Archives For Kobe

Throughout his career Kobe Bryant has rarely been one to hold his tongue when it comes to speaking what he sees as the truth, but over the past few seasons, that’s been even more true. Put a microphone in front of Kobe and he’s going to give you his unfiltered opinion on whatever topic he is asked about.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when Kobe announced he would not return this season he was very open about his thoughts on this season and what his expectations for the Lakers are moving forward. While the entire sit down is worth your time, the part that was most compelling, at least to me, was when he spoke about next year’s team and whether he could wait another year after this off-season to improve the roster:

No, nope, not one lick. Let’s just play next year and suck again. No, absolutely not, absolutely not. It’s my job to go out there on the court and perform. No excuses for it. You have to get things done. Same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court, the same expectations I have for them up there. You have to be able to figure out a way to do both.

On top of those comments, were these given within the last couple of days:

The one sure-fire way to be a contending team is to have an abundance of talent (newsflash, right?). And in today’s NBA, the way you accumulate high end talent is by drafting it (the Thunder), signing it in free agency (the Heat), or trading for it (the 2008 – 10 Lakers). And once you have that talent in house, you have to be able to pay for it. It’s a pretty simple formula.

The problem for the Lakers is that none of those things are really possible next season. And a lot of it has to do with the CBA.

Let’s start with the draft since that is the one thing that the CBA really does not affect. The Lakers are primed to have a very good pick in the upcoming draft. That player should aid in bolstering the team’s core talent and, hopefully, be a building block player for years to come. But that player is only one guy. The Thunder didn’t get good with just Durant. They got good when Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka were added to Durant (not to mention the time that was given to let them develop). The only drafted players the Lakers will have on their roster next season will be whoever they pick this June, Robert Sacre, and Ryan Kelly. While I like Kelly and Sacre, let’s not confuse them with elite prospects.

But when it comes to trades and free agency, the Lakers are really stuck in dealing with the rules that govern the league.

While the Lakers have cap space to offer free agents or to use as a mechanism to absorb money in a trade for a high salaried player, the rules say the team cannot go over the salary cap unless they are using that money to sign their own players. That last point is a crucial one, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

So while you (or Kobe) can say “we just need to sign (or trade for) player X, Y, Z” it’s really not that simple. The Lakers can spend all their cap space on a marquee free agent (or two if those guys decide they want to take a bit less), but even in the most ideal world the roster would still be one built around Kobe and that marquee free agent (or two). The same is true for a trade — the Lakers can try to work a deal for a quality veteran (say, Kevin Love) and offer to sign and trade one of their own free agents (say, Pau Gasol), but even if that were to happen the Lakers would have Kobe, Love, and….not much else. Yes the could fill out their roster with role players,  but the types of players they’d be signing are the exact type of guys they signed last off-season (guys like Jordan Farmar, Nick Young, Xavier Henry, Wes Johnson, and Chris Kaman; guys who took less money to play in L.A. for the Lakers or guys who no one else wanted and are looking to redeem their careers with no other option but to take the minimum).

Let’s go the other way, then. Let’s say the Lakers should maximize their spending by inking their own players via their Bird Rights and building up the roster that way. Only, if you do that, you’re essentially committing big dollars to the likes of Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Nick Young, and Farmar. In other words, you’re going over the cap to keep the same team you had this year. This, as far as I know, isn’t what Kobe means when he says he wants a quick turnaround. In fact, I’d imagine it’s the opposite.

This is the part of the story where I tell you this is actually, at least partially, Kobe’s fault. After all, he took a huge salary in the coming seasons and that salary is what is eating away at the team’s cap space and limiting their ability to sign multiple high level players. And there is some truth in that. If Kobe and the front office had been able to agree on a contract that paid him less, those savings could have been transferred into the pockets of other players the Lakers would want to acquire.

That said, what’s also true is that the Lakers are simply in a position where the rules are somewhat against them. By having so many contracts expiring at the same time, the Lakers will fall beneath the salary cap. This, then, puts a limit on what they can actually spend on players this summer. (If you even wondered by Pau Gasol makes more money than LeBron James, this is why — LeBron took less than the maximum salary (just like Wade and Bosh did) so that their contracts could fit into the Heat’s cap space.) Further, because all those contracts expire at the same time and the assets they do have under contract aren’t that valuable around the league, they cannot easily flip those pieces into the better players that would accelerate the rebuild in the manner that Kobe describes in his quotes above.

