Blogtable

Blogtable: Can any team challenge the USA in Rio in 2016?

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: Remembering “Chocolate Thunder | Can anyone beat USA in 2016? |
Name your all-time, All Soviet Union/Russia NBA team


 

VIDEO: USA Basketball Showcase

>Qualifying for the Rio Summer Olympics continues this month with FIBA Americas and EuroBasket. Is there anybody out there who can truly challenge the USA in 2016?”

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com “Truly” challenge, as in stand toe-to-toe and slug it out with Team USA? No, I don’t think so. But as a squad capable of pulling off an upset, I wouldn’t want to sleep on Canada. The group of north-of-the-border NBA players is young – Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Cory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson – so 2020 might be a year in which Canada makes real Olympic noise, but even one year out is going to make a difference for a tight and budding squad.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:  With a full complement of elite players the United States is easily the class of the field. But a key to the success that Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have brought back to the USA Basketball is having respect for the field. You wouldn’t want to sleep on a Spanish team with Pau and Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez or France with Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum and Rudy Gobert.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:  Sure the U.S. can be challenged. The Olympics become a single-elimination tournament at some point, so anything is possible. And the rosters that have been together for years and play team ball are still dangerous. Spain is at the top of that list, while also noting that I like France’s possibilities as well. But it’s still Team USA’s gold to lose. The favorites before will be the favorites again.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe short answer is no. Under Jerry Colangelo and Coach K, the USA has shaped up and restored order in the basketball world. That said, in the future I’d keep a watch out on Canada and Australia.The Canadians under Steve Nash and with Andrew Wiggins and Co. are building something special. And Down Under, gaining steam is a growing generation of teens who are the children of American professional players.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In no particular order, the next three best teams are France, Serbia and Spain. The U.S. has a huge advantage in regard to talent and depth, and they put Serbia away early in the gold medal game of last year’s World Cup. But both France and Spain – with more size, experience and athleticism – are better equipped to knock them off should they cross paths. The U.S. will be the heavy favorite in Rio next year, but a gold medal is never a given when it’s a single-elimination format with 40-minute games.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:  With all due respect to the competition, they all know they are going to Rio to fight for second place. That’s not American arrogance on display, it’s just reality. Even if there is a team capable of challenging the U.S. for a quarter or two, the group Jerry Colangelo and Coach K have assembled (whatever the 12-man roster) should prove too strong and too deep for Spain, France, Canada or any other crew eager to play hero. A true challenger is not on the radar right now and perhaps not anytime soon, provided the USA Basketball machine remains dialed in and well stocked.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The old contenders – Spain, France and Argentina – could still be hanging on, but the team to watch (pending its qualification for Rio) is going to be Canada. By 2020 the Canadians will be the main challengers to the US – and they may emerge as early as next summer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: At the risk of sounding overconfident, when Team USA is at their full-strength, I don’t think anyone can challenge them. A lineup of Steph Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant would be dynamic and destructive, and that doesn’t even factor in a bench (Westbrook! CP3! Blake!) that could provide Coach K all sorts of mix and match options. Oh, and sure, Kobe we could use you, too. I assume the USA will meet stiff opposition along the way, perhaps from teams such as France or Spain or a younger team like Canada. But if Team USA is playing at their full potential, I think it will be a dream in Rio.

Blogtable: What will you remember most about “Chocolate Thunder?”

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: Remembering “Chocolate Thunder | Can anyone beat USA in 2016? |
Name your all-time, All Soviet Union/Russia NBA team


 

 

VIDEO: Remembering Darryl Dawkins

>The NBA lost one of its most charismatic players ever last week when Darryl Dawkins died at 58. What will you remember most about “Chocolate Thunder?”

