Archives For Kobe Bryant

We’ve reached a point with the Lakers where when an executive speaks, we have to hold our breath for the inevitable backlash as each sentence is broken down, word by word. Tuesday morning, when tweets came across the timeline that Jeanie Buss would be speaking publicly on the state of the Lakers with Colin Cowherd, my immediate and visceral reaction was “great, more of this.” In following with recent seasons, her comments didn’t meet my already considerably lowered expectations.

The appearance leaves more questions than answers, following a trend the Lakers need to correct if the organization wants to earn back the fanbase’s confidence they’ve lost due to how these last few seasons have gone.

Here’s the full interview:

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In a political culture of red versus blue, a sports culture of you versus us, and a general culture of black or white, Kobe Bryant might have been more aptly nicknamed for the areas his career spent the majority of its time in: the ambiguous shades of gray.

This season, and especially this week, has been marked by breathless thanks to Kobe for what he meant to the writer. This isn’t to say those articles haven’t been touching, nor that the sentiment is lost on me to any extent whatsoever. One of the greatest traits of Kobe’s career is just how much he meant to his fans. Few athletes in the history of sport will come close to that relationship, but, I can’t help but feel like that’s telling only a part of the story.

To me, the greatest takeaway from Kobe’s career is how it forced us to recognize the shortcomings of black-and-white thinking. As such, looking back at his career without thinking of both the achievements and shortcomings would be selling his time in the NBA short.

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As part of a new series here at Forum Blue & Gold, we’re examining a single skill to keep an eye on with players this season. It could be their best quality or an aspect of their game that, if successful, will help the most. The two sound similar, but aren’t exactly the same. For this part of the series, I’m looking at D’Angelo Russell’s pull-up jumper.

D’Angelo Russell’s greatest talent is arguably his passing. He sees the court insanely well and can pull off passing angles few would even consider. That being said, whether or not Russell can develop a consistent shot to keep defenses honest will go a long way in opening up those passing lanes.

To a certain extent I liken it to how Kobe Bryant would guard Rajon Rondo in those classic match ups and playoff series from 2008-10. When guards would defend Rondo with more standard tendencies (going over the top of screens, sticking to his hip, etc.) Rondo would regularly torch them. So, Phil Jackson employed Kobe as more of a general shadow, simply staying in front and daring Rondo to shoot. The strategy changed what the Celtics were trying to do, and was the best way to manage such a supremely talented ball-handler. The video below is great at displaying this technique.

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A favorite refrain from Jalen Rose is how positions were added to the analysis of basketball to help the more casual fan understand where certain players belong on the court. It’s an interesting premise that might hold water if plays weren’t designed around players fitting roles based on their skill sets and size (you know, positions). There has, however, been a move toward positionless basketball – a more free-flowing, offensive predicated on versatility and individual skill.

Granted, “free-flowing” is not what you think of when Byron Scott’s crossed arms pop up in your head, but the Lakers do have the pieces – especially in their starting five – to make this work, at least for stretches.

The first player most point to when they think of positionless basketball is LeBron James, which makes sense as he should be the guy anyone thinks of first in terms of any style of basketball. He’s really, really good. When considered in this scenario, though, it’s because of his versatility. He’s a Ferrari in a semi’s body, Karl Malone, but as a point guard. Being so athletically dominant and so skilled makes any offense built around him otherworldly.

While the Lakers may not have LeBron on their team, they do have plenty of guys who are more than capable of playing a few positions or stretching the boundaries of what their position typically demands.

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2015-16 features a brand new core, a departing hero and a coach potentially on his last chance. Sure, there are no realistic championship aspirations, but here’s a crazy thought: The upcoming campaign might be the most interesting Lakers season before actual games are played in almost a decade.

We all remember that crazy summer of 2007, which featured trade demands from Kobe Bryant, his general disdain towards Andrew Bynum and whether or not ownership would cave to such demands. Could you imagine if we had Twitter back then? #Pluto would be trending worldwide for reasons beyond whether or not it’s a planet. Considering how the season turned out, it’ll absolutely go down as one of the most memorable in Lakers’ history. The franchise somehow went from utter chaos to title contention in a matter of months.

