Posts Tagged ‘Kobe Bryant’

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.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 15


VIDEO: LeBron helping out kids in Akron

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron supports 4 years in college | Mixed messages from Team USA | Bad form in Rivers’ self-challenge | Kobe schools D’Angelo (smiley face)

No. 1: LeBron supports 4 years in college — OK, our headline is a little bit of a tease. The idea that LeBron James, arguably the greatest preps-to-pros NBA player ever, might be advocating for young prospects to attain their college degrees could make for an interesting sports story. In this case, though, it makes for a fascinating story, period, because James’ focus is not on future NBA performers – it’s on regular kids from his hometown of Akron, Ohio, who otherwise not attend college at all. We’ll assume he’s getting a volume discount and not paying retail, per this piece on ESPN.com:

The NBA star has partnered with the University of Akron to provide a guaranteed four-year scholarship to the school for students in James’ I Promise program who qualify.

The scholarship will cover tuition and the university’s general service fee — currently $9,500 per year.

According to the Akron Beacon Journal, as many as 2,300 children could potentially benefit from the scholarships.

It’s the latest example of James, who often refers to himself “as just a kid from Akron,” giving back to a community that helped raise him.

“It’s the reason I do what I do,” said James, who announced the program Thursday while hosting an event for students at Cedar Point Amusement Park. “These students have big dreams, and I’m happy to do everything I can to help them get there. They’re going to have to earn it, but I’m excited to see what these kids can accomplish knowing that college is in their futures.”

The university and the LeBron James Family Foundation are still finalizing the criteria for the scholarships. The students will have to graduate from high school within Akron’s public school system, achieve standard testing requirements, and fulfill a community service obligation.

James has had a long-standing relationship with the university. As his celebrity soared in high school, James played many game on the school’s campus, and the four-time MVP deepened his connection with Akron soon after he turned professional.

“It means so much because, as a kid growing up in the inner city and a lot of African-American kids, you don’t really think past high school,” said James, who bypassed college to jump to the NBA. “You don’t really know your future. You hear high school all the time, and you graduate high school, and then you never think past that because either it’s not possible or your family’s not financially stable to even be able to support a kid going to college.”

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No. 2: Mixed messages from Team USA — There’s no denying that USA Basketball has come up with a formula for success, built by managing director Jerry Colangelo and men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski and driven by the commitments it requires from the NBA’s best players. But there were several mixed messages put out by the time this week’s mini-camp and intrasquad scrimmage in Las Vegas were completed. “Everyone hoping to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics had to attend” … except maybe not Kobe Bryant or Derrick Rose. “Some players will be permitted not to play in the scrimmage Thursday” … except then participation was made voluntary and so many guys opted out – 20 of the 34 on this week’s roster – that organizers had to truck in four more NBA players just to flesh out the Blue and White squads to nine men each. There seems to be some slippage going on in what words like “mandatory” and “commitment” mean, as kicked around in this CBSSports.com report, and it opens the door for other players to test the program’s vaunted culture in the future:

Earlier this week, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said that because Derrick Rose chose not to attend minicamp this week in Las Vegas, the Bulls star would not be considered for Team USA’s Olympics squad for Rio 2016. In the same interview session where he revealed that he’s interested in Kobe Bryant returning for a final run with the team (despite Bryant also missing the minicamp), all of a sudden, Colangelo says he’s open to it.

“I always said you never shut the door entirely on anyone. I mean, why? To prove what? Was I disappointed Derrick [Rose] wasn’t here? Sure. Because, we want the best for him. We want the best for him. We want him to get back to the level that he once was. So let’s just see how things go in the future.”

OK, this doesn’t seem cool. Colangelo made a big deal to everyone saying how in order to be considered for Rio in 2016 you have to attend this minicamp. It was mandatory. So a bunch of players dropped what they were doing and shuffled out to Las Vegas in the middle of their offseason to run some drills and have some meetings. Most were happy to do it, and that’s a testament to the culture that Colangelo has helped build.

At the same time, many did so because Colangelo made it clear that attendance was mandatory. Now, on top of him saying that he’s not going to hold minicamp next year and that instead the team will simply be chosen, all 12 spots, it turns out that the players didn’t actually need to attend anyway. Rose didn’t attend, and he can get in if he stays healthy this year. Bryant didn’t attend, same deal.

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No. 3: Bad form in Rivers’ self-challenge — We’ve all come to understand the role that confidence and even ego play in how far a person can take some natural ability and hard-earned prowess. The days of athletes – or artists or innovators or anyone else, frankly – having to hew the “Aw, shucks” line of false modesty are long over. We get it when someone says he or she aspires to be the “GOAT” (greatest of all time), that’s it a highly effective method of motivating oneself. But what even the most brash among us need to remember is that it remains bad form to call out or put down others while issuing such self-challenges. That’s a line L.A. Clippers guard Austin Rivers crossed on Twitter the other night. Fueled apparently by seeing the “extras” who were summoned to help out at the Team USA “Showcase” scrimmage — Arron Afflalo, Terrance Jones, Amir Johnson and Elfrid Payton, with C.J. Watson listed initially but scratched — Rivers’ comment as framed by SheridanHoops.com veered into arrogance:

It’s quite possible that Rivers’ eyes lit up when he saw C.J. Watson on the roster. Kidding aside, it’s tough to see where Rivers is coming from as far as saying he’s better than many on the roster, given that he hasn’t shown a whole lot during his first three years in the league (bare in mind, he’s not comparing himself to superstars like Stephen Curry and James Harden, who weren’t a part of the showcase).

