Archives For Kobe

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.

The bad news is that Kobe will not play in Friday’s game versus the Kings. When he announced the release of his new kicks, he also broke it to the press that he had ruled himself out for a return in Sacramento.

The good news, however, is that Kobe practiced today for the 3rd consecutive day and had no limitations. Further good news is that while he acknowledges there are still things for him to shore up physically, he also says (in the video above) that he is moving to the point where he is more day-to-day and game-to-game than he is forecasting a return at some point in the distant future.

The possibility is quite real that he returns against the Raptors on Sunday to make his season debut in front of his home crowd and against the franchise he had one of his greatest career accomplishments ever. It would be a fitting return if Kobe could make his first appearance of the season at Staples in a more than winnable game. It would also help if he got back sooner rather than later considering the back court injuries the team is dealing with.

In any event, enjoy the clip at the top of this post. Kobe talks about his injury, his path of recovery, what motivates him today, and what he plans to give on the floor in his final 2+ seasons (hint: everything he has).

While we wait for Kobe Bryant to step onto the court to play a game (more on this later), he gave people a chance to see what he will be wearing on his feet when he finally does.

At an event in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Kobe unveiled his new signature shoe the Kobe 9 designed by Nike. From the press release:

The KOBE 9 Elite redefines the aesthetics and performance of a basketball shoe and was designed using Nike Flyknit according to Nike’s “Nature Amplified” design ethos, an approach focused on designing for the body in motion and fueled by scientific data and athlete insights.

Designed with Kobe’s tech insights and design inspirations, the KOBE 9 Elite features three key technologies: Nike Flyknit, Flywire and Lunarlon, giving the shoe superior lightweight performance. The innovative design enhances the foot’s natural movements while providing Kobe with strength, durability and speed, plus all the benefits of natural motion where he needs it most.

Kobe added:

“I draw inspiration from where I am as a player, as a person, and where my career is at this moment.  I’m trying to do something that the majority of people think is impossible to do,” Kobe reflected when asked about the inspiration for his latest shoes and about getting back into the game. “I let my emotions out when I step on the basketball floor, it’s always been my escape, and these shoes will touch a nerve on the court in the same way I do.”

In terms of the design, these shoes definitely have a personal touch with details that draw on Kobe’s recent experiences:

Reverting back to a higher cut for the first time since his third signature shoe in 2007, Kobe’s ninth signature shoe features a knit collar for the proprioceptive feel of a low-top with the support of a mid-top. With the lead colorway dubbed ‘Masterpiece,’ the KOBE 9 Elite uses the intriguing visual patterns allowed by Nike Flyknit to create a piece of art on the upper, nine red embroidered details on the heel give a nod to Kobe’s Achilles sutures. The design on the outsole is based on the pressure mapping of Kobe’s own foot, creating a beautiful pattern while providing traction on court.

The fact that Kobe has gone back to a more traditional high-top (and its extra support) shouldn’t be a surprise with him coming off his achilles injury. That said, Kobe also gave a nod to boxer Manny Pacquiao and the shoes boxers wear for the high support design and credited the materials used (specifically flyknit) for being able to pull off this type of design in a basketball shoe. I, for one, am very much interested in seeing how these feel to play in and what type of support they provide. Based off Kobe’s previous shoes, he seems to have kept a similar aesthetic but gone for an overall design that pushes the envelope forward.

The release for the shoe for sale is February 8th, next year. Pictures are below:

Kobe 9

Kobe 9

Kobe 9

As we told you earlier today, Kobe Bryant signed a contract extension to remain with the Lakers for another two seasons beyond the current one. The extension will reportedly pay Kobe a total of 48 million dollars and will keep him as the highest paid player in the NBA over those two seasons.

I am of two minds about this extension.

First, I am happy for Kobe and for the idea that he will remain a Laker through what will likely be his final two seasons as an NBA player. I have said this often, but there is a special relationship fans have with players of Kobe’s status. As a franchise icon and a player whose place in history is cemented among the all time greats, I appreciate that he will only wear one uniform for his entire career. He joins West, Magic, and Baylor as other Lakers who are able to make this claim and that, to me at least, is worth celebrating. I’m sure Spurs fans want the same for Duncan and that Mavs fans want the same for Dirk. When you have a legend who has given so much to an organization, it is only natural to want that player to end his career where it started. With Kobe, it looks as though we will get that and I am happy this will be the case.

My second thought, however, is that this is a lot of money to commit to Kobe even when considering all he’s given to the organization and the legacy he’s built in Los Angeles as a Laker. This isn’t to say Kobe isn’t worth that money. A player is worth what the market will pay him and in this instance, the Lakers – even if they were bidding against themselves – were willing to pay Kobe this amount. So, he’s worth that. Considering the late, great Dr. Buss once went on record saying Kobe is worth upwards of $75 to $100 million to the Lakers’ brand, it’s hard to argue he shouldn’t seek a salary that somewhat reflects that value respective to the collective bargaining agreement. What he signed for is what he can earn, so in that regard he did what he was supposed to do.

The question, however, is whether this is what the Lakers were supposed to do under those same rules that govern the league and that is where this gets dicier.

