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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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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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Podcast! 2014-15 NBA and Lakers Season Preview!

Posted by on Oct 28, 2014 in Jeanie Buss, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Lakers Audio, LeBron James, Miami Heat, Mitch Kupchak, Nick Young, Opinion |

And so it begins!

All that was the preseason is gone, all that will be the regular season lay before us, kicking off Tuesday at Staples when the Lakers face Donatas Motiejunas (and Dwight Howard) and the Houston Rockets. What will the 2014-15 campaign bring, both in L.A. and across the Association? We break it down in our Big Season Preview, while also tackling a few important Lakers-related issues along the way.

Among the talking points:

  • Headlines! Slow going on contract negotiations for Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard. NBA owners reject lottery reform. Where do the Lakers land on SI.com’s entertainment index?
  • The end of Steve Nash.
  • Preseason wrap up. Where did the Lakers look encouraging, where were they discouraging, and can anyone around here play point guard for more than 20 minutes without hurting himself?
  • Jeanie Buss defends Kobe and the franchise.
  • 2014-15 NBA and Lakers Season Preview. Who wins the East? The West? The Larry O? All the major awards, plus over/under predictions on Lakers victories, MPG and games played for Kobe Bryant.
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PODCAST! NBA free agency, Jeanie’s mind games, Jason Kidd, sports Twitter Mt. Rushmore

Posted by on Jul 3, 2014 in free agency, Jeanie Buss, Jim Buss, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Lance Stephenson, LeBron James, Mitch Kupchak, Pau Gasol, Podcast | 4 comments

With the stroke of 12:01 am Eastern time on July 1, the calendar marked the official beginning of Silly Season! NBA free agency is upon us, a magical, glorious time filled with insane rumors, surprise signings, and head coaches flexing their muscles to join the Bucks. (I admittedly did not see the third item coming.) The Lakers are expected to be active participants in Silly Season, with several other high profile teams also looking to do damage. Let the madness begin!!!

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

  • With free agency now underway, folks like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Greg Monroe, Chandler Parsons, Eric Bledsoe and Lance Stephenson (among many others) are up for grabs. Who can the Lakers target? Who should the Lakers target? What constitutes “too long” or “too much money?”
  • Will Jeanie Buss engage in dirty pool to lure Melo away from her boo Phil Jackson?
  • How disastrous is the outcome if no A-List (Or even B+ List) name is added to the roster?
  • Reportedly, lower back pain relief
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    the Lakers are pitching heavy input on the new coach as a carrot to elite free agents. If a free agent were so inclined, he could really exercise his leverage by taking this to ridiculous extremes.
  • Seriously, Jason Kidd and the Milwaukee Bucks… What the hell?
  • AAK!!! What current NBA player would we most want on our side in a bar fight? Who would we etch into the “Sports Twitter” Mount Rushmore? Were BK and I to follow the Miami Heat template and form a Big 3 of sportswriters, who makes the cut?
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Reinvention will be the key skill for Lakers next hire

Posted by on May 3, 2014 in Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak, Opinion | 8 comments

(NOTE: Below is my column on the Lakers and their just-beginning search for a new coach, written for SheridanHoops.com…)

A fairly inclusive list of potential replacements for Mike D’Antoni, following his resignation as head coach of the Lakers earlier this week: John Calipari, Kevin Ollie, Byron Scott, Jeff Van Gundy, Stan Van Gundy, Derek Fisher, George Karl, Mike Dunleavy, Kurt Rambis, Lionel Hollins, Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, Steve Kerr, Ettore Messina…

Plenty of impressive names, but hardly reflective of some grand organizational philosophy on playing style or priorities beyond, as has been reported, to “make a splash.” 

It’s an expression that ought to make Lakers fans nervous, because it implies one big mission is to cleanse the fanbase’s collective palate after two failed coaching hires since Phil Jackson’s departure, and the bitter taste of the previous two seasons. As opposed to, you know, finding the best candidate for doing the job. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but the emphasis ought to be entirely on the latter, with the former as a byproduct.

Which gets to the big challenge facing Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak entering what will likely be a long process: It’s very difficult to match a coach to a team when there’s really no team to match him with. The Lakers have three guys under contract next season, one of whom may not actually be able to play (Steve Nash), another coming off two major injuries at age 36 and a six-game 2013-14 season (Kobe Bryant) and the third who is Robert Sacre (Robert Sacre).

While it would obviously be less surprising to see the Lakers reconstruct a high-end roster this summer than say, Milwaukee, odds favor next season’s team looking a lot like this year’s talent-thin polyglot of short term contracts designed to maintain maximum cap space going forward. So the squad Future Coach gets in his first year is likely to be vastly different than the one he has in 2015-16, and probably again in 2016-17.

And each of those teams will could have a vastly different mix of superstar ego and skill set. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe the first three seasons for L.A.’s next coach could play out something like this:

-Year 1, bad team orbiting around Kobe, cultivating a critically important #1 pick.

-Year 2, a better team orbiting around Kobe and The Team’s Next Star Acquisition, someone who may or may not mesh well with Bryant.

-Year 3, a still growing team, now without Bryant but folding in still more new players, and perhaps a second new superstar, who may or may not mesh perfectly with the one imported the year before.

I’ve long maintained the star L.A.’s next coach has to best mesh with isn’t currently on the roster. That doesn’t mean Kobe Bryant won’t present a massive challenge to D’Antoni’s successor. (After all, why should he get off easier?) There will be pressure, not just because of anything Kobe might say or do but the enormous capital he has among fans and his place in local basketball culture, to, if not conform to Kobe’s preferences on the floor, at the very least look like it. To some degree, you gotta kiss the ring.

(One line of thinking: You don’t give a player $48 million for two years and not tailor things to him. The other: You give a guy $48 million precisely so you don’t have to.)

Whoever coaches the Lakers next will obviously need the strength to work effectively with Kobe, handle the L.A. media and a very edgy legion of fans, and navigate what is likely to be a tough first season (this time without the lure of a guaranteed lottery pick at the end of the rainbow). From there, he’ll have to fold in new stars with new egos and skill sets, but with no way to effectively anticipate who those stars might be, because the NBA doesn’t work that way.

The team’s system could easily have to change three times in three years.

Everyone has an wish list for the next coach of the Lakers. Better defense, a system more tailored to Bryant’s skill set, savvier communication with the media and better communication in the locker room, cache potentially drawing free agents, and so on. But while all those things matter, the timing of D’Antoni’s resignation combined with the current state of the franchise mean the most important quality for the Lakers’ new sideline guru will be flexibility and a gift for reinvention.

There is no shortage of quality options, to be sure. But after botching their last two hires, even if they prioritize the right things, there’s no guarantee they’ll come up with the right fit, in part because anticipating what he’ll fit into is so difficult.

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