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comThere have been three players who have come into the NBA since I started paying attention (initially as a kid) about whom I recall thinking, “How is anyone going to stop that guy?” The first was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with his sky hook, the third was Shaquille O’Neal with his sheer size and brute force. The one in the middle was Dawkins, a man-child who seemed like he might unwittingly hurt himself or another player with the power and rawness of his game. That he never averaged nine rebounds in a season is, to me, a testament to how undeveloped his skills remained, until injuries undercut his career further. The shattered backboards were sideshow stuff, as I saw it, that didn’t help folks take him more seriously. As for his wacky quotes and personality, I always like the simplicity of this one: “When everything is said and done, there’s nothing left to do or say.” RIP, DD.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:  Even as someone who was sitting courtside the night in Kansas City when Chocolate Thunder exploded the backboard, I’ll remember Darryl Dawkins more as the most friendly, charismatic, happy, fun-to-be-around person I have met in nearly four decades of covering the NBA.  Even nights when he was angry about something that happened during a game would end up with him cracking jokes and sending you away from his locker with a smile on your face.  He believed that enjoying life and enjoying people was more important than winning games.  Maybe that held Darryl back from reaching his full potential as a player, but it made him a special person.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:  We didn’t realize it at the time, or at least realize the extent, but Dawkins was a marketing marvel ahead of his time. What a gregarious personality, what a gift of being able to connect with people, what a wit, all wrapped up in a mountain of a body that helped him stand out in other ways. Not only shattering backboards, but then labeling the dunk with a lengthy rhyme? The same guy now would break Twitter. He was Chocolate Thunder and he was from Lovetron. We were all better for it that alter ego Darryl Dawkins visited Earth and the NBA.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m thinking this is a trick question, because “shattered glass” is the first thing that comes to mind. I’ll give you the second and third: That square-off with Maurice Lucas during the NBA Finals; Luke would’ve dropped him had they gone the limit (RIP to Luke, by the way). And those colorful suits he wore, which were louder than an AC/DC concert.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: When I was 9 or 10 years old (mid 80s), a basketball camp I was at got a visit from the biggest guy I had ever seen in my life. Darryl Dawkins was the first NBA player I ever met and the first autograph I ever got. He told some funny stories, threw down a few dunks, and signed for everybody there. Thirty years later, he had the same personality and the same willingness to engage with fans, young and old. For someone from the planet Lovetron, he was very down to earth.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:  First and foremost, Darryl Dawkins was a larger than life personality light years ahead of his time. We love to talk about players who could transcend the time they played in and whether or not they could be as effective in another era. I think about him off the court, “Chocolate Thunder” in the social media age … we’d all be in stitches around the clock. That said, the one thing that I’ll remember most is seeing him during All-Star Weekends and other functions when he was around the other living legends of the game and seeing what kind of love they still have for a guy who was a fierce competitor and as big a personality as there was during all of their playing days. Plus, the man gave us a 10th planet, “Lovetron,” something no one will ever be able to top in terms of the greatest marketing creation any athlete has ever cooked up.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI remember interviewing him in his hotel room in Istanbul at the 1992 Euroleague Final Four. At that time Dawkins, 35, had been out of the NBA for three years. He was playing for Milan and coach Mike D’Antoni, who called him “the best player in Europe’’ and the fastest on his team. Dawkins was shooting better than 80% from the field in the Italian league because he was consistently passing up any shot that wasn’t two feet from the basket. “All he does is dunk,” D’Antoni said. In the Italian boxscores he was listed as Dawkins, Darryl Ricardo. “That was my mother did that to me,” he said of his middle name. “That was from her watching ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns all those years.” He was a character even then.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Dawkins was in that last generation of players that was before my time, so by the time I was avidly watching NBA games, Dawkins was finishing his NBA career out battling injuries playing for the Nets and Pistons. To me, more than anything, Dawkins was like some kind of myth. He broke not one, but *two* backboards? How was that even possible? And this was in an era before YouTube, so seeing a replay of one of Dawkins’ glass-shatterers was like stumbling across found footage of a long-rumored treasure. I know it’s much more difficult now with breakaway rims, but I still think someone breaking a backboard during the dunk contest on All-Star Weekend would be an instant contest-winner, and it’s still the one thing that nobody has pulled off in a dunk contest. Perhaps this year someone can figure out how to do it as a tribute to Chocolate Thunder.

Blogtable: All-time, All Soviet Union/Russia NBA team

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: Remembering “Chocolate Thunder | Can anyone beat USA in 2016? |
Name your all-time, All Soviet Union/Russia NBA team


 

VIDEO: The best of Arvydas Sabonis

>Former NBA standout Andrei Kirilenko has been elected president of the Russian Basketball Federation. Perfect time to ask you to name your all-time, All Soviet Union/Russian NBA team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Nobody told us there was going to be geography and geo-politics on this quiz. But here’s my best group of five: Kirilenko (Russia), Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Lithuania) and Zaza Pachulia (Georgia). The best of them likely was Sabonis, but he was an older, slower player by the time he reached the NBA with Portland at age 31. Loved his gruff exterior and his clever, Dan Quisenberry-like submarine passing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:   I’m tempted to just go with the 1988 Olympic gold medalists, but have got to make room for the versatile AK-47 and the leading scorer from the infamous 1972 final over the U.S.

