Grantland’s documentary series on Steve Nash continues, this time with Nash responding to fan backlash calling for his retirement.

Whatever side you fall on when it comes to this issue, the thing that stands out most to me from this video is Nash’s honesty about still wanting to play. He cites his love of the game, his desire to prove people wrong, and, yes, the money. He even goes so far as to say that anyone in his shoes would make the same choice (something I pretty much agree with, by the way).

What this clip also highlights for me is the conflict that comes up at the end of the career of nearly every great player. When is it time to retire? How can that be managed in a manner that is best for both the player and the team? When a player makes a significant amount of money, the decision of what to do becomes more than just a decision that the player makes for himself as fan and popular opinion starts to creep into the equation.

Right now, this issue relates to Nash, but we are already starting to see some of the same idea, twisted slightly, in regards to Kobe. His salary over the next couple of seasons is quite large and he’s yet to show he’s physically able to perform to a level that matches what he will be paid. (As an aside, even if Kobe plays wonderfully, there will still be backlash related to how much he is making, but that’s another post for another day.)

Ultimately, though, what Nash says in the video above is both incredibly honest while also showing the conflict that exists in him as he continues to work towards a goal that he understands he may never reach.

The Lakers are in the third game of a weird scheduling four-game sequence in which the Lakers play home and home series against the Thunder and the Spurs. The Lakers (remarkably) went .500 in the first half of the four games with a completely unexpected win over the Thunder in last Sunday, and will seek to do the same (or better) as they kick off a home and home against the Spurs tonight. Not only are the Lakers in the midst of a four-game stretch against the two teams a top the Western Conference, but they’re playing the second of a back-to-back in San Antonio. Most cities get up for the Lakers when they come to town, but San Antonio is usually one of the more hostile environments that the Lakers visit in any given season.

For tonight’s contest, the Lakers are going to need to match the defensive energy they had in their first game against the Thunder, someone is going to have to explode on the offensive end a la Jodie Meeks, and the Spurs might have to treat tonight’s game like an exhibition contest. You can’t really put a zero percent chance on the Lakers winning tonight’s game, but considering circumstance and the talent gap, a lot is going to have to go their way.

There really isn’t much you can say about this year’s rendition of the Spurs that you couldn’t have said about the team in the past 3-4 years outside of the every present continued growth of swingman Kawhi Leonard and his importance to the Spurs. Leonard is a difference maker on both ends of the floor, and when healthy, makes a good Spurs team dangerous. Leonard has dealt with some injury issues that caused him to miss 15 games this season, but the Spurs have not lost since his return. From Matthew Tynan over at 48 Minutes of Hell:

The Spurs have been 16.2 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when Leonard has been on the floor over the last six games as opposed to just six points better when he’s been on the bench, and the defense is boasting a 95.3 defensive-efficiency rating when he plays. Furthermore, his impact on the defense-to-offense transition game has been a godsend for the slow-legged Spurs.

The numbers show the impact Leonard has had on the Spurs, and the impact has turned into wins. However, nothing is guaranteed, and the Lakers can find a way to leave San Antonio with a win tonight, and it’s going to have to start with the guys on the perimeter.

On the offensive end, the Lakers are going to have to take great care of the ball. The Spurs aren’t one of the fastest teams in the league, but they will make you pay for your mistakes. The possessions that don’t end in turnovers have to end with quality shots. Sharp ball movement and movement off the ball have led to the Lakers best possessions, but over dribbling from the guards have cut down on the number of times that the Lakers have been able to effectively execute sets this season. Kendall Marshall will have to be confident in his jump shot, Xavier Henry and Kent Bazemore are going to have to be smart about when to attack the basket and when to keep the ball moving and Pau Gasol is going to have to get touches in the paint. Playing through the post, especially if Pau can get any kind of early rhythm, will open up the perimeter for shooters like Meeks, Jordan Farmar and Ryan Kelly.

On the other end, keeping Tony Parker out of the lane is, and will always be, the top priority against the Spurs. This is a team that executes as well as anyone in the league, so staying home on assignments and helping the helper will be crucial. Parker can kill the Lakers by living in the paint, but Manu Ginobili can do so as well. Tim Duncan is going to be Tim Duncan. Boris Diaw can hurt the Lakers from multiple spots on the floor with his play making ability while Leonard can stretch the floor or attack the rim with his athleticism.

