Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

Canada blows chance at Olympic berth

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Canadian Men’s National Team had won its previous seven games by an average of 26.3 points and by no less than 17. Statistically, it had been the best team at the FIBA Americas tournament by a wide margin.

But with an Olympic bid on the line in the semifinals on Friday, Canada blew it.

Thanks to a last-second foul call on a rebound, Venezuela came back from a seven-point deficit with 3:00 to go to upend Canada 79-78 and earn its first trip to the Olympics since 1992. Aaron Doornekamp committed the foul (which was reviewed to see if it occurred before the buzzer) and Gregory Vargas hit the first of two free throws with three tenths of a second left to put Venezuela up one. He missed the second on purpose and Canada had no chance to get a final shot off.


After a couple of big buckets from the Magic’s Andrew Nicholson and a jumper from the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk, Canada led 75-68 with three minutes to go. But Venezuela guard Heissler Guillent hit two huge 3-pointers to make it a one-point game. Then Olynyk lost the ball at midcourt and fouled Guillent when trying to recover it.

After Guillent’s two free throws put Venezuela up one, Nicholson hit one of two to tie the game. Venezuela then isolated Guillent on Cory Joseph. He missed the three, but Venezuela got a second chance to win the game with the Doornekamp foul on the rebound.

Olynyk led all scorers with 34 points on 11-for-13 shooting, adding 13 rebounds. Brady Heslip (10 points) was the only other Canadian in double figures. Andrew Wiggins scored nine points on 4-for-11 shooting, while Anthony Bennett went scoreless in 16 minutes. Olynyk and Wiggins combined for 10 turnovers.

Venezuela was playing without Greivis Vasquez and had no NBA players on its roster. Canada had nine.

The Toronto Star‘s Doug Smith was in Mexico City

Forget for a minute the call that put Gregory Vargas on the line with three-tenths of a second left, because it was an uncharacteristic performance from Canada all night that has derailed their Olympic dreams for now.

There were 17 turnovers, many ghastly and unforced; there were a dozen loose balls that weren’t corralled, there were missed rebounds and a general malaise that was in stark contrast to the way Canada had played each night for more than a week.

Nerves? Perhaps.

“It seemed like we were a little bit unsure,” said Triano. “I think this is a great experience for our young kids, Kelly (Olynyk, masterful with 34 points) is one of our most veteran guys, he’s been here before . . . a lot of these other guys have not been in this climate.”

In the second semifinal, Argentina beat host Mexico to earn its fourth straight trip to the Olympics. Mexico led by five at the half, but the game was tied with less than six minutes to go in the fourth quarter when a 6-0 Argentina run gave them a lead they wouldn’t give up.

Luis Scola (18 points and 10 rebounds) and Andres Nocioni (10 and 13) both had double-doubles for Argentina as Manu Ginobili watched courtside. The Bucks’ Jorge Gutierrez had 17 points and four steals for Mexico, but fouled out with more than three minutes to go. After averaging 19 points through Mexico’s first eight games, Gustavo Ayon (eight points) had a quiet night, even though, like both Scola and Nocioni, he played all 40 minutes.

Canada and Mexico will have another chance to qualify for the Olympics in one of next year’s Olympic qualifying tournaments, but will most likely have to go through tougher competition out of Europe.


Canada plays for Olympic berth Friday

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Friday a big day for Canada basketball.

Canada has produced two of the last three No. 1 picks in the Draft, as well as more than a dozen other NBA players, most under the age of 25. And now it can take a big step on the international stage.

The FIBA Americas semifinals take place in Mexico City on Friday, with two Olympic berths on the line. Saturday’s final is kind of an afterthought, because the Americas gets two bids to Rio, in addition to the two it’s already been awarded.


In the first game on Friday, Canada will play Venezuela for the fifth spot in next year’s field. Canada lost its first game in Mexico to Argentina, but has won the last seven by an average of 26 points (and by no less than 17). Statistically, coach Jay Triano‘s team has been, by far, the best team in the tournament.


Andrew Wiggins has led the way with 15.5 points per game. Wiggins, Nik Stauskas and Brady Heslip have combined to shoot 53-for-108 (49.1 percent) from 3-point range. Cory Joseph has run the show and Anthony Bennett has looked like a guy who might be able to contribute to the Wolves this season.

But it would all be for naught if the Canadians don’t beat Venezuela. The Venezuelans are without Greivis Vasquez, but have been the best defensive team in the tournament thus far.

Canada last played in the Olympics in 2000. It’s only Olympic medal (silver) came in 1936. With all its young talent, it could join the likes of France, Serbia and Spain as contenders for the No. 2 basketball country in the world behind the United States in the coming years. And Friday’s game against Venezuela would be a critical step in the process.

