Posts Tagged ‘Kobe Bryant’

Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player

More Summer Dreaming: MVP | Coach | DPOY | Sixth Man | Most Improved | Rookie

Now we’re into the part of our Summer Dreaming series where we’ve saved everybody eight months of waiting and handed out all of the official NBA awards for 2015. Next up is a look at a few off-the-record categories, starting with Comeback Player of the Year, which the league has not handed out since the 1984-85 season.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant showed some magic before his injury last season

Kobe Bryant, Lakers — Go ahead, point to those 36 candles he just blew out on his birthday cake. Point to the torn Achilles’ tendon, the fractured kneecap, more miles on his body than an old pickup truck. But you might want to do that pointing from a distance, because the most relentless, driven, refuse-to-face-reality player in the league is apt to bite off that finger. There are all sorts of reasons to doubt that he can return as the player he once was. But, truth is, he won’t even try. While he’s got to carry the load for this revamped — OK, stripped-down-for-spare-parts Lakers team — he’s likely to do it closer to the basket. New coach Byron Scott wants Kobe to use his post skills and smarts to go to work on the inside and put less wear and tear on his body. It’s not likely that Bryant can work miracles and get the Lakers to the playoffs. But he’ll show a lot more than anybody has a right to expect from a  player in his 19th NBA season.


VIDEO: Derrick Rose was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2011

Derrick Rose, Bulls — How quickly they turn. In 2011 he was the toast of Chicago as the youngest player ever named MVP. They were starting to line up artists to create the statue that would go up next to Michael Jordan outside the United Center one day. Now Rose has played just 10 games in the past two seasons due to injuries to both knees and a lot of the so-called loyalists are ready to turn the page and call him injury-prone. Remember, though, that he’ll be just 26 in October and that puts him a decade ahead of Kobe Bryant … plenty of time to return to form. He’s coming back to a team that’s added Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott to a core of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. It says here that playing with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup will prove to be a benefit in the long run, getting Rose needed minutes and a chance to get back on track before dueling it out with LeBron James and the Cavs for Eastern Conference supremacy.


VIDEO: A coaching change in Brooklyn could be right to Brook Lopez’s liking

Brook Lopez, Nets – A broken right foot last December sidelined him for the season. A short time later then-coach Jason Kidd went to a small-ball lineup that turned the Nets’ season around and got them to the playoffs. But Kidd is gone to Milwaukee, replaced by Lionel Hollins, who got the most out of the Grizzlies by going into the low post with the grind-it-out talents of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Lopez is Hollins’ kind of center, a big man with solid fundamentals who knows his way around the basket. Lopez has reportedly dropped 15 pounds during his rehab, looking noticeably lighter and a bit quicker in workouts. However, you can expect Hollins to slow the pace of the offense and make the most of Lopez’ ability, especially at the defensive end.


VIDEO: Al Horford sat down with NBA.com’s Sekou Smith early last season

Al Horford, Hawks — Just when the hard work was starting to pay off with back-to-back selections to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2010 and 2011, Horford virtually lost of two of the next three seasons due to an unusual injury — torn pectoral muscles, left side in 2012 and right side in 2013. In his absence, first-year coach Mike Budenholzer got the Hawks to buy into his share-the-ball beliefs that he brought over from San Antonio, and that got Atlanta into the No. 8 spot in the playoffs. The Hawks have definitely overpaid to put Thabo Sefolosha out on the floor as a needed wing defender. But if they’re going to take a step back up in the improving Eastern Conference, it will be Horford getting back to his old double-double self (17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds per game) from the 2012-13 season. His injuries have definitely drawn less attention than Bryant, Rose and maybe even Lopez, but his loss was just as significant to his team.


VIDEO: Roy Hibbert was a Defensive Player of the Year nominee

Roy Hibbert, Pacers — No broken bones, no torn ligaments, just a shattered confidence and reputation and a franchise left in pieces. Hibbert’s crisis of self-doubt resulted in his game falling faster than a piano off the rooftop of a skyscraper. When he was one of the league’s top rim-protectors in 2012-13, Hibbert solidified the Indiana defense, enabling the Pacers to sniff at the heels of the then-defending champion Heat. When he felt neglected in the offense over the second half of last season, the Pacers were a disjointed mess. Now they’ve lost the injured Paul George, likely for the season, and Lance Stephenson took the free-agent dollars and fled to Charlotte. That means the Pacers clearly don’t have the talent to compete at the top of the Eastern Conference. Still, this is an opportunity for Hibbert to accept the challenge and the burden as a leader and to start to lay a new foundation for the future. This time, at least, he should get his shots.


VIDEO: Deron Williams turns around Chris Paul in this play from 2013-14

Deron Williams, Nets — It wasn’t that long ago when some scouts would have tabbed Williams as the best all-around point guard in the league. He has size, the ability to break down defenses and he can both get to the rim and nail his open jumpers. But that hasn’t been on display much since he joined the Nets. Now the soon-to-be 30-year-old is trying to overcome a series of ankle surgeries that have clearly slowed him down and made his whopping contract one of the most unrewarding in the league. New coach Hollins is not one to baby his players. He’ll lean heavily on Williams to run the offense and be the leader. But a slower tempo could be just what’s needed for a return to previous All-Star form.

