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The Lakers and Little Jerry Seinfeld

Posted by on Jan 24, 2015 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

From my column on Sheridan Hoops, following Kobe’s injury. Fair to say, it’s time for the front office to embrace reality.

“There’s a moment in the classic 1997 episode of Seinfeld, “The Little Jerry,” when Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer are crammed into the back of Marcelino’s store, about to send Kramer’s rooster (which he named “Little Jerry Seinfeld”) into a cockfight.

Elaine, meanwhile, has been dating a man she thinks is bald by choice before learning he’s actually losing his hair. He asks her to marry him, before the follicular end comes.

“Well, it’ll be a couple of years before he’s completely bald,” Elaine says, considering the offer. “Those’ll be good times.”

“Marriage is a big step, Elaine. Your life’ll totally change,” Jerry replies.

Elaine pauses. “Jerry, it’s three-thirty in the morning. I’m at a cockfight. What am I clinging to?”

I mention this because for the Lakers, we’ve reached the end. It’s three-thirty in the morning, and they’re at a cockfight.

It’s time to stop clinging.”

Read the rest here.

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PODCAST! The new Kobe, CLE-OKC-NYK Trade, aging action heroes, Stuart Scott and more

Posted by on Jan 7, 2015 in Byron Scott, ESPN, free agency, Jeanie Buss, Jeremy Lin, Jim Buss, Jordan Hill, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Podcast | 3 comments

2015 is in full swing and while the Lakers don’t seem any closer to adding a sixth ring to Kobe’s finger (or even making the playoffs to create such an opportunity), the last several games have been nothing if not compelling. Is a legit sea change underway for The Mamba’s final days?

The show can be heard by clicking on the module, and a list of talking points can be found below. Among the high points:

  • OUR TOP STORY: What a difference three games off, sensibly reduced PT, and a change of deployment can make. After being driven nearly to the verge of collapse, Kobe Bryant is now playing fewer minutes, is functioning as the team’s primary facilitator, and is succeeding brilliantly in the new role. Will this change stick and if so, what are the potentially positive implications for the Lakers moving forward? What would have happened had he continued down the road traveled at the start of the season? (Here’s a  link to the piece I wrote a few years ago expressing concern Kobe could end his career like, as Chris Rock put it, “the old guy at the club.)
  • AROUND THE LEAGUE: We take a look at two recent big headlines. The second round of returns on All-Star voting reflects fans largely paying attention to the season… and that Chinese hoops fans enjoy voting, period. Bucks center Larry Sanders reportedly has lost interest in playing basketball, which is either great or horrible news for Milwaukee, depending on how you look at it.
  • “ALMOST TOP” STORY: Monday saw a huge three-way deal between the Cavaliers, Thunder and Knicks. Cleveland receives J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. OKC receives Dion Waiters. The Knicks receive a bunch of dudes subsequently cut for cap space, cap space and more cap space. How did each squad fare? And how does this blockbuster impact the Lakers?
  • NON-SPORTS STORY: There are reports of another “Rambo” movie in the works for Sylvester Stallone. At the risk of sounding like ageists, Sly seems a bit long in the tooth at 68 to be killing folks in the jungle. Then again, Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington have successfully aged into sexagenarian ass-kickers. Is there a difference? (Also, this is a link to the “Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period” podcast referenced during the show. Very funny and entertaining.)
  • PERSON OF INTEREST: We take a look at the life and legacy of ESPN anchor and personality Stuart Scott, who died Sunday after a long battle with cancer.
  • RECOMMENDED VIEWING: With award seasons in full swing, we each recommend a movie in the mix for Oscar nominations.
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PODCAST!!! Kobe Bryant’s minutes, Taylor Swift’s belly button, Bill Cosby and social media, Thanksgiving

Posted by on Nov 26, 2014 in Byron Scott, Chris Kaman, free agency, Jeanie Buss, Jerry Buss, Jim Buss, Justine Sacco, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Mitch Kupchak, Opinion | 2 comments

Fourteen games into the season, the Lakers are 3-11, with Kobe Bryant clearly gassed and the injury bug continuing to bite. (Poor Xavier Henry.) And as a gander at the schedule reminds, it’s gonna get a lot tougher before it gets even theoretically better.