C : Arvydas Sabonis — We never saw him at the peak of his powers in the NBA.
F : Andrei Kirilenko — Slashing scorer, first-rate defender.
F : Aleksandr Volkov — Two so-so NBA seasons, but a force at PF for Soviet national team.
G : Sarunas Marciulionis — The feisty, aggressive guard opened the door for Europeans in the NBA.
G : Sergei Belov — Leading scorer in 1972 gold medal game, first international player voted into Naismith Hall of Fame.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:  Fans of some of the former Soviet states won’t be happy — Arvydas Sabonis was Lithuanian, after all, and so on — but for purposes of the question:
C: Arvydas Sabonis
PF: Timofey Mozgov
SF: Andrei Kirilenko
SG: Sarunas Marciulionis
PG: Alexey Shved
If I’m missing anyone, and I can’t help but wonder I am, I hope they’re a guard. The frontline is the strength, especially Sabonis and Kirilenko as the top selections no matter the position. Sabonis is the best talent on the list, but in the context of NBA play, as the question says, Kirilenko is No. 1 after playing more years, playing better, and with his best seasons in the NBA. North American fans sadly mostly saw the injury-depleted Sabonis.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com Sasha Volkov, Andrei Kirilenko, Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis, Timofey Mozgov. That’s my squad, with Sabonis the obvious choice as the Godfather of Soviet/Russian ball. Becky Hammon just misses the cut.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Picking the frontcourt is pretty easy: Kirilenko, Arvydas Sabonis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. And I’ll go with Sarunas x 2 in the backcourt: Marciulionis and Jasikevicius, though the latter was a lot more fun to watch when he played for Lithuania than when he played for the Pacers and Warriors.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:   Any team of this kind has to start with the great Arvydas Sabonis in the middle, flanked by Alexander Volkov and Kirilenko at the forward spots with the criminally underrated Sarunas Marciulionis in the backcourt alongside one of my all-time favorite big-moment competitors, Sarunas Jasikevicius. If Kirilenko had that kind of starting five to work with as president of the Russian Basketball Federation, he could ride the wave in that job for years.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The old Soviet regime (unlike the former Yugoslavia) did not produce a lot of NBA guards, and neither has the Russian federation. So I am piecing together this team in faith that Sabonis and Ilgauskas could complement one another inside and outside, and that Kirilenko would have the skills and defensive versatility to shift to the backcourt when necessary.
C: Arvydas Sabonis
C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
F: Alexander Volkov
F: Andrei Kirilenko
G: Sarunas Marciulionis

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Kirilenko is on my team, if only for that run he had in the 2000’s with the Jazz, when he was fully healthy and seemingly capable of posting a quadruple-double on any given night. We always heard that we in the U.S. never saw the best of Arvydis Sabonis, but even playing with injured knees in Portland, he was pretty great. Sarunas Marciulionis won gold with the USSR at the 1988 Olympics, and had a great run with the Golden State Warriors. How about my main man Sasha Volkov, who was one of the pioneers of the international movement to the NBA when he played for some of the Atlanta Hawks’ better early-‘90s teams? And if we’re picking one for the future, Timofey Mozgov is coming off an NBA Finals appearance and looks like he still has a lot of years left in him.

Blogtable: Is Kobe the greatest Laker ever?

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: Favorite Kobe moment? | Should Kobe do Rio? | Greatest Kobe feat? | Greatest Laker ever?



VIDEOPlayers around the league show their appreciation for Kobe Bryant

> Is Kobe the greatest Laker of all time?  Explain.

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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com’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 Magic.

Blogtable: The greater Kobe feat — winning with Shaq or without him?

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: Favorite Kobe moment? | Should Kobe do Rio? | Greatest Kobe feat? | Greatest Laker ever?