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 30


VIDEO:

NEWS OF THE MORNING
World Cup kicks off | Team USA better than 2010? | Cuban not displeased Chandler Parsons cut from Team USA | Deron Williams on the mend

No. 1: So much to watch as World Cup is finally here — The best basketball outside the NBA gets under way Saturday with the start of the World Cup in Spain. The host country and the United States, despite LeBron James, Kevin Durant and other All-Stars sitting this one, are the favorites for gold. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann is on the scene:

The U.S. won its four exhibition games by an average of 29 points, but could still use improvement, especially on offense. Pool play, beginning with Saturday’s game against Finland (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will allow them to work some things out, but it’s doubtful that anything can prepare them for a potential gold-medal game against Spain in Madrid.
Before we can think about that, there is a ton of high-quality basketball to be played and plenty of reasons to watch.

There are key players on NBA contenders — Derrick Rose and Anderson Varejao — looking to get back into basketball shape after injury-riddled seasons.
There is the last stand of Argentina’s golden generation and their beautiful brand of basketball, represented by Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola.

There’s the continued growth of Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng, and Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas.

There are six incoming rookies, including Australia’s Dante Exum (Jazz), Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou (Rockets) and the Croatian pair of Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets) and Damjan Rudez (Pacers), to watch and figure out how they might contribute to their new teams.

There are 2014 draftees like Croatia’s Dario Saric (Sixers) and Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic (Suns), who might eventually be NBA contributors. And there are a few potential prospects, like the Ukraine’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (who will play at Kansas next season), to keep an eye out for.

There’s the curiosity of how veteran Euroleague floor generals like Marcelo Huertas (Brazil) and Milos Teodosic (Serbia) would fit in the NBA.

There’s the Dragic brothers racing up the floor at every opportunity for Slovenia. There’s Andray Blatche playing point-center for the Philippines. And there’s the flair of real point guards like Carlos Arroyo and Ricky Rubio.

Seventy-six games over 17 days. If you can’t wait for the upcoming NBA season, with Kevin Love joining LeBron in Cleveland, the Spurs trying for their first repeat, and Rose back in a Bulls uniform, the FIBA World Cup should hold you off for a while.

***

No. 2: Colangelo: Team USA “by far” better than 2010 — Team USA is the youngest group of players to represent the country since NBA players started playing in international competition in 1992. Despite their youth and some of the U.S.’s top players sitting this one out, Team USA brass is convinced this squad is even better than the 2010 version that won gold. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has the story:

The 12 players representing the United States at the FIBA World Cup that starts this weekend comprise the youngest team fielded by USA Basketball since NBA players were ushered into the international game in 1992.

When it opens Group C play here Saturday night against Finland at the Bizkaia Arena, Team USA ‎will sport an average age of just above 24 years old.

But Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski and USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo are nonetheless convinced that the 2014 squad begins the tournament in better shape than the 2010 group that ultimately won that FIBA World Championship in Turkey without a single member from the gold-medal-winning 2008 Olympic team.

“By far,” Colangelo told ESPN.com. “Because we have a couple of Olympic gold medalists on this roster in Anthony Davis and James Harden. We have three players from that team in 2010‎ in Steph Curry, Derrick Rose and Rudy Gay. And they’re not 21 this time. They’re 23 or 24. A little bit older and more mature‎.

“We like our team. We really do.”

Yet Colangelo has acknowledged on multiple occasions this summer that he would ultimately regard a fourth successive championship in a major tournament for the United States to be the “sweetest” success enjoyed ‎by the program since he and Krzyzewski teamed up to resuscitate USA Basketball in the wake of a humbling bronze-medal finish at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

That’s because of the rash of prominent players’ withdrawals that USAB has weathered this summer. Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook all removed themselves from the roster before the squad convened for its first training camp in Las Vegas in late July. Kevin Durant then followed suit earlier this month after the horrific compound leg fracture ‎suffered by Paul George in an intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 1.

But this team, as Colangelo mentioned, brings a modicum of international experience to the competition even after all those losses. In 2010, Team USA was forced to field a new squad that eventually defeated host Turkey in the final after a team led by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony narrowly defeated Spain in the 2008 gold-medal game in Beijing.

***

No. 3: Cuban not displeased Chandler Parsons won’t play in Spain — Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is a loud critic of international play. He abhors the risk to teams in the case a player gets injured, among other issues. So he wasn’t disappointed when newly acquired small forward Chandler Parsons, who Cuban will pay $46 million over the next three years, was cut from Team USA. NBA.com’s own Jeff Caplan spoke to Cuban:

Last week, Team USA pulled the plug on Parsons, cutting him from the squad that will compete starting Saturday at the World Cup in Spain. It might have been the only thing this summer as pleasing to Cuban as actually getting Parsons.

Cuban is a longtime critic of NBA players being used in international competition for reasons the Indiana Pacers are now dealing with, among others.

“He knows how I felt,” Cuban said. “I told him, ‘Look, whatever you want I’m going to support you 100 percent — because I have to.’ But he knew where I stood and he wanted to make the team. He also understood that while, for him especially, for younger guys, you don’t get to work on your game there. Unless you’re starting, you’re not getting a lot of minutes, you’re not getting a chance to work on your game. Its not like you’ve got guys that we can just bring and work out with you. So being on Team USA, in my opinion, would have hurt his game development.”

***

No. 4: Video surfaces of an encouraging D-Will workout — For the last two seasons Nets point guard and former All-Star Deron Williams has been dogged by ankle problems and critics piling on about his demise. Williams had surgery on both ankles this offseason, and new coach Lionel Hollins says he’s the key to success. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York talked to Hollins about it:

Williams underwent surgery on both of his ankles in the offseason. Now it’s about getting healthy and getting his confidence back. But how?

