Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe’s comeback

Perhaps one of the most durable players in the history of the NBA made his long-awaited (sorry, that’s a ridiculous thing to say when a guy has missed eight months with a ruptured achilles tendon) comeback last weekend against the Toronto Raptors, the team he famously put 81 points on 22/1/2006:

Last Sunday he was a bit more subdued, playing 28 minutes and going 2-9 for 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in a loss.  He had 20 against Phoenix two nights later, also in a loss, then 21 on Saturday in a win over Charlotte.  What was significant about the Charlotte performance was that it came on the second half of a back-to-back.  Last night, his fifth game back, he had 8 points but went  4-14 from the field.

He’s 40% from the field so far, but only 13.3% from three.  He is also averaging 6.8 assists so far in his comeback which is quite a significant stat given the perception from most (myself included) that this season was going to be about him pushing towards the NBA’s all-time points record.  Of course 4-14 rather supports that theory, doesn’t it?

Here is a video of his performance against Phoenix, including an impressive dunk for a guy of 35 with 1459 career games under his belt:

After the Charlotte win, Bryant commented that the goal of winning a championship hadn’t changed.  The Lakers are 11-13 and five games back in the Pacific Division.  Teams in the west have started the season strongly, notably the 21-4 Portland Trailblazers and the  19-5 San Antonio Spurs.  Even the “tanking” Phoenix Suns are 14-9 and have been playing very well.

It will be very tricky for the Lakers to even make the playoffs this season, even though we can probably quite safely assume that several of the teams currently above the Lakers in the standings will fall away as the season progresses.  The Lakers still have a lot of quality in their squad, but right up to the point that Kobe signed his massive new contract they looked prepared to see out this season and rebuild over the offseason.

http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/18kj5q1ha9eybjpg/k-bigpic.jpg

Kobe coming back ensures that the Lakers will at least be interesting and it is frankly incredible to see a guy of his age and with as many miles on the clock as he has performing at what one cannot argue is anything but an elite level.  A few more 4-14’s however, and the experiment might start to look a little foolish.

Will Michael Jordan Ever be Able to Improve one of the NBA’s Worst Franchises?

Hear the words “greatness” and “athlete” and who do you think of? For me, it is Michael Jordan, the former star of the Chicago Bulls. These days, he is a majority owner and head of basketball operations for the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, winners of 21 games during the 2012-2013 season. He has been with the organization since 2006.

Who could forget Jordan’s Hall-of-Fame-speech pronouncement that maybe someday he would decide to play the game again at 50 years old. If anyone would be crazy and competitive enough to do something like that, it would be Jordan. Well, last year it happened. Turning 50, that is. And of course, it sparked rumors, as crazy as they may have seemed, about a potential comeback. ESPN ran this fascinating piece, which claimed that Jordan can still hold his own in one-on-one match-ups against Bobcat players, but that the problem is recovering from it the next day. Ultimately, the comeback never happened.

Jordan still hooping at 50

So how easily transferable is greatness on the court to greatness in other areas, specifically, the front office? Well, it’s certainly not unprecedented. Larry Bird had some success with it in the Indiana Pacers‘ organization. Or how about Jerry West with the Los Angeles Lakers? But for whatever reasons, having Jordan around definitely hasn’t meant automatic (or even long-term) success for the Bobcats. Is there still hope?

The Bobcats have shown a little more fight in jumping out to a 5-6 start with wins against bigger-market teams like Boston and New York. The jury is still out on Indiana product and off-season lottery pick Cody Zeller, controversial decision in its own way, who is averaging just over five points and just under four rebounds in 17 minutes of work per contest.

Cody Zeller

In the early-going of the 2013-2014 season, the Bobcats have scored the basketball in a very balanced way, but they don’t seem to have much in the way of a single star who might be able to carry them to something as dreamlike as a playoff birth. Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Ramon Sessions, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Jeff Taylor are all averaging double figures in scoring, with Josh McRoberts right under. Jefferson has played sparingly due to an ankle injury.

If you’re looking for a model for what the organization seems to be trying to do — create a deep nucleus of young talent — you might look to the Pacers rather than the Heat. Which is interesting, considering the magnitude of Jordan’s own talent and stardom during his heyday. It is probably too early in the rebuilding process to expect the playoffs, but being consistently more competitive would be a good goal. It is fair to take the “long view” here, but Jordan isn’t exactly new to his role, so patience is surely waning in Charlotte.

On Television: Basketball Games of the Week

Another basketball week is upon us, and with both the NCAA and NBA action in full steam, there is plenty of stiff competition that is worthy of your viewing pleasures, starting with this week’s “Game of the Week” and moving into several noteworthy “Honourable Mentions.”