To be fair, he was never quite enabled by Monty Williams – the only coach he has ever played for before being traded to the Clippers last year by his father Doc Rivers. Under his father, Rivers shot a career-high 42.7 percent from the field and had some shockingly good performances in the playoffs that actually made you wonder if you’ve had it all wrong about the guy.

Objectively, Rivers probably isn’t better than most on the roster from Thursday as of right now. Still, if that’s what he wants to believe, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, particularly if it drives him to want to become better (that clearly is the case if he wants to become MIP).

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No. 4: Kobe schools D’Angelo (smiley face) — This one is pretty self-explanatory, a moment or two between new teammates Kobe Bryant and No. 2 draft pick D’Angelo Russell played out in social media. Apparently inspired after watching some of former NBA All-Star and scoring champ Tracy McGrady‘s exploits, Russell lavished some Twitter praise on the former Orlando and Houston star. Bryant then reined in Russell’s enthusiasm a bit:

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Michael Jordan’s name and image are worth millions, and yet a bootleg grocery ad didn’t sell much meat with it. … Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins probably has been working out harder than you. … If you’re still digesting the massive NBA schedule served up all at once Wednesday, here’s a primer on the best of the best that might help. … Clippers forward Blake Griffin, not bad as a power forward and a commercial pitch man, talks about yet another role: Web site story editor. … Griffin, in case you missed it, also had some of the most interesting thoughts among the Team USA players who talked about the relative appeal of Olympic gold medals vs. NBA championship rings. …

Morning Shootaround — August 10


VIDEO: LeBron James’ top 10 plays from the playoffs

MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1 | Exum injury doesn’t destroy Jazz | Time to make room for women coaches in NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1, all-time Bulls would top all-time Lakers — When Michael Jordan speaks, we all listen. And he said plenty over the weekend at his annual Flight School, answering plenty of pertinent questions for the campers in attendance, including how he’d handle LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1 in his prime and responded to Shaq‘s challenge in regards to how the all-time great Bulls teams would fare against an all-time great team of Los Angeles Lakers. He poked Kobe Bryant, too, and even discussed Kwame BrownPatrick Dorsey of ESPN.com has the details: 

What did I think about when Shaq said that the all-time five of the greatest Lakers could beat the Bulls’ five greatest players?

“I just felt like he was just talking. It’s a debate. The thing is that we would never know. I think we would have killed them. He thinks they would have killed us. You guys decide. It’s just a debate.”

Favorite player to play pick-up games with?

“My best pick-up game I’ve ever played was the games and the practices with the [1992] Dream Team. … My team was myself, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird and Chris Mullin. We played against Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, David Robinson — that’s five, right? — and we killed ’em.

Note: That’s not five; the other player team’s fifth had to be either Karl Malone, John Stockton or Christian Laettner. There’s also a chance Jordan is misremembering a bit, and he’s talking aboutthis scrimmage covered in-depth by Sports Illustrated, which featured a Jordan-Malone-Ewing-Pippen-Bird five against Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Mullin and Laettner (although a 40-36 final score in favor of Jordan’s team hardly constitutes a “killing.”)

If I had the chance to go one-on-one with Steph Curry or LeBron, which one would I choose to go one-on-one with?

“Right now, or when I was in my prime? Right now? Buddy, I couldn’t beat — well, I’d go against [Stephen] Curry because I’m a little bit bigger than him. So I could kind of back him in. But LeBron is a little bit too big.”

[Note: Take that, 34 percent of America.]

If I had a chance to add another member to team Jordan, who would I hire?

“I’m a big fan of [Mike] Trout, the baseball player. I absolutely love him. I wish I could hire him. But he’s Nike, so I can’t steal Nike’s guys.”

This is the ESPN question. I know it’s going to be all over ESPN. [Note: He was right.]If I was in my prime, could I beat LeBron in a one-on-one game?

[Long pause in which the campers mutter/shout their opinions.]

No question!

[Huge applause.]

What did I see in Kwame Brown when I drafted him [No. 1 overall for the Washington Wizards in 2001]?

“I, along with everybody that was in that draft room, wanted Kwame Brown because of his athleticism, his size, his speed. He was still a young talent, 18-year-old, 19-year-old kid.”

If you went back and you couldn’t play basketball or baseball, what sport would you play?

“Great question. I went to college, I got my degree in cultural geography, and everybody wanted to know what is cultural geography? Well it’s an introduction to meteorology. I always wanted to be the weather man. Don’t laugh. But that’s what I really wanted to do. So if I wasn’t playing basketball or baseball, I was going to tell you what the weather was going to be like tomorrow.”

[Note: Don’t think meteorology is a sport? Tell that to Jim Cantore!]

What kind of advice would I give Kobe Bryant?

[Uncomfortable laughter in the crowd.]

“Actually, Kobe and I are good friends. I like Kobe, we talk a lot, I hope he comes back healthy. I think he’s one of the great players of the game, I think he’s done a lot for the game, and he has a true love for the game of basketball. I absolutely have high regard for Kobe Bryant.

“Even though he stole all my moves, but that’s OK. I still love him like a brother.”