“There’s a lot of different things you can do [as a coach],” Lionel Hollins said Friday. “I can’t say right here that I’m going to walk in there and tell Deron Williams this or that, because I don’t even know where he is from that perspective [a confidence perspective] at this moment.

“But I think first of all he has to be healthy and he has to be in great shape and we’re going to try to put him in a situation where he can flourish, which will give him confidence and go from there. I mean confidence comes and goes with all players no matter how good they are. I don’t think there’s ever been a player that’s played and didn’t have a confidence issue at some point maybe in a game, maybe in a season.”

Hollins has said similar things before. Putting Williams in a position where he can flourish is the key. In that respect, it really comes down to health, doesn’t it?

“If you’re injured, you can’t be who you are,” Hollins said. “You can’t make the same moves or be as explosive as you are, and it’s difficult to go out there and go 100 percent. You’re always worried about what’s going to happen if you push off, stop, change direction, all of those things.”

Asked about where Williams is from health standpoint, Hollins responded, “As far as I know, good.”

Williams looked good dribbling in an Instagram video posted by his close friend, Matt Mitnick, on Friday night.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: James Harden expects 20-year-old Kobe Bryant to return … Ian Mahinmi out two to three months with shoulder injury … Spurs interested in Gustavo AyonMonty Williams sees big improvement in Anthony Davis … Expect the Clippers to make a run at Ray AllenSpurs also barging in on Allen sweepstakes.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Lawson expecting big things in Denver | Griffin defends Cavs’ pursuit of Calipari | Trainer raves over Bryant’s pain tolerance

No. 1: Lawson sees big things ahead for Nuggets — In 2012-13, the Denver Nuggets were a 57-win team and boasted and up-and-coming, exciting team that seemed on the verge of being a contender. Last season, though, was a different story, as Denver fell to 36-46, most of which could be blamed on injuries decimating the roster. Point guard Ty Lawson was one of the players who dealt with the injury bug in 2013-14, but he’s on the mend and is expecting a Nuggets bounce back in 2014-15. Our Jeff Caplan caught up with Lawson, who talked about that and more:

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.


VIDEO: Ty Lawson runs wild in a win over the L.A. Lakers last season (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 23



VIDEO: GameTime: USA Basketball final roster

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA thinks big | Rose looks fine | Birthday boy Kobe takes on the years

No. 1: Size matters to Team USA — While many eyes were on the status of Bulls guard Derrick Rose as Team USA moves closer to the start of the FIBA World Cup next week in Spain, the surprise coming out of Friday night’s final cuts was the inclusion of four big men on the final roster. Our John Schuhmann says that USA coach Mike Krzyzewski and managing director Jerry Colangelo made the decision to go with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee and that will put some pressure on Kyrie Irving, as the only full-time point guard, to hold up and perform as Team USA goes for the gold and a guaranteed berth in the 2016 Olympics:

So the U.S. will have just one full-time point guard — Irving — on the roster, with (Steph) Curry starting at shooting guard and Rose unlikely to play every game. That could be some extra burden on the Cavs’ All-Star, but the USA’s best talent is still in the backcourt and the staff clearly wanted extra depth up front, with Cousins, Drummond and Plumlee backing up Davis, who could see some time at power forward.

The need for three back-up centers is a bit puzzling, especially since Davis will likely rank first or second on the team in minutes played. Two of three back-ups will certainly have limited roles.

But the U.S. may have its sights set on the frontline of Spain, which features Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. The hosts are the clear favorites to reach the gold medal game from the other side of the bracket, though they’ll have a tougher road than the Americans.

***

No. 2: Rose plays, survives final cut for World Cup — The whispers and the questions were out there ever since Derrick Rose sat out Wednesday’s warmup game against the Dominican Republic due to “general soreness.” Would he be able to withstand the grueling World Cup schedule? Would he be able to be a team leader for Team USA in Spain? Those questions were answered when Rose played 13 minutes Friday night against Puerto Rico and was named to the 12-man final roster. Chris Strauss of USA Today says that Rose’s presence is welcome in the Team USA locker room:

“Derrick brings something that we don’t have as far as being able to push the ball so fast and get into the paint, and (he’s) so athletic,” USA guard James Harden said. “He made a couple cross-court passes for open threes. He looked phenomenal.”

“I feel very confident about Derrick. I think Derrick feels very confident,” (Mike) Krzyzewski said. “I thought he played great tonight. These guys want to play with him. It’s part of getting back is to be around a group of peers. These guys are his peers who want you to be really good. You’re already really good but if James Harden wants (Curry) to be really good and (Curry) wants Derrick Rose to be really good and Kyrie, it’s a different thing. That’s what we’ve seen over the years and that’s where the brotherhood develops. It’s one of the cool things about what’s happened over the past nine years (of USA Basketball).”

***

No. 3: “Old man” Kobe faces his biggest challenge — Never mind just blowing out the candles on his birthday cake. As he turns 36 Saturday, Kobe Bryant has to confront the stronger winds that surround his comeback from a torn Achilles’ tendon and fractured knee. Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times checks with in different members of the Lakers organization and other NBA figures for a look at what to expect from the Black Mamba when training camp opens in just over five weeks:

“Quite honestly, I think we’re going to see a better Kobe Bryant than we’ve seen in the last couple of years because he’s had time to rest and rehabilitate,” said Dr. Alan Beyer, executive director of the Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine.

