Tag:Kobe Bryant
Posted on: December 17, 2009 3:04 pm
 

Lakers' first turbulence of the season

After playing 17 of their first 21 games at home, the Lakers were due for some adversity. This wasn't the kind they were looking for, however.

Things didn't get dicey until after the defending champs won their second straight road game in Milwaukee Wednesday night, thanks to Kobe Bryant's buzzer-beater in overtime. After the team's equipment truck broke down four times on the drive from Chicago earlier in the day, things only got worse on the flight from Milwaukee to Newark, N.J.

"The plane is shaking, and seems to be blowing all over the place," team broadcaster John Ireland wrote in his blog. "The worst turbulence we’ve had in three years. People are saying things like, 'I love you, man,' and they’re only half-kidding. All of the traditional in-air card games are stopped, and Lakers PR Director John Black blurts out: 'I want to apologize to everybody that I’ve yelled at during my career.' If you know John Black, you know this is something he would absolutely never say unless he thought that plane was in serious trouble."

The plane eventually landed safely in Newark at 2:30 a.m. ET Thursday. For believers in the supernatural, this transpired after the team had spent a grand total of three hours in the Pfister Hotel -- the oldest hotel in Milwaukee, which also is rumored to be haunted. At 3:15 a.m., the Lakers checked into their hotel in Manhattan.

"Three cities, two games, six bus rides, a haunted hotel, a broken luggage truck and near-crash landing," Ireland wrote.

Wisely, Phil Jackson gave the players Thursday off.
Category: NBA
Posted on: December 16, 2009 12:44 pm
 

T-Mac returns, but for who? For what?

CHICAGO -- Tracy McGrady returned to the Houston Rockets Tuesday night, and the fans cheered. T-Mac hit a 3-pointer, his only points during an eight-minute stint, and all was right in Rocket Land again. Right?

No, not so much.

McGrady's comeback is only part of a larger plan to increase his minutes and prove his worth to a team willing to take a chance on his once-breathtaking ability to score and benefit from his $23 million expiring contract at the same time. The Rockets were 14-10 this season without Yao Ming and McGrady, and now the only question is how long they'll have to keep up the charade until McGrady is in good enough condition to help another team.

"The plan is to increase his minutes because they’re gonna trade him," said a person familiar with the Rockets' plans. "I know they are. It doesn’t do them any good to have him playing eight minutes a game on that contract. They’ll find somebody, and there are plenty of teams that are interested, in spite of the contract."

In fact, there will be plenty of teams interested because of that contract. McGrady's $23 million salary comes with two built-in perks: It comes off the books on July 1, 2010, making it a vehicle for clearing cap space for the highly anticipated free-agent signing period, and it's 80 percent insurance-protected. The insurance provision already has kicked in, since McGrady missed 41 consecutive games during his recovery from microfracture knee surgery. The Rockets, or McGrady's new team, would receive 80 percent of his per-game salary for any games he misses the rest of this season.

Any number of teams desperate for short-term scoring punch while they prepare for a 2010 spending spree would be obvious fits; the Bulls and Knicks are at the top of my list. The Heat reportedly also are intrigued by McGrady, and team president Pat Riley is said to be closely monitoring T-Mac's progress.

On Wednesday, I brought all of this information to someone who is personally invested in McGrady's success -- Tim Grover, the renowned trainer at Attack Athletics on the West Side of Chicago. Grover famously trained Michael Jordan and has recently worked with such stars as Kobe Bryant, Gilbert Arenas, and McGrady. Grover wouldn't speculate on the Rockets' motives with regard to T-Mac, but said McGrady's debut Tuesday night was "long overdue."

"I wasn’t down in Houston, and I don’t know what the situation was or why they felt they needed to hold him out this long," Grover said. "Obviously, they had their reasons. They must have found something they wanted to be cautious with. The end result is we're happy to have him back on the floor."

Grover didn't merely help McGrady recover from microfracture surgery, which despite its name is a major procedure requiring months and months of rehab. He reinvented McGrady's body, which had no core strength when he got to Grover's gym.

"We took care of every single issue that he ever had -- the knee, the back, everything that’s ever bothered him in the past," Grover said. "We realigned his body and balanced everything out and made it much stronger and got a lot of his explosiveness back. Now getting back mentally 100 percent is the challenge. And the only way to do that is go out there and compete against NBA players."

At least McGrady is doing that now. Though in a perfect world, he won't be doing it in a Rockets jersey for much longer.
Posted on: November 16, 2009 7:48 pm
 

Iverson: What's next?

Now that Allen Iverson's career with the Memphis Grizzlies has come to its predictable end, the question is: What about the rest of his career?

Is there any career left?

