Also: Knicks still working on triangle, Q&A with Kevin Love & more
POSTED: Dec 8, 2014 10:29 AM ET
Kobe Bryant has not given up the fight as he leads the rebuilding Lakers and chases Michael Jordan.
He looked exhausted, like Willy Loman at the beginning of "Death of a Salesman".
"Just old," Kobe Bryant said Wednesday, with his bodyguards, as ever, by his side, as he prepared to go to work for the 1,484th time in his professional life -- if you also count the 220 playoff games in which he's played.
Think of that. A man plays 1,484 basketball games over 17-plus seasons, and in about 1,300 of those games (we're not counting his earliest iterations under Del Harris), he was expected to be the baddest man on the planet. He expected this, too.
Now, he's 36. He's no longer the baddest man on the planet; that man now plays in Cleveland, or Oklahoma City, depending on your opinion. But nobody asked him for his, of course.
There are different questions asked of Kobe Bean Bryant these days.
His Lakers are not only no longer elite, they're now one of the worst teams in the league. A hodgepodge of marginal NBA talent, they've been reduced to depending on the return of one Swaggy P, aka Nick Young, to even have a chance at being competitive. (And, to be fair to Swaggy, since he's been back, they have been.)
This is not what Bryant plays for. It's not what the organization he's called home for 18 years plays for. The Lakers don't hang division banners at Staples Center. And yet, Bryant plays on, not having uttered a peep of protest about his team's current state. (There are those, of course, who say -- anonymously, also of course -- that Bryant is a big part of the reason for the team's current state.)
He goes out, night after night, knowing that championships are no longer possible and losses quite likely, the same way Michael Jordan played two more years with the Wizards, the same way Larry Bird dragged his aching back out there for the Celtics, long after they were finished -- when the outside world thought them delusional, self-absorbed.
They always missed the point.
It is the act of playing itself that draws the greatest of the great back, often past their prime, when most everyone else has gone onto the next big thing. They continue at their craft, certain they have more to offer. They don't do it for the money; they're rich beyond their children's children's children's generation. They are likely better at this than anything else they will do in life.
"It's just a process," Bryant said last week. "It involves a lot more teaching. I'm a true competitor. When I say that, I mean that when things are difficult, I compete even harder. I don't run from that. That's not okay. You can't be competitive (just) when things are going well. When things are going badly you have to be equally competitive, even more so."
That Bryant is playing at all, after playing just six games last season before suffering a season-ending knee fracture -- which followed the torn Achilles at the end of the 2012-13 season -- is a testament to his legendary, insane work ethic. But as with Jordan, his motivations as his career nears its end still fire inside-out.
"He has challenges every year," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Monday morning. "I think his challenge in years past was solely on winning the championship. I think the last year or two, that has not changed, But because of the injuries to his knee and Achilles, that also turns into a formidable challenge. Yeah, I want to win a championship, but I've also had two major injuries. Can I get back to playing at a high level at my age? I think that's a challenge that fuels him as well. He's never been about one game or one week. I think as far as trying to continue to win, I think he's challenged to show that he can recover from his injuries and play at a high level. Some of this is beyond his control."
And so Bryant is tied with James Harden and Anthony Davis as the league's scoring leaders at 25.2 points per game. Because there are so few other credible options available to first-year coach Byron Scott, the Lakers' offense so far this season has been Bryant with the ball in his hands, shooting 22 times a night. It's hell on his field goal percentage, but it's also the only hope L.A. currently has of staying in games.
It's not the first time the Lakers have been in rebuild mode. They didn't make the playoffs in 2004-05 -- when Rudy Tomjanovich replaced Phil Jackson as coach, but didn't make it through the regular season. And after Jackson's return, L.A. was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round two straight years. But those years have been the exception.
And these are different financial times. With that enormous $4 billion local TV deal with Time Warner Cable dependent on the ratings that come with a winning team, and fans who pay huge dollars for season tickets at Staples, this cannot be a long-term rebuild, regardless of whether Bryant's involved.
"We all know that it's going to be a tough year and it's going to be a hard year, but we can still be competitive and we can still win basketball games," Scott said. "That's still our goal, and that's what we're going to continue to shoot for. But anybody who's been winning, who's won championships, when you lose, it should hurt. I think most of our guys in that room, I know (for) No. 24, it hurts. Because we end up texting each other almost every night, 'til like 2 in the morning, when I finally text him and say 'Go to bed.' 'Cause I'm hurting just like he's hurting. But that's the thing that I love about him."
In the meantime, Bryant chases individual history, which will become especially poignant this week.
GameTime: Fox Report
Rick Fox gives some great notes on his former teammate, Kobe Bryant, as he nears another scoring milestone to pass Michael Jordan.