This is the reality the Lakers face. And, ultimately, Kobe must face it too. There is only so much you can do when all your talented players diminish in quality at the same time while simultaneously lacking alternative assets to improve your roster via the other avenues the CBA allows. So, while Kobe can talk about turning things around quickly the fact is the Lakers aren’t in any position to actually make that happen. Unless you see LeBron, Bosh, and Carmelo all deciding they want to make $7 million a year to come play for the Lakers. Yeah, me neither.

What was always a possibility, now seems to be a reality. On Tuesday night Kevin Ding reported (and now ESPN is as well) that Kobe Bryant will not play again this season:

The words are about to become official. Kobe Bryant, out for the season. The Los Angeles Lakers are expected to declare Bryant out for the rest of the 2013-14 season later this week, according to team sources. Bryant is not accompanying the team on its trip to Oklahoma City and San Antonio, staying back to be reexamined by team doctor Steve Lombardo. And considering where Bryant’s level of discomfort remains with the fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee, barring an unforeseen change, the team will finalize the decision that Bryant will not play again this season.

As the season played out and Kobe continued to make little progress, the likelihood of him suiting up again this year decreased. Still, though, it’s a bummer to know that it won’t be until September or October that we actually see Kobe play in an NBA game.

And it’s not just a bummer because I like watching Kobe ply his craft against NBA competition. It is just as much about Kobe only playing in six games after rupturing his achilles tendon, never truly getting back on the floor where he could fully test his recovery and adapt back to working on the repaired tendon. Further, the fact that he ended up injuring the knee on the same leg as his achilles tear only means that any progress made in terms of building up strength in that leg was not only halted, but probably reversed.

What Kobe faces now is a multi-layered hole he must try to dig himself out of. Not only is he facing an uncertain timeline of when he can return to working out in a normal way, but when he does he’ll be doing so on a leg that has not been tested in game situations for over a year. With that time off not only comes the big job of reworking himself physically as a pure athlete, but also the timing and court sense that comes with being a professional basketball player. Yes, I understand that for someone like Kobe this is akin to riding a bike (you never really forget) but when you combine it with adjusting to any physical limitations he may have it creates a scenario that isn’t so simple.

This isn’t to say I doubt Kobe Bryant’s ability to return to a level of effectiveness that can approximate the standard he’s shown over his last few seasons. But it will be a pretty big undertaking that, if he’s unable to achieve that standard it would not be a huge surprise. As Kobe has said himself, father time is undefeated. And when father time has injuries and lengthy stretches of inactivity on his side, you’d imagine his job only gets easier.

This is what Kobe is up against now and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned.

ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave McMenamin first tweeted out the news that has seemed growingly inevitable as the season wears on- more likely than not, Steve Nash has played his last game this season.

There’s no other way to describe this news other than plain old sad. Nash has worked his tail off to get back to form this season and make due on that increasingly unexplainable contract that pays him upwards of $9 million per season. But when you’re body simply won’t cooperate, there’s nothing you can do.

I was one of the millions of Laker fans who was ecstatic when the news broke on July 4th, 2012 that the team had acquired the two-time MVP. Never in a million years did I expect Nash to function more as a cap-clogger than anything productive on the floor. It’s now a legitimate possibility that the Lakers use the stretch provision on Nash, would could end the future hall-of famers career. By exercising this provision, the Lakers would release Nash and his cap figure would be spread across three years, allowing the Lakers added flexibility to chase free agents.

If Nash has indeed played his last game in purple and gold, his final game tally in two years would be 60. Not what the Lakers had in mind.

Kobe’s in a similar position in the sense of not knowing whether he’ll suit up for another game this year. He’s still weeks away from an evaluation, and if he’s cleared to play then, he’d likely have to have at least a bit of practice time to get him back into game shape. And judging from the 4 games he played in his return from the achilles injury, he wouldn’t be his usual self- at least not at first- when he does make it back onto the court.

