Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Lakers’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 9

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 8


Butler squashes talk of rift with Rose | Kobe ignores his ranking | Parker wants to play 20 yearsAnderson expecting big things from Pelicans

No. 1: Butler sounds off about rumored discord with Rose — The Chicago Bulls have one of the best backcourts in the NBA with All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose leading the way there. But since last season’s East semifinals ouster at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, there has been lingering chatter that Rose and Butler do not get along. According to sources in a story appearing in Wednesday’s Chicago Sun-Times, Butler is supposedly not a fan of Rose’s work ethic. Well, things came to a head last night and Butler stood up for himself and his relationship with his teammate after a preseason loss to the Denver Nuggets. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune has more:

“I don’t understand why everybody wants to find a problem with me and Derrick,” Butler said. “Let us be the fierce (expletive) competitors that we are (and) just let us play together. There’s nothing going on.”

Ever since the funky ending to last season’s playoffs, in which a passive Rose took four second-half shots in the final game against the Cavaliers, the storyline has lingered. Butler has spoken about it several times, including during a lengthy sit-down in August at the USA Basketball minicamp.

He did so again Thursday in perhaps his strongest fashion, the words coming in a torrent.

“I’ll try to keep my cuss words to a minimum, but it’s making me mad,” Butler said. “I love having Derrick as a teammate. I think we can be one of the best — if not the best — backcourts in the NBA.”

“Derrick and I are two great players who play well together,” Butler said. “We do have to adjust a bit to each other’s game because we haven’t played a lot together. But we will continue to get better as we play more games and get the feel for this new offense.”

Butler also has emphatically expressed his intention to become a more vocal leader, even mentioning a shortage in that department despite the presence of Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol.

“I’m not taking a shot at anybody,” Butler said. “If you ask Jo, he will tell you, ‘Jimmy needs to lead more.’ If you ask Pau, he’d say, ‘Jimmy needs to lead more.’ It’s not just me saying it; it’s everybody on this roster, (including) the coaches. I have to man up because I’ve been here longer than a lot of guys now. There have to be some leader aspects coming out of that sooner or later.

“Everybody wants to talk about how this is my team, (but) that’s not the case. I’ve said it multiple times: I don’t care whose team it is. My job is just to help (us) win — when we win, everybody looks great. Everybody gets a ring.”

VIDEO: Jimmy Butler comes up with a steal and jam vs. the Nuggets

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Morning shootaround — Oct. 7

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 6


Cousins likes his MVP chances | Whiteside a no-go tonight vs. Magic | Lakers’ youngsters lap up Bryant’s feedback | Booker, Hibbert scuffle in Hawaii

No. 1: Cousins says MVP is his ‘to grab’ this season — Success in the win column has been hard to come by for Sacramento Kings star center DeMarcus Cousins. While he was an All-Star last season, the Kings have never won more than 29 games in any of his five seasons with the team. A roster restocked with veterans and a full season under coach George Karl have given Cousins hope of not just the playoffs, but of the grandest piece of NBA hardware come season’s end. Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report has more:

The topic is the 2015-16 NBA MVP award and whether it could be reachable for DeMarcus Cousins.

“Reachable, man?” Cousins told Bleacher Report, his voice rising high. “It’s mine to grab.”

In five previous NBA seasons, Cousins has never gotten even a single fifth-place vote for MVP, and his vertical isn’t the kind to invoke visions of such a quantum leap over myriad more established superstars.

His approach transcends hard work on the court or powering ahead with a limp in camp despite a “real tender” left heel. Cousins has made a totally fresh commitment to being the best he can be, becoming a constant at the Kings training facility late in the offseason in search of every edge he can get for his team.

And if the professionalism continues, Cousins is right to believe he can be the best.

“It’s going to take a full team effort,” Cousins said. “I’ll try to play at a high level and bring my team along with me.”

New teammate Rajon Rondo floated the same idea during Kings media day, telling reporters: “Not to put any pressure on him, but I expect nothing less but MVP.”

“I don’t trust the rebuilding system in the NBA,” Karl said. “It has failed about 80 percent of the time.”

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive wants to win quickly, too; the franchise moves to a new arena next season.

Most importantly, however, this is what Cousins wants.

He said his new veteran teammates are “incredible.”

“You’ve got guys who know how to play the game, guys that know the game,” Cousins said. “Coming out and building chemistry is even easier. Trying to do that with younger guys? They’re trying to figure out their game and learn how to play.”

Even so, and despite their recent discord, Karl, who reportedly worked to trade Cousins over the summer before the team decided to unite behind the young center, can’t resist criticizing this facet of Cousins that “cheapened the game” and cost the team key possessions last season.

“DeMarcus has got to make a commitment just not to allow frustration to cause a disruption in the game,” Karl said. “I don’t like negative emotion in a game. I think it’s a sign of weakness.”

Karl’s free-flowing offense figures to help Cousins tremendously with spacing on the floor, yet already in camp it has been Cousins often jacking up desperate three-pointers.

In ways big and small, Boogie’s poise and professionalism are going to decide this season in Sacramento.

VIDEO: Take an All-Access look at DeMarcus Cousins at training camp

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Morning shootaround — Oct. 5

VIDEO: Clippers superstar Chris Paul put in the work in preparation for the 2015-16 season


LeBron wants Cavs, Thompson to “get it done” | Kobe’s (preseason) return lasts 12 minutes | Williams counting on comforts of home to help rejuvenate career | Room to grow for Westbrook? | Warriors will hold each other accountable in Kerr’s absence

No. 1: LeBron wants Cavs, Thompson to “get it done” — The leader of the Cleveland Cavaliers spent his weekend doing what needed to be done, speaking publicly on what he called the “elephant in the room.” Tristan Thompson‘s holdout has officially become a distraction for LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers in their quest for a championship. Yes, it’s early in the process. But James is calling for both sides to do whatever it takes to get Thompson back in the fold so the Cavs can get back to the business of trying to finish what they started last season.’s Dave McMenamin has more LeBron clearing the air after practice Sunday…

“I’m not here to talk about numbers, things of that nature, because that’s for them, for both sides to figure out. The last thing you need is a distraction when you try to make a championship run. And we have that right now. And it’s unfortunate for both sides that we’re going through it right now as a team. It’s not an excuse, we will be ready to go but hopefully something happens in the near future.”

James and Thompson both attended the wedding of Todd Leebow, a mutual friend, in Miami on Saturday. The pair’s agent, Rich Paul, was also in attendance. James said he decided to post his message via social media after spending “the majority of the day” with Thompson.

Last week, James told reporters that he wouldn’t be addressing Thompson’s holdout ad nauseam. After making his comments Sunday, he said it was “probably my last time” speaking up about Thompson.

“I know he wants to be here, I believe this franchise wants him to be here, and so on and so on,” James said. “So, like I said, hopefully something gets done soon so we can really get down to it.”

James maintained that his Instagram post was not meant to be a directive aimed solely at the Cavs’ front office.

“Throughout the negotiation process, it’s always both sides,” James said. “It’s not just one-sided. I’ve been a part of negotiation before, and making deals and things of that nature, not much in the NBA but in other businesses, so, it’s always for both sides to figure out.”