Bryant begins play Monday just 62 points behind Jordan for third place on the NBA's all-time scoring list, beginning his final assault on the league's biggest individual statistical category.
If Bryant stays near his current pace for the rest of this season and next, he'll not only pass Jordan before his current deal is done, he'll start getting within striking distance of Karl Malone's 36,928 points, second on the all-time list. It will take more work than Bryant is currently under contract for to approach Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's NBA record of 38,387 points. (Bryant shared his feelings about passing Jordan, with whom he has a close relationship, in a solid bit of reporting last week by Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding.)
It has not been a topic of conversation in the locker room.
"When he does pass it," Kupchak said, "it's a testimony to consistency and playing at a high level for a long time. I think that's nice, but I think we all know that he would trade that for a team that competes for the playoffs or a championship."
Clearly, no matter his individual achievements, Bryant also knows this is not a season to scream and yell. These Lakers play hard almost every night, and on the nights when Young is also productive, they can play with most teams deep into the fourth quarter.
But then comes "Winnin' Time", as Magic Johnson put it, and the Lakers can't finish.
Bryant doesn't have many contemporaries in uniform these days. He's certainly closer to Scott and head athletic trainer Gary Vitti than any of his teammates. That's not a criticism of him, or them. He seems today like a bemused older brother watching his siblings trying to explain why they keep crashing dad's car. And despite their respect for him, his teammates certainly tell their share of Old Man Bryant jokes.
"What I see, I see Kobe embracing his mentorship status, recognizing that he is older, imparting wisdom, patting guys on the back, putting his arm around them," Kupchak said. "There are moments of frustration because he wants to win, and you look on the court, you see he is frustrated, because of a bad play, whether it's something he may have done or someone else. But there is a recognition that there's a generation gap, especially now that Steve Nash is gone."
That doesn't mean he doesn't challenge them to get better. But it's done differently today.
"He watches so much film," center Robert Sacre said. "He looks for everything. He's always studying on what he can improve on and what we can improve on as a team. And he lets us know where we need to be. He always says 'I have something to say to you.' He always puts his input to us off the court to make sure we're on the same page."
The Lakers have been battered from pillar to post the last three years, since Phil Jackson's last season coaching its last championship-caliber team. There followed one year plus five games of Mike Brown, and two seasons of Mike D'Antoni, which were supposed to feature a rejuvenated Steve Nash running the show. Instead, Nash played in just 65 games over two seasons, and has already been shelved for this season, his body down to the nub.
And after trading for Dwight Howard in 2012, the Lakers were unable to both re-sign Howard the following summer and get quality free agents to replace him, with Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James taking a pass, and Pau Gasol leaving for the Bulls. That left Kupchak to get Jeremy Lin from Houston and sign the amnestied Carlos Boozer. To add injury to insult, of course, first-round pick Julius Randle suffered that gruesome broken leg in the first game of the season.
But Scott is a Laker for Life, a former star during the Showtime days who always maintained good relations with the franchise. He was the preferred choice of team president Jim Buss and Kupchak to shepherd the team through the next few seasons.
"Just sitting down with Mitch and Jim, and the meetings we had over the summer, and seeing their vision, lets me know," Scott said. "I have tremendous confidence in those guys that this won't take long. I truly believe that. We're going to be a little down this year. Next year is going to be better, and the next year (after that) we feel like we're going to be right back where we belong. So it's a process and we've all got to bite the bullet a little bit and take it. But we do see a light at the end of the tunnel."
Fan Night: Isiah on Kobe
Isiah Thomas relates his own career to Kobe's mindset with playing with a struggling team.
There are moments, like his first half last week against the Wizards, where Bryant looks like nothing is different and he's 25 again. And he has put together a couple of games this season where he had everything working -- "I thought the Toronto game (31 points, 12 assists) was a masterpiece," Kupchak said. But sustaining for more than a half, or one game, is difficult.
No one knows, of course, if Bryant will be around for a restoration. His two-year, $48 million deal runs through the 2015-16 season, meaning next summer could be the last for Buss and Kupchak to acquire impact players to play with Bryant.
Bryant is not talking about what he'll do when the contract is up, but it's hard to believe he'll want to go out like this. There's no doubt now that Bryant can still play at a high level. So if Randle can come back next season, and the Lakers add another young piece via the Draft, is there at least a credible argument to be made to prospective free agents?
"Absolutely," Scott said. "I think once they see the direction that we're going in, where we play, the history of this organization, and this organization's all about championships and always has been, I absolutely think so."
Lin, who was replaced in the starting lineup Sunday night by Ronnie Price, knows the following sentences will not be taken seriously by too many people.