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Morning Shootaround — August 8


VIDEO: Jerry Colangelo breaks down the roster for USA Basketball’s minicamp

Tempered expectations for Stanley Johnson | Connaughton’s a rookie with two-sport dreams | Thompson calls trade to Warriors ‘bittersweet’

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Tempered expectations for Stanley Johnson — Any conversation about the rookies most ready to make an impact on their respective teams next season includes the name Stanley Johnson. The Detroit Pistons are counting on it. Johnson has the size, talent and based on what we saw from him in Summer League action the temperament to handle the rigors during his first season as a professional. But as always, the expectations for Johnson and many others in the celebrated Draft class of 2015 need to be tempered, writes Sean Corp in The Detroit Free Press

Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy is even talking about a willingness to start Johnson at either shooting guard or small forward, as he mentioned during an interview with Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently.

However, if history is any indication, expectations for Johnson should be tempered. Rookies struggle, it’s just a fact of NBA life. It’s not a criticism it is an inevitability. Even last year’s All-Stars struggled to find much playing time as rookies. DeMar Derozan (1,664 minutes), LaMarcus Aldridge (1,392) and Paul George (1,265) played sparingly and looked lost on the court much of the time. If Johnson manages to eclipse even that modest amount of playing time (about 18 minutes per game) he will be the exception and not the rule.

Over the past 10 years, NBA lottery picks average just 1,457 minutes in their first NBA season. And Johnson isn’t a typical NBA lottery pick. Less than a month past his 19th birthday at the time of the draft, Johnson will be one of the younger rookies of the past 10 years. Just 12 lottery picks played most of their rookie season as teenagers, averaging just 1,213 minutes. Expanding the range to teens selected at any point in the draft, the average playing time is just 1,050 minutes. Even if you limit the analysis to those players selected 8th overall, like Johnson was, the average playing time is 1,292 minutes.

But what of his current head coach? Here is where a little excitement might be permitted. Van Gundy known nothing but success before arriving in Detroit, and as a consequence he has limited experience with rookies.

During a full season, Van Gundy has coached just six rookies in his career, including three first-rounders. The most prolific, unsurprisingly, is Dwyane Wade. Wade was selected fifth overall in 2003 and played 2,126 minutes, finishing third in the rookie of the year voting. The next year, the Heat selected Dorell Wright out of high school (19th overall) and he played a total of 27 minutes. Van Gundy’s other first-round pick was Courtney Lee in 2008, and Johnson and Lee make for an interesting comparison.

Lee came out of Western Kentucky as a 6-foot-5 combo guard-forward who could shoot the lights out and defend from day one, filling a glaring defensive need in Orlando’s high-powered lineup. He ended up playing 1,939 minutes as a rookie. Johnson, meanwhile, is 6-foot-7, capable of playing multiple spots on the floor, and is expected to be able to defend from day one. This defensive ability, on a team desperate to create the defensive identity Van Gundy is known for, could be Johnson’s ticket to regular playing time.

Is it fair to expect him to play 1,900 minutes like Lee did? No. A combination of competition on the roster, youth, and the history of rookies in the NBA says expecting more than that from Johnson would be an unreasonable expectation. Kevin Durant and LeBron James might have looked like stars from day one, but only because they grew from stars to superstars. For everyone else, a rookie year looks something like what Johnson is likely to experience – irregular playing time, regular mistakes and an invaluable learning experience.

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Hibbert focuses on his inner game


VIDEO: Roy Hibbert on what he plans to bring to the Lakers

No one really knows what to expect this season from Roy Hibbert as the former All-Star center moves from the Indiana Pacers to the Los Angeles Lakers in search of a clean slate. But when the answers – rather than just theories – come, they likely will have much to do with the enigmatic big man’s mood and mental outlook.

Those were factors that acted at least as contributing factors, along with Hibbert’s inconsistent play and the Pacers’ ambitions to play faster and smaller in 2015-16, when the 7-foot-2 center moved to L.A. at a bargain price. The Lakers were willing to take on Hibbert and his $15.5 million salary this season because they had salary-cap room and, frankly, they only had to give up a future second-round pick.

Getting Hibbert back on track – the Georgetown alum is only 28 and still represents a gold standard for rim protection, on most nights – won’t just be a job left to training camp or the regular season, or reliant only on Byron Scott‘s coaching or Kobe Bryant‘s, er, pep talks. Hibbert already has undertaken methods to boost his confidence and abilities by focusing on the mental part of the game and of himself, as addressed by ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes. Here’s an excerpt, with Hibbert clearly cautious in discussing what in professional sports remains a touchy subject:

Mental health is a subject Hibbert doesn’t seem to enjoy discussing. His words come slowly, each carefully chosen. At times, it seems like there’s more he wants to say, but he doesn’t. He has his reasons, which he declines to share. But Hibbert is interested in the field. He says he first visited a psychologist when he boarded at Georgetown Prep, where he was one of the top high-school prospects in the nation.

“I was a black kid in an all-white school, so I had to deal with some of that stress and pressure,” Hibbert told ESPN.com in November 2014. “If I didn’t do that back in high school, I probably wouldn’t be open to it later on.”

He was also an only child, sheltered by two parents who each worked multiple jobs, and admittedly socially awkward, spending much of his time playing video games.

The visits helped Hibbert shed any fear of being labeled as “having a couple of screws loose,” a stubborn perception that persists in the world of sports, in which “mental strength” — however abstract the definition — is fetishized.

“Stigma is an issue [in the NBA],” Hibbert said then. “But sometimes you have to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘You know, I need help. I may need to look at [therapy and mental exercises] in a different light.’ That’s how I go about it.”

