the Players’ Tribune website, stunned many in the sports world, though not anyone paying close attention to the struggles Kobe and the young and inexperienced Lakers have been going through. And certainly not Kupchak, whose charge it will be to craft the post-Kobe rebuilding plan in Los Angeles.’s Baxter Holmes was there for Kupchak’s media session Sunday that provided some perspective on the past 19-plus years, the announcement and perhaps most important, what comes next:

Reaction [to the news]?

Kupchak:I’m not surprised. The surprising part of this is that he made the announcement today. My understanding all along was that this was going to be his last year. Certainly there’s been speculation and this puts an end to any speculation that he may come back for another year. But it was my understanding all along.

Right time?

Kupchak: We didn’t make it any easier for him with the group we have on the court. And that’s not to say that they’re not a talented group of players, but they’re certainly young and unaccomplished.

Awkward having Kobe and the young players — that balance?

Kupchak:It is awkward. It’s awkward, but there was really no other way to go about it. When you have a player of Kobe’s caliber that wants to continue to play and you think he can play at a high level, you’re going to let him play until he no longer wants to play. Yet it’s clear that we had to begin the process to rebuild the team. Now we were hopeful that we would get off to a better start this year. We think we added a couple veterans, along with a bunch of young players, and I thought we’d be better than two wins into the season. That’s not to say that we’d be on pace to win 50 or 60 games. But I thought we’d be a little bit better. But clearly we’re not playing at the kind of level that a player of Kobe’s age and experience finds challenging.

[It’s] kind of like, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not surprised that he would make the announcement now. I think the game will be easier for him now. I think he’l be able to enjoy the rest of the season. We haven’t had a chance to huddle up to see if we’ll use him any differently in terms of minutes. I don’t think that’s something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear [that] this is the last season for him, I think it will be more enjoyable. I think people will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building, which has always been [filled] with loads of love, but I think more so on the road.

Want him to change his approach and not be so shot-heavy?

Kupchak: I gave up hoping he would change his approach like 15, 18 years ago. He is what he is, and I’m thankful for it.

[When did you] find out the news?

Kupchak: This afternoon. My son is a freshman in college right now. He’s going to be 20 and he was born on the night of Kobe’s first game. So I did not see Kobe’s first game. So that kind of puts it in perspective. Twenty years. I have a son who’s a freshman in college, and that’s how long he’s been playing.

What has he meant to Lakers?

Kupchak: It is impossible for me to sit here and describe what he’s meant. Five championships, 20 years, 17 All-Star Games. MVP trophy. I’ve watched him get hurt, play hurt. We’ve watched the last three years with serious injuries [and] having to come back. Most players would not come back. So it’s hard to describe in two or three minutes. But he’s a winner. And he came into this league with an unprecedented desire to compete and get better and be the best and he remains that exact same person today and that’s with the good and the bad that come with it. But he remains that exact same person.

Did you think it would be this hard?

Kupchak: When he tore his Achilles, it took me completely by surprise. In fact, I thought it was a sprained ankle … Until John Black came to me and he’s walking to the locker room, I thought it was a sprained ankle. And he was 35, 34 years old then. So it’s not that surprising to think after a serious injury at 35 years old. Your body has a way of compensating or under compensating — if you hurt this leg, then you lean more that way and now that leg gets hurt and so forth and so on … at least this is what [Lakers trainer] Gary Vitti tells me. So it’s not that surprising that one injury would lead to another. Inactivity for half a year, then come back — there’s no way to duplicate an NBA game. And he’s 36, 37. How surprising can it be?

Watching him last 15 games?

Kupchak: Like everybody else, I go back and forth. I talk to Kobe about it and he says it’s timing and getting my legs under me and conditioning, getting used to playing with different players. And I buy in. Then I watch the games on TV and I read the paper and I remind myself that he’s 37 years old and maybe it’s more than that. So I go back and forth on it.

What’s his role for the rest of the season?