"People probably think I'm crazy, but I don't really care," he said. "I think we can make the playoffs. I believe in that. I think other guys in here believe that as well. It's very early, and like I said, people will laugh. That's fine. But I've always been a big dreamer, and I've always believed in miracles, and I've seen miracles in my life. Who knows what can happen? Once you get to the playoffs, you just never know. You just never know the matchups, or whatever. For me, I'm just focused on every game, trying to get to a point where we're improving. If you look at our growth chart, or whatever, we've improved a lot. We just want to give ourselves a chance."
Given the current record, and environment, and roster, how could he possibly believe that?
"Because I believe in myself," Lin said. "I believe in the guys in this locker room. I believe in, like I said, a supernatural God. I don't ever want to limit my dreams and my ambitions. I've dreamed very big dreams and I've been laughed at many times. When I look back, I realize that a lot of them came true."
The Lakers dream now, because their reality is painful to contemplate. It is necessary, though, if they're ever going to be great again. They need some luck in the Lottery, just like every other team that's been there; if the pick is one of the top five in next June's Draft, they'll keep it. Otherwise, the pick goes to Phoenix -- a last piece of unfinished business for the Nash gambit. If L.A. keeps the pick this year, it rolls over to 2016, when it will be top three protected, as it would be in 2017 if the Lakers still haven't conveyed it to the Suns. The pick will finally become completely unprotected in 2018 if it hasn't been given to Phoenix by then.
Bryant will almost certainly be gone by then.
"All indications are, to me, from him, that this (two-year contract) is going to be it," Kupchak said. "If somebody's thinking of buying a ticket three years from now to see Kobe play, I would not do that. Don't wait. Do it this year."
Until then, he will never settle.
"I've just got to keep making the right play," Bryant said. "Just gotta make the right play, man, and control what I can control. The way I look at it is I try to do my job, which is attack 'em, punish 'em when they single cover, make the doubles come, and then kick it and see if we can't make 'em pay."
(Last week's record in parentheses; last week's ranking in brackets)
GameTime: Stephen Curry
TNT's Rachel Nichols sits down with Stephen Curry to talk about the Warriors' winning streak, and the improvements everyone has made on the roster.
1) Golden State (3-0) : Steve Kerr says David Lee (hamstring) could be back as early as tonight against Minnesota.
2) Houston (3-0) : Ominous words from Kevin McHale over the weekend about Dwight Howard.
3) Dallas (3-1) : Most of the time, a 4-0 Eastern road trip doesn't mean much, but the Mavs knocked off Toronto and Chicago (yes, with some help from Kirk Hinrich; see below in 'They Said It'), and ended the trip with Monta Ellis' game-winner to beat much-improved Milwaukee.
4) L.A. Clippers (3-0) : Took advantage of a soft portion of the schedule (Utah, Detroit, Minnesota, etc.), but beat Houston, too. Hey, seven straight is seven straight.
Duncan's Triple Double
Highlights from Tim Duncan's big night as he scores 14 points, grabs 10 rebounds and dishes out 10 assist in the Spurs victory over the Grizzlies.
5) San Antonio (3-1) : Thirty-eight year old Tim Duncan became the second-oldest player in league history to get a triple-double with his 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists Friday against Memphis. Only Karl Malone, at age 40 in 2003 with the Lakers, did it later on the calendar.
6) Memphis (1-2) : The Grizzlies have to change the narrative with the Spurs, who've now beaten Memphis nine straight times dating back to San Antonio's sweep of the Grizz in the 2013 Western Conference Finals. Memphis will surely beat the Spurs again, but San Antonio matches up better with the Grizzlies than any other team in the West. And it feels like both teams know it.
7) Portland (3-0) : Began five-game Eastern swing Sunday in New York with a chance to extend what is already the biggest division lead (seven games) in the league.
8) Toronto (2-1) : Allowed 100+ points in seven straight games (record in those games: 4-3), something that hasn't happened since 2011, when the Raps allowed 100 points in 10 straight games.
9) Atlanta (4-0) : Hawks have rocketed to a first-place tie in the Southeast by tightening things up, moving from 18th in the league in defensive rating to 10th in the last two weeks.
Nightly Notable - Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving explodes with 37 points (on 12 for 18 shooting) with three triples and two steals to lead the Cavaliers over the Knicks 90-87.
10) Cleveland (3-0) : Kyrie Irving really engaged picking up opposing point guards, and that makes the Cavs a very different team at the defensive end.
11) Washington (3-1) : John Wall has figured it out. He can control games now without scoring much at all. That's key to elite level point guard play.
13) Phoenix (2-1) : If you let the Suns get off to a good offensive start in the first quarter, look out.
14) Sacramento (1-2) : Hope DeMarcus Cousins can make a full recovery from viral meningitis.
Arena Link: Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook joins GameTime via Arena Link after a victorious 27-point outing versus the Sixers.