Paul recently vacated a five-year, $94 million max contract demand for his client in favor of a preferred three-year, $53 million deal, league sources said. The Cavs already have tendered a five-year, $80 million offer to Thompson, according to sources.

Beyond taking to social media and speaking to reporters about Thompson, James said he will not interfere any further with the negotiations. Meaning, don’t expect him to knock on the door of general manager David Griffin’s office.

“I’m not going to go to them and tell them what they should do,” James said. “That’s their job, they know to do it very well, and they’ve done that to this point. They’ve brought in and did what they had to do for us to be a contending team, and, so, obviously Tristan is a big part of that run we want to make. I believe that something will happen.”

VIDEO: LeBron James addresses Tristan Thompson’s contract situation


No. 2: Kobe’s (preseason) return lasts 12 minutes — No one said it would last forever, or even two quarters. And fireworks were not expected in Hawaii for Kobe Bryant‘s long awaited return to action with the Los Angeles Lakers. But a 1-for-5 shooting effort in a 90-71 loss to the Utah Jazz was not the fairy tale comeback Kobe’s biggest fans might have hoped for in his 2015-16 debut. But it was just fine by Kobe and Lakers coach Byron Scott, who has no plans to push it at this stage of the process. ESPN’s Baxter Holmes of explains…

After his first game since late January, when he tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder, ending his 2014-15 season after 35 games, Bryant said he felt “pretty good” and that it was “good to get out there.”

He added that his legs feel strong and that he didn’t feel any fatigue.

“It’s just getting the timing,” said Bryant, whose past three seasons have all been cut short by injury. “Getting timing. Getting acclimated to that again.”

Lakers coach Byron Scott seemed pleased with Bryant’s performance.

“He was pretty good,” Scott said. “He moved well.”

Scott said the plan of playing Bryant 12 minutes was agreed upon before the game.

“I told him before we went out, let’s just play the quarter and then let’s shut it down and see how you feel [Monday], we’ll go through practice and then get ready for Tuesday,” Scott said.

The Lakers face the Jazz again Tuesday, and Bryant is expected to play limited minutes in that game as well, though Scott said they’ll likely increase Bryant’s minutes gradually throughout the preseason.

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant says he still has some rust to work out of his game


No. 3: Williams counting on comforts of home to help rejuvenate career — He wouldn’t be the first NBA player to retreat to the familiar to recharge himself, to jumpstart his career. But Deron Williams went home to Dallas to do more than that. He went home to rejuvenate an All-Star career that has stalled in recent seasons, basically since his ugly departure from Utah in the wake of the Jerry Sloan drama to his injury-filled tenure in Brooklyn with the Nets. No longer mentioned at or even near the top when the conversation turns to the best point guards in the league, Williams aims to change all of that in his first season back in Dallas since high school. Dwain Price of the Star-Telegram explains…

That pressure could become magnified again now that Williams is playing for his hometown team. A 2002 graduate of The Colony, Williams must deal with having friends and family members around him more than usual, along with the constant requests for tickets to games.

But he sees a bright side to this (family) reunion.

“My kids are in school and in their activities, and their grandmas get to come and see them play, play soccer and play volleyball,” Williams said. “And when we need a break we can send them over to her house, so it’s definitely a lot of advantages to it.

“My family mainly has always been my biggest supporters. They know what I’m capable of.”

A two-time Olympic gold medal winner, Williams shot a career-low 38.7 percent from the field last season. Both he and the Mavs know he’s capable of a better performance.

“The important thing there is his health,” said Carlisle, whose team opens the preseason at home Tuesday against Denver. “With the beginning of last year he was coming off double ankle surgery, so it limited him.

“Late in the year he had a really good run and his health was very good. We’ve got to help him continue the momentum with good health.”

As he attempts to rejuvenate his career, Williams would like nothing better than to prove a lot of people wrong. And that includes the person he sees in the mirror.

“I want to prove myself wrong because I started to doubt myself in the past,” Williams said. “That’s what I was talking about — mentally, it just took a toll on me.

“I’ve just got to get out of that rut that I was in the last couple years mentally, and I look forward to this situation. I think it’s going to be better for me.”


No. 4: Room to grow for Westbrook? — Russell Westbrook was a revelation last season in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant out with an injury. But could there be even more to his game? Certainly, writes Erik Horne of the Oklahoman

“He’s reaching a level where it’s hard to make strides, it’s hard to make gains,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said.

Until now, “small” and “incremental” have not defined the progression of Westbrook’s career. As much as Kevin Durant‘s greatness has defined the Thunder, it’s been Westbrook’s continual quantum leaps of development and production that has driven Oklahoma City’s rise.

So, what’s the next step for a player with a seemingly limitless ceiling?

The details.

“You have to be looking for the small and incremental,” Presti. “And that I think again is part of the aspect of where our team is.”

“Smaller,” Westbrook said when asked if his game has come down to large or small improvements. “It’s important each year you find different things, different nits in your game that you want to get better at. Working on your balance, working on different things that I can do to be more effective.”


No. 5: Warriors will hold each other accountable in Kerr’s absence — Draymond Green‘s not worried about the Golden State Warriors losing their way while their coach, Steve Kerr, is away taking care of his surgically repaired back. Green insists that, to a man, the Warriors will hold each other accountable to stay on course and do things the right way. The same way, he says, any championship team would with their leader missing. And there is plenty of leadership within the locker room, writes Carl Steward  of the Bay Area News Group writes…

Kerr’s absence during training camp and the preseason may be the first mini-test in the Warriors’ quest to repeat, and Draymond Green knows the kind of mentality that can seep in if the players, particularly the veterans, don’t pay heed.

“It’s like if your boss leaves work, everyone relaxes,” Green said Saturday. “It’s like a weight off your shoulders. When your boss checks out, it’s like, ‘Oh, man, what’s up, now we can chill.’ It’s just human nature. So it’s a challenge for us to not do that.”

Green said the players have to be more accountable to one another than they were last season. Walton and the club’s other assistants, while fully qualified, can only do so much. Players must carry more responsibility to “keep the ship sailing,” as Green put it. It’s another lesson he learned from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.

“That’s myself, that’s Steph (Curry), that’s (Andrew) Bogut, that’s Andre (Iguodala), that’s us as leaders,” he said. “If something isn’t going right, we have to step up. At the end of the day, Luke can do it and he will do it, but anytime you can get something from another player, it’s better. Coach Izzo always had a saying, ‘A player-coached team is always better than a coach-coached team.'”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Phoenix Suns legend Neal Walk has died at 67 … Mark Price is fired up to coach in Charlotte (the 49ers now after leaving the Hornets for the college game) … One prominent Chicago columnist says surgery cannot fix what ails Derrick Rose … Jerry Stackhouse “happy” to add NBA flavor to Raptors’ staff … Wizards rookie Kelly Oubre isn’t running short on confidence in his game … The Suns finished camp with a chemistry boost … Eric Gordon knows he has to have his healthiest and best season this year … So who fills the void in Detroit left by Greg Monroe‘s departure?

