Morning Shootaround — Dec. 9


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Roundup of thoughts on Kobe’s return | Report: Sixers a favorite to land Asik? | James offers praise for Drummond | Kings take risk in dealing for Gay | Celtics keep division lead in perspective

No. 1: Bryant returns to action, scores nine points in L.A.’s lossThe story of the morning is Kobe Bryant and his season debut with the Los Angeles Lakers last night against Toronto. Opinions, as you’d expect, on his return were somewhat varied, but the overall theme isn’t surprising: Bryant is rusty and is still working himself into his familiar form. We’ll go around the web and see what some notables have to say about his comeback …

First, here’s Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, on how Kobe’s return gives L.A. some new hope:

For most of the day, Kobe Bryant was quiet. The magnitude of what he was about to do, after everything hed been through these past eight months, was too big to be thinking about in the hours before the game.He just needed to stay centered. Focus on the Toronto Raptors or on finding his shot and feelings his legs beneath him again. Just put the jersey on again like he has for every other game in his 18 NBA seasons. Play the game, table the emotion.

But in the final few moments before tipoff, as Bryant stood near midcourt and awaited his first game action since rupturing his Achilles tendon on April 12, it all caught up to him. The emotion, the fear, the hard work, the gratitude, the appreciation for the game that many thought he might never be able to play again.

His lip quivered. He had to steel his jaw to trap the emotion from spilling out.

“You try to control it as much as you can,” Bryant said. “But you can’t help but think of all the support and the hard work. I really, really worked my butt off this entire summer to try to get to this place.

He was decidedly rusty. He was noticeably nervous in the beginning. His passes were sloppy, his timing was off. His shot was tentative. His chemistry with his teammates was shaky.

“I don’t feel normal at all,” Bryant said afterward. “I couldn’t wait to start watching film and criticizing every little thing. I’ll go home tonight and watch the game. But thats the exciting part. You’ve got a challenge, you’ve got some improvements to make.

“I felt good that I was able to get into the lane … then once I got into the lane, I didn’t make the proper reads most of the time. But was the fact that I was able to get in there.

For the Lakers it was a win in every place but the standings. Because for the first time in eight months, it felt like a Lakers game inside Staples Center again. No disrespect to the plucky performances this seasons team had churned out to keep the team hovering around .500 as they awaited Bryant’s return, but the Lakers are about sizzle, not steak.

It was great theater, as only the Lakers can deliver. Vintage Showtime. And for the moment you forgot the Lakers are really just a .500 team hoping Bryant can give them a punchers chance to do something unexpected with this season. That he came out and looked a little rusty only dulled the narrative a bit. Yes, it would’ve been nice if hed dropped 30 and delivered a game-winning dagger. I’m sure there were people who expected him to leap a tall building on the way in, too.

But the fact he made it back at all, as quickly as he did, and showed enough in those 28 uneven minutes to leave everyone with some hope for the future is enough for one night.

The show came back to Staples Center on Sunday night, and it’ll be worth watching.

The venerable Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times provides his view on Kobe’s return:

There were 19 seconds left in the first half when the Staples Center crowd rose to its feet and roared. It’s been nearly eight months, but everybody remembered what was happening next.

Kobe Bryant had the basketball. His teammates stepped out of the way. This was his moment. This was his memory. This was his comeback.

Well, sort of.

Bryant’s driving shot was partially blocked by Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, with Bryant crumpling to the floor and limping away as frightened fans gasped.

“I was even scared myself,” said Bryant.

It was a night of basketball immortality and human frailty. It was a night of loud cheers and quiet shudders. It was a night when the perception was as torn as Kobe Bryant’s Achilles tendon last spring, an injury from which he returned Sunday amid both undaunted hopes and unsettling fears.

He gritted his teeth and pumped his fist and shouted inspiration as the fans chanted both “Ko-be” and “M-V-P.” Yet he also missed seven of his nine shots, committed eight turnovers, and rarely left the ground on offense.

And, oh, by the way, a makeshift six-win Toronto Raptors team that had just traded away leading scorer Rudy Gay beat the clearly distracted Lakers, 106-94.

“I guess it’s a start,” said Bryant afterward with a weary sigh. “A start is good.”

Midway through the fourth quarter, with Bryant resting on the bench, fans began chanting, “We Want Kobe.” Even though the team had played much more freely and effectively without him, Coach Mike D’Antoni relented and put him in the game with the Lakers trailing by six.