Dropped out: Milwaukee 
Philadelphia (2-2): The Sixers avoided setting NBA history by beating Minnesota Wednesday for their first win of the season after losing their first 17 games. Thus the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets continue to own the worst record to begin a regular season, 0-18. Then, Philly went to Auburn Hills and came from behind to knock off the Pistons and double their win total for the season.
Detroit (0-4): See above. Well, it's not just that. There's also the 12 straight losses.
Is the triangle offense salvageable in New York?
Phil Jackson came to Gotham last March with a mandate to bring his entire philosophy about basketball -- team-first, group sacrifice, common, shared purpose -- to a franchise starving for winning. He brought his people to the front office and hired Derek Fisher to coach, insisting his own days behind the bench were over.
But a month into the season, the Knicks have gotten off to the worst start in franchise history. After losing yet another close game Sunday night to Portland, New York is 4-18 -- incredibly, only one game ahead of the 76ers in the Atlantic Division. They've dropped eight games in a row and 10 of their last 11.
And it's happening in a city that's particularly hard on losing teams.
"New York is New York," guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. said. "They expect a lot out of their professional teams, and that's what we love. That's what we play for. They're our fans, and they pay to watch us play."
They have been close in many of the losses -- in overtime to Dallas, five points to Houston, three points to Cleveland. They've lost in especially galling ways, as when Charlotte's Kemba Walker drove unencumbered to the basket for the game-winning layin at the buzzer Saturday, blowing past Pablo Prigioni, Amar'e Stoudemire and a stationery Carmelo Anthony under the basket.
But as the losses pile up, Fisher insists progress is being made with the offense -- even while what the Knicks wind up running looks nothing like the precise, cutting offenses that the Bulls and Lakers used to pile up rings.
Fisher can't let his struggling team see him sweat. Like every coach, he takes the losses hard, and home. But the next day, he's back in the gym, "working, teaching, putting in those habits," he said last week. "It doesn't start at 7:30 (at night). It starts way before that."
There was a bit in the Rob Reiner classic film "When Harry Met Sally" in which Harry insists that Sally could not have had, shall we say, a good time with a man named Sheldon.
Inside The NBA: Good Triangle, Bad Triangle
4-time NBA champion Shaq notes some good things and some bad things about the Knicks' execution of the triangle offense.
"A Sheldon can do your income taxes," Harry said. "If you need a root canal, Sheldon's your man. But (a good time) is not Sheldon's thing. It's the name."
The NBA has had similar problems with the triangle for two decades, ever since Jackson resurrected the long-discarded system championed by Tex Winter and brought to Chicago along with Jackson by then-Bulls general manager Jerry Krause. Krause believed in Winter, and soon after, Jackson believed in Winter's Triangle.
It's just a name, but those two words -- "the triangle" -- have been assigned some mystical, unknowable powers, as if it requires a master's degree to understand. What it requires is smart players, a patient coaching staff, and time. Unfortunately for Jackson and Fisher, they're not in a city known for its patience for rebuilding.
"I think everybody's still trying to learn it," Anthony said Thursday. "Guys for the most part are just trying to become more comfortable with their roles in this system. Now, with what we're doing, you've got to kind of be comfortable with being uncomfortable. A lot of times, in people's careers and guys' careers, they've never had to do that. So it's been a culture shock for everybody. But we've got to do it. This is what we're going to be running, and we've got to adjust to it."
The difference is, almost no one else other than Jackson-affiliated coaches have run the triangle in the NBA. So there's no shared history or accumulated knowledge of it for most players and coaches, even though it shares a lot of concepts with other, more familiar offenses like the Princeton or Flex.
Other than occasional group media gaggles during practices, Jackson isn't doing any interviews.
"We're still obviously learning a little bit," Hardaway said. "Overall, I think we're still staying positive. We're still motivated to do it. We know a win will come, and we will build on it."
Sometimes, things look familiar. Anthony is in the same pinch post position that Jordan and Bryant manned. There is, on occasion, the ball movement and spacing that the triangle requires. Stoudemire, in the final year of his $100 million contract, looks better than he has in years physically, with some spring back in his legs. (Maybe the wine baths are working.)
But too often, the Knicks devolve into the same isolation and screen-rolls that everybody else uses. J.R. Smith has acknowledged he's having trouble with the triangle's concepts, but he doesn't look like the only one.
You listen hard enough, you'll hear that the non-playing side of the organization believes that there aren't that many people currently on the roster that can master it. They say this was an inherited roster, save Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin, acquired from Dallas by Jackson in the Tyson Chandler deal, and second-rounder Cleanthony Early. Most of the people that will make this triangle work here are not yet here, if you get my drift.
Anthony will be, having re-signed last summer for five years and $124 million. And the Knicks dream big dreams of going after Marc Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love with all the cap room they'll finally have in 2015. But will prominent free agents be intrigued or repelled by the offense with no set plays?
