Archives For Kobe

At its essence, basketball is a game of leverage and angles. The best players exploit physical and mental advantages to get to specific spots on the floor where the odds of success greatly outweigh the alternative. The amount of hours put in to achieve this mastery of body and mind to outplay an opponent is often what separates those who are considered very good in their era versus being considered very good for any era.

Kobe Bryant, whatever you think of him, has built his career on the idea that hard work and learning from his defeats and failures will get him where he wants to be. This idea is detailed wonderfully in this excellent longform piece by Chris Ballard that ran in this week’s Sports Illustrated. It is hard to argue with the results.

The piece linked above is well worth your time for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it is a snapshot in time at where Kobe is now, staring at his mortality as his career winds down. There are no more magic fixes from diet adjustments or extra workouts to put in that can reverse the impact of father time. And while the work will be done as diligently and with as much focus as it always has been, the fact remains that there is only so much work that can be done when you have already done as much as this man has.

I am thinking about this more today than others because, as the title of this post states, today is Kobe’s birthday. He is now 36 years old, entering into his 19th NBA season after being drafted as a 17 year old. You can do the math and see that Kobe has been an NBA’er more than half his life now, all those years soldiering for the team I root for.

Today, then, is as much a celebration for Kobe as it is for fans. He has given so much to the game he loves and, in turn, to us, the fans. Even if you hate him as a player, you will miss him when he’s gone. That, really, may be the quintessential statement about Kobe. He didn’t always do it the way you wanted him to, but by doing it his way he always gave us something worth discussing; worth marveling over. He may not have earned your cheers, but he certainly earned your respect.

With that, I’ll close with one of my favorite highlight clips of Kobe. It is titled “The Clinic” and has over 5 million views on youtube and targets plays from the 2007-2009 seasons. I love this video for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it captures the many aspects of Kobe’s game that reflect the work he’s put in. Sure, you see the athleticism, but you also see the footwork, the smarts, and the unrelenting attack style that his career has been built on. The video shows his genius as an all court player. Mostly, it shows the Kobe that I’ll mostly remember — devastating, driven, and the guy I loved to watch every night. Happy Birthday, Kobe.

If you ask most basketball fans the question above, the answer will probably be skeptical at best and sarcastic laughter at worst. Kobe may have made a career out of turning doubters (either real or perceived) into believers, but this time it is different. A torn achilles and a broken bone in the knee while attempting to come back from said achilles injury will do that.

One report, though, is making it seem like those doubts may be miscast. From Lyle Spencer of Sports on Earth:

On the heels of an invisible 2013-14 campaign that clearly unhinged the Lakers, Kobe Bryant is back to being Kobe Bryant, from Kupchak’s observation point. And that is the best news in months for the faithful, whose trust in the purple and gold is being severely tested.

“My window overlooks the court, and he comes in to work out from time to time,” Kupchak said. “You would not know he’s in his mid-30s. You wouldn’t know he hurt his knee and had a torn Achilles. There’s no limp. He’s got a hop in his step. He’s working hard.”

And more from Kupchak:

“I’m not worried,” Kupchak said. “Kobe looks great. He’s had two rough years. The Achilles was a freak thing, and the knee — I’m not sure anybody can predict that kind of thing.

“He’s actually been healthy since May. He’s ready, motivated. And he’s engaged.”

First off, let me get the obligatory “what is he supposed to say?” comment out of the way.

Kupchak is the General Manager and, while he’s often more blunt and honest than others around the league who hold his title, it’s not in his best interest to say anything besides what he did. Not to mention the cynic in me remembers when Dwight Howard was coming back from back surgery and all you heard from Lakers’ practices was that Dwight was looking very good and surprising people with his progress. Then, when the season started, he was clearly still hampered and not performing anywhere near the level he’d shown in previous seasons.

The flip-side, of course, is that Mitch is just being his normal, straight shooting self. I have seen enough press conferences and interviews with the man to know that he can speak in riddles with the best of them, giving non-answer-answers while ducking and dodging questions like an agent in the Matrix. So, while acknowledging above that there’s no reason for Mitch to say something negative about Kobe’s progress, there’s also no need for him to be so positive either. If he wanted to, he could have just provided some bland, understated response and gone about his business.

That’s not what happened, however. And while I do not want to spend too much time dissecting and parsing his words, I do find it interesting that he spoke in the terms he did when he could have provided a much more vague update and gotten away with it easily.

Of course, what is said in a random interview given by the GM in August will matter much less than what happens on the court, from the player, come late October — or, better yet, in the middle of a 4 games in 6 nights stretch come February. Kobe, for whatever flaws fans and analysts want to point out, has made a career out of giving great effort most every night and turning those stretches of the season where other players start to coast into his personal proving ground of greatness.

How he manages those stretches this season and whether he is up to the challenge of being “Kobe” night-in and night-out, is what it will all come down to. And, when viewed through that prism, that skepticism mentioned at the top of this post will live on. With it being very real this time. It sure would be nice, though, if Kobe had one more “prove them wrong” run in him. Time will tell.

When Byron Scott was named head coach of the Lakers, one of the major reasons he received instant backing from a healthy portion of the fan base was because of his history as a Laker. The bulk of his career was spent as a member of the Showtime era teams and his legacy is one of a key contributor to championship glory. This history has earned him a credibility that other candidates could not match. I mean when Magic, Silk, and the Captain show up to your introductory presser the goodwill transposed upon you is massive.

Scott will need more than goodwill to succeed, though. He has inherited a mismatched roster mixed with veterans possessing proud histories and young players looking to build their names and continue to progress on an upward trajectory. Managing this situation will not be easy and Scott will need to draw on all his experiences as a coach and as a member of those championship teams to find workable solutions.

If Scott looks back, though, he should find at least one comparison that could aid him in his success.