Beyer said Bryant is not at an increased risk to reinjure the areas that sidelined him last season but acknowledged he is more susceptible to injuries associated with advanced basketball age.

Working in Bryant’s favor is an almost maniacal devotion to staying in shape and perfecting every aspect of his game. Coach Byron Scott said he had to tell Bryant to cool it when Bryant talked about wanting to play pickup games nearly two months before the start of training camp.

“I was like, ‘Slow down a little bit, Kobe,’ ” Scott said.

There could be a more awkward conversation in the days ahead. Scott said he had a target number of minutes per game in mind for Bryant — though he would not disclose it publicly and has not discussed it with his best player — intended to keep him fresh for what Scott hopes is a playoff push late in the season.

It could be a hard sell for a player notoriously stubborn about his playing time. Bryant averaged nearly 46 minutes a game in the six games preceding his Achilles’ injury in April 2013 and was on pace to play all 48 minutes against Golden State when his left foot buckled late in the fourth quarter, all in the name of helping the Lakers reach the playoffs.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Before the Timberwolves closed the deal with the Cavs to send Kevin Love to Cleveland, the Suns tried to beat the buzzer with an offer of Eric Bledsoe… Everything is different now for Heat rookie Shabazz Napier, getting used to a new league, new team, even a new basketball … It’s not your average day at the beach for Paul Pierce as he gets into shape for his first season as a Wizard.

In West, who slides out and sneaks in?


VIDEO: What are the Spurs’ chances of repeating next season?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In our Wednesday Blogtable, the NBA.com staff agreed — with the lone exception of esteemed colleague Aldo Avinante in the Philippines office — that the Los Angeles Lakers, even with the return of a bullish Kobe Bryant, will not make the playoffs.

This seemed like a pretty easy call. Carlos Boozer and Swaggy P. just don’t scream Showtime. Meanwhile, the Western Conference threatens to be more ferocious this season than last.

But what if the question had asked if the Phoenix Suns will make the playoffs? Or if the New Orleans Pelicans with ascending star Anthony Davis can break through? Or if a Ricky Rubio-Andrew Wiggins combo can end the Minnesota Timberwolves’ long postseason drought? Or if the don’t-sleep-on-the-Denver-Nuggets, with Danilo GallinariJaVale McGee (don’t laugh) and others coming back from injury, plus the return of near-All-Star Arron Afflalo, can climb the ladder? Sorry Kings fans, but I’m leaving out the (maturing?) DeMarcus Cousins and Co. in this discussion.

Would any of these teams have lessened the majority of naysayers?

Perhaps not.

For one team to sneak in, one must slide out.

The regular season in the West might only be good for a reshuffling of last season’s top eight. An argument can be made that among those eight only Houston came out of the summer weakened, and even then some contend that swapping of Chandler Parsons for Trevor Ariza will aid the Rockets’ lacking perimeter defense and thus make it a better overall outfit.

The Spurs return their championship squad in full to attack the task of repeating for the first time in the everlasting Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era. Oklahoma City will welcome a full season of a fully healthy Russell Westbrook. The Clippers are pumped to play for an energetic new owner. The talented Trail Blazers added veteran depth.

At positions six through eight, Golden State is free of last season’s distractions, the Grizzlies cleaned out the front office and solidified coach Dave Joerger. The Mavericks stole offensive flamethrower Parsons from Houston and added defensive anchor Tyson Chandler.

So which of those teams possibly falls out? (more…)

Blogtable: Kobe hot, Lakers in playoffs?

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: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