Kupchak: Not sure yet. Once again, this is something that was brought to my attention late this afternoon and I have not discussed it with ownership or our coaches yet. I would hope that he has more fun and appears less frustrated and also gets more appreciation. He’ll get it at home, but on the road as well, because people will now have to recognize that this is the last year watching one of the all-time greats.

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant speaks on his decision to retire at the end of this season


No. 2: Warriors will experiment without Barnes in the lineup — The Golden State Warriors will have to continue their undefeated march without Harrison Barnes for at least a week. It’s a basketball experiment the versatile and deep Warriors are prepared to deal with, but not one they are necessarily looking forward to. Barnes has fantastic start to his season and has played a huge role in the Warriors setting the record for the best start in NBA history. Now comes the tricky part for Luke Walton and Steve Kerr, figuring out what direction to go while Barnes rests that sprained ankle. Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group has more:

Harrison Barnes had been such a reliable component to the Warriors’ rotations — 205 consecutive games, 120 straight starts — that they hadn’t needed to do a lot of lineup experimentation that didn’t include him.

That all changed when Barnes missed his first game in nearly three seasons Saturday against the Sacramento Kings. Interim coach Luke Walton, after brainstorming with ailing head coach Steve Kerr, went to a number of novel lineups either rarely employed or never seen before in achieving the team’s 18th win without a loss.

The lineup laboratory work likely will continue on the Warriors’ seven-game road trip, which begins Monday night in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz, for as long as Barnes is out with a left ankle sprain. That is expected to be at least a week, which will cover four games of the trip, and he could possibly miss them all even though he’ll be along for the entire ride.

Brandon Rush, who started in place of Barnes and delivered an explosive 7½-minute third quarter stint, wasn’t the only revelation. Big man Marreese Speights, who has been aching to get back in the mix, played 17 minutes and was effective, scoring 13 with five rebounds. Veteran guard Leandro Barbosa played 21 minutes, including a good chunk alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Even end-of-the-bench guard Ian Clark got some important time, playing alongside Curry and Thompson in a three-guard alignment. Within the groupings, Draymond Green played both big and small forward, and Speights played both center and power forward.

“It’s kind of a learning curve right now, because we use Harrison at so many different positions, we’ve got to find rotations that we haven’t had to use before,” Walton said. “So we’re going to keep trying different things.

“We know we’re going to need contributions from Mo and other guys so we’re going to keep getting them out there,” he continued. “If it ends up an awkward lineup, we’re going to ride with it for awhile and see how it goes. We’ll get a better feel for life without Harrison until we can get him back.”


No. 3:Kobe’s long walk has finally begun — Father Time finally got his hands on Kobe Bryant and refused to let go. The news that this would be his final season hit hard in Los Angeles, where the love for Bryant is just about the only thing the masses in the Southland agree upon. Longtime Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke offers his unique perspective on the moment:

Bryant’s jersey will be going from his back into the Staples Center rafters, and his body will leave the court and be immediately bronzed for a Staples Center statue.

“I was shocked,” Coach Scott said upon hearing the news. “And then after I had a chance to kind of think about it, I was sad.”

There would have been more sadness in watching Bryant, whose $25-million-a-year deal expires after this season, attempt to earn another contract. Now, perhaps for the first time in the career of one of the greatest competitors in any sport, he can relax and enjoy the ride. Maybe, too, fans of opposing teams who have jeered him can enjoy that ride with him.

“The game will be easier for him now. I think he’ll be able to enjoy the rest of the season,” Kupchak said. “I hope he has more fun and appears less frustrated and gets more appreciation. People will now have to recognize this is his last year and they’re watching one of the all-time greats.”

An outpouring of affection from notoriously tough New York fans during the Lakers’ recent visit to Madison Square Garden felt like the beginning of the farewell tour. The first stop on the now-official tour will be Tuesday in Philadelphia, where Bryant attended high school.