Hibbert saw mental health counselors and a team performance psychologist throughout his career with the Pacers, in large part to discuss the stress that accompanies life in the NBA as a high-profile young player — the acquisition of wealth, the strain of a career on personal relationship, the pressures to perform.

He says he doesn’t have a mental health condition or diagnosis and characterized himself as merely someone who believes in the value of sharing with a professional and engaging in mental exercises whose goals are not unlike physical training. He praised the Pacers’ approach, which he says excelled at not making players feel defensive.

During the second half of last season, Hibbert says he experienced “a lot of mental stuff.” He started using an app called “Headspace,” which guided him through meditative exercises. “You count your breaths,” Hibbert says. “You focus on certain things. Even if the mind wanders, that’s OK. You just bring it back to that space where you feel positive.”

He also picked up a trick from the BBC series “Sherlock,” in which the protagonist accesses his “mind palace” — a mnemonic technique in which the subject transports his thoughts to a place where he stores memories and impressions. These days, he uses the singing of the national anthem prior to tipoff as an opportunity to count his breaths and enter his mind palace.

After learning that some “elite” NBA players have hired their own full-time sports psychologists, Hibbert “decided to put my money where my mouth is” and hire one on a part-time basis.

Hearing that others were seeking assistance gave him confidence that the discussion about mental health in the NBA is moving in the right direction, but he’s still unsure if the taboo has been lifted.

“I mean, I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that point because people just think you’re mentally weak,” Hibbert says. “And when I’m secure about using it and talking about it, I feel like I’ll be OK, but I’m not sure we’ll get to that point. … I’m not sure when we’ll get there.”

Report: Kobe says this could be his final season


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks about whether this is the end of his era in the NBA

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The question will linger perhaps until this time next year.

Is it over?

Was the 2015-16 season Kobe Bryant‘s last?

And if it is the end, how will his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers and in the NBA play out with the likes of Lakers owners Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss, general manager Mitch Kupchak and new faces like D’Angelo Russell, Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams all having a say in his finale?

Kobe addressed those pressing issues, and much more, in an exclusive Q&A with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

Q: Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has hinted that next season can be your last. Could it be?

Kobe: “We haven’t set anything in stone and I’ve talked about it before. But could this be the last [season]? Absolutely. It’s tough to decide. It’s really tough to make those types of decisions. Players I have spoken to say, ‘Kobe you will know.’

“I’m making this very simple. Either I like playing the game and going through this process or I don’t. I try to strip it down to the simplest form. Either I like playing some more or I don’t. But I think that decision needs to be made after the season. It’s hard to make a decision like that before the season.”

Q: Would you want a farewell tour?

Kobe: “It’s hard to do that type of stuff because I don’t know if I’m going to retire or not. It’s not a swan song when it all has not been written.”

Q: How does your body feel now and what is the difference between now and entering training camp last season?

Kobe: “The body is good. I feel good. … My lower body is solid. There are no question marks on what I can do. My body and my legs feel extremely strong and healthy. That’s the big difference. My upper body, I’ve been doing the weights and stuff like that. I’ve been kind of building up the upper body strength. The biggest change is I feel very, very solid in my legs.”

Q: Why do you still put your body through this after all the years and injuries?

Kobe: “I’m crazy. Ha, ha, ha. I love playing. I enjoy it. It’s weird. You go from as a kid loving the game, thinking you will be able to play forever to being where I am now and understanding there is some finality to it.

“It’s amazing to take a step back and look at that art. You’re kind of the opposite of starting out as a kid. You’re sitting here at 36 and soon to be 37 years old, it’s amazing.”

Q: How do you fight the pain and do the needed rehabilitation?

Kobe: “I just go. Once I make the decision I am going to take this challenge on, I never waver and I never question the investment. I already made the decision. You have those painful moments, but you just keep on moving.”

Q: When you see the mammoth money that could be available to you as a free agent next summer, does that make it more attractive to continue playing?

Kobe: “Zero. Zero. I’ve never played for the money. It’s never moved me. Money can come and go. I have a perspective about finances. The family is fine. What is more money going to bring other than more money? I have my family, I have my health and we’re comfortable financially and that is a massive blessing.

“I don’t want to undervalue the importance of generating any type of whatever. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m underappreciative of that or not thankful for that. But at the same, what is really important? What is the important thing? I never played for money. When I laced my sneakers up when I was a kid in Italy I wasn’t thinking about money. I had no idea how much Magic [Johnson] or [Larry] Bird got paid. I played it because I loved it.”

While Kobe insists there is nothing set in stone in terms of if this being his final season, the fact that he’s even entertaining the possibility is worth noting.

The end of an era, or perhaps the end of his era in the NBA, could be on its way soon.

Morning Shootaround — July 27


VIDEO: The NBA’s connections in Africa are as strong as they are deep, courtesy of Basketball Without Borders

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reluctant Popovich is a “lifer” | Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal | Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans | Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire

No. 1: Reluctant Pop is a “lifer” — His life is much more than just basketball, but that doesn’t mean San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will escape the lifelong grip the game of basketball has on so many. Pop almost escaped in recent years, but a huge free agent summer (LaMarcus Aldridge and David West join, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard all sign new deals, etc.) will keep him on the sideline for the foreseeable future. It turns out that Pop will end up being a “lifer” (like his mentor and good friend Larry Brown) after all, as the great Buck Harvey of the Express News details:

Popovich goes to Africa this week to coach an exhibition game, proof the energy inside this 66-year-old man is real. It’s also proof he is far past the challenge he faced last year, when both his health and the health of his franchise were in doubt.