> With Kobe healthy and playing like he was, say, two years ago, are the Lakers a playoff team this season? Why (or why not)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWhat Charles said. It’s over for the Lakers as a playoff team as currently constructed. They dare not use Kobe Bryant as heavily as they were before his Achilles injury, unless they’re looking for a way for insurance to pay a chunk of his noxious salary, for he surely would break down again. And he doesn’t have enough help, not in the West, not to be taken seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, a pair of All-Stars, joining him in the starting lineup, Kobe was pushing his body to the the limit two years ago — and still the Lakers barely made it into the playoffs. He’d played 92 consecutive minutes in two games on the night his Achilles tendon blew out. Howard left. Now Gasol is gone. Carlos Boozer and Julius Randle hardly fill their shoes. Steve Nash is broken and you just can’t sell me that Swaggy P is a difference maker. If Kobe can drag the Lakers to the No. 8 seed, it would be one of the great achievements of his career. But there aren’t enough margaritas left in the summer to get me to the point where I’d see that happening.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I don’t think so. First off, which team that finished in the top eight is going to drop out? The bottom three teams — Golden State, Memphis, Dallas — all seem to be better off. Phoenix and New Orleans should continue to improve and challenge for a playoff spot. Anybody envision Portland or Houston free-falling out of the playoffs (barring significant injury)? Secondly, the Lakers roster is an odd mix of talent cobbled together after the franchise was shunned by the summer’s top free agents. Only then did L.A. hire new coach Byron Scott. If they do make the playoffs, mark me down for Scott as Coach of the Year.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No. Because they finished 22 games out of the playoffs last season and would need Kobe playing like he was eight or 10 years ago to come close to making up that difference when there are so many holes in other places. Because it’s not easy to identify a 2014 playoff team in the West that will drop out and Phoenix and New Orleans are easily ahead of the Lakers and the other hopefuls for “next in” predictions. And healthy or not, Kobe will still be 36. He can still be good, and anyone who counts him out right now is making a mistake, but he can’t be enough to lift this team that high.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Absolutely not, because their defense is going to be awful and the Western Conference is too good. The last time Kobe was healthy, he was pretty efficient offensively, but was often the source of L.A.’s defensive breakdowns. And at 36 years old and coming off of two leg injuries, he may be the best defender in the Lakers’ backcourt this season. The frontline, meanwhile, is lacking guys who erase mistakes on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. You are asking if we can put Kobe in a time machine and have him play healthy the way he did two years ago would this current Lakers’ crew be a playoff team, which is wholly unfair to Kobe and all of the players who will join him on this team. The Lakers from two years ago have been scattered to the wind. Dwight Howard is in Houston. Pau Gasol is in Chicago. Earl Clark is in … sorry Earl. The fact is, as good as the Western Conference was two years ago, it took Kobe pushing himself to the brink to help the Lakers claw their way into the playoffs with the eighth and final spot. The Western Conference is better and deeper now than it was two years ago. The Lakers, quiet frankly, are not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThey are not. Two years ago they squeaked into the playoffs, and that was with Kobe literally breaking himself down the stretch to try and will them into the postseason. They made it, Kobe didn’t. Even if Kobe is 100 percent this season, his supporting cast isn’t as strong as that 2012-13 team, that still had Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. This year’s Lakers team should see a rotation around Kobe including Julius Randle, Carlos Boozer, Nick Young and Jeremy Lin. But in a stacked Western Conference, I just don’t think that’s enough firepower to carry these Lakers to the postseason.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Let’s be honest. Nobody can expect that Kobe will play like he used to. Many players have defeated injuries in the past, but none managed to beat Father Time. Bryant is 36 and that’s the bad news. Answering the “if” question, I think that the Lakers can become a playoff team, because Kobe has proven himself as a leader of a team that revolves around him. It will be interesting to see how Carlos Boozer will play (especially if he will be used at the 3 spot) and what kind of impact will Julius Randle, potentially one hell of a scoring big man, will have.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: They’re a better team with Kobe Bryant but I certainly don’t think they’re a playoff team. The West is so competitive right now that it would take a monumental effort for an aging Kobe to take this team all the way to the playoffs. Aside from, say, Phoenix, a lot of those borderline playoff teams like Dallas and potentially Memphis have improved in the offseason so you could legitimately have a 45-47 win team miss out on the playoffs again. Can you see the Lakers winning 48 games? It’ll be fun to watch Kobe try though, he’s probably the only guy in the organization with a ferocious win-now edict, while the rest of the organization looks to preserve money, sign guys on short-term deals and look ahead to free agency in 2015. Also, are there multiple defensive stoppers on this Lakers team? Didn’t think so.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Yes, if they stay healthy; that is the biggest issue they have the last two years. I think their rotation at the bigs this year is better with a healthy Jordan Hill and new additions; veteran Carlos Boozer, athletic forward Ed Davis and highly touted rookie Julius Randle. Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Clarkson will provide the help at the wings with specific strengths to their games to complement Kobe while Jeremy Lin and Steve Nash form a good combination at point guard. Although they will be at a disadvantage on defense they will surely be great on the offensive side of the court. But the main reason is Kobe himself: a healthy ‘Black Mamba’ is a complete player who will provide leadership, clutch shooting, defense and scoring outbursts thereby taking over some games.

Free-agent story remains the same as ever for Kobe, LeBron


VIDEO: Where LeBron James goes, others (even former rivals) will follow

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Love. Mike Miller. Shawn Marion. And perhaps Ray Allen (at some point).

Is there anyone else?

Is there anyone else willing to follow LeBron James wherever the road leads?

Gather any number of NBA players and ask for a show of hands and I guarantee you arms will be raised in rapid fashion.

This much is clear: where LeBron goes, others will follow. Even former rivals (Marion played on the Dallas team that defeated James and the Heat in The 2011 Finals.)

Marion’s weekend decision to join the homecoming party in Cleveland is just the latest evidence that LeBron remains the pied piper of his generation. It’s in stark contrast to what has gone on and what is going on with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. The Lakers’ superstar has always struggled to attract high-profile teammates willing to make sacrifices in order to play alongside a proven champion.

For two players who always find themselves grouped together in the same conversation of the all-time greats, the one glaring difference between them is the stampede of players that have run to play with one of them (LeBron) and the reluctance of so many to even consider playing with the other (Kobe).

Dwight Howard couldn’t get away from the Lakers fast enough when he was a free agent after the 2012-13 season. Fast forward to this summer and Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, as well as others, were willing to wait until LeBron made up his mind between Cleveland and Miami before they decided their own free-agent futures.

It speaks to the power James wields as the world’s best player. And it’s less of an indictment of Bryant, who will no doubt go down (along with Tim Duncan) as the face of his generation, than it is affirmation of the force of nature that LeBron is on the free-agent market.

A generation gap?

It should be noted that LeBron is in the prime of his career while Kobe is clearly in the twilight of his. Still, when Kobe was in the same position atop the league food chain, his contemporaries did not flock to Los Angeles.