ICYMI: An all-access look at the launch of NBA2K16:

VIDEO: A behind-the-scenes look at the launch of NBA2K16

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 1

VIDEO: Bucks Training Camp: Kidd on Bucks


Lawson wants to make Curry work | A bigger role for Kevin Love | Erman in charge of improving Pels’ defense | Clips hoping to make use of Stephenson | Wade relationship with Heat still strong

No. 1: Lawson wants to make Curry work — The Houston Rockets traded for Ty Lawson to give them an upgrade at point guard and someone to take some of the playmaking duties away from James Harden. But Lawson has a more specific role in mind as he tries to help the Rockets compete for a championship. He wants to make Stephen Curry work, as Yahoo‘s Adrian Wojnarowski writes…

Before Ty Lawson texted James Harden with a plea – “Man, get me over there” – he had studied the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in the Western Conference Finals and come to a conclusion: Half the time, Steph Curry was coasting.

“Steph Curry needed someone to go back at him,” Lawson told Yahoo Sports. “I thought Steph was just chillin’ on defense – and then going crazy on offense. He looked like he was just putting shots up and not working so much on the defensive end. He would just come down and hit three or four 3s. He can shoot when he’s got his legs under him.”

Now, Ty Lawson is sitting at a table in a room in the Toyota Center. He’s wearing a Houston Rockets practice top and a smile that keeps coming, and feeling so, so sure of himself again. “I’m not saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to stop Steph,’ but just make him work harder at the other end. I saw that in the Cavs series too.

“He wasn’t really working at the other end.”


No. 2: A bigger role for Kevin Love — When the Big Three came together in Cleveland last season, Kevin Love took a back seat to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in the Cavs’ offense. Then he separated his shoulder in Game 4 of the first round and wasn’t a part of his team’s run to The Finals. In year two, both James and Cavs coach David Blatt pledge to make Love a more integral part of the offense. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin has the story…

James was expounding upon his statement at Monday’s media day that Love’s increased presence will allow James to sit back and rest more than he has in years past.

“He will do some of the things he did prior to last year,” James continued.

Once Love committed to the Cavs long-term, Blatt spent the offseason trying to figure out a way to get more out of his stretch 4.

“No question, this summer we looked for and identified ways that we can take advantage of Kev’s unique skill set, and hopefully we’ll see that on the floor,” Blatt said.


No. 3: Erman in charge of improving Pels’ defense — The New Orleans Pelicans traded for Omer Asik last year with the goal of improving defensively. But even with a starting frontline of Asik and Anthony Davis, the Pels ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency, allowing more shots in the restricted area than any other team. New head coach Alvin Gentry will open up the New Orleans offense, but the more important job may belong to assistant coach Darren Erman, who is in charge of the defense. John Reid of the New Orleans Times Picayune spoke with Erman and Davis about the work they’re putting in at the start of camp…

”Our schemes are a lot different than last year,” Davis said. ”Everything is a little more simplified. Guys are working on defense individually with slides and close outs. Not saying it’s going to be better because we don’t know yet, but the way everyone is feeling right now about our defense, we feel like we can be a top five defensive team.”

Since he was hired in early June, Erman has been working non-stop. Gentry joked earlier this week that Erman works 23 hours a day breaking down film and working on defensive schemes. Even during summer league in July in Las Vegas, Erman worked non-stop implementing his defensive principles.

Davis said he has received text messages from Erman at 7 in the morning about defensive plays.

”He’s always like energized,” Davis said. ”He just brings that energy. When you bring that much energy as a coach, especially on defense, you know it makes the people around you the players want to play defense. He has a lot of great defensive schemes, so we’re excited.”


No. 4: Clips hoping to make use of StephensonLance Stephenson was pretty awful last season. But hey, so was the Clippers’ bench. So if Stephenson can avoid shooting 17 percent from 3-point range again, he could maybe help Doc Rivers preserve his starting lineup, which played 300 more minutes than any other five-man unit in the league last season. Ben Bolch of the L.A. Times writes about how Rivers wants to use the sixth-year wing…

Coach Doc Rivers called the dynamic, multi-positional Stephenson “the poster child” for the kind of interchangeable player he wanted as part of his roster overhaul this summer. Stephenson showed his new teammates a glimpse of his potential during training camp at UC Irvine, which ended Tuesday.

“He’s been amazing,” point guard Chris Paul said. “He’s been hooping first and foremost.”

Rivers envisions Stephenson as the lockdown perimeter defender the Clippers have lacked in recent years as well as one of the primary ballhandlers on a small-ball second unit that almost seems to be without defined positions.

“He’s a special player on both ends of the court and we’re going to be leaning on him,” forward-center Josh Smith said.


No. 5: Wade relationship with Heat still strongDwyane Wade‘s contract negotiations with the Miami Heat this summer could have gotten ugly, with the Heat looking to maintain payroll flexibility for next year. But as it turned out, Wade was OK with accepting a one-year deal for $20 million and the Heat got what they wanted. Wade explained to Ira Winderman of the South-Florida Sun Sentinel that it was just a matter of cutting out the middle man and talking directly with Micky and Nick Arison

What mattered wasn’t how long it took or how short the agreement wound up. What mattered to Dwyane Wade was that ownership more than met him halfway, that Micky Arison and Nick Arison came to his home this summer to make sure their bond would endure.

Wednesday, as he unwound after the first of two Miami Heat training-camp sessions at Florida Atlantic University, Wade said it was easy to be at peace with his offseason contract negotiations because of the embrace he received from the highest level of management.

“Sometimes, when you get into contact situations, sometimes it’s always middle people involved, your agents and this person and this person,” Wade said. “We kind of just said, ‘We have the relationship where you can just take that out. So let’s sit down and talk about everything, the past, the present, the future and figure it out.’ “


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The deadline for Tristan Thompson to sign a one-year qualifying offer from the Cavs is 11:59 p.m. ET on ThursdayMarkieff Morris is “happy” to still be in PhoenixDwight Howard isn’t thinking about (potentially) being a free agent next summerCarmelo Anthony says that a championship is the “big-picture” goal in New YorkMike Malone wants to unleash the ManimalEnes Kanter knows his defense has to improve … and the Lakers are “being smart” about how much Kobe Bryant practices.

ICYMI: An all-access look at Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins:

VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins highlights of the ’14-15 season

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 29

VIDEO: Stephen Curry looks ahead to the upcoming season


Warriors ready to get back to work | Kobe has more questions than answers | Hawks back to chasing the process | Knicks and Anthony return, with expectations low

No. 1: Warriors ready to get back to work Last season, in Steve Kerr‘s first year as a head coach, the Golden State Warriors struck gold, winning the franchise’s first NBA championship in four decades, thanks largely to the play of NBA MVP Stephen Curry. After winning the NBA Finals, the Warriors clearly enjoyed the offseason, as members of the team popped up all over the media landscape, often with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow. But as our own Scott Howard-Cooper writes, at media day yesterday the Warriors reconvened in the Bay Area ready to get back to work defending their chip

Day 1 of the new season as defending champion and reigning MVP, and Curry already has a challenge: Show he got enough down in the alleged offseason to be ready to again drive the Warriors into June.