His hip surgery had gone well, but there was a hiccup with a heart condition that was not unlike the atrial fibrillation that Fab Oberto had. Popovich underwent a procedure, and, after he had done everything the doctors had asked, palpitations returned.

Brown says the episode occurred during the preseason tour in Europe. That eventually culminated with Popovich missing two games in late November for a second procedure.

“I really believe he was close to retiring then,” Brown said.

What if Popovich had been forced to walk away? Would Tim Duncan have returned for another season? Would LaMarcus Aldridge have ever considered signing with the Spurs?

The same dynamic is also in place for a healthy Popovich. The Spurs aren’t the Spurs without him. He stays, in part, because he feels an obligation to.

Popovich long ago told Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker he would coach them through the end of their careers, although Parker gave him an out. Given that he’s younger than Duncan and Ginobili, Parker told Popovich he would understand if he retired earlier than he did.

But the obligation went further this summer. How could Popovich sell Aldridge on the franchise, and on the culture of winning he had created, if he said he might not stick around?

This was never the way Popovich saw his life playing out. For all the success he has had, and so much he never could have imagined, he couldn’t shake the idea there was more than basketball out there.

He said almost a decade ago, for example, he wasn’t built like a Jerry Sloan. And in a recent ESPN article he revealed this was his thinking after the 2013 Finals:

“I thought about retiring. Not so much because of the loss, but because there are other things to do in life.”

He went through similar soul-searching after the 2014 championship. Popovich talked to Brown about it then.

Brown, 74 and eager to begin another season at SMU, calls himself a lifer. Brown acknowledges he and his good friend are different on this.

“Pop can separate himself better than I can,” he said.

But Brown thought leaving a year ago would have been a mistake. He told Popovich to wait before making a decision, and Brown asked him this question:

“You just won a championship. Who is going to follow you?”

This gets back to his obligation. Leave, and the Spurs are forever changed.

***

No. 2: Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal — The move surprised no one. Brendan Haywood has been caught in trade rumors since the February trade deadline. So the Cavaliers finally moving the veteran big man, in a deal for trade exceptions of $10.5 and $2.85 million and two future 2nd round Draft Pick, is no surprise. The addition of veteran swingman and LeBron James friend, collaborator and confidant Mike Miller, was an added twist that comes as a mild surprise. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group provides some context:

The Cavaliers had a deadline of Aug. 1 to trade or release Haywood before his salary for the 2015-16 season became guaranteed. Portland will waive Haywood before the guaranteed deadline.

Haywood’s departure was inevitable. He played a grand total of 119 minutes for the club last season. The shocker of the transaction is Miller’s involvement.

Statistically, all across the board, Miller just endured the worst season of his 15-year NBA career.

A league source says Miller approved the trade, as he wanted to play for a team where he would have a chance to see significant minutes. Miller will seek a buyout from the rebuilding Trail Blazers to pursue a team that will promise him a spot in a rotation.

Miller exercised his $2.8 million player option for next season at the end of June.

He is a great friend of LeBron James. The four-time MVP recruited Miller last offseason to provide shooting assistance, but he never found his shooting stroke and David Blatt was reluctant to commit playing time to the veteran.

I’m told James understand Miller’s situation and is “OK with the move.” He was not OK with the Miami Heat when they traded Miller to Memphis in the summer of 2013 in order to avoid major luxury tax penalties.

Times have changed.

***

No. 3: Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans — For all of the stars who are set to attend USA Basketball’s minicamp next month in Las Vegas, there is one who seems to have little interest in going through the process again. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has been there and done that and does not feel like he’s in the program’s master plan after missing out on a roster spot last year. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian has more:

It appears that one Trail Blazers player will participate in an August minicamp for USA Basketball. But it won’t be Damian Lillard.

According to ESPN, center Mason Plumlee has been invited to participate in a three-day minicamp for the US National Team that will take place next month in Las Vegas. It will be the second consecutive summer that Mason, who played on Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, will don red, white and blue.

His participation in next month’s event ensures that he will have the chance to make the 12-man team that will represent the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile, it appears that Lillard, the Blazers’ All-Star point guard, will not participate in next month’s minicamp. During a Saturday night appearance on CBS Radio, Lillard told host Jody Mac he would “probably not” play.

“I did it the last few summers and last summer I didn’t make it,” Lillard said, when Mac asked why he wouldn’t participate. “I don’t know why I would go. After I got cut last summer, I don’t think I’m a part of it.”

Lillard did not respond to a text message from The Oregonian/OregonLive seeking comment.

Last summer, Lillard was one of the final cuts on the FIBA World Cup team. And while he publicly expressed appreciation for the chance to represent his country — and said he was not “worried or down about the situation” — he privately felt slighted by his omission from the team.

“More wood on the fire,” Lillard told The Oregonian/OregonLive last summer. “Not my first time being put off and probably not the last.”

***

No. 4: Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire — A golden era will come to an end after next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, Kobe Bryant is entering the final year of his contract. But it’s longtime trainer Gary Vitti, a fixture on the sideline in Los Angeles for decades dating back to the Magic Johnson and “Showtime Lakers,” who is retiring. Again, this will mark the end of an era, as Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times reports. Kurt Helin of Probasketballtalk.com summarizes the scope of Viti’s time with the Lakers:

Vitti, a part of the Laker fabric, talked about it with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

“From a basketball standpoint, the greatest championship would be 1985, the first time we beat Boston,” Vitti said as he slowly consumed an open-faced gyro at an upscale Manhattan Beach restaurant near his home. “We lost to the Celtics the year before and should have beat them. A lot of my interview with Riley was him talking about that. He said to me, ‘We need to win.’”