VIDEOThe Lakers’ dominance in the 2000s began with the Kobe-Shaq pairing

> The greater Kobe feat: Winning three in a row with Shaq, or two in a row without him?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The two championships without Shaquille O’Neal are more impressive from a strictly-Kobe perspective. He had lots of help in 2009 and 2010 too, notably Pau Gasol and coach Phil Jackson, but those two Lakers teams also caught lightning in a bottle with the likes of Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Metta World Peace. Let’s put it this way, if Kobe hadn’t led L.A. to those titles and finished his career with two fewer rings, he wouldn’t be in any GOAT or Rushmore conversations outside Lakersland. And Shaq would forever lord it over him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIs it easier to run on one leg or two? No brainer. Everything is harder when you don’t have Shaq around to do the heavy lifting.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: For a Bryant feat and not necessarily a Laker achievement, it’s the two without O’Neal. As much as Bryant has established himself as a star during the three peat, Shaq was still the player in the league no opponent could straight counter. When Kobe became the unquestioned leader of the best team, on the court and in the locker room, it meant something more because everything was on his shoulders. He had changed personally. His game had changed. And Bryant delivered to earn a credibility boost whether he needed one or not.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: No doubt, the two without Shaq weigh more in my mind. Understand where Kobe was at in his career. He was blistered (and rightly so to a degree) for being a selfish gunner. He recovered from that and became a better team player and leader. In so many ways, Kobe was more important to the Lakers for those two titles than he was for the three titles.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com Shaq’s numbers…

’00-02 playoffs (58 games): 29.8 PPG, 14.2 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 55% shooting.
’00-02 Finals (15 games): 35.9 PPG, 15.2 RPG, 2.9 BPG, 60% shooting.

So yeah, the two titles without him were the greater feat.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Winning titles without Shaq is easily the most impressive feat of Kobe’s career, in my eyes. Winning back-to-back titles without Shaq seems unfathomable, even after watching Kobe do it. His confidence, will — along with Pau Gasol‘s unbelievable work and Metta World Peace‘s game-saving heroics, among other things — and the joy it gave Kobe to win without the Shaq asterisk were undeniable during those title runs. It changed Kobe’s legacy to win those two other titles without Shaq.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Two in a row without him: Because the NBA was a much more competitive league when Kobe was winning his final two championships. The Shaq-Kobe teams never faced any opponent as talented, experienced and competitive as the 2009-10 Celtics.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWithout. I always used to make the argument back then that Shaq should have been the MVP every season, which is no slight to Kobe — Shaq was such a unique combination of size and speed and athleticism that he was virtually unguardable. At the same time, Shaq had plenty of teammates who were not able to win titles with him. To Kobe’s credit, he figured out how to play alongside Shaq and be a potent one-two punch. 

Blogtable: Favorite Kobe 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: Favorite Kobe moment? | Should Kobe do Rio? | Greatest Kobe feat? | Greatest Laker ever?



VIDEOKobe Bryant’s career top 10 plays

Kobe Bryant turns 37 Sunday and is heading into what could be his final NBA season.  What is your all-time favorite Kobe moment?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com“Favorite” unshackles this from any requirement that it be an “important” moment, so Bryant’s 81-point performance against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006 would seem an easy choice. But I’d be lying because I didn’t see that game – I was covering the big clash that day between mediocre Philadelphia and middling Minnesota that Andre Iguodala won at the buzzer in Minneapolis. I only could watch highlights of Kobe’s explosion the next morning, and watching a succession of scoring plays in replay captures none of the excitement they pack live. So I’m split between Bill Russell handing Bryant his first Finals MVP trophy in 2009 and the precocious 1998 Bryant waving off Karl Malone from an attempted pick-and-roll in the All-Star Game so he could square up against Michael Jordan.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant accepts the 2009 Finals MVP trophy