Continue Reading…

Back in the summer 2002, Kobe wasn’t necessarily at the peak of his powers, but he was definitely at the top of the NBA world. The Lakers had just won their 3rd consecutive title and Kobe had cemented himself as one of the best players in the league. Kobe was also one of the league’s darling players — this was before the major public feuding with Shaq, before his legal issues, before trade demands. Every player has their detractors, but for the most part, Kobe was teflon.

So, you can only imagine the reaction when Kobe showed up at the famed Rucker Park in New York to play some pick up ball. You can also imagine the show he put on. Only, you know, you don’t have to imagine. You can actually watch it:

Continue Reading…

Friday Forum

Darius Soriano —  April 25, 2014

The Lakers may not be playing, but I hope you are still tuning into the playoffs to check out the action. The games are fantastic and the road teams are showing that the value of home court only means something if, you know, you can win at home. The only favored team to win both games at home has been the Heat with every other team managing only a split — at best.

Those last two words needed adding because of the Rockets’ inability to win either of their home games against a very game Blazers’ team. Portland has cracked down defensively on James Harden while mixing up their coverages on Dwight just enough to keep him off-balance. On the other side of the ball LaMarcus Aldridge is dominating offensively, using his size advantage over Terrence Jones to score inside and work the glass while using his quickness and feathery jumper to torch Omer Asik and Dwight Howard when the Rockets try a bigger defender. Aldridge’s 89 points over the first two games have been the difference in the series to the this point and he has looked like the best player on the floor over the series’ first 96 minutes.

The Rockets aren’t alone as the only upper seed proving vulnerable, however. The top seeded Pacers trail the Hawks 2-1 and look to be in real danger through three games. Unable to establish their bully-ball offense in the paint with a struggling Roy Hibbert, their lack of wing creators outside of Paul George and (sometimes) Lance Stephenson are proving to be a big flaw. On the other side of the ball their defense continues to struggle, having difficulty containing Jeff Teague who is terrorizing the paint while his big men create alleys for him by spacing the floor to the 3-point line. The soundbites out of Indy are that adjustments are in order, but when a team has built its entire identity playing one way I wonder how easy it is to change gears and find success doing things so differently.

In the West, the Thunder also find themselves down 2-1 to the Grizzlies. Memphis has done an excellent job of getting OKC to play at a slower tempo, protecting the ball and running down the shot clock to limit the Thunder’s open court chances. Defensively they are showing a variety of different looks, but mostly are just playing hard nosed position D and capitalizing on the lack of creativity Scott Brooks is showing schematically and with his rotations. So many of the Thunder’s sets devolve into isolations or simple P&R’s with little movement on the weak side that the Grizz are able to anticipate where the ball is going and make crisp rotations to thwart those sets. Further, until guys like Fisher, Caron Butler, Thabo, and Perkins can prove capable offensively, Memphis will simply continue to crowd Durant and Westbrook to force them into tough situations. Much like in Indy, the Thunder (and head coach Scott Brooks) need to find some adjustments in either scheme, player rotations, or both to get this figured out or we may see an upset out West that few people (if any) saw coming.

This is just a sampling of the action, though. And while watching these games is a bit of a downer knowing that the Lakers are nowhere to be found, these games are still well worth your time. Not just because of the quality of play, but also because the fallout from these series may very well affect what the Lakers can do this summer in terms of coaching and free agency. Now, on to the links…

The other day I wrote about coaching changes and how Mike D’Antoni’s fate has yet to be decided (while adding it may be some time before it is). That is still the case, even though his brother Dan will leave his staff to coach at Marshall University. Dan, like Mike, went to school at Marshall.

I know many Lakers’ fans were hoping that it would be Mike who took that job, relieving himself of his duties and thus ensuring the Lakers would have a new coach next year. That didn’t happen, but it doesn’t mean a change still won’t come. If it does, here is a look at potential candidates from a list of next head coaching prospects.

Of the coaches on that list, one has a history with the Lakers and was, reportedly, thought of highly when with the team. Add those variables together and Quin Snyeder could make for an interesting candidate should the Lakers make a change.

One of the reasons the Lakers may make that change is because the players they have or want to keep essentially dictate it happen. And while folks usually point to Kobe Bryant as the key player in that discussion, #24 hasn’t officially gone on the record with anything stronger than a hint or innuendo speaking out against D’Antoni. The same cannot be said of Pau Gasol, however. The Big Spaniard said that in order to stay with the Lakers there would need to be “significant changes” while later openly discussing how he’s not the biggest fan of the style of play D’Antoni enjoys. I’m no expert in math, but I do know 2 + 2 = 4.

Pau also said that Kobe would be a main reason why, if he so chooses, would stay on with the Lakers by re-signing this summer. That’s not really surprising considering all that they have been through together as teammates for the past 6 seasons. That said, in practical terms, Pau saying that he’d stay on to play with Kobe also shows a lot of faith in the injured guard. Whether or not that is justified remains to be seen, but Kobe is reportedly back to work in his typical maniacal fashion to get back strong next season.

When Kobe does return how can he best be used on offense? Here is one take. (Thanks to friend of the site Dave Murphy for reaching out for some quotes on the subject.)

Last note on Kobe, here is a great commercial for the World Cup that he stars in.

And speaking of shooting guards, Nick Young’s future is at that position and not pitcher for the Dodgers.

The Lakers’ future is cloudy and there is still a lot to be determined. From what to do with their head coach to the draft to free agency, the potential for change is huge and there will be a lot of adjusting to do in the coming years. At the top I spoke about the playoffs and the hope is that the Lakers won’t just be back in that mix soon, but looked at as a favorite who can make some noise in their pursuit of another banner. Let’s just hope when that does happen, they look a little bit better than the Pacers do right now.