Teammate Andrew Bogut, noting the Golden State whirlwind since beating the Cavaliers in the Finals, said, “It feels like the championship parade was last Tuesday.” And he played for Australia in a tournament to qualify for the Olympics but mostly got to recharge. Imagine how fast the summer streaked by for Curry. He played in a POTUS foursome — Curry shot a 76 — had another daughter, hit China, the Philippines and Japan to promote Under Armour, and chatted with Jimmy Fallon in L.A. and Jimmy Kimmel in New York. And there were more talk shows, more appearances to help open the practice facility at Davidson, his alma mater, more other long days.

“All that stuff is fun, but at the end of the day I’m still the same person, still do the same stuff in my spare time that keeps me grounded, keeps me normal,” Curry said Monday as the Warriors officially reconvened for media day in advance of opening camp Tuesday at their practice facility. “Me and my family had an opportunity to get away and spend time with ourselves and just try to be as normal as possible. It’s obviously been different, especially here in the Bay Area. Going out and doing things, you get recognized a lot more. The world’s kind of gotten smaller. But for the most part, the way that we kind of live and do our daily routine, we find time to get away from the game and the noise. That’s helpful to handle all the good that’s gone on on the court and everything we’ve been able to accomplish.”

This now becomes about all the Warriors figuring out how to handle the champion’s spotlight, but no one more than Curry and his new status of superstar-in-demand. There are the many reasons to feel good around Warriors Ground. He is a tireless worker who puts a priority on being ready to play. He is 27, young enough to have the recovery powers that will eventually elude him. He has a coach, Steve Kerr, with a firm understanding of finding opportunities to cut back on players’ minutes. And Curry is mature enough — thanks in part to a father who lasted 16 NBA seasons — to understand the importance of rest.

Except that it doesn’t matter how Curry felt Monday. April matters, and there is no way to predict how his summer in a shrinking world will hit him when the next playoffs begin. (A lot will depend on the other Warriors. They recorded so many blowouts last season, becoming just the eighth team in league history to outscore the opposition by an average of double digits, that Curry was able to rest a lot of fourth quarters. That undoubtedly made a difference in the 2015 postseason.)


No. 2: Kobe has more questions than answers Kobe Bryant is in the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, but as he prepares for his 20th NBA season, there seem to be more questions than answers. For many months now, it has been assumed that this will be Kobe’s final season in the NBA. But now, on the even of training camp, as our own Shaun Powell writes, despite reports that Kobe plans to finish his career as a Laker, Kobe is either playing coy, or perhaps he honestly doesn’t know what the future holds

Here’s what we can surmise about Kobe at this very moment: His bread and butter move isn’t a step-back jumper or a floater in the lane or a 25-footer with a hand in his grill. His signature move is a shrug.

“Not sure,” he said. “Big question mark.”

That’s his stock answer right now to the most pressing training camp questions involving him and, to a lesser extent, the short-range view of the Lakers, who did not and could not surround him with enough championship-level talent here in what could be his walk-away season. Once again, then, Kobe is one of the league’s most fascinating players even if he isn’t the best or among the best anymore.

Maybe it’s just Kobe being coy, or maybe, as he insisted, he’s as stumped as ever.

“I’m as excited for this season as I’ve been any season,” he said, before adding that it’s also the most unsure he’s ever felt in an NBA uniform. He has played only 41 games the last two seasons mainly due to a repaired Achilles and suddenly, the most durable of stars appears vulnerable. He’s also on the final year of his contract which, of course, invites heavy speculation about retirement next spring.

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” he said.

Or maybe you can go another route, as his former coach Phil Jackson did when he volunteered to throw a log on the fire by suggesting Kobe could play in another uniform next season.

“Everybody’s going to have an opinion,” Kobe said. “That’s his opinion.”

And Kobe’s opinion?

“Hell if I know.”


No. 3: Hawks back to chasing the process Last season the Atlanta Hawks caught the NBA by surprise, reeling off 60 wins and taking the regular season Eastern Conference crown. This season they return with not only the element of surprise removed from their arsenal, but with their style of pace and space basketball exposed for the rest of the NBA to scheme against. As our own Sekou Smith writes, the Hawks understand last season was only a step in the pursuit of a larger goal

A historical season, for the franchise and the city of Atlanta, is just history now. There will be no chasing the ghosts of the recent past and no measuring this season by the last, at least not around here, where the Hawks are as married to the process of the present as any team in the NBA.

“Last season was just a step,” All-Star shooting guard Kyle Korver said Monday during the Hawks’ Media Day session at Philips Arena. “It was a giant step, a huge step and great for this franchise and the city, but just a step. We didn’t win a championship, so it’s not like we accomplished our ultimate goal.”

Winning it all would have been considered crazy talk around here before last season. Yes, the Hawks have been an Eastern Conference playoff staple for years but never a serious contender.

But one season, one colossal season where seemingly everything fits into place, can change wild expectations into a reality at the tip of your fingers.
“We don’t have any doubts about who and what we are,” All-Star point guard Jeff Teague said. “We’ve worked hard as a group the past few years and this is the result of that hard work. We know who we are and what we’re capable of. We’ve shown what we can do. And now it’s about consistency.”

The Hawks return four All-Stars — Korver, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Teague — and other members of their core group that are entering their third training camp under Mike Budenholzer, who added the permanent title of President of Basketball Operations to his official title during offseason that saw the Hawks get a new ownership group.

The departure of defensive ace and emotional leader DeMarre Carroll (Toronto via free agency) is the only significant departure the Hawks will have to deal with heading into the start of training camp Tuesday at the University of Georgia. And even that comes with the added boost of producing some competitive fire from the players vying to replace him, a group that includes Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr.

It’s just the sort of training camp wrinkle Budenholzer is looking for to shake things up for a group that is confident in the body of work produced in his first two seasons, but still hungry for bigger and better things going forward.

“I think there is going to be a team effort to bring the energy and the competitiveness and the edge that a guy like DeMarre Carroll brings,” Budenholzer said of replacing Carroll. “So I don’t know that there is going to be any one individual who does that. But I think there are guys on our team, the core group that’s been here, they are probably going to raise their level of energy and intensity. But when you have Thabo and Kent who have both been here and I think are both elite wing defenders and have have proven that in the NBA, it may look and feel a little bit different, but I think their ability to have a similar impact is something that gives us a lot of confidence.”


No. 4: Knicks and Anthony return, with expectations low Carmelo Anthony missed more than half of last season after knee surgery, which was a major reason the Knicks finished with a franchise-low 17 wins. Now Anthony is healthy, and Knicks team president Phil Jackson has made several moves to fortify the roster, as the Knicks’ rebuilding project begins the task of actually getting off the ground. How long will it take Anthony and rookie Kristaps Porzingis to help mold the Knicks into a team with more wins than losses? As our own Lang Whitaker writes, at media day yesterday Anthony was quick to point out that it’s too early to have expectations at this point

“It’s going to take some time to kind of figure out what our expectations are,” says Anthony. “It’s good not to have any expectations at this time. It gives us a chance to kind of have a fresh start, and get our identity and where we want to end up. It starts tomorrow. I don’t think you’ll be hearing about expectations from any of the guys right now. It’s too early at this point.”