Had they managed to win the title after all that, Disney would’ve made a movie about it.

Yes, fans have enjoyed a couple titles and a potential super-team since then, but this roster offers more intrigue heading into the season, and here’s why.

Championships are obviously fun. They are, after all, the entire point of athletic competition. That said, the narrative in such seasons is fairly straightforward, and can easily grow tiring. Each loss hurts more than wins feel good. Those Lakers rosters, identified early on as title favorites, rarely led to “fun” regular seasons as we parsed effort and execution and whether the lack of either might doom the team’s chances. It was all an overcooked appetizer to the most stressful meal one can try to enjoy – the actual NBA playoffs.

I can’t try to numerate how many fans have said something along the lines of “I just can’t endure another season like the last two” or “please, just don’t let the team suck.” If this is indeed the baseline by which success will be defined, fan expectations should be fairly easily appeased. Knowing that before the season takes place should be a healthy source of excitement in and of itself.

The Lakers’ personnel lends itself to interest here as much as general expectations.

Any conversation about intrigue in the makeup of this team probably has to start with the fact this will probably be Kobe’s final season. Every minor moment we get to enjoy will be bittersweet. Might this be his final home opener? Any game-winning shot might be our last throwback to one of the greatest clutch players in league history. Road trips will undoubtedly feature heartfelt moments between him, the crowd and his opponents. And that final game? Don’t even get me started. Such a season is incredibly rare, and what all this might bring about will generate a wealth of legitimately great moments.

The flipside to those great moments is… Well, you know. And I dare not even mention it.

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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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Nick Young couldn’t possibly have felt great about his Lakers signing Lou Williams this summer. The redundancy between the two is fairly obvious if simplified down to layman levels. Young and Williams are both chuckers best used off the bench to bring an immediate scoring punch to whichever lineup they’re joining on the court.

So, Young took the type of measures any normal person would if threatened with replacement by their employer: get a Tupac tattoo on the arm previously reserved for buckets. In all seriousness, though, trying to figure out what to expect from Young this season is pretty difficult given the several variables at play heading into the 2015-16 campaign.

First, we need to understand how we got to this point. Two years ago, Mike D’Antoni’s system lent itself to success in the form of spot-up jumpshots in efficient parts of the floor and isolations against defenses spread thin by excellent spacing. As a result, Young enjoyed a career season and earned the contract the Lakers seemed pretty quick to want to shed this offseason.

So, the question begs asking: is Young the player we saw under D’Antoni or the punchline to the joke that was last season? The answer, as usual, is somewhere in the middle and, as such, he still deserves a spot on an NBA roster. But, Young has some roadblocks to overcome if he hopes to flip the narrative.

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The biggest news surrounding the Lakers this weekend was the imminent departure of long-time team trainer Gary Vitti. To be clear, the news that the 2015-16 season would be Vitti’s last run with the purple and gold was reported in mid-April, but Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reinvigorated the discussion with a recent feature on the 30-year franchise mainstay. The piece chronicles Vitti’s run with the team and highlights some of the key moments during his tenure. Among the many revealing quotes, one of the more interesting bits involved how Julius Randle’s injury last season affected Vitti’s departure:

So much has happened the last few years, so little of it positive. Vitti even called it “a nightmare.” Few would disagree, the Lakers continually losing Bryant and Steve Nash to injury, along with a slew of games.

“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”

Vitti connects with his players like few other trainers in the league and since joining the Lakers in 1984, there is perhaps no player he has bonded with more over the years than Kobe Bryant. Now, as both their careers may be coming to a close, Vitti revealed that the two recently shared some thoughts on the upcoming season:

“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.”

There’s a lot of good stuff there, but what is of most immediate interest to Lakers fans is Kobe’s apparent willingness to step into the small forward role for his (maybe) final season. For more insight on how that transition could look for Bean, our own Darius Soriano covered it yesterday. Give it a look as well.

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