They are, after all, from a different generation. They are from the era where this notion of partnering up with supposed rivals wasn’t nearly as commonplace or acceptable as it has become in recent years. Close relationships between players during the offseason didn’t lead to the Big 3s and super teams that have been formed in the wake of the USA Basketball-inspired conglomerates that came to fruition in Miami (as well as in Houston, Brooklyn and now, Cleveland). (more…)

USA Basketball seeking sixth man, among other things, in Chicago

VIDEO: Team USA gets together for posterity

CHICAGO – Team USA doesn’t have Carmelo Anthony this summer in its quest for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. It doesn’t have a Carmelo Anthony, either, as in an established NBA scoring champion, a volume scorer – 25.3 ppg in 11 seasons – and a bail-out option who can make something out of nothing, inside or out, to salvage possessions. Kevin Durant was that guy but he withdrew last week. USA Basketball, which faces its first real competition vs. Brazil on Saturday (9 ET, ESPN),  is once again looking for “that guy.”

That complicates the task of finding even a “Carmelo Anthony 2012 Edition,” a.k.a., that potent scorer off the bench who harnesses his ego even as he’s unleashing his skills in game-changing spurts.

Anthony filled that role expertly for the USA Basketball squad that took gold at the London Games. In the process, the New York Knicks scoring star – a polarizing player for what some see as me-first tendencies in his NBA work – wound up generating some of the best media clippings of his career and altering a few critics’ assessments.

“I don’t think he needed to do that. He always had respect from me,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, a Team USA assistant who had Anthony in his only NCAA season, 2002-2003. They won the national championship that year.

“Back then, he was content. If he got 10 points and we won, he was fine,” Boeheim said Friday after Team USA’s workout at a West Side sports complex. “I think his main role in the NBA has been to score. I don’t think you should be criticized when a coach asks you to score and you score. That’s what he does.

“He’s a great offensive player. He’s not LeBron James. He can help, he can make passes. But his primary focus and what he does best is score. He did it for us when we needed him. He’s great under pressure.”

That’s one of the reasons coach Mike Krzyzewski wanted Anthony in that sixth-man role two years ago. Then there was that other reason.

“He was willing to do it, that’s No. 1,” said Jerry Colangelo, Team USA’s managing director.

There’s an esprit de corps each time the U.S. national team revs up nowadays, with All-Stars and franchise players generally accepting whatever roles Krzyzewski and his staff ask of them. But it’s not automatic and it certainly didn’t jibe with Anthony’s profile as an NBA dilettante whose teams in Denver and New York were, and needed to be, built around him.

Yet just two summers ago, with egos as assertive as Durant’s, James’ and Kobe Bryant‘s on board, Anthony agreeably took on the job of super sub. He came off the bench in all eight games and played less than half-time (17.8 mpg), but averaged 16.3 points, trailing only Durant (19.5 ppg in 26.0 mpg) in U.S. scoring.

Back in 2008, in Beijing, Anthony ranked fourth in scoring (11.5) behind Dwyane Wade (16.0), James (15.5) and Bryant (15.0). That year, it was Wade who did the sixth-man thing, outscoring each of the starters while averaging just 18.8 minutes.

And in 2004, Anthony’s first Olympics, he averaged just 2.4 points while appearing in seven of the eight games. The scoring load then was carried by Allen Iverson (13.8 ppg), Tim Duncan (12.9) and Stephon Marbury (10.5).

“These guys will do anything that you need ‘em to do to win,” Krzyzewski said. “Carmelo, for U.S. basketball, was really as good a ‘stretch 4′ as there was in international competition, starting or coming off the bench.”

With Durant tapping out and Paul George getting hurt two weeks ago – after other top candidates such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin opted not to participate – Team USA’s roster has been thinned.

As Colangelo said: “We originally thought we had guys coming off the bench – on paper – who would bring something to the table. Up tempo. A little more quickness. A little more shooting. But because of some injuries, they might end up starting.”

After Friday’s workout, Krzyzewski did not name his starting lineup for the tune-up game against Brazil’s national team Saturday at United Center. That’s part of what this pre-medal round schedule is for, flipping through the various combinations. But four of the five spots seemed heavily penciled in – Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis.

Candidates for the fifth starting spot include Chandler Parsons, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan. Big man DeMarcus Cousins (right knee bruise) will not face Brazil, so going small against that team’s big front line – Anderson Varejao, Tiago Splitter and Nene – might yield better results in a counter-programming way.

The candidates for sixth man – this squad’s ‘Melo – are in that above group, too, along with Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward and Kyle Korver, pending the cutdown next weekend to 12 players. Krzyzewski’s substitution pattern Saturday won’t necessarily reveal anything, because the first game is all about “what if?” lineups. Even the game’s outcome – beyond setting, perhaps, a winning atmosphere – matters less than using the exhibition as a measuring stick.

“We’ll find out some things by trying new things, which will help us,” Krzyzewski said. “The main thing is medal round in Barcelona. We need to keep improving until we get to Barcelona, then it’s one and done. By that time hopefully we’ll be healthy, have whatever is good for our team in and then be ready to go for a World Cup.”

That includes a viable sixth man.

“I really think there are a lot of guys who would be willing to do it,” Korver said. “I don’t think it’s a hard thing. It’s one thing for a guy to be the sixth man on his NBA team, but there have been a bunch of guys [to do that for Team USA]. Every time someone’s done it, it seems that person has gotten a lot of praise and a lot of credit.”

Having a green light to shoot, at the urging of the coaches, at a rate that probably would lead the stellar squad in attempts-per-minute? Yeah, someone might raise his hand for that.