This isn’t to say Anthony thinks the Knicks shouldn’t have any aspirations whatsoever. As he enters his 13th season, the 31-year-old Anthony has been to the Conference Finals just once (in 2009 with the Nuggets), and still hopes to change the narrative advanced by some that while he’s clearly a gifted scorer — averaging 25.2 points over his career — he’s not much more than just a bucket collector. With Anthony under contract with the Knicks for at least three more seasons, the clock is ticking louder and louder on the prime of his career.

“My window is open,” he says. “I don’t think it’s closing. For the most part, coming into this year, I think we get a chance to write our own destiny right now. That’s a good thing — we can start off fresh, start off with a clean slate. We can write whatever story we want to write, whether good or bad. I think guys are excited about that, to have a chance to start off fresh, to put the past behind us and move forward.”

A large part of New York’s future looks to rest in the hands of first round draft pick Kristaps Porzingis, the 19-year-old seven-footer from Latvia that the Knicks drafted fourth overall. Porzingis has clearly learned how to appeal to area fans, with several vague but laudatory maxims down cold: “Best city in the world,” Porzingis notes. “No better place to win.”

According to Porzingis, he and Anthony played one-on-one, “for like a week straight, every day. As I played against him, he was showing me all his moves, and I was just trying to learn from him, asking him how he did this, how he did that, how he moves his feet, all that kind of stuff.”

(By the way, rookie, who won the bulk of these games? “Melo is Melo. He beat me more than I beat him.”)

After being selected 4th overall by the Knicks in the 2015 Draft, Kristaps Porzingis got off to a solid start in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Anthony said he hopes to be a “big brother” to Porzingis, and he clearly sees some similarities in his own journey to the NBA: Anthony entered the league as a 19-year-old in 2003 after being the third overall pick.

“I’ve showed everybody I support Porzingis,” Anthony says. “As long as me and KP know our relationship, that’s all that really matters, and it doesn’t matter what somebody might speculate out there. As far as him coming into this season, I kind of feel bad for him, because there’s so much pressure on him at this point, and this guy hasn’t played not even one minute in the NBA… I don’t think he knows what he’s about to get himself into. So I’ve got to kind of be that wall for him.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: When LeBron James and his Cavs teammates met up in Miami this summer, they used the informal workout as a motivating sessionKevin Garnett still hates playing centerJimmy Butler says the Bulls belong to everyone … How the Clippers ended up signing Josh Smith … The Orlando Magic and Evan Fournier have reportedly had initial discussions about a contract extension … The Lakers have hired James Worthy to help coach their big menSteven Adams can’t wear a headband

Report: Kobe intends to spend entire playing career as Laker

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks with David Aldridge at Lakers’ media day

It never seemed to be much more than cagey ol’ Phil Jackson, eyes no doubt twinkling, needling his former team in Los Angeles when he raised the possibility last week of Lakers great Kobe Bryant finishing his career with a different franchise.

But the Internet being what it is, hungry for NBA headlines, it got the attention Jackson – speaking at the New York Knicks’ media day – might have intended:

Closure was in order, then, when Bryant himself met with reporters on the West Coast at the Lakers’ own media day. Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports was on hand and got a comment from Bryant on Jackson’s suggestion late in the session:

He’s not planning on playing anywhere else.

From Spears’ report:

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Kobe Bryant has a message for Phil Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers fans and anyone else who thinks he will finish his NBA career elsewhere.

“A lot of players want to go to different teams or contend to win championships,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports at the conclusion of the Lakers’ media day on Monday. “I’m a Laker, man. I’m a Laker for better or worse.”

Bryant, 37, is entering his 20th season with the Lakers. He’s making $23.5 million in the final year of his contract, and if he does continue to play, he expects he’ll do so in a Lakers uniform.

“I’m a Laker, man. How many times do I have to say that?” Bryant said “Dude, I bleed purple and gold.”

Bryant missed 123 of the Lakers’ 164 games over the past two seasons, recovering from rotator cuff surgery, a knee fracture and Achilles surgery. He has been cleared to participate fully in the team’s training camp in Honolulu.

Jackson hints at Bryant departure from L.A., playing beyond 2015-16

VIDEO: GameTime: Lakers Update

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Kobe Bryant is in the last year of the two-year, $48 million contract extension the Los Angeles Lakers gave him. He’s 37 years old and has played just 41 games over the last two seasons.

Both Bryant and Lakers management have hinted that he’ll retire after this season, but there’s been no definitive word. So we can expect reporters to ask Bryant and the people around him about the subject, looking for hints.

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, now president of the New York Knicks, was asked about Bryant when he and Knicks coach Derek Fisher met with the media on Friday. And of course, Jackson went and stirred the pot, as the L.A. Times‘ Eric Pincus writes

Kobe Bryant is heading into his 20th season and final year of his current contract with the Lakers.

Will the 2015-16 season be his last one in the NBA?

Bryant’s former coach Phil Jackson isn’t sure it is.

“I don’t think it’s his last year,” the Knicks president said in New York on Friday. “Sounds like it may be his last year as a Laker.”

Bryant and the Lakers start training camp on Monday. The All-Star guard has said he expects the coming season to be his last, but also noted that he won’t make that decision until the year is complete.

Is Jackson hinting at a possible reunion in New York or maybe just the end of an era in L.A.? A parting of the ways could be the Lakers’ choosing (so they can pursue other stars) or Bryant’s (so he can pursue a sixth championship). It can’t be ignored that Jackson is engaged to Lakers president Jeanie Buss.

Of course, Jackson may just be having some fun with the uncertainty of it all.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 26

VIDEO: Brent Barry reports from Clippers media day


Jackson to be more involved with Knicks | Pierce talks title, retirement | Skiles wants Magic to get defensive | New vets bring leadership to Boston

No. 1: Jackson to be more involved with Knicks — Team president Phil Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher won just 17 games in their first full season in New York. Now, to get better, they think they need to get together … more often. Jackson said Friday that he will take a more active, day-to-day role with the Knicks this year. Newsday‘s Al Iannazzone has the story…

Phil Jackson won’t be sitting on the bench, but he will spend more time in the coach’s office and film room this season — at the request of coach Derek Fisher.

Jackson, the Knicks president who won an NBA-record 11 championships coaching the Bulls and Lakers, wanted to give Fisher his space last season. But after the first-time coach guided the Knicks to a franchise-worst 17-win season, Fisher asked Jackson for assistance.

Fisher said he wanted more “one-on-one” discussions with Jackson to see how to prepare himself and the team better, and welcomes counseling from “one of the great basketball minds we’ve ever seen.” Jackson promises to be more involved and hands-on for his hand-picked protege.


No. 2: Pierce talks title, retirement — Paul Pierce is home. Paul Pierce is with a championship contender. And Paul Pierce turns 38 years old in a couple of weeks. You can write the script from there, as Dan Woike of the Orange County Register writes…

Paul Pierce already has an idea of how this all might end.