The second semifinal is a rematch Wednesday’s pool-play finale, in which Mexico used a huge fourth quarter to force another meeting for the Americas’ other Olympic berth. Argentina had been playing for the No. 1 seed and a matchup with Venezuela in the semis, but couldn’t hold onto what was a 13-point lead at the end of the third quarter.

Mexico is led by Gustavo Ayon, who has averaged 19.1 points and 11.6 boards. Luis Scola (22.4 ppg) and Andres Nocioni (17.0 ppg) have combined to average almost 40 points for Argentina.

The losers of Friday’s games will play for third place on Saturday, and will still have an opportunity to qualify for the Olympics. They’ll receive bids to next year’s qualifying tournaments, which will produce the final three bids to Rio.


Blogtable: Taking Mozgov or Thompson?

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: New coach with toughest gig? | Best international player today? | Mozgov or Thompson?

VIDEOTimofey Mozgov’s game was sparked by a trade to Cleveland

> Timofey Mozgov or Tristan Thompson? Assuming the Cavs won’t sign both players to lucrative long-term deals, who’s the better choice for the money in Cleveland?

Steve Aschburner, Straight up, I’d prefer Tristan Thompson – five years younger, more vaunted upside, high-revving motor, great disposition, more versatility. But for this Cavaliers team, it’s Mozgov. Those four inches and 20 pounds or so he has over Thompson matter, even in today’s corner-3-crazy game. More than that, LeBron James “plays nice with” and really seems to value traditional big men, from Zydrunas Ilgauskas to Anderson Varejao to Mozgov. He banged the drum for TT as a “lifetime Cav” too, but that team took off after Mozgov’s arrival and James knows it.

Scott Howard-Cooper, It’s Thompson. In the conversation that Thompson will be back this season, Mozgov will cost less, and there is something to be said for that considering the money the Cavs have already pushed to the middle of the table. It will be slightly less if Thompson takes the qualifying offer or a lot less if Thompson and Cleveland do a new contract. Either way, Thompson is the better choice for the money. He has a longer future and more upside, along with the larger contribution now.

Shaun Powell, I’ll go with Timofey Mozgov if only because he’s a natural center, while Tristan Thompson must share the power forward position with a guy who just received a ton of money from the Cavs. Besides, Mozgov brings better offensive skills and a few extra inches in height.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThompson is five years younger and has missed only six games in his four-year career, but he plays the same position as Kevin Love.  Mozgov, meanwhile, is the more important player right now, because he’s the better rim protector on a team that needs defense more than offense from its role players. If I could keep Mozgov at 2/3 the price of Thompson (giving me more flexibility to build around my core), it would be an easy choice.

Sekou Smith, I’m going with Tristan … until we see another half season, or more, of Mozgov playing the way he did in the playoffs (and specifically The Finals). They are both hugely important to Cleveland’s title chances going forward. And while Kevin Love could easily take those minutes Thompson played during last season’s run to The Finals, I still think the Cavaliers are at their best with Thompson controlling the paint with his rebounding and defense. It’s not an easy choice, but Thompson’s value on and off the floor wins out.

Ian Thomsen, Thompson is more versatile defensively – they can play small around him – and his departure would threaten a rift between the franchise and LeBron James. If they’re going to keep only one of them then it has to be Thompson, in spite of Mozgov’s effectiveness.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogI thought Mozgov and Thompson were equally impactful in their own ways during the postseason for the Cavs. And while Mozgov has developed into a nice center, particularly when he’s playing alongside LeBron James, if I have to commit to one of these guys long term, I’m going with Tristan Thompson. Not only is Thompson five years younger than Mozgov, but it seems like last season, Thompson realized that hustle will get you everywhere, and he started playing with the pedal floored at all times. Thompson is not a great shooter, but he doesn’t have to be if he’s going to work the boards and take most of his shots from a few feet from the basket. The offensive skills can still be developed. But if he can sustain the hustle, that’s the guy I want on my team for the long haul.

Blogtable: NBA’s best international player?

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: New coach with toughest gig? | Best international player today? | Mozgov or Thompson?