“We’ve got so many guys who can come in and contribute in any aspect of the game,” said Harden, who might pick up some of Durant’s shots in Team USA’s reworked offense. “From Klay Thompson to Kyle Korver to Damian Lillard, so many guys who can be effective at what they do.”

Harden was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 before getting traded to Houston and emerging as an All-Star the past two seasons. He knows a little about managing one’s ego from the bench.

“It’s all about your mindset,” he said Friday. “If you come in with the mindset that you’re going to impact the game, that as soon as you step out there you’re going to make your presence felt, then you’ll be more effective and your team will be better off. We won’t have that problem with this team – I’m sure guys will be ready and super-prepared at all times.”

Super-willing, it sounds like, to accept whatever role. From starter to sub, from sixth man to 12th man, and anything in between if the minutes change from night to night. Colangelo and Krzyzewski have worked wonders selling these guys on the honor of participating. They’re all fully marinated.

“When we started coaching NBA players,” Boeheim said, “everybody said, ‘Well, they won’t do this and they won’t do this.’ We found out they would do ‘this’ and they would do ‘this.’ They would come off the bench. They would play defense. They would sacrifice. Dwyane Wade came to us the first year [2008] and said, ‘I’ll come off the bench.’ Kobe Bryant came to us and said, ‘I’ll take the toughest guy defensively.’ Chris Paul came off the bench.

“These are great players. They do what they can to help us win and that’s why we’ve been successful. These guys have sacrificed, they’ve worked hard, they play defense and, really, I’ve never had a better experience in basketball than working with NBA players.”

Ten (or so) intriguing games for 2014-15

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, here in 2009, haven't squared off since February 2010 (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, here in 2009, haven’t squared off since February 2010 (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James is in Cleveland, Kevin Love soon will be (barring a startling change of direction), and so the eyes of the NBA world will focus there as well, from the very beginning of the season to around the middle and obviously to the bitter/glorious end.

When the Cavaliers go to Rio de Janeiro for an Oct. 11 preseason game, the Heat are the opponent, which should lead to the ultimate in commanding the spotlight: an exhibition game that will generate attention. It’s going to be that kind of 2014-15, with Cleveland dominating the 10 games (or so) to watch that initially jump out with Wednesday’s release of the full NBA schedule for 2014-15 (you can see the full 2014-15 national TV schedule here

HANG TIME: Digging deeper into the 2014-15 schedule

Cavaliers at Heat, Dec. 25, American Airlines Arena, Miami (5 p.m. ET, ABC)

It’s on the Christmas schedule, which is a big deal. It’s James’ first game back in Miami, which is a big deal. Put them together, it’s a very big deal. That goes for hype and network marketing more than anything, because this won’t be like the scorching emotions when LeBron returned to Cleveland for the first time while playing for the Heat. He didn’t just perform open-heart surgery without anesthesia on South Florida. Still, the buildup will be a sight anyway.

Mavericks at Spurs, Oct. 28, AT&T Center, San Antonio, (8 p.m. ET, TNT)

Another season opener, another banner raising. The Spurs get their latest celebration in front of an in-state rival and an opponent hoping to become a primary challenger in the Western Conference following the arrival of Chandler Parsons and the return of Tyson Chandler. Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio machine does not like pageantry. They’ll put up with nights like this, though.

Cavaliers at Timberwolves, Jan. 31, Target Center, Minneapolis (8 ET)

The teams first meet Dec. 23 in Cleveland — a nice schedule stretch for the Cavaliers, with the possible Love reunion game against the Wolves followed by the James reunion game against the Heat –- but the location of this second matchup makes it a much bigger deal. This would be Love as a Twin Cities visitor. This is fans having a chance to get a few things off their chest now that his situation has finally been untangled. If it gets untangled.

Bulls at Knicks, Oct. 29, Madison Square Garden, New York (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

This will be the return of Derrick Rose to the NBA, after the very promising return of Rose to Team USA and the opportunity to build more momentum with the international games before training camp. Because Rose matters so much to the team that could, health willing, become a serious threat in the East, this early read will be valuable. The Chicago start is particularly worth watching since the Bulls’ second game, Oct. 31, is at home against Cleveland.

Clippers at Warriors, Nov. 5, Oracle Arena, Oakland (10:30 ET, ESPN)

Not just this game, but the whole four-game season series, really, including one of the Christmas showcases. The teams had several confrontational moments that threatened to turn ugly last season, then went the full seven games in the first round of the playoffs in a series hijacked by the Donald Sterling mess. It was always a fun matchup. Now it could build into must-see TV, with the twist of L.A. native Steve Kerr new to the Golden State sideline.

Bucks at Nets, Nov. 19, Barclays Center, Brooklyn (7:30 p.m. ET)

Not that New York fans would ordinarily ever try to make life uncomfortable for an opponent, but this time the opponent is ex-Nets coach Jason Kidd, now manning the sidelines for Milwaukee. So the Bucks might want to pack ear plugs. One other bit of advice: This wouldn’t be a good night for Kidd to play the “Hit me” card. Someone not on his own team might take him up on it.

Five games, Dec. 25 (12 p.m. ET – 10: 30 p.m. ET)

The lineup for the Christmas extravaganza: Wizards at Knicks at 12 p.m. ET (ESPN), Thunder at Spurs at 2:30 ET (ABC), Cavaliers at Heat at 5 ET (ABC), Lakers at Bulls at 8 ET (TNT), Warriors at Clippers at 10:30 ET (TNT). Washington becomes a featured attraction around the league, San Antonio and Oklahoma City meet after likely opening the season as the two best teams in the West, LeBron to Miami and much more. Go ahead and just put the TV at the head of the table.