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWhile it’s tempting and certainly valid to say Kobe scoring 81 on the Raptors, I’m going with Aug. 24, 2008. That’s the night at the Beijing Olympics when Kobe and Dwyane Wade led the USA Redeem Team to the gold medal. Bryant was a hungry, fierce, driven leader all through the campaign to put the U.S. back on top of the basketball world and he hit big buckets down the stretch to seal the gold medal. I was in the building and the feeling of accomplishment was palpable and probably as satisfying to Kobe as any of his five NBA titles.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comPicking 10 favorites would be hard enough, let alone a single all-timer, and this is No. 1 for the moment because there will be more candidates to come. But if I have to choose one, let’s go with April 12, 1997, at Utah. (So many historic Laker moments intersected with Salt Lake City and the Jazz.) A rookie Kobe Bryant air-balled four shots late in the fourth quarter and into overtime of Game 5 of the West semifinals of the playoffs. Those misses, one brick after another, clinched the Lakers’ 98-93 OT loss as Utah won the series 4-1. And he was unfazed. Bryant did not flinch, not when he got the ball as the bad misses piled up and not in the visitor’s locker room afterward as he faced the media scrutiny. It may not have been the indication of what was to come on the court, but that was the clear preview of the future of the Black Mamba personality. He would back down from nothing and nobody.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThis isn’t the 81 points or a playoff moment or a Finals moment. But on the final regular-season game in 2003-04 (against the Portland Trail Blazers), Kobe made a pair of hellacious buzzer-beating 3-pointers that defy logic (they’re plays No. 2 and No. 1 here). The first happened at the end of regulation at the top of the key with Ruben Patterson (the Kobe Stopper) painted all over him. The second was at the end of the second overtime, when Kobe took an inbounds pass with one second left and turned almost completely around and splashed. He ran off the court and was hugged by Shaq, the last time that happened.


VIDEO: Relive Kobe Bryant’s best plays from the 2003-04 season

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Bryant didn’t play great for most of the 2008 Olympics. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade did the heavy lifting for the U.S. through the first 7 1/2 games in Beijing, with Bryant often showing some frustration with his shooting struggles. But when things were tight down the stretch of the gold medal game against Spain, he hit the two biggest shots for the Americans, including the four-point play that essentially put them on the top of the medal stand. Considering the stakes, that was maybe the best game I’ve seen in person, and Bryant backed up his rep as the best closer in the game.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThere are so many it’s hard to choose just one. But the 2003 All-Star Game at Philips Arena comes to mind because it illustrated to me what sort of a cut-throat competitor Kobe really was. It was supposed to be a celebratory send off for Michael Jordan, his final All-Star Game appearance and a chance to all of the current stars to bow down one last time to the G.O.A.T. Vince Carter gave up his spot in the Eastern Conference starting lineup and East coach Isiah Thomas had instructed his guys to show MJ the respect he deserved. Kobe, of course, ignored the memo. He wasn’t having it. He went at MJ like it was Game 7 of The Finals and didn’t let up, including knocking down two free throws to tie the game and send it into double-overtime (after Jordan had hit what could have been the game-winner for the East with 4.8 seconds to play). The Western Conference won by 10 in double overtime with Kevin Garnett winning MVP honors. Kobe could have missed one of those free throws on purpose or even decided against pulling up for the potential game-winning 3-pointer (he was fouled by Jermaine O’Neal with a second to play) and let me MJ have the storybook ending. But it’s just not who he was or is … it’s not in his blood.


VIDEO: Kobe vs. MJ in the 2003 All-Star Game

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: In his second season, in 1998, Sports Illustrated sent me to Los Angeles to report what would be Kobe’s first cover story. He picked me up in a new SUV and we went to an outdoor patio restaurant for an interview that went on for hours. A woman sitting next to us asked if he played for the Lakers: He introduced himself, and she said she would be following his career. Much has changed since then, but not his confidence: That night at age 19 he was predicting basically everything he would go onto accomplish in basketball.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI was there at Madison Square Garden in 2009 when the Lakers came to town. It was an early February game, with the All-Star break a few weeks away, and despite it being two marquee franchises — the Lakers! Against the Knicks! — in the world’s most famous arena, there was no great sense of anything special hanging in the balance that night. And then Kobe went for 61 points, scoring from all over the place and setting a Madison Square Garden record. Even as provincial as Knicks fans can be, I’ll never forget the chants of “MVP! MVP!” for Kobe.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant scores 61 on Knicks

Blogtable: Should Kobe play in the 2016 Olympics?

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: Favorite Kobe moment? | Should Kobe do Rio? | Greatest Kobe feat? | Greatest Laker ever?