Vitti has had a special place within the Lakers. He’s a liaison between the players and coaches/front office. He sits close to Byron Scott on the bench. It’s a job he has grown into and is passionate about. When the Lakers health fortunes turned on the team in the past few years, some of the louder than smart Lakers fans online blamed Vitti. Wiser fans knew that what happened to Steve Nash’s nerves, Kobe’s Achilles, Julius Randle‘s leg, and on down the list were not on the training staff.

Vitti could have stayed on as long as he wanted. But it’s time, he said.

“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Love and Kevin Durant both to attend USA Basketball minicamp, though they are not expected to play in exhibition gameDennis Rodman defends his former tag team partner Hulk Hogan … The Lakers’ Nick Young, aka“Swaggy P” is still trying to come to grips with the fact that he was serious trade bait this summer …

Morning Shootaround — July 23


VIDEO: Lakers introduce new trio

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Josh Smith is happy to be a Clipper | New Lakers look to help franchise turn around | Bennett taking advantage of opportunity | Young Suns may be competing for playing time

No. 1: Josh Smith is happy to be a Clipper The Los Angeles Clippers ended up having one of the NBA’s busiest offseasons, between their pursuit of DeAndre Jordan, signing Paul Pierce and trading for Lance Stephenson. But sort of lost among all those moves was the Clippers signing Josh Smith away from the Houston Rockets, where Smith played a big role in the Rockets eliminating the Clippers in the playoffs. As Bill Oram writes in the Orange Country Register, the Clippers had been on Smith’s radar since earlier in the season

Somewhat obscured by those splashy moves was the arrival of Josh Smith seven months after the Clippers first tried to land the mercurial forward.

“It was an option,” Smith said when asked how close he was to signing with the Clippers after being waived by Detroit in December. “It was a definite thought process and conversation I had with my family.”

Smith, 29, was among the eight players – including the returning Jordan and Austin Rivers – the Clippers introduced Tuesday at Staples Center.

He has seen his value plummet in the last two years, since he signed a four-year, $53 million deal with Detroit. Smith was never a good fit with the Pistons, who tried to use him at small forward, a position he had not played in nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.

In December, the Pistons waived Smith, clearing the path for him to sign with the team of his choice. That ended up being the Rockets, who Smith helped knock the Clippers from the postseason.

Asked what he learned from the roller-coaster season, Smith said, “That you can get waived. I learned what waived meant. That’s pretty much it.”

He signed with the Clippers for the veteran minimum. Unlike two years ago, he wasn’t simply going to go to the highest bidder.

“Free agency is very exciting the first time around,” Smith said.

This summer he took a more careful approach to selecting a new team.

“My whole thing was I was looking at scenarios more so than being wowed by the red carpet layout and stuff,” he said.

The Pistons owe him $5.4 million annually through 2020, minus whatever he makes from another team.

Smith is best known for his offensive versatility, despite being selected to the NBA All-Defensive second team in 2010.

He averaged 13.5 points in 23.5 minutes per game in the playoffs. He made four 3-pointers and scored 19 points in the Rockets’ pivotal come-from-behind win in Game 6 of the conference semifinals.

In free agency, however, he opted to switch sides rather than stick with the team that bested the Clippers in seven games.

He called the Clippers’ free agency pitch “more of a visual, concrete type of situation” where as his future in Houston was “foggy.”

***

No. 2: New Lakers look to help franchise turn around Last season the Lakers limped to a 21-61 finish in an injury-marred season. So this offseason, the Lakers made some major moves, adding veterans Lou Williams, Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass, who met the Los Angeles media yesterday. As Broderick Turner writes in the Los Angeles Times, they’re looking at the opportunity as a fresh start

Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass talked about becoming Lakers, and the team’s general manager, Mitch Kupchak, later indicated that he has considered acquiring another guard or a center.

The Lakers have five guards under contract, but Kobe Bryant may move to the starting small forward position. That would leave the Lakers with four guards, including rookie D’Angelo Russell and second-year combo guard Jordan Clarkson.

“Depending upon how you look at it, we may look to bring in another guard on board,” Kupchak said. “We may not.”

The 7-foot-2 Hibbert, whom the Lakers acquired from the Indiana Pacers in a trade for a second-round pick, is Los Angeles’ only quality center with experience. Tarik Black, generously listed at 6-11, is undersized and has played only one season. Robert Sacre, at 7 feet, has the size but lacks the skills to be a regular rotation player.

“We’re not a big team,” said Kupchak, who has a 14-man roster. “So really, if you look at our team you can make an argument we need another big player.”

The news conference at team headquarters at El Segundo with the recent additions had one awkward moment when the trio was asked whether Bryant had reached out to any of them since they joined the team.

Williams, who sat in the middle of his new teammates, looked to his right at Hibbert, who stared straight ahead and said nothing. Bass, already leaning back in his chair, smiled and also said nothing. Neither did Williams.

Instead, they all preferred to talk about how they can help the Lakers improve after a disastrous 21-61 season.

“You always feel like you have an opportunity to win here,” said Williams, who signed a three-year, $21-million deal to join the Lakers. “And when you have Kobe Bryant, that always gives you an opportunity to go far. So for me, they have a winning tradition, they always are one move away from their team going from zero to 100 and you’ve got Kobe Bryant.”