The Inglewood native and NBA veteran signs a deal to play for his hometown team, helping the Clippers win their first NBA title. He rides in the parade through his streets, trophy in hand, leaving his career behind him.

That’s the hope.

“I don’t have much basketball left – whether it’ll be this year or another year. To come home and play in front of family and friends and possibly win a championship, it’s like a dream come true,” Pierce said at Friday’s media day. “If we win this year, win a championship, I’ll probably be done with basketball to be honest.

“It’ll be a dream to be home and carry that championship trophy down Manchester Boulevard.”

By the way, all is cool with DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul. It always was, apparently. Melissa Rohlin of the L.A. Times has the story…

When a Clippers contingent went to DeAndre Jordan’s home in Houston in July to help convince the center to re-sign with the Clippers, rumors abounded that Jordan and Chris Paul had a powwow to clear up their strained relationship.

Only thing is, according to the players, there was no strain.

“I think that there was forced tension because of everything we all heard that we said about each other, which was not true at all,” Jordan said at Clippers’ media day on Friday. “It was just the outside, and we never asked each other about it.

“These guys are my brothers. I talk to them every day. Yeah, there’s times that we bump heads on the court, but five minutes later, we’re good because it’s constructive, it’s for the right reasons: We want to win. … There’s not any tension; we don’t not like each other. And all three of us [Jordan, Paul and Blake Griffin] are going to be here for a very long time. This is our team; this is our unit. There was no clearing of the air. We just had a sit-down to tell them I was going to be in a Clipper uniform this year.”


No. 3: Skiles wants Magic to get defensive — When Scott Skiles took over the Milwaukee Bucks in 2008, they went from last in defensive efficiency to fourth in his second season. Now, Skiles is hoping to lead similar improvement with the Orlando Magic, who ranked 25th defensively last season. The Orlando Sentinel‘s Josh Robbins was at Magic media day on Friday…

Skiles intends to imbue the Magic with a brand-new identity: defensive-minded and hard-nosed. On several occasions Friday, he said the Magic need to transform themselves into a team that ranks in the top five in field-goal percentage defense.

Last season, they finished 28th in the NBA in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to make 46.3 percent of their shot attempts.

“There’s been a lot of talk, even before I came here, about turning into a good defensive team,” Skiles said. “It hasn’t happened, and we need to do it.”

The Magic know all about Skiles’ goals. He has spoken with all of the players since he was hired in late May, and he has told them that they need to make significant strides defensively if they’re going to climb out of the NBA cellar and approach a winning record.


No. 4: New vets bring leadership to Boston — After squeezing into the playoffs with a young team last season, the Boston Celtics are looking to another step forward. It was another summer where Danny Ainge wasn’t able to acquire a star, but the Celtics did add a couple of veteran big men to their rotation.‘s Ian Thomsen was at media day in Boston and takes a look at how David Lee and Amir Johnson could make an impact…

Lee, the 32 year old power forward, should fit in beautifully. The Warriors were able to win the championship last season in no small part because Lee (along with Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut) was willing to accept a reduced role for the good of the team. As Lee pursues a new contract next summer, his view of the bigger picture promises to affirm his identity: He will help the Celtics intangibly by keeping the focus on team goals.

He fills many needs for the Celtics. Lee, a two-time All-Star, is a strong rebounder, a smart passer and a versatile scorer. After sitting for most of the season, he was able to identify his team’s needs and make an impact instantly when the Warriors went small midway through the NBA Finals, helping to launch their comeback from a 2-1 deficit against the Cavaliers. Because the Celtics lack a singular playmaker in this era of leading point guards, Lee’s ability to make quick decisions with the ball should be crucial.

Neither Lee nor free-agent Johnson (whose two-year contract is non-guaranteed for 2016-17) has a reputation for selfishness. Both will be expected to provide leadership by example for the young Celtics. Johnson, at 6-9 and 240 pounds, will be asked to play minutes at center, along with Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bulls’ Mike Dunleavy is out 8-10 weeks after undergoing back surgery … The Wizards have offered Bradley Beal a less-than-max extensionThe Wolves still like Ricky RubioJared Sullinger lost weightAn oral history of the best in-game dunk we’ve ever seen … Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is going to camp … and the Nuggets waived Kostas Papanikolaou.

ICYMI: The best buzzer-beating highlights from last season:

VIDEO: 2014-15 Top 10 Buzzer-beaters

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 19

VIDEO: Recapping the 2015 FIBA EuroBasket semifinals


Lithuania punches ticket | Catching up with Blake | Scott talks state of Lakers

No. 1: Lithuania punches ticket As we move closer to the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the field that will compete for the men’s basketball gold medal is beginning to take shape. After Spain qualified by beating France earlier in the week, at EuroBasket yesterday, Lithuania earned a trip to Brazil by beating a strong Serbia team. As our own John Schuhmann writes, sometimes in international basketball there’s a thin line between dominance and heartbreak …

Lithuania is heading to the Olympics after holding on for a 67-64 victory over the team that had won its first seven games by an average of 15.1 points. It wasn’t a pretty game (the teams combined to shoot 8-for-42 from 3-point range), but appropriately, it went down to the wire.

Lithuania beat up Serbia inside early and built a double-digit lead in the second quarter. Serbia climbed to within one at the half, but scored just nine points in the third quarter and trailed by nine early in the fourth.

Serbia came back again, but fell victim to two tough plays late. With 3:36 left, Stefan Markovic saved the ball under the Lithuania basket … right to Mindaugas Kuzminskas, who put Lithuania up four. Two possessions later, Bogdan Bogdanovic was called for a foul on what looked like a clean block, and Jonas Maciulis put Lithuania up six at the free throw line.

Milos Teodosic put Serbia within one with a ridiculous three with 14 seconds left, but Bogdanovic was bumped and stumbled as he tried to tie the game on a frantic drive after Lithuania missed one of two at the line.

The Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas led Lithuania with 15 points (on just six shots) in less than 27 minutes. Teodosic had 16 for Serbia, but didn’t get enough help from Bogdanovic or the Wolves’ Nemanja Bjelica.

Lithuania punched its ticket to Rio and to Sunday’s gold medal game against Spain. Serbia will play France for bronze on Sunday and will have another chance at the Olympics in one of the qualifying tournaments next July.


No. 2: Catching up with Blake Between ownership and coaching changes, the last few years for the Los Angeles Clippers have been filled with noise. And perhaps lost in the shuffle in some ways has been the development of Blake Griffin, who has met the high expectations that accompanied being a No. 1 overall draft pick, and made himself into the franchise cornerstone people projected him becoming. Alex Kennedy from Basketball Insiders caught up with Blake to talk everything from his work ethic to the Clippers’ offseason to his myriad off-court pursuits…

Basketball Insiders: You’ve added different things to your game each summer. Where are you working out this offseason and what aspects of your game are you working on?