Um… Happy Thanksgiving? (Unless you’re rooting for the Lakers to keep their lottery pick, in which case, Happy Thanksgiving!)

The show can be heard by clicking on the module, and below is a list of talking points. Among the highlights.

  • Fourteen games into the season, it’s grown clear Kobe Bryant is beyond exhausted upon averaging nearly 36 minutes per game at age 36 on the heels of two significant injuries. Byron Scott’s solution? Keep those minutes as is, but limit Kobe’s practice time. On several counts, this is a terrible approach that also perhaps speaks to the coach’s troubling mentality.
  • Once again, Kobe’s Kontract has become a topic of discussion. We explain why Bryant simultaneously has a point and misses the point while defending his salary.
  • We take a look at some big stories around the NBA. Nike tries to pull a fast one on Allen Iverson. Hornets Forward Jeff Taylor opts not to appeal his 24-game suspension for a domestic abuse incident. Chris Kaman doesn’t believe in Big Foot. (Seriously. He said this.) Can the Clippers and/or Cavaliers right the ship after a sluggish start?
  • In our new “Not Sports Story” segment, we break down Taylor Swift’s mysterious refusal to show her belly button. What’s up with that?
  • We continue with new segments, this one called “Person of Interest.” We take a look at the new-but-old allegations of Bill Cosby and sexual assault, and the way social media now completely dictates what collectively grabs our attention as a society.
  • It’s time for AAK!!! The theme? Thanksgiving! Will the Lakers finish with more wins than guests at the Kamenetzky dinner table on Thursday? Do the K Bros partake in Black Friday?  Which of us is the bigger eater and the bigger drinker during the holiday? How much do Kobe Bryant’s teammates get to eat while celebrating with The Mamba?
  • Finally, a new segment called “Mitch Kupchak explains something.”

Click above to play, or just download the show here. Hope you enjoy it. To subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, click here. You can also find us on TuneIn.com by heading here.

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How media makes playing with Kobe Bryant hard

Posted by on Nov 5, 2014 in Jeremy Lin, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis | 9 comments

Everyone knows playing with Kobe Bryant is difficult, but people tend to focus on those things related to his personality and playing style. Kobe demands hard work and total commitment, doesn’t trust easily, has the ball in his hands a lot, and so on.

Noted far less frequently are the ways in which Bryant’s presence over nearly two decades has Kobe-fied the city and media, and how that influences his teammates, both present and potential. Take this exchange with Jeremy Lin, following Tuesday’s loss at home to Phoenix:

The Lakers are a bad team off to a terrible start, and Lin hasn’t looked good (his mini-bounceback Tuesday notwithstanding). They’re all frustrated. But after the game, in which Kobe scored 39 points on 37 shots over 44 minutes – voluminous usage likely annoying teammates on one level or another, even if we all understand why Bryant might feel compelled to take this much on himself – the focus isn’t simply on Kobe. That’s to be expected. It’s about how much Kobe poured into the game. How hard Kobe worked. How Kobe gave it his all.

I wasn’t there, but have heard this done enough to know how common questions like these are, and more importantly, how they sound to the athlete. Allow me to translate:

What is asked: “Jeremy, Kobe played 44 minutes and scored 39 points. He’s 36 years old. What’s it like to see a guy like him give it his all and post big numbers, 19 years into his career?”

What he hears: “Jeremy, Kobe played 44 minutes and scored 39 points. He’s 36 years old. What’s it like to see a guy like him give it his all and post big numbers 19 years into his career because you guys around him are such untalented shitbox slack-asses he has no alternative?”