Triangle people cringe at the usual criticism of the system, that it only worked when Jordan and Scottie Pippen and Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal ran it. But that, they counterargue, proves their point. No offense is successful without great players. So if you called the triangle, say, "Spam," then Spam would be a great system if run correctly. It's not the offense, they say.
Fisher is certainly safe. Despite just getting off the court after his 18-year playing career, his players see some of the same qualities that made him so respected.
"He's been a leader since he's been a player," Hardaway said. "Now that he's a coach, we can see why a lot of teams he's been on has been successful. You've just got to be a professional about it. He's done a great job of motivating us, coming to work each and every day and keeping a positive mindset, (that) it will turn around eventually."
[The triangle has] been a culture shock for everybody. But we've got to do it. This is what we're going to be running, and we've got to adjust to it.
– Carmelo Anthony
But the initial numbers are not encouraging. New York is in the bottom third of the league in offensive rating, turnover percentage, true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage. And the Knicks are miserable on defense: 27th in defensive rating. If there's progress, it's slow.
"If you go back a month and you see where we were, when we watch film today and we watch film now, you can see we made steps during places," Larkin said. "This is a new offense for everybody. You see moments where we run it really well, and you see it working, and you see us playing great. The Cavs are supposed to win the East, and we played them tough two times. We've gotten into our stuff, and executed, and when we execute, we're a great team. And sometimes we just get out of our stuff, and we get frustrated, and it kind of goes haywire on us."
One of the biggest changes for guards playing the triangle is getting used to not dribbling. The screen-roll is like oxygen for most point guards, the NBA's default play to get moving. But the triangle doesn't afford guards that luxury. There's no ball screen.
"My whole career has been, use my speed to dribble penetrate," Larkin said. "With the angles we set up, with our spacing, the passing creates the penetration, and that's been an adjustment for me. It was hard at first, but I got some good experience with it in Summer League. Coming into training camp, I had a good feel for it. More and more, I can see when I can use my speed where I used to use dribble penetration, coming off of a down screen and catching it, and having the postman right there. It's been a progression. It's been an adjustment. But at the end of the day, it's making me a better player."
Fisher is in the middle of practices -- "he hasn't run with us yet," Larkin said -- but he's showing his young players the ball fakes and cuts that are crucial to keeping the offensive flow that is the triangle's heartbeat. But it's a new language for them. They're struggling as you might ordering dinner in Portuguese.
And yet ... they are in the East.
"If we were out West," Calderon allows, "we might be thinking about what we'll be doing in April."
They'll probably not be in the playoffs in April. This is going to take a while.
"It's just a matter of guys just becoming more comfortable with their game, as an individual, and then as a collective, things start clicking," Anthony said. "It's a lot of thinking, whether you get the ball. It's a lot of thinking that goes into what we're trying to do."
Like the disclaimer about stocks, he does not believe past production is indicative of future performance. From Patryk Skarzynski:
How can you put LeBron James in the top 3 MVP watch? Sure he puts up numbers but if that's all we're going by how come Kevin Love wasn't in the top 3 all those years? His team was losing just like the Cavaliers. I feel like LeBron always gets a pass. Everyone in the NBA seems to portray him as some kind of victim but he's just as guilty for these tough times in Cleveland. He's been playing so passively. I see him throwing out lazy defense out there. He fell asleep during the Toronto game and let Louis Williams get right to the basket. I realize he gets more criticism than anyone in the NBA but it seems like he gets just as many easy passes. I don't see how he is possibly ahead of Davis on your list considering Davis has made an impact on both sides of the floor on a worse team.
Aldridge responds: This is the wrong place to argue that LeBron, no matter his numbers in a given week, isn't -- at worst -- one of the two or three best players in the league, Patryk. The MVP Watch does not just cover a single week of games; it's a rolling, evolving list that includes what guys have done, and what I think they're capable of. And: if he gets more criticism as well as more passes ... wouldn't that equal relatively fair coverage?
Mr. Monroe and the Moving Van. From Alberto Tortella:
Hi David, in your last morning tip you made a call for a trade on Greg Monroe.
Could you indicate the teams that could be interested in this trade?
Aldridge responds: With the caveat that there is, at the moment, no information that the Pistons are shopping Monroe, I will never not believe that Boston wouldn't be interested in him. And I will never believe that a deal for Rajon Rondo couldn't ignite in a minute's time, despite the Celtics' repeated insistence they're not shopping him. But if Boston isn't interested, Monroe's agent, David Falk, will surely get Monroe to a team that has the cap room to sign him to a max or near-max deal after the season. Boston will have that kind of space, but so will good teams like San Antonio and Atlanta, depending on what they do with their own free agents.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and other examples of living well being the best revenge to email@example.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
(Weekly averages in parentheses)
Harden Goes Off
James Harden's 38 points propels the Rockets to a win over the Timberwolves.
