Archives For Kobe

Yesterday, the Lakers, along with 31 other teams, were granted a mapped-out schedule of their next 82 games. Aside from predicting win/loss totals and counting up the number of national TV appearances, the biggest takeaway for fans is that these could very well be the final 82 games of Kobe Bryant’s storied career. In what will be the first of many thinkpieces regarding Kobe’s legacy this season, Drew Garrison of Silver Screen and Roll focused on the significance of the fact that Kobe’s potential “finish line” has officially been marked:

Maybe it’s wrong to already start thinking about Kobe’s book as having a final page earmarked to end his legacy. It’s hard not to, though, considering the expiration date on his contract is the only thing concrete in his future. He’ll ultimately make a decision when he’s ready, but for now, it’s more than fair to start bracing for impact. This ship might be preparing to sail through the murky 82-game journey one last time.

And there will be plenty of full-circle talk the whole way through it. The Lakers are preparing to embrace a movement led by a new hyper-talented guard who must find his way to becoming the kind of floor general Los Angeles has come to expect. Kobe will be moving toward ending his career as one of the few athletes in sports history to spend and enjoy such an illustrious career with a single franchise. Coincidentally, his first NBA minutes during his rookie season came against the Minnesota Timberwolves, against whom the Lakers will open the ’15-16 season, and ended in the playoffs against the Jazz, against whom the Lakers will end the regular season.

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The season will have ups, downs and unexpected turns along the way, but it all leads to what could be a final ride with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. A living legend may run his final steps through a purple and gold finish line on April 13th.

 

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Aside from the intrigue of the Russell-Towns and Kobe-Garnett matchup that will take place in the opener (which Darius Soriano touched on here), the Lakers-Wolves game presents two teams dealing with positional battles at their guard spots. The Wolves have a couple of seasoned vets (Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin) who could potentially lose minutes to a young Zach Lavine, while the Lakers will likely look to find who will take control of the backcourt will be between Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell.

In a piece analyzing a few of the more notable positional battles throughout the league, Ben Leibowitz of Sports Illustrated took a look at how the Lakers young backcourt could play out during the season:

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The NBA schedule was released on Wednesday and now every team knows the route they will travel on their marathon campaign. 82 games of ups and downs, wins and losses, and countless storylines will captivate us fans and players alike. We’ve already started this discussion with some of the games we are most/least looking forward to as well as some other general observations.

But, frankly, there is even more on our minds. With that, here are 10 more thoughts on the Lakers’ 2015-16 schedule…

1. I love that the Lakers open with the Timberwolves. It is by no means a glamorous match up pitting traditional rivals against each other, but there are a lot of match ups and intriguing stories worth discussing. On one end of the spectrum you have the #1 and #2 overall picks in Karl Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell facing off in their first regular season games. And, on the other end, you have Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant facing off on the opening night of their 21st and 20th seasons respectively. The rooks are the most recent high profile one-and-done prospects to grace the league while the veterans are the two players who ushered in the prep-to-pros era which graced us with some of the best players of a generation. Add in last year’s rookie of the year in Andrew Wiggins and the return of Julius Randle and there is no shortage of reasons why I’ll be excited about this game.

2. I love that the Lakers’ annual Grammy Road Trip is only going to be four games, but with it being so short they have to make up some of those road games somewhere. Enter a brutal December where only four of the team’s 17 games will be at Staples Center. Welp.

3. A few dates to circle on the calendar: February 19th, February 21st, March 10th, and April 3rd. In order, those may be the last times Kobe suits up in a game against Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, LeBron James, and the Boston Celtics. There are other match ups worth mentioning, but I’d say those four opponents will carry extra weight.

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No Lakers-centric links post this week would be complete without a reference to the team’s most widely-covered news of the week surrounding it’s most celebrated player. So, let’s get that out of the way, first.

In an interview which has been well-documented, Kobe Bryant spoke with Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports and discussed a variety of topics including his eventual retirement (more on that in a minute) and his outlook on the upcoming season:

Q: What do you think about the state of the Lakers right now?

Kobe: “They have really set themselves up for a promising future going on years. I think they drafted very well. The free agents that we picked are extremely solid, [Roy] Hibbert, [Brandon] Bass, Lou [Williams]. We have a very good mix of young and veteran leadership. The challenge is going to be blending the two and cutting down the learning curve.

“How quickly can we get going? How quickly can we bring up [rookie D’Angelo] Russell, [Julius] Randle. [Jordan] Clarkson got valuable experience last year in playing that will benefit us tremendously. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to running with these young guns.”

Q: Can this Lakers team make the playoffs?

