1. Amar'e Stoudemire made the media rounds this week promoting his new book. He's talked a lot about being receptive to implementing the post game he learned this summer from Hakeem Olajuwon. Would that help Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks' floor-spacing a bit? And why do I keep coming back to "how good would this team be running the triangle?"
KB: Amar'e being more of a traditional post presence would certainly cut down on the redundancy between him and Anthony as isolation players in the mid-post. But it also might muck things up, as Melo really is the Knicks' best post player, and as you saw with Team USA, he's at his best when he fights for position on the low block and goes to work there -- as opposed to posting up at the 3-point line and going iso. But Amar'e is a multi-talented offensive player, and if he adds a low-post/back-to-the-basket element to his already devastating pick-and-pop talents, it would be interesting. And yes, for all these reasons, the triangle would've been an ideal system for the Knicks to run. Alas, they will stick with isolation while Phil Jackson remains a free agent.
2. Kobe Bryant turned 34 this week and has spent nearly half of his life in the league. Give us a Kobe story you think encapsulates him.
KB: Good question. I have too many Kobe memories for a Friday 5, and have enjoyed chronicling his career as much as any athlete I've ever covered. My introduction to him was at All-Star weekend in Cleveland in 1997, when he battled fellow '96 draftee Allen Iverson in the rookie game. (Iverson got the MVP nod over Bryant, and was roundly booed.) Even then, Bryant seemed to understand and appreciate how important it was to acknowledge being around greatness.
That was the All-Star weekend when the NBA unveiled its 50 Greatest Players, and I'd venture a guess that Bryant was the only rookie who knew something about each and every one of them. He's been a sponge for the history of the game for going on 17 years.
There isn't really one Kobe story that encapsulates him because his personality has evolved over the years -- and even evolves from day to day, depending on his mood. I'll just say this, and please don't take it as a selfish point, because Bryant's accessibility to writers and reporters has certainly made my job more enjoyable and worthwhile. Bryant is old-school in a lot of ways, and one of those ways is reflected in his willingness to engage reporters one-on-one and have real conversations -- not pre-packaged, handler-fed promotional powwows at an interview podium.
Cynics would call Bryant's dealings with certain reporters self-serving, but the way he's approachable by media people he knows and has developed relationships with is a refreshing throwback to the days when the biggest stars weren't hidden behind impenetrable walls of PR handlers and spokespeople. I wish more of the modern NBA stars were approachable that way. As someone who has been fortunate enough to make a living chronicling the lives and words of athletes, I appreciate those who make the job more interesting. Ultimately, it makes those particular athletes more interesting to you, the customers. Bryant has sometimes crossed the line in the way he has hand-picked certain writers to get his points across, but that's the nature of the business. For the most part, he's always gotten it and still gets it today. I'm puzzled why so many of the new generation of stars don't.
3. We previewed the Central Division this week, and with Chicago hedging its bets on Rose and the Pacers as strong or stronger, can Indiana steal the division next year?
KB: I think the Bulls pretty much conceded the division when they let three solid rotation players go, knowing Rose would be out until March or so. They saw the bigger picture, which I applauded them for. So yes, an improved Indiana team could very well be the last team standing in the Central, FWIW (i.e. not much).
4. The top six or seven seeds in both conferences are virtual locks (if healthy). But Milwaukee, Detroit, Toronto, Atlanta, Washington, and Cleveland in the East andMinnesota, Phoenix, Houston and Golden State in the West all should improve. I know it's the offseason so it's the season of hope, but we could be looking at very few truly God-awful teams next year, right?
KB: Oh, never underestimate the NBA's ability to give us God-awful. Some of last year's God-awful teams will be better (most notably the Wizards, Bobcats, Nets and Hornets). There probably won't be a threat to the Sixers' 9-73 mark for all-time badness, but there will be plenty of ugly nonetheless. In my view, next season will be sort of a transitional step to the more balanced playing field the owners envisioned during last year's labor talks. That siad, it can't and won't all happen at once.
5. My brother-in-law, who's a CrossFit trainer, was in town this week, regaling me with tales of joyful torture. What's the toughest CrossFit workout you can remember?
KB: For me, Fran -- the baseline CrossFit workout consisting of 21 thrusters (95 pounds), 21 pullups; 15 thrusters, 15 pullups; nine thrusters, nine pullups -- is the gold standard for pain. I'm getting better at it, but it's a killer in terms of how much huffing and puffing is involved. I've never tried a "burpee mile," but that sounds like pure hell. Check back with me once I try that. I recently tried a workout for the first time that was devastating -- and took me more than 30 minutes to complete: nine rounds consisting of nine thrusters (95 pounds), nine burpees and nine pullups each round. I probably spent 10 of those 30 minutes doubled-over with my hands on my knees, but I'll be under 30 minutes next time.