1) James Harden (24.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.7 apg, .449 FG, .889 FT): Battling a balky back -- say that three times fast -- but still is carrying the Rockets on that back through all of their injuries.
2) Stephen Curry (20 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 7.7 apg, .438 FG, .917 FT): Draymond Green told us on NBA GameTime Saturday that Curry's defense on opposing point guards has been one of the big reasons the Warriors are even better on D this season.
3) LeBron James (23 ppg, 5.7 rpg. 11.7 apg .440 FG, .647 FT): After laying in the weeds for a while, looking to get other teammates going, looks like LBJ started putting his fingerprints all over the Cavs' offense, collapsing defenses and diming up the world.
4) Marc Gasol (12.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 4 apg, .412 FG, .833 FT): More touches for the big man=better offensive production for the Grizzlies.
5) Anthony Davis (27 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.2 apg, .633 FG, .655 FT): The Brow has officially arrived: the SI cover. A sandwich named after him at the Carnegie Deli is sure to be next.
1,000 -- Career NBA games for Nets guard Joe Johnson, who reached the mark in Friday's home loss to Atlanta. Johnson was the 10th pick in the 2001 Draft, which still has nine active players remaining today: Johnson, Tyson Chandler (taken second overall by the Clippers before being traded to Chicago), Pau Gasol (taken third by Atlanta and dealt to the then-Vancouver Grizzlies), Richard Jefferson (13th, to Houston, but traded to the then-New Jersey Nets), Zach Randolph (19th, Portland), Brendan Haywood (20th, by Cleveland, then traded to Orlando), Gerald Wallace (25th, to Sacramento), Samuel Dalembert (26th, to Philadelphia) and one William Anthony "Tony" Parker, Jr., 28th overall, to the San Antonio Spurs. Jason Richardson (5th overall, to Golden State) is still technically playing with the 76ers, but there's little chance he's going to be activated this season.
22 -- Consecutive games the Grizzlies had won at FedEx Forum before the Spurs came into Memphis on Friday and posted a 107-101 win. The Grizzlies' last home loss came last Feb. 5 against Dallas.
16 -- Consecutive losses by the Kings without DeMarcus Cousins in the lineup, a streak Sacramento broke on Friday in its 102-101 overtime victory over Indiana. By the way, those Rochester unis: Outstanding! (Homework assignment: 500 words on this man dribbling in an old Royals uniform. Please explain who he is, when he played and why he is important in the history of the NBA, on and off the court. Winners will get ... my sincere appreciation for knowing a little bit about the history of the game.)
Golden State Warriors: One Stat - One Play
The stout defense of Andrew Bogut and the Golden State Warriors is analyzed by John Schuhmann of NBA.com
1. There's no doubt the Warriors have the league's most potent backcourt in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. But a healthy Andrew Bogut is what gets Golden State from good to great, and he's been great at both ends so far this season.
Stamp of Approval
At halftime of the Thunder-Sixers game, some important dignitaries commemorate Wilt Chamberlain with a stamp dedication recognizing the basketball legend.
2. Many congrats, again, to Philadelphia Tribune columnist Donald Hunt, whose columns were the impetus for the United States Postal Service honoring Wilt Chamberlain last Friday with the unveiling of two oversized postage stamps.
3. Orlando may not have quite enough talent or depth to make the playoffs this season, but the Magic are a much more competitive and capable team, as their 3-3 road trip -- including wins at Phoenix and Sacramento -- indicates.
5. In its first season, the College Football Playoff could not have been a bigger success, creating weekly, coast-to-coast interest in the game -- and it's been a bigger indictment of the emptiness of the former system, defended for so long when a playoff was the obvious solution. It's not a perfect system, of course, and someone's always going to be able to make a credible argument for why they should have been included, whether it's a four- or eight- or 12-team format.
1. My friend Bryan Burwell died last week, all too young, after an all-too-brief battle with cancer. Many of you may have known him from his work on "Inside the NFL" on HBO a few years ago, or as a columnist for USA Today, the Detroit News or, in his last job, with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. (He also was TNT's NBA Insider for a while.) Bryan was a storyteller, a formidable debater, a terrific dinner companion and one of my mentors, whether he knew it or not -- someone who used his many talents and curiosities about the world to forge a brilliant career as a multimedia sports journalist. And, he was just damn fun to be around, with a great laugh and presence that let you know he was in the room. He was very much at home in NBA locker rooms, baseball clubhouses, football fields and owner boardrooms -- as well as the barber shop and the kitchen. I will miss him greatly.