***

No. 3: Bennett taking advantage of opportunity Two years into his NBA career, former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett still has plenty to prove. But after being traded once and getting in better shape, Bennett is using a stint playing this summer with Team Canada in the Pan Am Games as a chance to show what he can do with his NBA team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, writes Doug Smith in the Toronto Star

It now remains to be seen if the former No. 1 NBA draft pick can turn a summer stint that affords him such luxuries into a month that kick starts a somewhat stalled professional career.

So far, so good.

Bennett, the Brampton product who’s scuffled through a couple of NBA seasons trying to find his game and a niche, had 17 points and six rebounds as Canada pulled away in the final two minute to beat Argentina 88-83 in Pan Am Games preliminary round action at the Ryerson Athletic Centre.

The Minnesota Timberwolves forward may not have found an NBA comfort zone but he’s had times he’s dominated in international play and Canadian officials hope another summer with the national team will work long-term magic.

“He’s come in with a great attitude, he’s really hungry to represent his country and improve and this is a really important summer for him,” national team general manager Steve Nash said. “He’s a had a tough go his first two years but he’s really good kid so you just want to be here as a resource and help him realize his potential and play a lot and figure some things out with his game and where he can maximize his advantages on the floor. But most important he’s worked hard, he’s got a great attitude and he’s put himself in position to improve.”

Bennett did look more comfortable and as if he was having more fun while leading Canada to its second straight win. High-stepping back down the court after making a shot, the smiles, the interaction with teammates, it all just looks so natural.

“That’s two great games for him, he had 15 and 10 the other night (against Dominican Republic) and we said coming into this, this is going to be big thing for him with his ability to score in so many ways, the effort and energy he’s putting in right now,” said coach Jay Triano.

“The guy hangs a picture of his jersey in his locker, he’s proud to be Canadian, he’s proud to wear this uniform. That says a lot about the way he’s acting and the way he’s playing out here.”

***

No. 4: Young Suns may be competing for playing time While plenty was made of the Becky Hammon-coached San Antonio Spurs winning the NBA Las Vegas Summer League championship, it’s also worth noting that the Phoenix Suns, coached by Suns assistant Nate Bjorkgren, also advanced to the championship game, on the strength of several of their younger players. And once the season starts, as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann writes, some of those young players will be competing for playing time once the regular season rolls around

The Phoenix Suns had three young vets and the only 2015 Lottery pick in the final eight of the Summer League. Three of those guys – Devin Booker (the No. 13 pick this year), Archie Goodwin (the No. 29 pick in 2013) and T.J. Warren (the No. 14 pick in 2014) – could be competing for minutes off the bench at the wing positions come October.

Both Goodwin (15.9 points per game on 47 percent shooting) and Warren (18.7, 54 percent) were more consistent offensively than Booker (15.3, 40 percent). But if you listen to Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, you conclude that the rookie will have the edge over the two vets when training camp opens.

Hornacek watched Summer League hoping to see Goodwin and Warren show that they can be trusted defensively. Neither has had a big role yet with the Suns, and it sounds like their coach didn’t see enough to guarantee one this season.

“As coaches,” Hornacek told NBA.com at halftime of the Summer League final, “we always say you’re more likely to stay on the court if you’re just playing good defense and not scoring more than if you’re scoring a couple of times and giving up a lot of points. We want to see both sides of that. We got some guys who can put the ball in the hole, but we got to see them play some defense.

“They’re making some improvements. We want to see it on a more consistent basis. With T.J. and Archie, what I’m looking at is their team defense. Are they on the nail? Are they helping out? Are they getting back? Are they closing out hard? I’ve seen spurts of it, but we want to get that up to 95 percent of the time, not just 20 percent of the time.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA is now selling individual games as part of League Pass … Fourteen-year veteran Stephen Jackson announced his official retirement via Instagram … Could LeBron James star in Space Jam 2? … The Spurs are signing Jimmer Fredette … The Clippers and Bucks are interested in signing Glen Davis

Blogtable: Do the Lakers or Knicks have a tougher road to respectability?

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: Knicks or Lakers worse off? | Toughest (and easiest) division? | Talkin’ Summer League