Nobody outworks Kobe, but Kobe isn’t the only player who works hard. Kobe has a remarkable tolerance for pain, but he’s not the only guy who plays hurt. The implication of questions like the one asked Lin isn’t simply that the other Lakers are failing themselves, their teammates, or the organization, but that they’re failing Kobe. And it’s insulting.

Five games in, the Lakers don’t have a problem with effort, but talent. Guys are doing what they can, they just can’t do enough. Most of the time, someone asks the question and Kobe’s teammate delivers the “right” answer, marveling at Kobe’s work ethic and effort, and the quote is there to fill whatever need. Occasionally, you get a less filtered answer like Lin’s.

This is part of the landscape for potential free agents coming to Los Angeles. Our collective perception of Lakers basketball and how players are supposed to be successful now reflects Kobe’s unique makeup, his accomplishments, and the mythology surrounding him. The annoyances might be minor individually (how I’d classify Tuesday’s postgame exchange) but they do add up, and make playing here less appealing. And for stars, constant comparisons to Kobe can be draining (and they won’t end just because he retires).

At this point, Bryant is a master of media, knowing exactly how to convey any message he feels necessary, whether publicly through Twitter, for example, or behind the scenes. He’s unafraid to play those cards. But the phenomenon I’m noting here isn’t really something he controls or instigates. It’s an evolution. Having someone like him in a city like L.A. on a franchise like the Lakers for so long with so much success can’t help but influence the culture.

But it’s real, and it matters.

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Kobe Bryant, the Lakers, and loyalty

Posted by on Nov 4, 2014 in Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Opinion | 2 comments

I love my wife.

I’m fortunate, too, to have a strong and (far as I know) happy marriage. Still, because it’s a marriage there are moments of frustration and tension. When they come, I still have no interest in leaving because I love my wife and live a far better life with her than without. But while that is the primary and overwhelming consideration, it’s not the only one. I wouldn’t do anything potentially jeopardizing access to my boys. Pushing 40 and off the market for a decade (sorry ladies), the idea of dating seems foreign and absurd. I don’t want to divide all our stuff in half, not that there’s that much of it. Independence, if I wanted it, comes with real costs.

Which brings me to Kobe Bryant.

Before the legs grew too long, Bryant shot down the (and I use this term in its loosest possible sense) “rumors” of potentially asking — or perhaps demanding — his way out of L.A., ostensibly to escape the brush fire quickly enveloping the 2014-15 season and end his career with a title opportunity.

Via Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

“I hear the chatter of Kobe should ask out and he should go and play for a contender in this latter stage of his career,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports. “But that’s not what I do. I’m extremely loyal to the Lakers… I believe in fighting through the tough times as well as enjoying the good times. It’s my responsibility to get us to be the best that we can be. It’s important that we approach that on a day-to-day basis.”

and…

“I’ve enjoyed a great amount of success here. You can’t just enjoy the successful times and then run away from the bad ones. No, I don’t even think about [departing]. I’m a Laker.”

There’s no reason to doubt his sincerity. Kobe should be loyal to the Lakers, supported for nearly two decades with aggressive roster building and about $280 million in salary, with another $25 mil on the way next season. When the Lakers had to choose between him and Shaquille O’Neal, they (rightly) chose Kobe. When Colorado happened, they stood by him. When he demanded trades to far flung former planets, the Lakers attempted to oblige him, but then quietly rode it out and eventually acquired Pau Gasol.

Everybody, from the organization to Bryant to Lakers fans, has been a huge winner in the relationship. It makes total sense for Kobe to stay, even if the team is losing. But his comments don’t provide a full view of the landscape. Bryant obviously understands the optics, and how awful it would look to force his way out after being given a $48.5 million contract before actually playing a game following his Achilles surgery. It’s a deal, after all, contributing to the predicament in which he currently finds himself.