Bulls at Lakers, Jan. 29, Staples Center, Los Angeles (10:30 ET, TNT)

There was no animosity when Pau Gasol left — certainly nothing like the Lakers and the league have seen in other situations — so this game won’t come with much tension around the buildup. But Gasol’s 6 ½ seasons, three All-Star appearances and two championships in Los Angeles counted for a lot, in what the titles meant to the legacy of Kobe Bryant and the push that should land Gasol in the Hall of Fame (especially considering his international play). He will say all the right things about coming back. And, given the direction of the team he left behind, the L.A. fans who were so hard on him would be smart to show some appreciation.

Mavericks at Rockets, Nov. 22, Toyota Center, Houston (8 p.m. ET)

The Parsons exit from Houston as a restricted free agent was not smooth, from the front offices trading jabs to James Harden’s dig about role players to Mark Cuban and Parsons clubbing it the night the offer sheet was signed. With two Texas teams wanting to prove they belong in the upper-echelon of the conference, this would have been a good season series to watch anyway. It just got better.

Bucks at Timberwolves, Nov. 26, Target Center, Minneapolis (8 p.m. ET)

No. 1 draft pick (Andrew Wiggins) against No. 2 (Jabari Parker) was supposed to happen when the Cavaliers played the Bucks. Then came the reported agreement to send Wiggins to Minnesota as part of the James trade. So the draft-related focus shifted to the Twin Cities. The Bucks took Parker with the intention of playing him mostly at power forward, so actual head-to-head matchups may be rare. But this will still be a compare-contrast that will last for years.

Blogtable: Stars in dire need of help

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: Best place for Wiggins | Playoff team due for a fall | Superstars without a wingman


> Say Kevin Love joins LeBron in Cleveland. Who’s the NBA superstar (or near-superstar) next in line for a wingman? Anyone in mind who would fit well with him?

Carmelo Anthony is back with the Knicks, but still needs some help.(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony is back with the Knicks, but still needs some help.(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Who’s Kobe got now? It’s looking a little barren on that Lakers roster. Then again, Bryant has been blessed in his career with two of the best sidekicks in recent memory (Shaq and Pau Gasol). So it’s not his turn. As tempting as it is to say Derrick Rose or Carmelo Anthony, neither has ever seemed all that determined to find or recruit a partner/peer. So I’m going with Dirk Nowitzki, who hasn’t had a proper wingman since Steve Nash left. Who’d look good next to him? Michael Carter-Williams. Or a rehabbed Paul George. Or a healthy Rose.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Did I miss something or isn’t Carmelo Anthony still looking like a tall cactus standing all alone in that desert at Madison Square Garden? But he chose the bed. Hope all those Benjamins in the mattress can keep him company.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comThere’s still that guy Carmelo Anthony, who passed on joining a variety of wing men this summer to re-sign with the Knicks. New York has cap space at its disposal next summer to add big-money free agents. So how about spending on point guard Eric Bledsoe, assuming he signs Phoenix’s qualifying offer and becomes a free agent in ’15, or Rajon Rondo? And why stop there? Melo needs a big man in the middle, too, so how about Greg Monroe (assuming he signs Detroit’s qualifying offer and becomes unrestricted in ’15) or go really big with Marc Gasol?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: We’re getting into the subjective land of deciding who gets the superstar label, and I like where his team is headed anyway, but Anthony Davis could use a scoring threat in New Orleans. He may have one already, but Ryan Anderson needs to show he is healthy in 2014-15. The Omer Asik acquisition is a nice move — no one scores inside on the Pelicans this season. Maybe Eric Gordon finds his old self. But take Anderson out of the conversation for the moment, and no one on the team averaged more than 15.4 ppg last season.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Carmelo Anthony seems like the obvious answer here, but I’d really like to see Goran Dragic get an All-Star teammate. Dragic and Channing Frye were the most potent pick-and-roll combination last season, so imagine what he could do with an Anthony Davis, a Dirk Nowitzki or a Blake Griffin (not that any of those guys are going anywhere). The Suns are still set up well to add a star via trade or free agency next season, not only because of their payroll, but also because they have a terrific point guard.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: If Carmelo Anthony is ever going to shed his reputation as a great player with the asterisk (killer numbers but no hardware to show for it), he’s going to need a first-class wingman whose games meshes well with his own. Since we’re operating in theory-ville, why not go deep down the rabbit hole? LaMarcus Aldridge and ‘Melo on the same team would be absolutely diabolical. Aldridge can stretch the floor from the post to the wing with his deadly face-up game. And he rebounds well. Melo is a dynamic scorer capable of working inside or out (beyond the 3-point line), stretching the floor in ways that can cause all sorts of problems for opposing teams. The way they both shoot it, you can have them work off of each other, one in the post and the other from outside, and shred teams with their two-man game.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCarmelo Anthony was the first name that came to mind. I guess the closest thing he’s had to wingman since coming to the Knicks has been Amar’e Stoudemire or maybe J.R. Smith? As solid as younger players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert have been, nobody on the Knicks current roster gives me much hope that they will develop into a perennial All-Star. Maybe he gets a running mate in 2015 when guys like Rajon Rondo or LaMarcus Aldridge hit the open market. Unless Phil has some mind tricks up his sleeve for Andrea Bargnani.