Kobe: “Of course it can. Absolutely. We have talented players in their respective positions. We have some really young players. How exactly will the pieces of the puzzle fit? We really don’t know. We are going to [training] camp trying to piece this together just like every other team does. We have to figure out what our strengths are, figure out what our weaknesses are. And every time we step on the court we are going to try to hide our weaknesses and step up to our strengths.”

It is also worth reading a related piece by our own Darius Soriano where he dissects some of Bean’s most noteworthy comments from the interview.

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Perhaps my subconscious is intentionally burying the “lead” here, but Kobe’s most highly-noted comments from the above interview revolved around his inevitable departure from basketball. Until Kobe officially hangs ’em up, there will continue to be questions in regards to his official farewell and quotes like “I don’t know if I’m going to retire or not.” will lead to attention-grabbing headlines such as, “Kobe and Mitch aren’t on the same page!”. Regardless of when his swan song will officially be composed, I am of the mindset that enjoying Kobe’s every moment is crucial at a time where we are more aware than ever that any step onto the court could be his last.

No, his waning moments will not always be pretty, but according to Silver Screen and Roll’s Harrison Faigen, to make the closing of his career a lot more effective and a bit more eye-pleasing, Kobe should take note of an old adage; “Like Mike”:

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Kobe Bryant is currently in China on what has become his yearly summer trek, engaging with fans, telling his story, and further embedding himself as the most popular basketballer in Asia. Seriously, when you watch clips of him there or see photos, he’s like a one-man Coachella. The fans there love him and he loves them back.

But while Kobe is planting seeds for future endeavors in China, his present in the US and with the Lakers remains front and center. There are many questions about the team he will return to, his ability to perform on it, and how much time remains in his career to still do it. Marc Spears of Yahoo! caught up with Kobe and got a lot of insight on these topics and more. The entire interview is well worth your time so give the full piece a read, but for our purposes, let’s unpack some of the more pressing questions:

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There is a real possibility the Lakers will lose two franchise icons at the end of this upcoming season. The first, as we told you earlier, is Gary Vitti, who has announced he will retire at the end of the 2015-16 season. The second, of course, is Kobe Bryant. Kobe has not outright said he will not continue his career when his current contract expires, but a reading of the tea leaves leads me to believe his 20th campaign will be his final one.

It would be fitting if Kobe and Vitti rode out into the sunset together since they share a bond that has been molded for 19 years and counting. One of my favorite pictures of Kobe is him walking with Vitti on the tarmac on the way to the team plane on a road trip from this past season:

kobe vitti

(Photo credit: Ty Nowell, Lakers.com)

In what may be their final season together, Vitti will surely be keeping a close tab on Kobe and how he progresses through the season. And, from the sound of it, he’ll be doing it while Kobe plays a different position than his customary shooting guard. From Mike Bresnahan in the LA Times:

Vitti is often an emissary between players and management. He recently met up with Bryant, with whom he shares a longtime bond.

“He was asking about our young kids, and I said, ‘You cannot believe how quick and athletic Jordan Clarkson is. He looks fantastic,'” Vitti said. “I said I personally thought D’Angelo Russell is going to be a star. He makes hard things look easy when he has the ball in his hands.

“Then Kobe said to me, ‘Well, then who’s going to play [small forward]?’ I looked at him and I said, ‘You.’ And with absolute, 100% confidence, he said, ‘I can do that.'”

Can Bryant, soon to turn 37, really do it? His last three seasons were cut short by injury and he became a part-time player last season, sitting out eight of his last 16 games for “rest” before sustaining a torn rotator cuff in January. He is under contract for one more season at $25 million.

“When Nash retired, that didn’t mean he couldn’t play in an NBA game. The problem was how much time did he need to get ready for the next game.” Vitti said. “He had lots of issues that prevented him from playing an NBA schedule.

“That’s going to be the big question with Kobe, and we’re just going to have to feel it out. It’s been a while since he’s played. We just need to see.”

After looking at the depth chart, we’d discussed the potential of Kobe playing some small forward this season. We’d even heard hints of this from Mitch Kupchak and Byron Scott. But it seems we’re getting it right from the horse’s mouth — or at least relayed by Vitti from the horse.

I don’t envision there being too much of a shift in terms of style of play from Kobe as a SF versus a SG. In the offense the team runs, it’s probably a bit better for Kobe to be the SF since it positions him on the wing to start possessions rather than at the top of the floor in the two-guard front many of the Lakers’ Princeton-based sets initiate from. In these sets, Kobe will likely get screened for by Russell and run a fair amount of two-man game and Triangle-like actions on the strong side with Russell and either Hibbert or Randle.