Bryant missed a three-pointer. He made two free throws. He missed a layup. He threw away a pass. He made two of three free throws. He missed a wild three. The Lakers lost by a dozen.

“It’s going to take a while,” said D’Antoni. “I know everybody thought he could, but there’s no way you can come out and be in midseason form. It’s just going to be a little while to get his legs and get his timing back.”

The Lakers now have the rest of this season to hope that his hops return and his quickness resurfaces and he becomes a rebuilt version of the old Kobe instead of being, well, an old Kobe.

They are so confident of this happening. Jim Buss and the crew gave him the new deal after only watching him for a couple of practices.

Yet here’s guessing after Sunday night, they officially began holding their breath.

Bryant, meanwhile, exhaled with relief and resolve.

He was so emotional about returning to the court nearly eight months after a potential career-ending injury, he took the floor with a tight jaw as if fighting back tears, and later admitted he was feeling it.

“You try to control it as much as you can, but you can’t help but think of all the support, all the work…. It makes you appreciate this franchise and this city, it certainly brings a mortality to everything,” he said of his emotion.

Last, we have Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News, who discusses how Bryant’s return impacted the rest of the team:

Amid a tangible buzz normally reserved for playoff games, Lakers fans were standing from the time Bryant walked onto the court for pregame warmups. It had been eight months since he ripped his Achilles tendon on the Staples Center court.

Let’s just say the Lakers seemed to play at the same level as Bryant, who was coming off a devastating injury and couldn’t be expected to rebuild Kobe in a day.

“I felt good I was able to get in the lane,” Bryant said. “I felt like I could penetrate and get into the corner, which was a big question mark for me. Once I got in there I didn’t make the proper reads most of the time. But the fact I could get in there means I can improve. The explosiveness you can’t.”

Physically, that’s the good news. Team-wise, it wasn’t pretty. None of the starters scored in double figures, but all five reserves did.

Now come the adjustments.

Nick Young scored 19 points for the Lakers and Xavier Henry scored 17, making 6 of 8 shots. But when the stretch run arrived, D’Antoni brought Bryant in for Henry.

But they realize the season just changed for the Lakers (10-10).

“We have a lot of things that are different,” Henry said. “We have point guards that are out so I have to play backup point guard. We have Kobe coming back, so everything shifts. Everybody just has to find their way and we’ll figure it out in due time.

“Before long we’ll know what we’re doing, for sure.”

Bryant’s return, of course, came with concerns other than his health or conditioning level. The Lakers had to wonder how his infusion into the lineup might gum up the works.

And at the same time keep the eye on the prize.

“To win and start building a team that hopefully we can start driving to the playoffs and do something,” D’Antoni said, asked what he expected. “There’ll be a little bit of a sorting-out process to see what we need to adjust, and he needs to adjust to the team and vice versa and go from there.

“Obviously, this is a boost and we’ll try to get him back to a level that he left.”


VIDEO: NBA TV’s GameTime crew breaks down Kobe’s return vs. the Raptors

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No. 2: Report: Sixers a viable destination for Asik — As of Friday afternoon, word got out, via ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, that the Houston Rockets are actively looking to deal disgruntled center Omer Asik within the next 10 days. Over the weekend, talk may have heated up between the Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers, who have become a viable destination for the defensive-minded big, writes Stein:

Pinpointing a front-runner in the Omer Asik trade sweepstakes is still tricky at this juncture.

It’s tricky even with the Houston Rockets, as reported here Friday, aggressively trying to find a trade partner for Asik within the next 10 days.

Yet there are a few things we can say about the current state of the Asik trade market:

1. Keep your eye on Philadelphia. Front-runner would be overstating it, but the notion that the Sixers are a viable destination for Asik is increasingly making the rounds. And that certainly makes sense given (A) Philly’s front office is run by a certified Asik fan in former Rockets exec Sam Hinkie and (B) Philly has a frontcourt player to send back to Houston in Thaddeus Young, whose skill set can click with Dwight Howard‘s, albeit not as well as seemingly unattainable dream target Ryan Anderson; and (C) there really isn’t an Asik for Philly to draft with the high pick it’s likely to snag in the 2014 lottery.