The last stop will be at Staples Center on April 13 against the Utah Jazz, an otherwise meaningless game that will become one of the hottest tickets in Los Angeles sports history.

In the months between those games, here’s hoping Lakers fans will stop complaining about how Bryant is stealing minutes from the team’s younger players and hindering the team’s ability to rebuild. With his retirement imminent and the Lakers’ playoff hopes already dashed, here’s hoping fans will now cheer for Bryant to play as many minutes as his body will allow, understanding that they will never see a player like him again.

Even in his struggles, there is a certain nobility to Bryant attempting to squeeze the final ounces of greatness out of a body whose game has brought so much joy to so many.

“What we want from Kobe is basically his last game to be able to walk off the court, wave to all the fans, and be able to go into the locker room standing up,” Scott said.

That long walk has now begun.


No. 4:Kings try to stay strong without Cousins — Before this season there was a healthy debate about whether or not the Sacramento Kings would be better off without their enigmatic big man DeMarcus Cousins. That debate ended weeks ago. The Kings are just 1-7 this season without Cousins in the lineup and are struggling to find their identity without arguably the best big man in the game healthy enough to set the tone this season. Cousins has missed three straight games (lower back strain) and is questionable for tonight’s game against Dallas. Kings coach George Karl insists his team has to stay the course until Cousins returns and is healthy enough to do what he does. But that’s easier said than done when Cousins isn’t in the mix, as Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee explains:

“I think you’ve just got to stay strong,” Karl said. “This is the time of the year where Cuz has missed (eight) games. We’ll get back on the right track, but right now we’ve got to hopefully get healthy with Cuz, and once he gets in the lineup, I think we’ll get our confidence in a good direction.”

The Kings appeared to be heading in a good direction last Monday. They had a 22-point lead at Charlotte and looked poised to win back-to-back road games.

But Cousins did not finish the game because of his back, and Sacramento blew the lead and lost. The Kings won at Milwaukee last Wednesday but have since lost to Minnesota and at the Warriors.

Sacramento is 1-7 without Cousins this season. His status for Monday’s home game against Dallas is uncertain.

The Kings touted their improved depth as being key to withstanding injuries, but replacing Cousins’ 27.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game and his impact on defense is difficult.

“I think everybody knows that we’ve got to continue to keep our poise, staying together,” said guard Ben McLemore. “Even though we don’t have the big fella right now, we’ve still got talented guys who can go out there and compete every night.”

The Kings avoid panicking by keeping perspective. Since starting the season 1-7, they have gone 5-5, so they feel they’re improving.

And they realize they will have issues over the course of the season.

“Never too high, never too low,” said guard Rajon Rondo. “It’s a long season There will be ups and downs; it’s a roller coaster. Hopefully we can get this thing smoothed out pretty soon.”

The Kings could use a stretch of improved health and better defense to begin meeting their expectations.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Just so we’re absolutely clear on what Kobe Bryant has accomplished in his stellar career, take a look at Kobe by the numbersMike Dunleavy‘s return from back surgery might have hit a bit of a snag, as the Bulls’ swingman is set to see doctors today about sorenessJahlil Okafor is in desperate need of some veteran assistance in that Philadelphia locker room, so says a couple of former prized veterans who helped their teams to championships … A strange scheduling quirk to test the Oklahoma City Thunder, who visit the Atlanta Hawks tonight at Philips Arena … No fear! The Utah Jazz are eager for a crack at the undefeated Golden State Warriors … Check out these archival images of Larry Bird like you’ve never seen him before

ICYMI of the Night: Dwight Howard welcomed Kristaps Porzingis to the NBA with a wicked facial …

VIDEO: Dwight Howard smashes all over Kristaps Porzingis


Is Kobe the greatest Laker?

With Kobe Bryant announcing his retirement on Sunday, the string of praises and tributes are starting to pour in. Of course with any great player leaving the game one’s place in history will be debated. In August, we asked our stable of scribes across the globe if Bryant is the greatest Laker of all time. Here are their responses.