2. I'm not sure why Joe Lacob, the Warriors co-owner, seems insistent on continuing to attack Mark Jackson long after firing him last spring. You won. You got the coach you wanted in Steve Kerr, and he's got your team playing great. Yet you continue to kill Jackson -- who took your sorry franchise and made it into a 50-win team last season -- to anyone who's naïve enough to continue asking. And, now, you're throwing other men under the bus who only did their best for your franchise for two years. We all get it. You didn't like the way Jackson treated you and your family. You're the owner, and you get to make that call. And you did. Even with an apology, you really need to let it go now.
3. I'm going to say this once. When the Celtics play the Lakers in Boston, the C's wear the home white, and L.A. wears the purple road unis. Period. No changes, no "alternate" jerseys. Boston in white, L.A. in purple. (See?) Magic did not make the "junior junior" in the old Garden wearing his home gold; Bird did not fight his way through the crowd after Game 7 of the '84 Finals in green. Do not make this mistake again, whoever made the decision last Friday at TD Garden.
4. Oh, the humanity.
5. The bottom three teams in the Eastern Conference have a combined record of 9-54. Playing, mostly, against other teams in the Eastern Conference.
The rumors will never stop. Until Kevin Love signs a long-term deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers -- which he won't do until next summer, because he can make a lot more money that way -- there will always be whispers about him longing to return to the West Coast to play (even though he grew up and played high school ball in Oregon, not California, and the Blazers are set at power forward with LaMarcus Aldridge). Such talk was also bolstered, at least tangentially, by the Cavaliers' slow start, which didn't live up to the public's expectations for the NBA's newest megateam.
Love's offensive numbers were okay, but there were nights when he didn't seem very involved in Cleveland's offense -- most notably a 10-point night against the Spurs in November. And Love, never a shutdown defender to begin with, struggled at that end of the floor, just as Cleveland struggled as a team. But after a four-game losing streak around Thanksgiving left the Cavs with a 5-7 record, Love began finding his rhythm, LeBron James found his energy, Kyrie Irving found his defensive chops and the Cavaliers found some wins. Cleveland has won six in a row entering play Monday, and Love has four straight double-doubles -- including 28 and 10 against Indiana and 27 and 10 against Milwaukee. Last week, Love said, again, that he planned to be in Cleveland long term. Of course, he did talk with Kevin Durant once about playing together ...
Me: A month in, what's improved for both you individually and the team collectively?
Kevin Love: I said all along, since media day, since training camp, since we first got together, that it was going to take us 10, 20, 30 games, maybe half the season, to get this thing right. We're still just a little past our infant stages, so to speak. We're still picking apart film, practicing on a lot of different situational drills, and still picking apart just exactly what we want to do out on the floor. I think as time goes on we're going to continue to get better, but I think right now we're playing some good basketball.
Me: Have you simplified some of your defensive coverages?
KL: Yeah, I think (we) simplified, but also letting the defensive end dictate what we do on the offensive end. I think that creates continuity out there on the floor. It allows us to really focus in on that end as well. I think we've done a better job in simplifying things as well, as you mentioned. When we do that, we don't have to think the game as much. We help each other. The next man is there for us. If we can do that, we'll be a better team.
Me: How important is Kyrie to that improvement at that end? It seems like he's really getting into guys better.
KL: It all starts with Kyrie, I think, at both ends. He's our floor general at both ends of the floor. It kind of trickles down through the next four guys out there on the floor. He's been great. He's really taken each battle head on. The problem is there's a lot of great point guards in this league. He's been awesome. He's continued to get better. He's a guy that watches a lot of film, a guy that changes his game and just wants to continue to get better. And he's going to get better. He's still so young. He battles every single day, every single game. I really respect that about him.
Me: How have you evolved as a position defender in this system?
KL: I think that's, you said it. Just being in the right position, picking my spots, knowing where to be, listening to guys that have been there before; we have a great coaching staff. But we also have guys who have won championships, and multiple championships. Just picking their brains, seeing what it is that I can do better at the defensive end of the floor. I know that I may not be the best one-on-one defender every night, but as far as helping the team in spots, helping my teammate out, helping my brother out, is going to be the best thing for us.
Me: Every season is different. So how does a team find its collective voice and identity while it's playing games?
KL: Well, I think it's a maturation process over time. It's not going to be the first 15, 20 games. It's going to continue to harp and focus on the things we have been all along. Whether that's making adjustments or changing little things here or there, we have to continue to try and play and find a certain identity as things go along. The good thing is, as I mentioned, we have guys that have been to the playoffs, or been there, done that, before, and hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy. So it's going to take us a little bit of time. We have a new head coach in this league. I know he coached 30 years over in Europe, but this is his rookie season (in the NBA), and he's figuring it out as well. And we're all in that foxhole with him.
Me: What would you say your team's identity is right now?
KL: It's tough to say. At the offensive end of the floor we have been able to figure a lot of things out -- when to play with pace, move the ball. That word I mentioned, continuity, is there for us. We're able to move the ball, distribute the ball. At the defensive end, is always our primary focus, and what we focus on first. But sometimes it takes a little bit of extra time to get there. So I think the identity at that end really still needs to get there, and as we grow more on that end, you'll see the offense be dictated better at that end as well.