VIDEOKobe Bryant talks after winning Olympic gold in 2012

> USA Basketball’s Jerry Colangelo says Kobe has a spot on the Rio Olympics roster if he wants it.  Should Kobe take it?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comColangelo also told us last week in Las Vegas that Kobe only wants a spot if he “earns it,” and without a mini-camp before the Team USA roster is announced, that suggests he needs to have an All-Star worthy season (not just vote tally). I don’t think he’ll be at or near peak Kobe levels, so I don’t think he should take a spot offered out of reputation or as a lovely parting gift. He already has two gold medals and USA Basketball has a backlog of younger guys who have earned the chance to shine in their primes.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: No. If he survives the 2015-16 NBA season healthy — a big if — he’ll be worn out and down. He’d only be a part-time contributor and potentially more of a distraction. The torch can be safely passed to Team USA’s abundance of front line talent that is willing and able to strike gold again.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No. He has earned the ceremonial victory lap, so no big deal if Kobe does take it. It will not be the difference between winning the gold or losing and he will represent the U.S. well. But it’s someone else’s turn. Let a young player with no Olympic experience have the final spot to get a feel for the unique stage as part of another Team USA building block.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’d have no problem with Kobe being grandfathered, so to speak, a spot. He has been a good standing member of USA basketball and besides, being a 12th man on Team USA wouldn’t necessarily be depriving a more deserving player. Only a few players would be treated as such: LeBron James and Kevin Durant come to mind.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comOlympic team selection is about more than talent and even fit. The “equity” that guys have built up over the years means a lot to Jerry Colangelo, and it obviously helps to have a vet with the experience that Kobe has (including his big shots down the stretch of the 2008 gold medal game). But it would still take a serious turn-back-the-clock season for Kobe to deserve a spot on that roster with the talent (and international experience) the U.S. has at the guards and wings. Even if he’s relatively healthy, I have a hard time seeing that happening.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: No, he should not take it. The only way Kobe should suit up in Rio is if he’s healthy and playing at an elite level when selection time comes. He doesn’t need to be in Rio waving a towel and cheering these guys on. He’s better than taking some hand out, even with all that he’s done over the years for USA Basketball. I totally understand where Jerry Colangelo is coming from where Kobe is concerned, but I remember the role he played on the 2012 team that won gold in London and that was Kobe’s opportunity to pass the torch to LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and the other guys.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: If he earns it then yes – of course – he should be there. But you are not going to see Kobe humiliating himself like Willie Mays in the 1973 World Series. He is going to be ruthless in assessing his ability to contribute before he exposes himself at this stage of his career. He has nothing more to prove, and should play only if the Olympics will bring him joy.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogYes. I understand USA Basketball doesn’t want to give anyone a roster spot based on what they’ve done in the past, but Kobe Bryant isn’t just anyone. Kobe is a two-time gold medalist who is arguably the greatest player of his generation. Does Kobe not taking part in the recent training camp and then being given a spot on the team set a bad precedent? I mean, I guess you can make that argument, as long as you also allow that Kobe is a once-in-a-lifetime player. And for players like that, exceptions need to be made.

Blogtable: Team USA’s point guards for 2016?

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: Next Team USA coach? | Point guards for 2016? | Thoughts on NBA-refs deal?