VIDEOPlayers around the league show their appreciation for Kobe Bryant

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comOne’s first duty in answering any question of this sort is to be protective of the predecessors, whether it’s a ’68 Mustang supposedly being eclipsed by the 2015 model or in this case, Kobe Bryant elbowing ahead of Jerry West and Magic Johnson. It’s hard to argue against “The Logo,” one of the best and classiest acts in NBA history, but Bryant – with his rings, his stats totals and his MVP trophy – has climbed higher among the game’s notables, which moves him past West as a swell Laker. I’m holding firm on Johnson, though, as the face of that franchise. We can quibble about the “greatest” definition, but Johnson was remarkable as a 6-foot-9 point guard who helped revive both the Lakers and the league with his team play and his smile. He also is my point guard on any by-position all-time team I put together and Bryant is a backup. So that splits my final hair here.

Fran Blinebury, You can put him in the conversation and I’ll listen. But Kareem and Magic are at the top of my list. One is the all-time leading NBA scorer with six MVPs and the other was the spark that lit the flame on five championship teams, nine Finals appearances in 12 years and began the modern era of the Lakers as the league’s most dominant franchise.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Jerry West is. He was a star as a player and a star as a general manager. It would be hard to find anyone who  impacted any organization in any sport so much. West had massive roles in championships on different levels. He coached the team as well. There is no reason to diminish anything Kobe has accomplished. But “The Logo” is the greatest Laker.

Shaun Powell, Magic Johnson is No. 1. Kareem is No. 2 only because he spent a chunk of his prime in Milwaukee. Then Kobe. By giving Kobe the nod over Jerry West and Elgin Baylor speaks plenty about the brilliance of Kobe’s career, because Elgin and Jerry were certainly no slouches (from what I understand; they were before my time). Kobe got buckets, was clutch and raised his game in the post-season. And aside from injuries, he was all that for two decades.

John Schuhmann, He’s clearly on the short list, but I can’t put him ahead of Magic Johnson, who was the most important player on all five championship teams he played on, had one of the three greatest Finals performances of all-time (1980, Game 6), and was obviously more of a galvanizing force for the Lakers, making his teammates better. I’ll always wonder if Kobe could have won more if he trusted his teammates just a little bit more.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. 1? Wow. That’s a tough one. I can’t go there, though, having lived through the Showtime Lakers era and seeing the impact Magic had on not only Lakers fans, but fans everywhere. Kobe’s right up there among the franchise’s greatest players ever, and perhaps even a 1A to Magic, but I can’t give him that No. 1 spot ahead of Magic.

Ian Thomsen, I’m going to say that Kobe rates No. 1, based on his longevity and the fact that he never had so much talent around him as Magic Johnson had in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Bob McAdoo, Byron Scott and the rest. Kobe led from a more vulnerable position, in a league that was more competitive top-to-bottom.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: I think he’s top three. To me, the top trio is Kobe, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And within that trio, I’d have Kareem third. Magic and Kobe may each have five titles, but when you consider their places in history, Magic came into the NBA at a time when it was struggling, and he helped transform it into the international behemoth it is today. Purely as a basketball player, Kobe may retire with the better career numbers, but being a Laker isn’t only what happens on the court. And in that sense, to me I don’t know if anyone will ever surpass Mag

Kobe Bryant announces he’ll retire at the end of the season

VIDEO: The GameTime crew reacts to Kobe Bryant announcing his retirement.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — No more speculation.

This will be Kobe Bryant‘s final season in the NBA.

Bryant announced his forthcoming retirement via a poem entitled “Dear Basketball” on the Player’s Tribune website.

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

Bryant will finish his career as the third leading scorer in NBA history, a 17 or 18-time All-Star, and a five-time champion. But injuries and age have forced him to miss 126 games over the last two-plus seasons, and his field goal percentage of 31.5 percent in on pace to be the worst the league has seen in more than 50 years.