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No. 3: James heaps praise on Pistons’ Drummond — A quick, cursory look at the NBA.com/Stats leaders page finds Pistons center Andre Drummond among the league-leaders in rebounding (13.0 rpg) and him in first place in field goal percentage (63.5 percent). The case can be made that Drummond is the best center in the Eastern Conference and his growth on the court as a player hasn’t been missed by his contemporaries, most notably reigning MVP LeBron James, writes Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

If there’s one player who can relate to Andre Drummond’s plight — if you want to call it that — of being a big kid in a man’s body and a man’s game, LeBron James would be the clearest example.

But even James, who entered the NBA out of high school in 2003, said he can’t relate to knowing what it’s like to have such massive size and facing the task of adjusting to it on the fly during an 82-game regular season.

“I don’t know, I haven’t had that experience (laughs),” said James, who’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds but could be taller and heavier than that. “He’s much bigger than I am. He’s much more comfortable than even the beginning of last year and that’s good for him.”

“Each and every game he continues to grow. His confidence is building,” James said.

James made perhaps the biggest statistical leap from his rookie season to his second year, while a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2004-05. His scoring jumped from 20.9 to 27.2, his rebounding from 5.5 to 7.4 and assists from 5.9 to 7.2, so he knows the value of familiarity, seeing the league the second time around.

Drummond is averaging 18.4 points, 16.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and two steals in his last five games, and the Pistons have gone 4-1 in that stretch.

“He’s a huge, huge guy and every game he continues to build that confidence,” James said. “He rebounds at a high level. The more and more basketball you play, the more situations you see and the more you’re growing. He’s definitely doing that.”

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No. 4: Kings take risk in trading for Gay — Just a mere 12 days after the Sacramento Kings were a part of the first trade of the 2013-14 season, they are busy again, reportedly agreeing to work a trade with the Toronto Raptors to pick up Rudy Gay. In its first deal of the season, Sacramento got former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Luc Mbah a Moute in a move that gives Williams a chance to show what he can do with consistent minutes. Now, with the move for Gay (which has yet to become official), the Kings are gambling again that adding star power will help their young team grow up fast, writes our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

The Kings made a risky reach for immediate credibility and agreed to acquire Rudy Gay, his bloated contract and his ever-declining shooting from the Raptors in a seven-player deal Sunday that is mostly a salary dump for Toronto.The Raptors will get Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes, with only Hayes ($5.9 million) and Salmons (a $1-million buyout on his $7 million guaranteed) on the books next season. Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy are also headed to Sacramento as the new management team continues to follow through on plans to aggressively pursue deals, so aggressive that the Kings just countered two moves made in the five months since Pete D’Alessandro was hired as general manager.

The Kings got Vasquez from New Orleans as part of the three-team deal that sent Tyreke Evans to the Pelicans in a sign-and-trade, started him at point guard, and now traded him 18 games into the season, returning Isaiah Thomas to the opening lineup. And, the Kings traded for Derrick Williams on Nov. 26, said they were committed to him as the starter at small forward, and now bring in Gay four games later, unless they have another immediate deal in place for Gay.

Gay is a name, has an active run of six consecutive full seasons of averaging at least 18 points a game and, whether with Williams or in place of Williams, addresses what had been the biggest position need for the Kings. But it says something that he has been traded twice in 10 1/2 months, including when the Grizzlies were willing to break up a lineup with a proven history of long playoff runs and now by a Toronto team trying to build something.

Gay will make $17.8 million this season and has a player option worth $19.3 million for 2104-15 that he almost certainly will exercise. After mostly shooting between 45 percent and 47 percent earlier in his career, though, the 6-foot-9, 220-pounder dropped to 41.6 percent last season with the Grizzlies and Raptors and is all the way down to 38.8 the first 18 games of 2013-14.

The deal will not become official until a trade call with the league on Monday, but Gay, Acy and Gray were all out of uniform Sunday night as the Raptors played the Lakers in Los Angeles, indicating the terms of the move that could save Toronto some $12 million next season were set.