Forget for a second Kobe’s rehab from his torn achilles. Forget his age and the number of minutes he’s played in his career. Forget everything I wrote just two paragraphs ago and simply focus on the fact that under the new CBA, it is very difficult to build a roster when a player is making as much money as Kobe will make. It’s not impossible, but it is harder.

The new CBA dictates that luxury tax paying teams have fewer exceptions in which they can sign players. It dictates that when you are a tax paying team, you shell out substantially more money for every dollar you are above the tax line. It dictates when you do this repeatedly, the penalties go up exponentially and make it extremely difficult to be profitable while still fielding a roster that demands the type of money you end up paying to be a tax paying team. When the rules of the new CBA came out, the Lakers were very clear in setting expectations for future spending, declaring that they would try to avoid playing the repeater tax and would be more fiscally responsible in this new world. By signing Kobe to this contract, they’ve not gone back on that, but they have made their future ability to build that competitive roster more difficult.

It is obvious to say, but it must be said, Kobe’s extension makes building a top tier roster harder.

Next year, the Lakers were slated to fall well underneath the salary cap, with the potential to sign multiple top tier free agents in an effort to rebuild quickly. Kobe was always viewed as a part of that plan, but the assumption was that his salary would be much less than what it will be and that it would aid in that proposed rebuilding rather than be a potential obstacle in it. This contract, however, makes Kobe one of those assumed top tier (and highly paid) players and removes a hefty chunk of cap space the Lakers could have used to sign an additional player (or two). This may not end up being the worst thing in the world, especially if Kobe can return to top form and produce at a level that mirrors what he did, say, last year. I cannot speak to the odds of that happening, but I can say the hope was the organization would build in a fail-safe for it not occurring by paying Kobe less than what they will and, thus, making it easier to sign more reinforcements to offset any dip in production from #24. That, however, will not be the case.

Further, with Kobe taking up such a large portion of the team’s cap, the ability to sign more than one top upper tier player goes down considerably. In fact, it eliminates it entirely. As it stands now, the Lakers will have room to sign one player to a max contract in the 20-22 million dollar range. They will also have their “room exception” (roughly the amount of the mini-mid level exception and an exception that allows teams who go beneath the salary cap to sign a mid-level player to a contract that pushes them back above the cap, but below the tax line) to sign another player who can contribute. Depending on what happens with Steve Nash (does he retire? does he get waived via the stretch provision?), the Lakers can have roughly 6 to 9 million dollars more in cap space, but those are not givens. This is to say nothing of what happens with the other slew of free agents on the team who the front office may want to keep on hand for future seasons.

All of this is to say that by signing Kobe to this specific extension, the Lakers have done two things that affect their planning for the next two seasons.

One is that they’ve locked up a player who they think will be a major contributor and, by doing that, have set the terms in which they can spend on the remainder of their roster. These aren’t necessarily bad things as they lock up a talent and they allow for crucial planning in terms of how much money will be available to spend on other players. Being able to target “free agent X” now while knowing what they can realistically spend on him is a good thing to know today. Especially considering the window of time to make those decisions AND still work on signing Kobe next summer was going to be relatively short.

Second, however, is that the Lakers are banking on Kobe being Kobe for two more seasons and that the investment in him at this amount is worth more than trying to sign multiple players at higher amounts while still trying to keep Kobe in the fold. This, of course, is complicated for a variety of reasons, but chief amongst them is the desire to keep Kobe in house and Kobe’s desire to maximize his earning potential (something he was honest about from day one). Maybe the Lakers could have played hardball with Kobe and tried to get him to sign for less. Maybe Kobe could have voluntarily taken less money to help out the franchise (this is a concept popular with fans, though as someone who doesn’t like anyone telling me I should say “no thanks” to money someone wants to pay me, I’m uncomfortable saying another person should – especially Kobe Bryant).

It’s also complicated by the idea that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Said another way, there’s no guarantee Kobe at a lower dollar amount gets the Lakers multiple top tier players. Don’t get me wrong, it makes it possible and that possibility is definitely important. But Kobe at 2 million dollars next season doesn’t guarantee the Lakers will suddenly sign LeBron and Chris Bosh. It’s nice to think of it that way, but that’s more wishful thinking than practical outcome.

In essence, what we see with this extension is the Lakers dealing with a franchise icon the best way they know how. They think he’ll be back performing at a high level and know that he is a major draw and money maker for the organization. For them, this is a win-win from that angle. But, what they’ve also done is made their future planning harder, even if they’ve made it clearer at the same time. This isn’t the type of contract you can simply hand out and hope things go well. There needs to be a firm plan (or at least a very clear vision) in place in how the rest of the roster will be built around a player making this much money. That would be true if the player we were talking about wasn’t named Kobe Bryant, by the way.

The fact that is the player’s name, however, means this decision carries extra weight. That can be both good and bad. We’ll see how the Lakers look next season and the ones beyond that to fully judge this deal. But, for now, what we know is that the front office has put their marbles in the Kobe Bryant basket. Historically, that has been a pretty good choice. Whether that’s true down the line, well, we’ll see.