The Lakers should run when they have their opportunities, but shouldn’t make tonight a track race as the Spurs with more possessions will only have more opportunities to impose their will over the Lakers. The Lakers can be successful in stretches, but it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to keep the Spurs off balanced enough for 48 minutes to leave Texas with a win.

Where You Can Watch: 5:30 start time on NBATV or TWC SportsNet. You can also listen on ESPN Radio 710.

With all the hubbub about Kobe being ruled out for the rest of the season and Phil Jackson looking like he will go to the Knicks, it might be easy to forget that the Lakers have a game tonight.

The good news is that the Lakers are well rested and are coming off a win. The bad news is that they are traveling to Oklahoma City to play the same team they just upset on national television. In other words, if the Lakers were hoping to sneak into OKC and take advantage of a team who won’t take them seriously, that ship sailed when the final buzzer on Sunday went off with the Lakers in the lead.

So expect this game to go much differently than the one four days ago. Namely:

  • Don’t expect Jodie Meeks to shake free for so many open jumpers
  • Don’t expect the Durant/Westbrook duo to shoot 15 for 42 from the floor
  • Don’t expect OKC to rely so heavily on the three (they took 35 shots from behind the arc last game) for their offense

What I also don’t expect is for the Thunder to play as small as they did for as long as they did in the last game. In Sunday’s contest Steven Adams and Nick Collison combined to play a little under 22 minutes. This led to Durant logging a lot of minutes at PF and Serge Ibaka sliding up to play a lot of Center. However, with Ibaka guarding Pau he was less of a threat as a weak side helper defensively and had to do much more on ball work against Pau in the post. Pau didn’t necessarily take advantage of him down there, but it did mean that the Thunder had less help in the paint with the result being a more spread out D that yielded too many open jumpers against good Lakers’ ball movement.

Tonight I think OKC plays more traditional lineups for longer with more size up-front to not only try to limit Pau down low, but to give them the help they need on the back line that allows them to better chase the Lakers’ perimeter threats. Even low level scouting tells you that the Lakers need to hit a high number of threes to win any game and if the Thunder need to, they will likely start to overplay on those types of shots to make L.A. do more work off the dribble and finish over size when going to the basket.

Offensively, I also expect the Thunder to try and push the tempo a bit more and get easier opportunities to score in transition. Look for Westbrook and Reggie Jackson to try and get to the rim in the open court and if those chances aren’t there to pull the ball back and look for Durant and Ibaka as trailers near the three point line. Both are more than capable of hitting open jumpers and if Durant is a guy who goes unguarded on too many possessions he can easily get points in bunches to make the Lakers pay.

For the Lakers, then, the only thing they can really do is try to play their game in a way that keeps the Thunder off balance enough that the game remains close. That will be much harder today since Sunday’s game is so fresh on everyone’s mind and the Thunder will surely be looking to snuff out what the Lakers do best early and send them onto plan B. Whether the Lakers have enough to overcome or counter that is the big question, but based off this year’s results I think we know the answer is likely “no”.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TNT and TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

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.

The Lakers are a bad team for a variety of reasons. They can be awful defensively. They can play at too fast a pace even when it plays into the hands of their opponent. They don’t make many adjustments to what their opponents are doing on both sides of the ball. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Ultimately, though, if you want to get to crux of why this team is bad, read that tweet at the top of the page again and understand that no team could be very good with that type of lineup inconsistency.

A lot of that number is related to injuries. Off the top of my head, I don’t believe a single Laker outside of Robert Sacre has been available to play in every game (even Wes Johnson had a stomach bug that kept him out earlier this year). Some of it is also related to Mike D’Antoni’s infatuation with shifting his lineups in search of workable groups. There have been more nights where I can count where, seemingly randomly, a player has been put into the starting lineup for a game or two only to find himself on the bench or not even playing the next week.

Whatever the reasons, however, the results are the same. The Lakers simply have not had the type of lineup consistency that leads to chemistry on both sides of the ball (but especially defensively) or allowed them to establish the type of rhythm that can help create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, it’s been just the opposite as players often seem thrown together and end up looking out of sorts for long stretches, struggling to figure out how to generate good looks and having little clue on how to make it so the same is true for the other team.

One hundred fifty two minutes. After last year’s injury woes and the resulting crazy lineups, I didn’t think this year would come close to being the same. Boy, was I wrong.