(And no, I do not buy his explanation that the Lakers simply granted him this money. If there was no negotiation, it’s because the Lakers knew the numbers they had to hit to avoid any controversy. Whether they handled it properly is a separate debate.)

And where would he go? Yes, he’s looked good this year and still carries tremendous cache, but Kobe is nonetheless a 36-year old guard coming off two big injuries, with a massive cap number this year and next, for whom the Lakers would demand major assets in return, holding veto power over any deal potentially stripping his new team of too much stuff. For all the talk of New York being an ideal landing spot, with plenty of organizational familiarity in Phil Jackson upstairs and Derek Fisher on the sidelines (plus the sexiness factor of Kobe playing every night at The Garden), I don’t think the Knicks would actually pull the trigger. Phil has a plan. Giving up picks and young talent to have Kobe obliterate $25 million of his cap space next season isn’t part of it.

Particularly since Carmelo Anthony, Kobe, and J.R. Smith don’t make a likely championship trio, even in the East. Phil knows that, and more importantly, so does Kobe. His well-documented hyper-competitiveness notwithstanding, he’d recognize the brand and emotional connection built playing every year of his transcendent career with the same iconic franchise has more value than a very speculative shot at a sixth ring, even in New York.

And if not the Knicks, where? He’s extremely hard to trade, and the only thing more damaging to Kobe’s rep than forcing his way out of Los Angeles would be trying and failing.

For all the chest-puffing, social media driven, “Winning is the only thing” hyper-Lombardi-ism infecting our sports culture, there are still things we value as much as final scores. In different combinations for different situations, fair play, honesty, character, and loyalty all matter. Titles can be tainted should too many of those qualities be compromised in the process. Kobe might want more hardware, but doesn’t need it. Does a sixth ring really help Kobe’s legacy if brought by bailing on the Lakers? Is even a crack at the postseason enough to sacrifice everything else he’s built up?

In the end, the Lakers and Kobe are married to each other,* for better or for… well, this. When the two-year extension was offered and signed, both sides understood what could be coming. There would be attempts to improve the team, but they might not work. Fingers crossed, the Lakers might surprise people. But they might not, and the Lakers could not afford any heroics aimed at saving the end of the Kobe Era at the expense of whatever comes after. Kobe, eyes open, chose, deep continuity and money. The Lakers knew, and did the same. They didn’t offer Bryant that contract purely out of loyalty after years of success, after all. He keeps them relevant and brings income. They made PR calculations, too, particularly in the post-Dwight Howard aftermath.

Doesn’t devalue the loyalty the Lakers and Kobe are showing each other, but nobody should pretend it’s the only thing in play.

Maybe something comes along, changing the calculus for one side or the other. Maybe the perfect opportunity presents itself to give Bryant one last chance at a chip while helping the Lakers rebuild faster after he’s gone. More likely, though — much, much more likely — Bryant stays, ending his career in purple and gold, honored and revered for his accomplishments, just with less glory than everyone would have hoped.

*It can be argued, fairly easily really, a trade demand from Bryant — petitioning for a divorce, to flog the marriage metaphor that much more — does the Lakers a favor, since it takes the blame for ending the Kobe Era in L.A. off their hands. He, by definition, asked for it, and that’s the only way this process could start. But that’s a different discussion. 

 

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Kobe Bryant and control

Posted by on Oct 30, 2014 in Kobe Bryant | 1 comment

***LISTEN TO THE NEW PODCAST HERE***

Before the start of training camp, I wrote for The Cauldron at Medium.com about the need for Kobe Bryant to recognize the limits of his will if he wants to make it through the season successfully. No easy task for the most willful athlete of the last 20 years.

Following Tuesday’s loss to Houston, Kobe Bryant spoke at length about the need to let go of that which can’t be controlled. Some of it was in the context of Julius Randle and his devastating injury, but it’s no less true for everything else that will go on for Bryant and the Lakers this season.

I wrote about it here for SheridanHoops.com.

 

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