VIDEO: Kings, Raptors reportedly agree to Rudy Gay swap

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No. 5: Celtics, Stevens keeping start in perspective — Before the season began, the Knicks were thought of by most analysts and NBA followers as contenders for the Atlantic Division title while the rebuilding Celtics were viewed as a team setting itself up for future glory. Yet 22 games into the season, Boston stands atop the (albeit weak) division after yesterday’s 41-point drubbing of New York at Madison Square Garden. While an early lead in the division and a big win over a rival might be enough to get most underdog teams excited, the Celtics — thanks to coach Brad Stevens‘ leadership — aren’t going there, writes Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com:

Shortly after Jeff Green hit a buzzer-beating winner in Miami last month, Brad Stevens’ wife, Tracy, sent him a text that said, “Congratulations, you beat the Heat. Now you have to beat human nature.”
The insinuation was that Stevens had to find a way to keep his team focused despite stunning the world champs on their home turf, and Stevens himself had begun worrying about Boston’s next game from virtually the instant Green’s 3-pointer ripped through the twine.

One month later, in New York, with the Celtics playing their best basketball of the season, Stevens watched his team flat-out demolish the Knicks as part of a 112-73 thrashing at Madison Square Garden.

Human nature, of course, would be to celebrate, to puff out your chest and bask in the glow of a 41-point triumph over a team that was supposed to be in the mix for the Atlantic Division title. Human nature would be to celebrate being 6-2 over your past eight games and enjoy having a small cushion atop the division you weren’t supposed to have any business competing in.

“I’m not doing cartwheels,” Stevens said. “[Celtics players] know I’m not going to do cartwheels … I just said, ‘Keep being a team and keep playing together.’ The other thing is that we need to keep building off the good things we are doing.”

Stevens paused a moment to consider what he had revealed about his postgame speech, then smiled.

“It was boring as heck,” he added. “It was boring as heck.”

Make no mistake, the Celtics enjoyed the heck out of Sunday’s win. Rehabbing point guard Rajon Rondo wore a permanent grin on the Boston bench, bouncing out of his seat with each of Mike Woodson’s exasperated timeouts to greet his teammates and celebrate their efforts.

“Never as good as you think you are, never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never far from either,” Stevens said. “It’s one of those days in a lot of ways. But, also, we played pretty well. Can we play like that every day? Probably not. But can we bring the same intensity level and be as much of a team as we were today? Hopefully.”

The Celtics played infectious defense, particularly Brandon Bass – who again embraced the challenge of guarding Anthony and excelled on both ends of the floor (he finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals and a block over 32:22). Stevens said he just couldn’t bring himself to pull Bass off the floor the way he was playing.

Bass was so locked in that he picked up a rare technical while barking at an official late in the third quarter for not getting a whistle while registering a putback in traffic. The Celtics were up by 37 at that point.

Stevens probably loved that sort of intensity. The Celtics hadn’t put together a full 48 minutes this season, but rarely let off the pedal on Sunday. The emotion Bass showed is exactly what Stevens wants from his team every game, every quarter and every possession.

Alas, a win is a win is a win. And it doesn’t matter if it’s by 41 or one. They all count the same. So Stevens downplayed the significance of the lopsided final.

“I’ve already learned in this league, you can be on the good end or the bad end of [games like this],” Stevens said. “We were lucky today to be on the good end. Everything we did will get over-exaggerated, everything they did will get over-exaggerated, but the bottom line is, we just played better today for 48 minutes.”


VIDEO: Celtics.com’s crew breaks down Boston’s victory at MSG

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Over the weekend, a young Cavs fan tried to make sure Kyrie Irving knew that Clevelanders want him to stick around … The Knicks don’t see their orange jerseys as a bad-luck charm

ICYMI Of The Night: As this sequence shows, Rockets big man Terrence Jones is doing a nice job of providing some brawn in the post aside from Dwight Howard


VIDEO: Terrence Jones gets the block and the nice bucket vs. Orlando

20 Comments

  1. 林晟數學 says:

    There are good generals to bring out the good soldier

  2. okc2014 says:

    Didn’t I say that when Kobe came back, the Lakers would start losing again? Again, who cares about Kobe Bryant. Things were better without him, specifically the Lakers AND D’Antonini…Go Thunder!

  3. satan jr says:

    send melo 2 the heat! for micheal beasly and greg oden .and throw in a proven top5 point gaurd in norris cole? the knicks will make some noise lets go heat 3 peat!

  4. Mike D says:

    That Celtics-Knicks result made my Sunday. We all know that without Chandlers beastly interior presence the Knicks are suffering and having their woeful defence over-exposed, but with nearly every team in the east starting poorly and the pre season hype of the gotham city team being top 4 east contender it makes the state of play from the Knicks seem even more shocking.

