Archives For Kobe Bryant

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.


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.



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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Anthony Irwin is a lifelong Lakers and, by extension, NBA fan. The league is in a great place and he joins Forum Blue & Gold as the Lakers seem to be turning things around. In his inaugural post here at FB&G, he looks at the team’s young core and the pressure they face to be impact players right away. You can follow Anthony on twitter @AnthonyIrwinNBA.

Think back on NBA history. Try to remember rookies who stepped in and immediately altered their franchise’s outlook.

Prospects who had early success like James Worthy, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant joined at least borderline title teams. Tim Duncan may have to a certain extent, though he did so mostly because of some pretty ridiculous luck. Some might mention Michael Jordan, though he didn’t reach the second round of the playoffs until his fourth year, enduring two sweeps along the way. Even LeBron James failed to make the playoffs in his first two seasons and was eliminated early in his third trip to the postseason before finally famously taking the world by storm in his fourth.

The lesson: entrusting the entire organization’s outlook to a rookie without much help from elsewhere on the roster isn’t ideal and rarely works out for either side.

Next season, the Lakers’ young core of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle look forward to something no Lakers rookie has ever gone through before: the pressure of immediately altering the course of an entire organization. Will the pressure make diamonds, or crush an exciting group of kids under it completely? The Lakers desperately hope for the former as all season, you can imagine potential free agents will be watching from afar.

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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’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.