VIDEOTop 10 plays from Grizzlies center Marc Gasol

> The NBA had 101 international players on its opening-day rosters last season, and could add another 10-12 this season. Who is the best international player in the NBA right now, today?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWe’re not talking lifetime achievement (Dirk Nowitzki), right? Nor are we going with the foreign-born guy we’d draft No. 1 for the career he’ll put together (possibly Andrew Wiggins)?  Fine. For today and this season, give me Marc Gasol, the first-team All-NBA center and a top-10 finisher in Kia MVP balloting last season. At 30, he’s at the peak of his power and in his best physical shape ever. He’s got size, he boasts multiple skills and he’s a tremendous teammate and individual.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Marc Gasol. Tony Parker is still in the conversation with his overall shooting and 3-point range plus the intangibles as one of the centerpieces of all that is right in San Antonio (the underwhelming per-game numbers in other categories are misleading because the Spurs don’t assign him a heavy workload). And there were times in the past it seemed that Joakim Noah was ready to make a push up the ranking. Gasol’s 2014-15 earned the top spot, though. Offense, defense, professionalism. That’s deserving of No. 1.

Shaun Powell, Marc Gasol at one point wasn’t even the best foreign-born player in his own family. But now he has squeezed ahead of not only Pau Gasol but Dirk Nowitzki (on the downside of a great career), Tony Parker, Serge Ibaka, etc. In a few years he may pass the baton to Andrew Wiggins. We’ll see.

John Schuhmann, If Tim Duncan counts as an international player, he’s still No. 1, with Marc Gasol a close second. Duncan is still an impact player on both ends of the floor, and his leadership and coachability can’t be discounted. Tony Parker is more important to the Spurs’ offense than Duncan is at this point, but isn’t the two-way player that his teammate is. Dirk Nowitzki, meanwhile, has become a real liability on defense.

Sekou Smith, This is Marc Gasol’s honor and mantle to carry until someone else from the international pool takes it. A physical brute and an absolute technician as the backbone of the Memphis Grizzlies, Marc is no longer playing in the shadow of big brother Pau. The ultimate testament to Marc’s journey is that you don’t have to make a case for him by pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of any of the other candidates. He’s earned his spot at the top of the international heap by working his tail off and becoming an All-Star and All-NBA player without any glaring flaws in his game.

Ian Thomsen, Tony Parker is the best today, and right beside him is teammate Tim Duncan (born and raised in the Virgin Islands) in the present day – in addition to being the undisputed best international NBA player of all time.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogThe first player to come to mind was Dirk Nowitzki, because he’s been the best international player in the NBA for so long. But with Dirk aging and playing less of a role with the Mavericks, perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere. Al Horford? Andrew Wiggins? Pau Gasol? (Does Kyrie Irving count, since he was born in Australia?) But even considering all of those guys, I think I might have to go with Marc Gasol. It’s easy to forget about him because while he was one of the top free agents this summer, he stayed below the radar and re-signed with the Grizzlies. But at just 30 years old, Marc Gasol is still one of the top centers in the NBA, with one of the most diverse skillsets in the league.

Blogtable: New coach with the most challenging job?

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: New coach with toughest gig? | Best international player today? | Mozgov or Thompson?

VIDEOFred Hoiberg talks about the Bulls during Summer League

> Including George Karl — who joined the Kings more than halfway through last season — which of the league’s six new coaches faces the biggest challenge in 2015-16?

Steve Aschburner, It’s tempting to say Karl because gawkers already are buttering their popcorn and pulling up chairs to watch the pyrotechnics between the coach and DeMarcus Cousins, his most talented player. But I think Billy Donovan’s challenge in OKC is greater. He has very little wiggle room in shepherding the Thunder to championship contention, what with his stars dragging considerable injury histories while he lugs the “college guy stepping up to the pros” pressure that will lurk just below the surface all season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Exactly who you named: George Karl. Fred Hoiberg and Billy Donovan face the most pressure to win big right away, and Donovan has the additional challenge of needing to make a strong connection with free agent-to-be Kevin Durant while winning big right away, Karl is the only “newcomer” who must change the culture as well as the standings. The Kings are expecting to get to respectable this season. They are also expecting to get an emotional stability. George is a linchpin to both.

Shaun Powell, Billy Donovan has the most at stake. I’ll use that as my measuring tool. OKC is primed for a title run and Kevin Durant is staring at free agency next summer. A championship will end most if not all chances of KD bolting. Therefore, Donovan’s importance is twofold. He must show enough as a coach to, at the very least, give OKC some hope and also form a bond with Durant. I’ll go with Donovan just ahead of Fred Hoiberg, who needs to teach Derrick Rose some new tricks.

John Schuhmann, The most pressure is obviously on Billy Donovan, who has to get the Thunder back to the top of the Western Conference and keep Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City beyond this season. But Mike Malone has the toughest task, because there’s no clear path to success on either end of the floor in Denver. Emmanuel Mudiay could eventually be a special player, but as they stand, the Nuggets don’t have much defense on their frontline or much shooting in their backcourt.