Crickets were all I heard in my admittedly unscientific polling of NBA front office executives Monday night as to where Iverson might go next. Nowhere for a while, seems to be the consensus. But at some point, something will happen -- an injury, for example -- and A.I. will be back in play.

"Down the road, I think so," one front-office executive said. "I say someone will take the plunge."

But who? Depends on the circumstances. And if we've learned anything from Iverson's two most recent basketball experiences, any team picking up the phone had better be doing it for the right reasons. Iverson has made it quite clear he does not view himself as a bench player, even though I believe that's a role he could've thrived in with a contending team. But if there was ever an NBA player who was built to play one way, and one way only, it was Iverson. He's not changing.

Neither I nor the basketball minds I consulted can see any viable fit for Iverson at the moment. But things change. People get hurt. Championship contenders get anxious, and teams on the cusp of making the playoffs get dazzled by the potential revenue from a few home playoff dates. As I said, though: Proceed with extreme caution.

While still with the Pistons, Iverson said last season that he'd retire before ever coming off the bench for another team. He has remained true to the spirit of that threat. And indeed, retirement may turn out to be his only option. Does anyone see Iverson as the mercenary type who'd go get lost in the oblivion of some European league just to continue playing basketball? Not me. He loves basketball, but he loves being the center of attention. Starting and scoring and trying to do the things he's done for 13 years is what drives him, not merely lacing up his sneakers just for the sake of it.

I leave you with a scenario that is purely speculation, but it's speculation offered by an Eastern Conference front office source, so it has merit from that standpoint. It's also a scenario that I'd pay to see happen, as someone who has followed Iverson from his very first significant moment on an NBA court -- the rookie game at the '97 All-Star weekend in Cleveland.

What if the Lakers at some point in the next few months become afraid of the fact that Derek Fisher isn't getting any younger? What if they come to realize that Jordan Farmar is never going to be a big-minute option at point guard on a championship contending team? What if the stars aligned for Iverson and Kobe Bryant, who came into the league together and dueled famously in that All-Star rookie game, to go out together, too?

I'm not saying it's likely, or any more likely than another scenario that might present itself. But Iverson playing with Kobe and Ron Artest? Iverson being coached by Phil Jackson? Who among us wouldn't want to see that happen? Count me in. And in the meantime, don't hold your breath waiting for another team to make the same mistake Memphis made. 

Maybe I'm a hopeless holdover from the NBA that Iverson helped create after the 76ers made him the No. 1 overall pick way back in 1996. Maybe I'm not ready to see his career come to this kind of unceremonious end. But I'm not ready to say we've seen the last of the little fella with the cornrows. Retirement doesn't suit him any more than Memphis did. 

Somebody will take the plunge. They always do.
 

Posted on: September 15, 2009 6:41 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2009 10:44 pm
 

Nellie ... I mean, NBA ... fines Jackson (UPDATE)

Stephen Jackson's $25,000 fine for "public statements detrimental to the NBA" would be funny if it weren't so bogus in a fun police sort of way.

First, if $25,000 fines were assessed for all statements detrimental to the NBA, I'd be in trouble. Also, the world would be without poverty. All that fine money donated to good causes would be enough to feed everyone.

Second, I realize that technically players aren't allowed to publicly request trades. But really, what else would anyone write or talk about in the month leading up to the trade deadline if that rule were enforced in the strictest sense? The league's press release reminds us that Ron Artest was fined in 2005-06 for publicly requesting a trade. OK, that's one down and about 199 players to go.

I don't recall Kobe Bryant getting fined for his numerous public trade requests in the summer of 2007. (He wasn't.) Memory doesn't serve me on whether Allen Iverson was fined for demanding a trade in Philadelphia during the 2006-07 season. The league's thinking is that those players didn't directly, explicitly, and in so many words ask to be traded. But everyone knew what they were doing. (In Iverson's case, one theory is that he didn't go to the media with his trade demand; he went to the team and it leaked to the media. In Kobe's case, the official explanation for why he wasn't fined was that he recanted so quickly after making the trade demand.) 

This is all kind of silly, anyway. Overall, I'm OK with the fine -- as long as we call this what it is. It seems to me that the NBA is fining Jackson so that coach Don Nelson doesn't have to. Nellie doesn't want to cross one of his best players, and this way, Jackson can be mad at the NBA and not his coach. Makes sense to me.

One more thing: I don't understand how publicly requesting to be traded is detrimental to the NBA. Isn't that part of what makes the NBA fun?