Blake Griffin: “I did a lot of my offseason stuff here in L.A. I like to get out of the training facility and I work out with my trainer, doing strength and conditioning stuff in El Segundo in his gym. I’ll use just random gyms, like I use this high school gym down in Manhattan Beach sometimes. Then, I kind of bounced around a bit. I did some workouts in New York because I had to be there for a little bit so I worked out there. As far as what we worked on, a lot of face up, off the post, off the elbow, a lot of short roll stuff, getting into the lane, floaters – just because we get so much of that with our spacing of the court and how many pick and rolls we run with CP. [I worked on] a lot of stuff actually off the dribble too, just like one dribble pull-ups and things like that. A lot of post-ups too. This summer, I really did a whole lot and kind of mixed it up. Like last summer, I did so much shooting – a lot of catch and shooting, a lot of pick and pop – and I still did that this summer a lot, but I just tried to kind of focus on literally everything this summer.”

Basketball Insiders: As you mentioned, you spent a lot of time in the gym working on your jump shot last year and it translated to success during the season. Now, after another offseason of work, where is your confidence level with your jump shot?

Blake Griffin: “Every summer and every year, it really gets better and better. I feel a lot more confident going into this season, definitely more so than last season. Each year and each offseason, I try to kind of reflect on the last season and see what I did – what I maybe did too much of, what I didn’t do enough of – and I think last year sometimes I settled [for jump shots] a bit too much. This year, I’m really trying to perfect that balance of pick and pops versus putting it on the floor and making plays, so that’s kind of why I focused on everything this summer. Just being able to use the spacing of our floor, having J.J. [Redick] out there spacing the floor and the same thing with CP when he gets doubled team, [I] just really wanted to being able to have an array of shots and not just focus on pick and pops and catch and shoots.”

Basketball Insiders: I don’t think people realize how hard you work. I’ve known Jamal Crawford for years and he always raves about your work ethic, saying you’re always the first guy in the gym. Can you walk me through one of your typical summer workouts, just so people can get a glimpse of what you do?

Blake Griffin: “A typical day, when I’m really into the full swing of things in the offseason, starts early in the morning because I don’t really sleep in. I wake up around 6:45 a.m. and I’m starting by 7:30 a.m. or sometimes 8:00 a.m. Every now and then, I do kind of a crazy week where I start my workouts at 6 a.m. just to kind of mix it up and make me concentrate a little bit more, taking me out of my comfort zone a little bit. I do that for a week once a month. But once I start with my trainer, we do a lot of corrective stuff early like balance, all of my stuff for my back and any type of little problems I have, we just work on correcting those things. Then, we move on to weights and then for conditioning we do like basically a heart rate training program. It’s kind of a more efficient way of training and doing cardio. We mix it up though. I did a lot of pool stuff this summer, a lot of swimming this summer, which I love. I did a lot of that two summers ago, so I got back into the pool a lot, did a lot of swimming, I’ll do some sand workouts and just kind of mix up the cardio just so I’m not constantly just doing the same thing – running on the treadmill or on the court. After weights, we do that, then I go straight into basketball and we’ll do ball-handling and then we do a lot post-up moves like hooks and things like that and then kind of work our way out. So that’s probably another hour and a half. I try not to be on the court for a ton of time. For me, it’s more about me doing everything [in] game speed and [taking] game shots rather than just catching and shooting and going through the motions. That’s about an hour and half and then a lot of times I mix in yoga. And this summer I really focused a lot on my body, just unloading just as much as I loaded. I’ll do a lot of yoga, do a lot of deep tissue stuff, a lot of stretching and things like that. I thought last summer I worked really hard, but I also didn’t do as good as job of taking care of my body from a deep tissue and stretching standpoint so I made that more of an emphasis this year. It’s a long time working, like five or six hours a day, but I see the difference now in the way my body feels. Going into training camp, I probably haven’t felt better so I’m excited about the work we put in this summer.”

Basketball Insiders: You guys were very active this summer, adding players like Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and others. What are your overall thoughts on the offseason additions?

Blake Griffin: “I’m very excited, man. Obviously with the whole DJ (DeAndre Jordan) thing – that was a priority bringing him back and everybody kind of knows about that – that kind of almost overshadowed all the other things we did. Adding Josh Smith to our bench is huge, adding Lance Stephenson, adding Paul Pierce with all of his his experience, I thought we did a really good job this summer of just putting a plan together of guys that we wanted and positions that we wanted and then going out and actually getting it done. I feel really good about our bench, but obviously, like every team, we have to put it together. But I’m excited, especially since the past of couple weeks we’ve started having more guys in [L.A.] and our team is starting to take a little shape just through our workouts and playing pick-up. I think this could be a special season for us.”


No. 1: Scott talks state of the Lakers The Los Angeles Lakers are entering what appears to be Kobe Bryant‘s final season, and aren’t expected to contend for a title anytime soon. But do they feel they’re on the right path to once again becoming one of the NBA’s dominant franchises? Bill Oram from the Orange County Register sat down with Lakers coach Byron Scott for a long Q&A that hits on many topics, from their offseason to Kobe’s future…

Q. You guys missed on some pretty high-profile guys in free agency. After everything settled, how do you feel about roster construction and where you guys are going into October?

A. I don’t look at the summer as a big disappointment, to be honest with you. We missed on a guy we were after, obviously, in LaMarcus (Aldridge, who signed with the Spurs). But to get Roy (Hibbert) and to get Lou Williams and to get Brandon Bass, I think (General Manager) Mitch (Kupchak) did a hell of a job of recovering and making it a summer that you kind of looked back and said, ‘Man, that’s a pretty good recovery.’ I’m happy with the roster we have. We’ve got competition it seems like at every position, which I think is going to be fun to watch in training camp. We’re still very, very young, with the exception, obviously, of (37-year-old) Kobe (Bryant), so I’m excited about that.

Q. When you talk about trying to establish a defensive identity, last year 29th in defense. Do you feel like the moves that were made are moving you closer to that, and getting a team that is in your mold?

A. I think so, I think obviously it starts with Big Roy, Jordan (Clarkson) being a year older, understanding our philosophy on what we need to do on the defensive end, Julius not playing at all last year but understanding what we want to do. So, yeah, I think it is starting to be molded in that direction of being a much better defensive team. We still have a long way to go. We have a lot to work on. And I think we’re probably ahead of schedule right now. These guys have been coming in every day, working out for the past six-to-eight weeks. So that’s something I’m very encouraged about. But from the defensive standpoint everybody that is here, they know how I am about that. They know how important that is to me and to us as a team for us to have any type of success.

Q. How big of a difference does having a defensive-minded center in the middle make?

A. I think first of all it’s a mentality. And I think Roy has shown that from Day One. When he’s out here, the No. 1 thing is he’s a great communicator, which is something we didn’t have on the back end of our defense last year. Our No.2, he has a reputation for protecting the rim, so he knows that’s his bread and butter. And No. 3, the one thing I saw so far with him is that guys are going in for layups the first day he was like, ‘No easy layups.’ And that’s something we didn’t do a good job of last year, is protecting the rim or giving up easy layups. So I think he’s bringing that mentality to our young guys and to the rest of the team and I think hat’s going to be huge for us.