Playing in this spot will likely allow Kobe to post up more freely without having to skew the offense too much by bringing up a SF into a ball handling position (remember all those P&R’s you saw Wes Johnson run as a ball handler?) at the extended wing or at the top of the floor. Kobe, of course, will be much more comfortable handling those actions than a guy like Johnson, but his work below the foul line or in the extended post will likely continue to be his bread and butter — at least in the half court.

Where the team might have some issues with Kobe at SF is defensively, but, honestly, that’s not a new issue when it comes to Kobe. He may have to spend time guarding some of players he likely would have passed off to the other wing, since it is hard to imagine Clarkson guarding the LeBron, Durant, and Carmelo’s of the world. But, considering Kobe will likely be doing much less heavy lifting offensively and has always taken pride in guarding the top names, maybe he’ll give a bit more effort on that side of the ball this season.

Of course, we’ll just have to see how it plays out. My biggest hope for Kobe has little to do with how he plays at any given position, but him simply playing period.

When Kobe Bryant has been discussed in relation to the Lakers’ recent draft picks and young talent, the word mentor is one of the first words likely spoken. During summer league, announcers consistently spoke about how much D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle could learn from Kobe — a process that, for Randle already began last year. Whether it is work ethic, training techniques, mental approach, strategy, or tactics on how to approach an opponent, the message is the same: Kobe can teach these young kids the game and they should take full advantage of this while he’s still on the team.

This, of course, is 100% correct. Kobe is an all time great and whatever knowledge he can pass on to the next generation of (hopeful) Lakers’ franchise players, the better. When Julius Randle speaks about how much Kobe helped him in his rehab via helping him to break down film and from a mental preparation standpoint, we all nod our heads and say “this is great”. It’s even easier to think of how he can help Russell in similar ways, especially since both players are guards and the amount of time Kobe has spent beating the types of defensive coverages Russell is likely to see next season and beyond.

While this aspect of Kobe’s role is important — and likely have the most lasting impression — we should not forget that Kobe will also need to help these players on the court.

Part of the reason why this doesn’t come up as much is almost surely because no one really knows how much Kobe has left. His last three seasons have ended via injury. When he was finally “healthy” to start last season, he had some flashes of brilliance as a playmaker and scorer, but also saw his efficiency plummet and his effectiveness suffer for longer stretches than any other season besides his rookie campaign.

Still, Kobe’s presence on the court and ability to impact the game will be important to the young players. We must remember that he’s the only playmaker on the roster not named Clarkson, Russell, or Randle. His ability to be a passer and set up man might be the difference between the young players having to create shots for themselves (or each other) exclusively, or having it done for them. His scoring and finishing ability could turn the types of passes we saw in Vegas go unfulfilled turn into actual points. His ability to bend the defense could give the young players the little bit of extra space that turns a contested look into an open one.

These might seem as though they are little things or only produce short term gains for the young players, but they matter in the larger scheme of their development. Young players need all the success they can get in these early stages and Kobe is likely the only veteran who can aid in that success most through his ability to actually make players better (at least offensively). Of course the young players will need to do this for each other as well and, over the course of their careers the chemistry they develop will do more for making the game easy than a single season of Kobe.

But, in this short term, Kobe will need to help too. And he’ll need to do it on the floor, in the games just as he’ll need to in the film room, in practice, and in the locker room as the mentor many expect him to be.

Despite being injured, Kobe Bryant is still the Laker who most moves the needle when it comes to fans. Despite the Lakers’ awful record, his season ending injury, and his, compared to previous standards, sub-par play, he was still voted into the All-Star game as a starter and the release of the 10th iteration of his signature shoe was still quite the event. So, when Kobe goes on a bit of a media blitz, it’s sure to catch everyone’s attention.

On Monday evening, “Kobe the Interview” aired on NBA TV. The interview is well worth your time, if only for the career retrospective and insight Kobe provides on recovering from injuries, the longevity of his career, and capturing of the special moments that have made Kobe the player he is. NBA.com has a brief summary up here, but it’d be worth it for you to search your cable guide and see if/when it will be re-aired.

If “the interview” wasn’t enough to satiate your thirst for Kobe, you’re in luck. On Tuesday morning a sit-down between Kobe and Chuck Klosterman was released by GQ Magazine. Even more than the NBA TV piece, the interview with Klosterman gave us an unfiltered look at Kobe and offered some fantastic quotes that capture the Kobe we all want to see more of. He was introspective, smart, funny, and unabashedly honest. The entire piece is worth your time, but here are a few of my favorite parts:

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Whatever is left of Kobe Bryant will ultimately result in dividing some of his most loyal fans.