VIDEOStephen Curry is looking forward to playing for Team USA

> Team USA has an embarrassment of riches at point guard with Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Mike Conley and Michael Carter-Williams. Assuming they’ll take only three point guards to Rio, which three should it be? And why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWe’ve heard it from the USA brain trust that this team isn’t just a positional thing. So I’m not too bound up in strict point-guard duties or qualifications. Of that group, I know I’m going to have Chris Paul and Steph Curry on board. John Wall is hitting his prime and we’ll all know it by next spring, so I like him as my third PG. And then I still find a roster spot for Russell Westbrook (mentioned fourth here not in any pecking order but because he’s such a hybrid).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comFirst off, I’m not buying your assumption that Team USA will take only three point guards. But if if have to play by your rules, I want Steph Curry, the best shooter in the game, Chris Paul, the best handle and distributor, and Russell Westbrook, because there are times when you just need the best athlete to overpower the opponent and make plays.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI’m not sure three is the final number, but for the sake of conversation: Stephen Curry, because that shooting will be invaluable as Team USA constantly faces zones. Chris Paul, because he is arguably the most complete package among players in the league (passing, shooting, defense, leadership). And Russell Westbrook, because athleticism is one of the factors that will set the Americans apart and Westbrook can overwhelm opponents in that way. But it will be hard to complain about any of those names on the final roster.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I want Curry, Paul and Westbrook. Steph Curry, because he’s the best shooter of the bunch. Chris Paul, because he’s the best leader of the bunch and the one most likely to keep his cool if times get tight. And then there’s Russell Westbrook, because of his attack-ability. Can’t really go wrong with that trio.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Chris Paul is the best floor general in the league. Stephen Curry is the best shooter. And Russell Westbrook has the speed and athleticism that overwhelms most international opponents. Though Irving was the MVP of the World Cup last year, Wall would be ahead of him on my list of alternates, because he’s the better passer and better defender.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThis is an excruciating choice given the extreme embarrassment of riches available here, provided that everyone on this list is healthy at the time of selection. After watching Curry work in Spain at the FIBA World Cup last summer and ride that wave into a MVP and championship season with the Golden State Warriors, he’s my number one pick in this point guard draft. Chris Paul gives me a steady hand who has the experience and leadership qualities that are necessary in international competition of this sort, so he’s my second pick. And Russell Westbrook edges out John Wall for the third and final spot. He provides the experience, versatility and raw energy to change the game as my third point guard and utility man extraordinaire. I can use him in any number of ways in the international game and would do so liberally while Curry and CP3 concentrate on floor general duties. If any of these guys cannot make it to Rio for any reason, I want Wall to keep a packed bag ready.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Curry, Paul and Wall should be the point guards because all are excellent passers and floor leaders – attributes that will be crucial to the success of this team. (If one of them is injured next summer then Conley should be the first alternate.) And then add Westbrook to the roster too – but mark him down simply as a guard, because he transcends traditional positioning.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogStephen Curry is a no-brainer. He’s the most valuable player in the NBA, so he’s going to Rio. With him, I’m bringing Chris Paul, who can run a team better than any of the other options, and is probably the best leader available to Team USA. Finally, I’m bringing Russell Westbrook. He’s the most dynamic point guard in the world when healthy, and bringing Westbrook off the bench and allowing him to terrorize second-string point guards from other teams would be must-see TV. (I also like that Westbrook or Curry can play the 2 alongside Paul.) Nothing against Irving, Wall, Conley or MCW, but like the question said, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

Blogtable: Thoughts on NBA, referee’s new agreement

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: Next Team USA coach? | Point guards for 2016? | Thoughts on NBA-refs deal?



VIDEOJoe Borgia explains the changes for next season

> While not yet official, it appears the NBA has reached agreement with its referees through the 2022 season. Is this a big thing, a little thing, or much ado about nothing?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: It’s a big thing, because we hear the whining and grumbling that goes on when even the best in the business make calls that some player, coach, executive or owner doesn’t like. Imagine the decibels and frequency of such fussing and fuming if suddenly the league were policed by replacements or newbies. Besides, the completely electronic, eye-in-the-sky, make-every-foul-call-from-Secaucus-replay-center system isn’t quite up and running yet. That’ll kick in around the 2029-30 season.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s only a big thing if it didn’t get done and the game was tarnished and diminished by replacement referees. It’s a very big thing if the league and the Players Association can now learn from this experience and get to work on a new collective bargaining agreement to avoid a work stoppage.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: A pretty big thing because it eliminates the possibility of a very big thing. Important labor deals should never be shrugged off, just because it came without hard-line comments or a work stoppage. In addition to being a pretty big thing, it’s a good thing.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I say it’s a little thing. You can’t dismiss the significance of it because anytime the league can tie up the refs for a reasonable length of time is great. Why risk having the game soiled by inexperienced refs? But it’s not a big thing because, with all the money coming into the league, it was only a matter of time before the refs got their cut. They were in no danger of holding out. Everyone wins in this deal.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Big thing. It’s good that the best refs in the world are her for another seven years. It’s comforting that there was never a hint of an issue that would affect the season. And it’s important that the league continues to give these guys what they need behind the scenes as they put them under more scrutiny, via the Last Two Minute reports, in public.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think it’s big enough. Any time you can broker labor peace ahead of a deadline, it’s a victory. And in an effort to make sure that men charged with one of the most difficult jobs in sports (you try keeping up with the tallest and most graceful group of professional athletes on the planet) understand the investment the league has made in them is for the long haul, this goes a long way. I’m not here to disparage replacement referees, but I want to see them under the bright lights about as much as I do replacement players … and that’s never!