UPDATE: Upon further reflection, here's the other side of that argument: In the year leading up to the most recent collective bargaining agreement, which was ratified in 2005, whiny players making public trade demands had become somewhat of an epidemic. So the league warned the players' union that it was going to begin cracking down on such statements, arguing that they hurt the image of the league. A few selfish, bratty players were painting the entire league with that brush. Now, when Jackson's fine seems to come out of nowhere, maybe that's because the league has been successful in curbing the public sniping. Me? I still find it fun.
Posted on: July 22, 2009 11:34 am
 

Time to re-sign, Lamar

A few weeks ago when Ron Artest decided to sign with the Lakers, one of the first things out of his mouth was this: "I know Lamar Odom, so that's pretty cool."

Artest and Odom have known each other since they were kids growing up in Queens, playing in the playgrounds and on AAU teams. As much as Artest wanted to sign with the Lakers -- even saying he'd "play there for nothing" -- it is unfathomable that he would've made such a bold career move without knowing L.O. would be on board.

This is why the posturing, the rejected offers, and the offers taken off the table over the past few weeks have been so puzzling. Well, puzzling isn't the right word. I never -- ever -- begrudge athletes, entertainers, finance people, or anybody else when they try to get paid. That is their right and that is how the game is played. An athlete's career is a nanosecond, and they should make as much money as humanly possible. You would do the same thing. So would I.

But the time has come for Odom and his agent, Jeff Schwartz, to recognize that the market is what it is for a player who might just be the best sixth man in the NBA -- but one who, nonetheless, has never made so much as an All-Star team or led the league in any major statistical category. Odom wears his heart on his sleeve and the address of the South Jamaica home where he grew up on the tongues of his sneakers. The dirty secret that Lakers management has known throughout this process is that Odom's heart is in L.A. That's where he and his sneakers belong, too.

Miami? Nice place. No state income tax. Great teammate to play with in Dwyane Wade. But adding Odom wouldn't put the Heat any closer to a title than the Lakers would be if they re-signed him. Portland? The Blazers certainly have the cap space after losing out on Hedo Turkoglu and Paul Millsap, but Portland doesn't feel like the right fit for Odom.

In my mind, the only place besides L.A. that would've made sense for Odom was Boston. But the Celtics struck early in the free-agent period and signed Rasheed Wallace for a fraction of what Odom is seeking.

There will be no hard feelings on either side when, I predict, Odom relents and accepts a three-year deal from the Lakers for somewhere north of $30 million. Derek Fisher is on record saying, "We want him back badly and I hope we can accomplish that in the next couple days." Kobe Bryant is on record saying he's "optimistic" that Odom will return to the Lakers. It is time for those recruiting efforts and optimism to become reality.

Some people whose names end in two G's don't like Lamar Odom. They're stuck in their wistful thinking about how good he could've been if he'd applied himself or if he wanted to be one of the top five players of his era. Odom certainly has that kind of talent. But he was born to be a wingman, and life's challenges have only solidified that niche for him. The Lakers are the perfect team for him, and he for them. It's time to stop posturing and put pen to paper with the Lakers. I refuse to believe that Fisher, Bryant, and Artest will let him do anything different. If Odom knows what's good for him -- if he knows where he's wanted and where he belongs -- then he'll listen.

Posted on: July 3, 2009 4:33 pm
 

Phil Jax coming back

Phil Jackson will return to coach the Lakers next season to make a run at his 11th NBA title with Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest.

"After consulting with Lakers team internist Dr. John Moe, I feel confident that I can gainfully pursue an NBA season with another long playoff postseason," Jackson said in a statement posted on Lakers.com. "All things point to go."

Jackson, 63, had another year left on his contract at about $12 million but had a window of several weeks after the NBA Finals to notify Lakers management if he would fulfill the deal. Jackson has undergone two hip replacement operations and has been concerned for several years about the wear and tear of traveling for a full 82-game season and the playoffs. That's why Jackson raised the possibility of only coaching home game next season and turning the reins to assistant Kurt Rambis for road games. The idea was quickly rejected by the Lakers.

It was clear Thursday when Artest announced his intentions to sign with the Lakers after speaking with Jackson that the NBA's career leader with 10 titles would be back.

I have two thoughts: 1) Nobody walks away from $12 million these days. Not even with a limp. And 2) With the unpredictable Artest on the team, Phil will earn every dollar. And he might just earn his 11th ring.
Posted on: July 2, 2009 6:56 pm
Edited on: July 3, 2009 2:17 am
 

Artest says he's signing with Lakers (UPDATE)

Shaq can have LeBron. Ron Artest says he'll take Kobe.

Artest, whose versatility and toughness have made him one of the most coveted and combustible players in the NBA, told CBSSports.com Thursday that he's signing with the Lakers.

"I'm definitely going to L.A. -- to sign, yeah," Artest said in a phone interview. "Lakers, Lakers, Lakers. I'm in L.A. right now."

Artest said he met with Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss Thursday and previously had spoken with Lakers coach Phil Jackson. He was en route to his financial manager's office, where he planned to huddle on the phone with his agent, David Bauman, to finalize details.