The news that a rotator cuff injury will probably prematurely end another season – third straight – for Kobe brings joy to no one. Not the league, not the fans, opponents or those covering basketball.

Bryant is simply too much of a force of nature in terms of personality and talent. Some of the things he’s done on the floor over the course of his career are born out of an impressive imagination coupled with the bravado to attempt them in-game. Kobe’s mental toughness is perhaps unparalleled, and his will has yet to be broken.

The one time Bryant ever displayed any sign of weakness was in the aftermath of an Achilles rupture a few seasons ago. He appeared saddened and distraught, and yet, the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer quickly quipped that he wasn’t done.

“There are far greater issues/challenges in the world than a torn Achilles,” Kobe wrote in a Facebook post. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself, find the silver lining and get to work with the same belief, same drive and same conviction as ever. One day, the beginning of a new career journey will commence. Today is NOT that day.”

Mortal he is not.

As result, the Kobe book cannot be closed…yet. It feels as though he has so much more to offer as evidenced by his transformation this season. Bryant has looked more like a mentor on the floor and less like an assassin. He’s taking teammates under his wing and showing them the way, instead of barreling through defenders to lead them through it.

The five-time champion is still a fierce competitor, and very few can walk along his path as he so eloquently put it, per The Washington Post’s Michael Lee:

“Listen, man. There are not a lot of players in this league that say, ‘Come hell or high water, we’re going to get this [expletive] done.’ People can look around and joke around about winning, saying they want to win. For me, it’s a matter of life or death. It was that important to me. And if it’s that important to me, I’m going to get there.”

Interestingly enough, that gladiator mentality has slowly taken a different form. Kobe appears far more jovial against his opposition, as the end of his career approaches. This was mostly evident when Bryant kept exchanging pleasantries with LeBron James during a home tilt against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Some years ago, both competing for championships, it was a little different,” Bryant said after the loss to Cleveland, according to ESPNLA.com’s Baxter Holmes. “It was a lot more moody. Now it’s a little different. I’ve got a chance to really appreciate the competition and enjoy that interaction. We’ve gotten to know each other really well over the years. It’s good to see him.”

This is a version of Kobe that is foreign to many. I wouldn’t call it a softer side, rather he’s less guarded, and it’s an iteration that I want to observe more with the benefit of additional games.

In the same breath, it’s impossible to look at this future Hall of Famer without openly wondering whether it’s finally time to close the curtain.

Kobe’s bulletproof legacy will not be tarnished by anything that happens the rest of the way, but the feelings of the collective masses might slowly take a different route. The newest memories will never surpass the oldest and most important ones, but they will become the fresher ones nonetheless.

Imagine watching a hobbled Kobe misfiring on multiple contested three-point fadeaway shots and then thinking to yourself “man, those you used to be easy shots for him.” Worse yet, there’s a realistic scenario where Bryant rehabs his most recent injury only to return next season and back up Nick Young.

This might sound ludicrous at first glance, but both are posting similar per-36-minute scoring numbers and shooting percentages this year. Bryant’s been the superior rebounder and playmaker, while Young has been better at avoiding turnovers.

Considering that Kobe will be 37 years old at the start of next season, it’s certainly logical to expect his physical state to deteriorate further. If that’s the case, L.A. could be better off cutting his minutes in favor of Young, who turns 30 in June.

Is there any plausible scenario that exists where Bryant loyalists would accept such a development? I’m not sure whether I or anyone else for that matter is prepared for a world where a healthy but older version of Kobe is no longer the Purple and Gold’s best player.

As terrifying as that scenario sounds, it’s the one Lakers Nation will likely have to face if it truly wants one last chapter, page or verse to be included in the Kobe hardcover. If that sounds like a source of conflict, it certainly is.

As someone with a healthy appreciation for Hall of Fame speeches, I can openly admit that Bryant’s last title (2009-10 season) – the one that broke the tie in ring count between he and Shaquille O’Neal – led me to believe his elocution would surpass Michael Jordan’s jab-heavy Hall of Fame acceptance.

Kobe only becomes eligible for the Hall five years after retirement, which means that calling it quits fairly soon is in order for fans to hear him address all in Springfield as soon as possible.

Therein lies the conundrum with Kobe Bean. One would hope he could make everything happen all at once, but Bryant simply can’t.

Should I stay or should I go?

It’s one or the other, and one would think it will be an agonizing choice.

Kobe’s never done things easy over the course of his career, and it sure looks like his next decision will follow suit. Fans will have a hard time with whatever direction he chooses, but let’s give Kobe a shot to close his career on his own terms.

Until he does, the best thing left to say is…

Thank you for the memories Mr. Bryant.