    All that being said, I’m really impressed by what Brad Stevens is doing with the C’s. Yeah they’re 2 games below .500, but how many coaches with that squad would be doing better? Of course the biggest tests for him to come will be (1) whether Ainge gets trade happy and ships Rondo off (would certainly fit in with Knicks and could make Melo happy enough to stay) (2) if Rondo stays who drops out of the 2 guard slot and will they be happy with it, and (3) how he copes with the end of the season fatigue.

    • jc says:

      I’d have to think Crawford goes to a sixth man role. Rondo averaged 37min a game last season and Avery is playing about 30min this season. I’d say trade Courtney Lee and then have Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks as backups. That way Crawford can still play like 25min a game and if he is still playing the way he is now, we’ll have debatable the best all-around backcourt in the NBA.

  5. dustydreamnz says:

    I thought Kobe played well all things considering. The Lakers starters combined for less than 30 points, not good enough.
    I think the Kings-Raptors trade could be good for both franchises.

  6. Paul says:

    Trade Kobe for Lebron please a win – win :)

  7. LBJKIN6JAMES says:

    Just like said, as soon as Kobe comes back the Lakers will start to lose again. the offense is too centered around Kobe

  8. Game Time says:

    Lakers were on the verge of a comeback and then D’Antoni takes out the leading scorer for the night just to get Kobe his shine time.

  9. Bill Kovacs says:

    After being a CELTIC fan all my life, it was refreshing to see the knicks take a real pounding!!! Boston did what the knicks refused to do , and that is to move the ball on a constant basis. The knicks do way too much dribbling wich costs them way too much time .

  10. Peter Mottola says:

    It will nice to watch the raptors again as someone other than Rudy Gay will have the ball. Glad to see that some other team would pick up Gay’s rediculous contract. The Raptors will now have some cap space to move forward.

    • James says:

      Rudy is going to opt out next season; the Raps could just let him walk and clear 18 million. Picking up the rights to Grevis and Patterson is what made the deal viable for them.

      The Kings on the other hand are trying to surround Cousins with front court talent to try and start winning now. Thompson and Patterson are weak rebounding PF’s. The Kings are crossing their fingers Williams can become the same type of player in the NBA, that he was at Arizona. Two seasons ago a front court of Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, and Derrick Williams would have looked really good on paper.

      • skrutz says:

        Gay won’t opt out, that’s dumb. He knows he’s getting paid way more than he’s worth, why would he opt out?

  11. KDfan says:

    Kobe’s return
    The media have no real interest in how Kobe is really doing. All they did is unnecessarily hype up the situation leading up to Kobe’s return on Sunday. It is not fair to expect Kobe to start putting up stellar performances again (and I hope for the sake of the NBA fans that Kobe proves me wrong). The media build up too much expectations for the NBA fans and thats unfair. Then Kobe has to undergo an unusually long post-game interview where he’s asked stupid questions like, “How would you grade your performance today”? Media folks, please stop doing this. You did the same with DRose. You don’t realize that your type of reporting puts these fine athletes under unnecessary duress to perform too much too soon which hurts the players. Let the players, their coaches, their trainers decide how, what and when. Lets them detail or not to detail their expectations on their return.

  12. It wasn’t the Celtics that were playing good bball……but the knicks that were horrible and unable to make baskets.

    Yesterday it was very clear again: NY really need a good PG very very very urgent to bring balance in their offense.
    This game was over after Q1….

    I hope for NY that they can reach the playoffs but must admit that the situation is catastrophic!!

    • all hope was gone when they traded jeremy lin and didn’t re sign jason kidd

    • jc says:

      Really the Celtics didn’t play well? They shot 54% overall and 56% from 3, and also out rebounded New York by 20. If that’s not playing well then I don’t know what it.

    • asdfghjkl says:

      I hate the fact that the Celtics was not Given enough credit for Slaughtering the Knicks.
      The saddest part of that game was the refs even tried to rescucitate the Knicks with ghost fouls but the Celtics kept attacking their laughable Defense.
      Why do you think they did not made shots if not for the celtics’ defense?
      FYI Celtics ranks 10th in the league in Defense despite that they are rebuilding.
      Pacers and heat doesn’t have a good PG too what kind of excuse is that.