K-Love Joins the Hang Time Podcast
The Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation teams up with Kevin Love to kick off donation of 100 Basketball Hoops Across America.
Me: With rebounders like Anderson Varejao and LeBron here, how much does their presence free you from having to grab 12, 13 boards a game?
KL: It makes my job a lot easier. And I'm still assuming everything's a miss on both ends of the floor, and I'm still going after every rebound I can, in the right ways. But we have different guys that clean it up on this team, and it makes my job a whole lot easier. You may not see the 20 rebounds on a given night, but we're going to have equal distribution throughout the lineup, and that's going to help our team.
Me: Do you know, after being around them for a while, where the rebound's coming off a Kyrie miss, or a LeBron miss?
KL: I'm still learning. Kyrie, and LeBron a lot of times, they're the type of guys who don't miss short. And they always give their ball a chance. I'm still figuring that out, but like (Dennis) Rodman used to do, I'm watching them in warmups, watching how they're shooting in pregame, and seeing how that ball's coming off. More than anything, though, for me it's just instinct and effort.
Me: You were left side dominant on the floor in Minnesota. It looks like you're using the court more evenly here. Is that by design or just the way it's worked out so far?
KL: I think as my game has evolved, and is evolving on this team, I believe that they want to distribute me all around the floor on this team. I was very left-side dominant, but as we've broken down film -- and I'll continue to say that, this team watches a lot of film -- they want me to really spread the floor at all angles, figure out my different spots where I can be effective. It's opened up my game, being able to score the ball in different positions on this team.
Me: It does seem like they're making a real effort to get you going early.
KL: I think we're starting, or have lately, been starting the game from the inside out, to get my game going. I mentioned rebounding as well; that can also get my game going, and also get me in a certain sort of rhythm. Whether it's been the last six, seven, eight games, I feel like we've made a concerted effort to do that, and I think that's been helping our entire team.
Me: I'm sure you heard Chris Bosh say that it's so different playing next to LeBron, and that it requires a real adjustment. What have you learned so far about that process?
KL: Well, it is different. Coming in, we all knew we were going to have to sacrifice, and that's each player, 1 through 15, for this team. It's funny hearing that. Playing with LeBron, he opens up so many opportunities on the floor. And whether it's Kyrie or Shawn Marion or Andy Varejao, different guys out there in the starting lineup, myself included, and all throughout the team, they're getting so many good looks, because so much of the effort on the defensive end is to stop LeBron James. So I think it opens up a lot for us, for our team, helps us out, and when I have an opportunity at the offensive end, I have to take advantage of it.
-- Clippers legendary play-by-play man Ralph Lawler (@Ohmeomy), Saturday, 10:07 p.m., lamenting his inability to call L.A.'s game against New Orleans after undergoing surgery for gallstones. Lawler, in his 34th season broadcasting the franchise's games, once missed a game because he got stuck in traffic, and there was that unpleasantness with former Grizzly Hamad Haddadi, but no one has seen more Clippers efforts over four decades -- and now deserves to enjoy some victories -- than the author of Lawler's Law.
Ellis Forces Overtime
Monta Ellis is fouled on the three-point attempt and sinks all three free-throws to force overtime.
"They had the game won and they foul Monta on the dribble up, which in my 17 years is one of the dumber fouls I've ever seen."
-- Dirk Nowitzki, expressing disbelief at the foul Chicago's Kirk Hinrich committed on Mavs teammate Monta Ellis with 1.2 seconds left in regulation Tuesday, with the Bulls up by three points. Ellis had gone into his shooting motion and was awarded three free throws, and made them all to force overtime. Dallas ultimately won in double overtime. Nowitzki later said he shouldn't have used the word "dumber" to describe Hinrich's play.
"Hopefully, I'll be able to capitalize down the road, but I never second-guessed my decision at the time and I still haven't because I thought it was the right one at the time. I'm healthy and playing well and my team is winning. That's all I'm really worried about."
-- Stephen Curry, to the Sporting News, on his four-year, $44 million contract with Golden State -- a seemingly fair deal for both sides at the time Curry signed in 2012, given his history with ankle injuries, but now the best bargain in the league. TSN notes that Curry is currently the 13th-highest paid point guard in the league.
"Just two (expletives) having breakfast."
-- Rajon Rondo, describing his Thursday morning bread breaking with Kobe Bryant in Boston, the day before the Celtics played the Lakers. Rondo was referring to Bryant's description of him last season when asked how Rondo would deal with being on a rebuilding team. Bryant said then, "From what I understand, he's an (earlier referred expletive) like me, so he'll manage."
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