All of this injury news bodes well for those Laker fans aboard Team Tank. The Lakers enjoyed probably their best win of the season last night in snapping Portland’s five-game win streak. In Portland. The win was so surprising that it prompted this headline from the LA Times: “Lakers beat Trail Blazers…in Portland…really!” But despite this, and the win over Sacramento where the Lakers caught fiiiiire from three, the upcoming schedule remains brutal- six out of the next eight games are against teams above .500, including two each against the Thunder and Spurs (who are absolutely incredible. Nothing less. Each and every year I count them out, figuring Father Time will eventually prevail. Those who believe the age-old adage that Father Time is undefeated doesn’t know that Gregg Popovich exists. Okay, Spurs rant over).

Without Kobe and Nash for the foreseeable future, the Lakers should return to their losing ways in the next couple weeks. Of the remaining 22 games, 15 come against teams above .500. If you’re rooting for losses, things are working out quite nicely for you- the Lakers’ remaining schedule is brutal and they will be without the production of both Kobe and Nash, however limited that production might be, when they go toe-to-toe with these superior teams.

Right when it seemed the Lakers might turn a corner with a nice road win over the Grizzlies, their injury woes come back to drag them back down. Already missing all their point guards, the team will now be without Kobe Bryant for at least 6 weeks, per an announcement from the team:

It’s really difficult to put into words the frustration and disappointment I feel with this news. Kobe has battled for over 8 months to return from one of the most brutal injuries a basketball player could sustain and had only returned 6 games ago. He’s had his up and down moments, but the game against the Grizzlies showed a nice step forward in his progress showing he could play well in extended minutes and on short rest (that was the team’s 4th game in 5 nights). Now, he’s lost again for at least another month and a half, set to have to rehab the same left leg he suffered the ruptured achilles on.

Normally, I’d try to find some sort of silver lining and speak to what the team can do to adjust without Kobe in the lineup. This won’t be one of those times. Because while one might say the team can go back to playing the style they were before Kobe’s return, that really isn’t possible since the team doesn’t have a player to step in and initiate the offense the way that Blake and Farmar were in Kobe’s absence. What will happen instead is the team trying to fill the void with a committee approach to initiating the offense with Xavier Henry, Nick Young, and Jodie Meeks likely taking turns as the primary ball handler to start the team’s offense. This approach was already suspect for short stretches in games, but now that it’s default for entire contests, the results will be dodgy at best.

Hopefully Jordan Farmar can return in a week and at least have some sort of PG available soon, but if that doesn’t happen I don’t see how the team can’t turn to the D-League or look to street free agents as a stopgap option until Farmar is back.

As we discussed last night, Kobe had an okay outing in his season debut showing flashes of the playmaking the Lakers need from him while also having several moments where he was sloppy with the ball and looked out of sorts with his decision making. This was to be expected as he seeks to regain the timing and game legs that will allow him to do more on the court.

The timing, of course, should come back with more game reps. It’s hard to go from practice to game action, especially after being out as long as Kobe has, and find your groove immediately. The activity players show in games and the quickness in how they move and react simply can’t be duplicated in practice — even in scrimmages.

The game legs, however, may be a different story. Kobe is attempting to come back from the type of lower leg injury that used to end players’ careers entirely. Medicine and training techniques have advanced so seeing him back on the court isn’t a surprise, but whether or not he can regain a level of explosiveness in his movement that comes close to approximating what he had pre-achilles tear is something we don’t yet know the answer to.

What may help Kobe get there, though, is dropping a few of the extra pounds he’s carrying around. Don’t take my word for it, however, take his:

When looking at Kobe last night, I must admit he did look a little bit bigger than normal. It was nothing outrageous, but it was noticeable.

At the Lakers’ official site, Kobe is listed at 205 pounds and while that’s probably not entirely accurate — player weights can fluctuate while players often get listed at the same weight from season to season even if that’s the case — the fact that he admitted to being a full 20 pounds over his listed playing weight should be a bit of a concern. Not a big one, but one that is worth noting as one of the factors that may contribute to how he’s able to perform physically — especially in areas that relate to quickness and agility.

It’s not like Kobe was awful in those areas last night. In fact, on several plays he looked just fine and after the game he noted how he was pleased with how he was able to get into the lane in his first game back. That said, he also noted that he could stand to lose a few pounds. I’m sure once the latter occurs, the former will get even better. All of this takes time, however.

How much, of course, remains one of the major keys to Kobe (and the Lakers’) season.