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It is big. The NBA is seeking to deepen its partnership with referees by pursuing greater transparency and self-reflection. The league wants referees to continue to view themselves as servants to the game to an ever-increasing degree. An extended and bitter contract negotiation would have undermined the big-picture goal; by agreeing to new terms without public drama, the league and its referees can move forward with less acrimony than in previous years.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI guess it’s something, but I don’t think it’s a big thing. Even if the NBA had to use replacement refs, there are so many replay and review mechanisms currently in place that I’m not sure how much damage they could have done. I guess it does put an end to my feature idea — “NBA Behind the Scenes: I was a replacement ref.”

Blogtable: Next coach for Team USA?

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: Next Team USA coach? | Point guards for 2016? | Thoughts on NBA-refs deal?



VIDEOJerry Colangelo discusses Team USA

> Your nameplate says “Jerry Colangelo, Chairman, USA Basketball.” So tell me Mr. Colangelo, who’s going to coach the greatest basketball team on the planet after Coach Mike Krzyzewski steps down next summer? And why are you choosing him?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d like to say Gregg Popovich and consider it done, but I’m not so sure Pop would want to take on that (minimum) four-year commitment, given his renewed opportunities in his day job. I do think it would be nice to get an NBA coach this time, one who appears to have respect across the league and also someone with enough job security to not face any awkward employment situations during his USA tenure. Here’s my pick: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Gregg Popovich. The greatest basketball team deserves the greatest coach on the planet. Even though he’s getting up in years, Popovich would relish and make the most of the challenge. And as the man who has done more to make the NBA and international league than any other, it would be the perfect cap on his career.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comYou mean after I’ve made the strongest push possible to retain K, of course. But if I do have to find a replacement, which would be understandable considering all the “offseason” time he has given up through the years, then Gregg Popovich is the choice. Why? Because I can’t think of a reason why not. Others deserve consideration, but Popovich checks every box, from a history with USA Basketball to immense credibility with players to a strong international background.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: First, I run the idea past Gregg Popovich, who by then should be retired and bored. The reasons for choosing Pop? Do you really have to ask? If Pop is up to serving exclusively as Team USA coach during the Olympics and Worlds, then my job is done. If Pop is too busy sampling the vino to bother with coaching, then my next choice is John Calipari, who knows how to relate to stars, both established and up-and-coming. Heck, by then, half the team could be ex-Kentucky players.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: My first call would be to Gregg Popovich. He’s the best coach in the game and he has the respect of players across the league. Guys will want to play for him and play hard for him. That he, like Krzyzewski, was a member of our armed forces, is a bonus.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo offense to younger, up-and-coming stars in the coaching ranks, but this is a job for a master motivator. That person’s understanding of superstar talent (and how it needs to be massaged in this environment) is far more important than anything you can draw up on a white board. I don’t think there is any question that Doc Rivers is the man that fits that job description. He is universally respected among among coaches and players at all levels. Coach K was an exquisite choice when he stepped into the void of that revolving door of big name coaches and helped me (Mr. Jerry Colangelo) resuscitate the program. He, too, had that something special needed to convince the best of the best to sacrifice for the greater good that Doc has shown throughout his time as a coach. And please know that I’ll make Doc an offer he can’t refuse.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: My pick is Doc Rivers, a championship coach, a former All-Star point guard and current team president in the NBA’s second-largest market. He is a student of coaching in all aspects, beginning with a constant desire for self-improvement, and the best players will continue to be drawn to USA Basketball by him. There will be more pressure than for any coaching job in the NBA — you are expected to win every game, with one failure akin to national disgrace — and Rivers will be up to the challenge.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: My first call would be to a former United States military man who is also a pretty good coach himself: San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. Pop could surely handle coaching a few extra games in the summer, would appreciate serving his country, and he would instantly command the respect of players from around the NBA. If Pop demurs, my next call would be a little out of left field: Phil Jackson. Considering the Zen Master has always liked coaching superstars, perhaps a Team USA situation would be perfect. Finally, if they both pass, here’s an idea that might prove to be a more long-term solution: Jason Kidd. Not only is Kidd a former two-time gold medalist as a player, he’s shown himself to be a creative thinker as a coach, with an ability to relate to players of all ages.