VIDEOCharles Barkley isn’t convinced Roy Hibbert will help the Lakers

> Do the Lakers or Knicks have the tougher road back to respectability and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My hunch is, the Knicks are going to have a harder time getting back to a level at which they’re considered legitimate contenders for an NBA title. As shaky as the master plan might seem in L.A., it’s shakier in New York, what with James Dolan‘s can’t-help-himself meddling and Phil Jackson‘s half-in, half-out, triangle-devoted, smartest-guy-in-the-room theoretical approach. Carmelo Anthony‘s contract will be an albatross with legs compared to Kobe Bryant‘s one-more-season-of-fiscal-pain deal. The ex-Lakers as coaches, Byron Scott vs. Derek Fisher, that’s kind of a push, in my view. The respective rosters? Meh. What it finally comes down to, I suppose, is that I’ll take my chances with Mitch Kupchak over anyone at the Garden.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOh, how the mighty have fallen. Now we’ve lowered the bar for the top two cities in the country from behind championship contenders to merely “respectability?” In that case, have to go with the Lakers, who are starting out with two young talents in Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell to just a single Kristaps Porzingas in New York. Also when Kobe Bryant leaves — it will happen eventually, won’t it? — the draw of the L.A. market, the Hollywood image and all that entails will allow the Lakers to attract talent.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Lakers have the tougher road, because they play in the tougher conference. As much as what was once a wide gulf has closed, the East is still more forgiving. If you want to use making the playoffs as a cutline for respectability, the Knicks can get there quicker. One other factor in the question: It is possible both teams could be in the lottery but not have their 2016 first-round pick.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It’s the Knicks with the tougher climb. Kristaps Porzingis will probably need more time to grow than D’Angelo Russell and Kobe Bryant comes off the Lakers cap next summer while Melo will weigh it down for the Knicks at least 3 more years. The Lakers can start anew next summer with Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo plus tons of cap space to chase Durant. Who knows, in 2 years they could possibly sway Blake Griffin to switch L.A. teams and/or get ex-UCLA star Russell Westbrook to “come home.” Bottom line is, with their management situation, the Lakers don’t have an “easy” road to recovery, just easier than the Knicks.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s the Knicks. As these two teams stand and given decent health, the Knicks will be the better team next season. But at best, that’s good enough to finish 8-11 in the East, which isn’t saying much. In regard to a five-year plan and eventually winning another playoff series, the Lakers have better pieces in place (Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell), as well as more financial flexibility in the next couple of summers, when they won’t be handcuffed by Kobe Bryant‘s contract.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Knicks, without question. This wasn’t the summer I expected the Lakers to remake themselves in free agency. Next summer is when they’ll have the flexibility to get that done and youngsters D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle will have a full NBA season under their belts. We’ve already seen enough of the Knicks, and that’s without Arron Afflalo, Kristaps Porzingis and Robin Lopez in the mix. The Lakers have the luxury of their biggest salaries coming off the books for next summer while the Knicks will not have nearly as much financial flexibility.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Lakers have won championships recently, and Jeanie Buss is asserting leadership and demanding accountability. These are big advantages. Knowing how to win — and especially how to make winning the priority — is a huge deal in the NBA. Can Phil Jackson introduce that point of view to the Knicks? We won’t know until he’s actually done it.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I suppose the answer here depends upon what we define as “respectability.” To me, being a playoff team would be respectable, and in that sense, the Lakers have really tough road ahead of them. The Western Conference is so stacked, it’s going to be a multi-year process for any franchise hoping to become a perennial playoff power. Just initially, take last year’s eight playoff teams, and then add Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Utah, Minnesota, who are all right there on the cusp. That’s a significant mountain for any team to climb.

Reports: Lakers add Williams, Bass


VIDEO: Video: Charles Barkley discusses the Lakers adding Roy Hibbert

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Los Angeles Lakers finally got a free agent to say he’ll play for them. Multiple reports say the Lakers have reached an agreement with Kia Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams on a three-year deal worth $21 million. Those are the same terms that have been reported for Rodney Stuckey in Indiana.

The Lakers now have some semblance of a rotation. Williams will join rookie D’Angelo Russell and second-year point guard Jordan Clarkson in the backcourt. L.A. has Kobe Bryant and Nick Young on the wings and will add Roy Hibbert (via trade) and Brandon Bass (see below) to a frontcourt that includes Julius Randle, Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly.

Even with Hibbert, it looks like defense will be a struggle. Depth is still a major issue and it will be fascinating to see if Bryant, Williams and Young (or any pairing of the two) can share the ball.

According to SportVU, the Lakers took 283 more contested jumpers than any other team last season, even with Bryant playing only 35 games. Add more Bryant plus Williams and L.A. could lap the field in that category. Among 166 players who attempted at least 300 jumpers, Bryant ranked first (69 percent), Young ranked second (68 percent) and Williams ranked 20th (46 percent) in regard to what percentage of their jumpers were contested. And Clarkson ranked 30th at 43 percent.

Raptors lose Williams, add Joseph

The Raptors have added DeMarre Carroll to give their perimeter defense (which was a big problem last season) a boost. The departures of both Greivis Vasquez (via trade to Milwaukee) and Williams made them a little thin in the backcourt, but they recouped some of their depth late Sunday…

Earlier Sunday, the Spurs withdrew their qualifying offer for Joseph, turning him from an unrestricted free agent to a restricted free agent. He’s from just outside Toronto and will likely be running point as Canada looks to qualify for the 2016 Olympics at the FIBA Americas tournament later this summer.

The Raptors also have rookies Delon Wright (the 20th pick) and Norman Powell (the 46th pick) (and maybe some minutes from Terrence Ross) behind All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. They were the fourth (and last) team to trade for Luke Ridnour last week, but could waive him before his contract becomes guaranteed on July 11.

Bass is coming, too

Mavs want Lin (with some help)

With the addition of Russell, free agent Jeremy Lin is obviously on his way out. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes that Dallas wants Lin, but may need the Lakers help to get him

The Dallas Mavericks are exploring sign-and-trade possibilities with the Los Angeles Lakers to acquire free-agent point guard Jeremy Lin, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lin, 26, sees the Mavericks as the best opportunity to reignite his career, especially with a chance to become the starting point guard, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lin could join a free agent class that already includes center DeAndre Jordan and guard Wes Matthews. The Mavericks have exhausted most of their salary-cap space to sign those players and have only an exception of $2.8 million available if the team doesn’t use that to sign free agent J.J. Barea.

Jeremy Evans to Dallas

With or without Lin, the Mavs will have a pretty strong starting lineup (whenever Wes Matthews can play), but they need to fill out their bench. They started to do that by reaching an agreement with a former dunk champ.