GAME OF THE WEEK: 

Tuesday, March 12, 12:30 a.m. GMT

NBA, Oklahoma City Thunder at St. Antonio Spurs on ESPN

This game is about Old versus New, wisdom versus raw talent, Tim Duncan versus Kevin Durant. What more could we want? This will be the third time this season these two powerhouses go head to head, with the home teams winning the previous two. Both of these two teams are currently running away with their divisions, and there is only a one-win difference between the two of them with San Antonio on top. 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: 

Friday, March 15, 11:00 p.m. GMT

NBA, Los Angeles Lakers at Indiana Pacers on ESPN

The Pacers have been one of this year’s pleasant surprises, playing through the departure of the organisation’s president, Larry Bird, after last season, and playing without star shooter Danny Granger’s injury for most of the season. The Pacers still sit comfortably atop the NBA’s Central Division. The Lakers, on the other hand, represent one of the NBA’s biggest disappointments this season. With a roster full of star power, they have so failed to gel that one coach lost his job early on, showing just how desperate Los Angeles is to win now. But led by Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have won seven of nine, and you can’t really count them out until the math eliminates them.

Make sure and tune in to the last ever Big East Tournament as we know it!

Make sure and tune in to the last ever Big East Tournament as we know it!

 

Tuesday-Saturday, March 12-16

NCAA, Big East Tournament on ESPN America

The Big East Tournament, housed at New York’s Madison Square Garden, has become must-see television in recent years. Who could forget Louisville winning four games in four days a year ago? Or Connecticut’s successful run through the tournament, propelling them to a national championship in 2011? Georgetown is this year’s top seed, but if recent years are any indicator, anyone in about the top eight could make a run. 

Friday-Saturday, March 15-16

NCAA ACC Tournament on ESPN America

Duke or North Carolina? Or could it be Miami, this year’s surprise regular season winner? Or maybe North Carolina State? Tune in and find out! 

Los Angeles Lakers Hire the Wrong Coach (Again)

After offseason pickups of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the already-talented Los Angeles Lakers were expected to compete with the Miami Heat and others as a championship contender. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol already led a franchise that has won five championships since 2000. Make no mistake, these Lakers may still make noise during the 2012-2013 season, but its beginnings have not been rosy.

Was Mike Brown given enough time to get the Lakers playing well together?

Earlier this week, the Lakers revealed just how short of a leash former head coach Mike Brown had, firing him after a 1-4 start. That decision in and of itself seems questionable enough, considering even the Heat did not win a championship during their first season with Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Cultivating teamwork among big names and egos takes time, even in our results-now culture.

But if Brown really was the wrong guy for the job, the Lakers have only themselves to blame for the fiasco they’ve created as an organisation. Brown was an interesting hire back in May of 2011 when they signed him to a four-year, $18 million dollar deal. He’d certainly won his share of games coming in, but his biggest professional achievement had been taking a Lebron-James-led Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007, a series in which they got swept by the San Antonio Spurs.

During Brown’s only full season as the Laker’s head coach, they finished 41-25 during a strike-shortened season. In the second round of the playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder bounced the Lakers, 4-1.

It’s worth mentioning that the Lakers went 2-0 with interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff. But then came the most interesting part of this story: the Lakers’ decision to hire Mike D’Antoni instead of NBA and Lakers’ legend, Phil Jackson.  Jackson, who was contemplating coming out of retirement, was reportedly “stunned” by the Lakers’ decision to go with D’Antoni.

He thought the job had been his if he wanted it, and who could blame him? Known as “the Zen Master” for his unorthodox methods, Jackson has won six championships with the Chicago Bulls and five with the Lakers. If you can get Jackson, why do you select anyone else? There is no one comparable to him in the league or anywhere else.

This is not a knock on D’Antoni, who had plenty of success with Nash in Phoenix. But let’s be honest, Nash of 2012 is not the same as Nash of 2007. Not to mention, D’Antoni has never won a championship, and his stint in New York was nothing to write home about.

If you have a chance to get the Zen master then why not hire him?

So why did the Lakers choose D’Antoni? It’s a good question with an answer I can’t quite pinpoint. According to ESPN, “Jackson’s triangle offense was seen as a benefit for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol but not as conducive to the rest of the players on the roster — namely point guard Steve Nash and center Dwight Howard.”

But something about the explanation doesn’t quite add up. Jackson has experience managing the diverse personalities of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O’Neal, Gasol, and yes, Bryant, who is–it’s worth mentioning–still the most important player on the Lakers. You’re telling me he couldn’t adapt his tactics to Nash and Howard? Come on, he’s been around the block a few times.

With Jackson, there’s little doubt in my mind that they would have seriously contended this season. With D’Antoni, they may still make the playoffs, but I bet they’ll be an early exit.