Artest's exuberance -- he spent the whole summer in L.A., including several appearances at Lakers home games during the NBA Finals -- got ahead of the process a bit. Other teams that made overtures for Artest -- including the Cavaliers -- have not yet been notified that Artest is signing with the Lakers. (Consider them notified.) Bauman has spoken with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, and a person with knowledge of the negotiations told CBSSports.com that Artest agreed to a five-year deal for the full mid-level exception -- about $33 million. It's the same deal that Houston agreed to with Trevor Ariza, who swaps cities with Artest.

"I don't really care about the money," Artest said. "I'll play there for nothing. ... L.A. was very interested in me, and they got me."

UPDATE: Lakers spokesman John Black declined to comment on Artest's assertion, but another person with knowledge of the situation corroborated Artest's account that he will sign with L.A. pending the passing of the weeklong moratorium on player movement, which expires July 8.

Only 24 hours earlier, the buzz was focused on Artest joining LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal in Cleveland in what would've made a potent Big Three on the shores of Lake Erie. It would've been, well, eerie, too: Artest's internal combustion engine, combined with LeBron's exquisite dominance and Shaq's alpha-male, all-around Shaq-ness would've been something to see.

But Artest said talks with Cleveland "never got that far." Told that Cleveland, by all accounts, had extreme interest, Artest said, "I don't know how extreme. I love the Cleveland Cavaliers, though. I love LeBron and Coach (Mike) Brown and Shaq."

But what he really loves is L.A.

"L.A. is what it is," Artest said. "I've been here for the whole summer, and it's pretty good. It's good for me. I know Lamar Odom, so that's pretty cool."

Artest spoke as though Odom would return to the Lakers to join Artest and Kobe Bryant for another title run. Although the Spurs and several other teams were interested in Odom, the Lakers have the inside track. L.A.'s other free agent, Trevor Ariza, agreed Thursday to sign with Houston for the same mid-level deal Artest got from the Lakers.

UPDATE:
The addition of Artest is a coup for the defending champion Lakers, who have faced the prospect of trying to retain their own free agents, Odom and Ariza, and have seen other contenders make major efforts to improve. Most notably, the Celtics dispatched their Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce, along with coach Doc Rivers and managing partner Wyc Grousbeck to Detroit on Thursday to offer free agent Rasheed Wallace a mid-level contract. Cleveland's acquisition of Shaq put the Lakers, Celtics, and Magic on notice that the Cavaliers were making a serious push for a title next season. The Cavs' pursuit of Wallace, Artest, and Ariza signaled that they weren't finished after the pre-draft trade for Shaq.

"I talked to Coach Phil, and I was happy to talk to him," Artest said. "Big fan of Coach Phil. My agent talked to Kupchak, and I met with Dr. Buss. I'm very, very excited."

 

Posted on: June 30, 2009 9:00 pm
 

Kobe extension?

Kobe Bryant will be a Laker for one more year. At least.

With Bryant, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. So the fact that Bryant apparently is allowing the deadline for invoking his early termination option for the 2009-10 season pass without a whimper -- or, more importantly, without a letter sent by certified mail -- only means there will be more drama next summer.

Or does it?

First, the news: As of 5 p.m. PT, Bryant's camp had not officially notified the Lakers that he was invoking the early termination clause. Bryant's contract stipulates that the notice has to be sent by certified mail (as in all such cases) and by the end of the day in Los Angeles. He only had to notify the Lakers if he was leaving. The Lakers interpret the timing of this deadline as midnight L.A. time, but that's after the midnight ET start of the free-agent negotiating period. Either way, Bryant apparently is true to his statement during the NBA Finals, when he said his contract situation "won't be an issue."
 
Now what? Bryant has a player option after next season, and one option would be to decline it and join the free-agent class of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in 2010. But one league source suggested Tuesday night that Bryant might consider signing an extension with the Lakers this summer, which would end the drama that has accompanied much of his Hollywood career. A third possibility is to play two more years for the Lakers and take it from there.

Under normal circumstances, Bryant would want to maintain leverage by keeping the 2010 player option in hand. But with the salary cap expected to decline considerably next season, Bryant actually would get less money by opting out next summer and signing somewhere else than he would by signing an extension with the Lakers this summer. Something to think about. Just remember that this is Kobe, and he lives for leverage.

As beneficial as it would be to Bryant to sign an extension with the Lakers this summer -- assuming they can satisfy him by re-signing free agents Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza and bringing back coach Phil Jackson for another year -- it's difficult to imagine Bryant giving up leverage. How could he have a say about Jackson's successor and the direction of the franchise if he's already signed what surely will be his final contract?

Some things about Bryant never change. It's always every bit as complicated as it is interesting.

Category: NBA
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com