Sekou Smith, Billy Donovan and George Karl have a ton at stake in their respective situations, and no one will deal with greater expectations than Donovan will in Oklahoma City this season. But the greatest challenge belongs to Alvin Gentry in New Orleans, where an otherworldly talent (Anthony Davis) has to be nurtured and molded into a player many believe has the potential to soon be the best player in the game. That’s an entirely separate challenge in addition to winning enough games to remain in the Western Conference playoff mix. It’s a huge challenge that I think Gentry is perfectly suited for and will run wild with this season and beyond.

Ian Thomsen, Not only is Billy Donovan facing the biggest challenge, he also has the greatest likelihood for success. One reason why most NCAA coaches fail in the NBA is because their teams lack talent. Donovan’s Thunder rank among the most talented teams in the NBA – and he has the backing of his front office as well as the temperament and intelligence to succeed as efficiently as possible, even amid the complications of Kevin Durant’s comeback and free agency.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog I am interested to see how things will go for Fred Hoiberg in Chicago. Most of the other new coaches (i.e. Mike Malone, Flip Saunders, Scott Skiles and Karl) have walked into situations with low expectations. If they don’t turn things around immediately, well, one could argue nobody expected anything spectacular, at least right away. Billy Donovan is going to face high expectations in OKC, certainly, but a team with a healthy Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should at the very least make the postseason, which would be an improvement from last season. But the Bulls are coming off a 50-win season, and they haven’t missed the postseason since 2008. They’ve been good enough for long enough, and fans expect better than they got from the Bulls under Tom Thibodeau. Good luck with that.

Aminu, Nigeria earn trip to 2016 Olympics

VIDEO: Aminu, Nigeria knock off Angola

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Nigeria joined Australia, Brazil and the United States in the 2016 Men’s Basketball Olympic field, beating Angola in the final of Afrobasket on Sunday. The Blazers’ Al-Farouq Aminu and D-Leaguer Ben Uzoh each scored in double-figures in the final as Nigeria won its first African championship.


Five more Olympic berths will be earned this summer, with two coming out of the FIBA Americas tournament, which begins Monday in Mexico City.


At the end of the summer, nine teams will have their tickets booked for Rio, and the Americas (4) will have twice as many teams in the field as Europe (2). Fifteen more teams will have qualified for next summer’s Olympic qualifying tournaments, which will determine the final three spots in the Olympic field.


Report: Raptors, Valanciunas reach deal

VIDEO: Jonas Valanciunas talks during Summer League

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Toronto Raptors have reportedly reached an agreement with center Jonas Valanciunas on a contract extension.

A report from Monday had the parties discussing a four-year deal worth more than $60 million. That’s far from the max (it’s about half of what Damian Lillard got in July) and seems like a good deal for the Raptors, considering Valanciunas’ size and offensive skill set.

But the center has been a defensive liability, and Toronto is trying to get back to being a good defensive team after a big fall-off on that end of the floor last season. In a Q & A with last month, Raptors coach Dwane Casey said that he’ll look to go small late in games in order to keep up with the rest of the league.

Q: Is there still a big role for Jonas Valanciunas in the way that you want to play and in the way the league is going? How can you use him, but also make up for his deficiencies when he’s on the floor?

DC: The league is going smaller, but as long as the goal is at 10 feet, size is going to matter. You still got to have size.

At the end of games, the trend is to go smaller. Threes are fours, fours are fives, and your roster has to fit that. Adding DeMarre [Carroll] gives us that flexibility. He can play some at the four, with [Luis] Scola or Patrick Patterson at the five. We’re better equipped to play that way now than we were a year ago.

The league is going to their more skilled guys toward the end of games. Trends come and go, but right now, we have to participate in that trend.

Casey was already looking away from Valanciunas late in games. The seven-footer played just 292 fourth-quarter minutes last season, which ranked 254th in the league and were just 14.0 percent of his total minutes. Among players who logged at least 1,000 total minutes, only seven played a smaller percentage of them in the fourth quarter.

Still, Valanciunas just turned 23 years old in May. The Raptors hope he’ll be lighter and quicker this season, so that pick-and-roll coverage and weak-side rotations aren’t as much of an issue as they’ve been in the past.

Valanciunas was taken with the No. 5 pick of the 2011 Draft, but is with the class of 2012 in regard to extension eligibility because he didn’t come to the NBA until a year after he was drafted. Anthony Davis, like Lillard, was given a max extension early in free agency.

Other first-round picks from 2012 (that had their third and fourth-year options exercised) have until Oct. 31 to sign extensions. Otherwise, they will become restricted free agents next summer.

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, 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 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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,’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,“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, 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, 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,’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