Q. What decisions are you facing with Kobe?

A. I think the biggest decision is playing time, trying to make that as limited as possible and also back-to-back games. That’s something we have to talk about. Other than that, there really is no other decision to make. He wants to play, and he wants to go out the way he wants to go out — if this is indeed his final year. He and I have talked a number of times on the phone, we’ve talked about playing time, we’ve talked about back-to-back, we’re going to probably sit down as we get closer to training camp or as we get in training camp and even talk more about it. Because the one thing I want, if this is his last year, I want him to go out standing. I don’t want him to go out hurt. I want to make sure I do everything in my power to make sure we stick to the game plan, as far as his minutes and as far as back-to-back games.

Q. What do you mean by as “limited as possible?”

A. I didn’t mean play as limited as possible. Obviously we want to keep him as efficient as possible, but I know he knows his body better than anybody. When we start talking about those minutes, I want to listen to him more than anything. I’m not going to go by what I think he can play like I did last year, I want to really go by what he thinks he can play. Then I want to make sure we stick to that.

Q. To what extent do you regret the way that decision was made last year? There was a lot made about you playing him more minutes than he thought he should play. Is that a burden for you? Do you feel some guilt?

A. I felt bad about it. I don’t know if I would say guilty. I know Kobe’s a competitor and he’s going to play as many minutes as you want him to play. I’m also a competitor, so I want to win and I know having him on the court gives me the best opportunity to win. But I also know that I’ve got to think about him more than anything. And I thought there were points in time last year where I thought he could play a certain amount of minutes. He told me Day One the minutes that he thought he could play in and like I told him at the end of the day, ‘You were absolutely right and I was wrong.’ I won’t make that mistake again.

Q. How do you avoid making that mistake again when it’s December and you guys are on a bad run and Kobe’s playing well and he seems to be OK? You don’t do it?

A. I don’t do it. Stick to my guns. This is what we talked about, this is what we felt would be the best way to use you and to make you the most efficient that you could be, I’m going to stick to it. Win or lose, I’m going to stick to it.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Warriors consultant Jerry West says as far as he’s concerned, talent trumps numbers … Former Pistons great Bill Laimbeer was named WNBA Coach of the Year for a second time … Former Cleveland Cavaliers great Zydrunas Ilgauskas found a new part-time gig: high school assistant coach …The Knicks are hoping Sasha Vujacic can help teach the triangleHarrison Barnes reportedly has a new agent

Rival coaches welcome, dread healthy return of Lakers’ Bryant

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant’s career milestones

CHICAGO – As one of the NBA head coaches said Thursday, the word out of Los Angeles that Kobe Bryant is fully healthy for the start of the Lakers’ training camp is a classic case of good news-bad news.

Good news for Bryant, the Lakers and NBA fans, obviously, after enduring Bryant’s two injury-marred partial seasons. Bad news, presumably, for rivals if Bryant is able to get back to something approximating his Hall of Fame-bound younger self.

But Bryant, at age 37, after a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2013 and a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder last season, never has been so mortal or so old. He’s returning to a Lakers team that has gone 48-116 the past two seasons, the worst of the franchise’s L.A. era. And the harsh reality is that the Lakers were no better with Bryant in the 41 games he played than they were without him in the other 123 – their winning percentages with (12-29) and without (36-87) were precisely the same: .293.

So it’s one of the larger questions looming over the 2015-16 NBA season: How far back will Bryant get? Several of the league’s head coaches tackled it – and shared their thoughts on Bryant’s particular brand of greatness and intensity – Thursday prior to the start of their annual fall meeting in downtown Chicago.

“I think he’s still probably capable of being an All-Star,” said George Karl of the Sacramento Kings. “A lot of Kobe Bryant now is his brain as much as it’s his skills and athleticism. For years he was skilled and athletically bigger, stronger than the players he played against. Now he’s learned the angles. He’s still going to be extremely difficult to defend – you’re going to need to defend him with one of your better players. He might not be as great defensively but he’s still going to make defensive plays.”

As for Bryant’s ability to make peace with any decline in his game, Karl said: “It’s probably a little more difficult than you think it is. I was a very ordinary player, and I didn’t want to give up on who I was. I didn’t want to think I wasn’t an NBA player and I wasn’t good enough to play in that game. Now Kobe’s going from the top of the mountain, from a Mt. Rushmore-type, to maybe just being a really good All-Star. I don’t know how long Kobe will take to make that decision. Will he like who he is and continue to play at that level, or does he just want to remember himself as being one of the best?”

Washington’s Randy Wittman talked of the tough intersection Bryant’s at, with injuries, age and a struggling Lakers team converging. “Some handle it better than others,” the Wizards coach said. “But look, I don’t anticipate anything different from what Kobe’s been. I think he’s going to come out and try to show that he’s still got it.”

Coping with the Lakers’ losing ways? “I don’t think he thinks they’re going to lose,” Wittman said.

Sam Mitchell, interim Timberwolves coach during Flip Saunders‘ medical leave to battle cancer, said he thought of Bryant while packing for his flight Thursday morning from Minneapolis. ‘They were talking on ESPN about Peyton Manning, and they were saying he didn’t have the zip he had and using all these clichés,” Mitchell said. “But remember something about those veteran players, they’ve got heart, man. They’re gonna go down swinging. Eventually Father Time’s gonna win. But Kobe Bryant’s got five championship rings and he’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever been around in my life. And you know what? In his mind, he’s still Kobe Bryant. Until someone proves him wrong and knocks him off.”

The Timberwolves open their season against the Lakers at Staples Center on Oct. 28. “We’re going to prepare for Kobe Bryant on opening night as if he’s the Kobe of old,’ Mitchell said, “because he’s going to come out and play.”

Denver’s Mike Malone echoed that. “You can’t talk about Kobe like an ordinary player,” Malone said. “His will to win, his tenacious personality … everybody says ‘Well, he’s not going to be the same.’ But I’m never going to short-change Kobe Bryant.”

Malone was on Golden State’s staff when Bryant suffered his Achilles injury, a point at which some thought Bryant’s playing career was done or jeopardized. And now? “I’m curious to see how he is and, really for our league, I hope he comes back and plays great,” the Nuggets’ new coach said. “I expect to see a very determined, passionate and hungry Kobe Bryant, because he’s been away from the game for a while. I know when Denver plays the Lakers, we’re not going to go in expecting to see ‘poor old Kobe.’ We’re going to expect to see the Kobe of old.”

That word comes up a lot now: old. Father Time has a consecutive victories streak and doesn’t play favorites.

“He’s gonna still be ‘Kobe Bryant,’ ” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, “but when you’ve missed two years basically and you’re older, it’s not easy. Just the rhythm and timing alone, on top of the injuries and fighting the age as well. Kobe is probably as mentally as tough as any player we’ve seen since Michael [Jordan]. So he’s gonna be ready. He’ll be good.”

Rivers thinks the Lakers bottomed out last season and will be up to the challenge Bryant throws at them, within reason. “When he left, when he was healthy, they were really good,” the Clippers coach said. “He has a lot of young guys he can be a mentor to. And they’ve added – they had a better summer, so there will be some veterans he can play with as well.”

And poke and prod and ride as mercilessly as he does himself.