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Bryant takes off villain's hat to take in long view of his career

Looming end to Kobe's career makes the Lakers' star melancholy over his glory days as the top bad guy to many opposing fans

POSTED: Dec 8, 2015 1:32 AM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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Kobe Bryant soaks in a farewell from Atlanta fans, a team against whom he averaged 22.3 points in his career.

In This Week's Morning Tip

Kobe Bryant's whole raison d'etre has been to wear the black hat. Outside of Inglewood and Los Angeles, he's been respected but reviled for ruining the championship dreams of many a contending team, and reveling in the hatred that rained on him and his Los Angeles Lakers, year after year, as they plundered opposing franchises.

If he'd played football, he'd be an Oakland Raider.

If he were in Superman, he'd be Lex Luthor.

If there was a movie made about him and he couldn't play himself, you'd picture the actor Alan Rickman playing him -- dressed to the nines in Saville Row suits like he wore in Die Hard, coming up with clever bon mots as Bruce Willis chased him down. Only in this movie, Willis would miss and Rickman/Kobe would throw him off of the 32nd floor of the Nakatomi Building.

So this love fest, this emotional release that's taken place in opposing buildings since he announced he'd be retiring at season's end, it has him a little ... confused.

"I see what I've been missing this whole time," he said.

What's special about that is that for my entire career, I did my job, which was to make them hate me when I came to their arena ... Now, it's like, at the end, we're both thanking each other.

– Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant

Of course, many fans have doted on him over the years. He has been a superstar since former President Bill Clinton's second term, a one-name wonder, mobbed in China and in other countries where he's done Nike events, the role model growing up for dozens of NBA players who are now his opponents. But that's not what usually happened in opposing gyms, the way it did in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., last week, the Washington Wizards' game where Bryant scored 31 points and finally looked like his old self -- not his old self, if you get my meaning -- almost a Lakers home game, the Lakers/Kobe fans roaring with every made basket, the Lakers winning for just the third time in 18 games.

But this is different. This isn't the normal squealing request for autographs or pictures. These encounters seem to take a little longer. Fans shake Bryant's hand, and they hold it for a second or two. They tell him how much they've appreciated him, and he thanks them for it. And his voice sounds different. It's not like he's tearing up, but he seems touched.

It's so different from being the villain. How he has loved being the villain.

"What's special about that is that for my entire career, I did my job, which was to make them hate me when I came to their arena," he said Wednesday. "Even through the process, they respected that, and I respected them. So, now, we both want to say thanks. Because they pushed me, and I pushed their buttons. Now, it's like, at the end, we're both thanking each other."

Inside The NBA: Kobe Bryant Interview

Future Hall of Famer and 5-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant talks with TNT's Ernie Johnson about his legendary career and leaving the game he loves.

The Kobe Tour went East last week, a final farewell as a player to his hometown of Philly (where Allen Iverson once "cooked my face off," Bryant said), then to D.C. (where the Wizards, Bryant recalled with some vinegar, ended the Lakers' 19-game win streak in 2000), then Atlanta and then, Detroit. And Bryant reveled in the emotions rather than pushing them to the side. "For once, I'm going to refrain from being such a control freak," he said. "Just enjoy the process."

So he must have enjoyed the two guys who said they'd quit their jobs in Italy and flown to Philly on Tuesday to see him, holding signs like "Kobe Take My Knees And His Shoulder Just Stay 1 More Year Please."

Everyone wants a piece of Bryant now, before he's off to make movies or buy a soccer team in Europe or whatever it is he plans on doing that's going to scratch his competitive itch. Last Wednesday, lifelong diehard Bulls fan Barack H. Obama asked for and was granted an audience in D.C.

"We talked about the Muse film, which he enjoyed," said Bryant, referring to his Showtime vehicle "Kobe Bryant's Muse." They talked about My Brother's Keeper, the nationwide initiative President Obama has launched to try and close the "opportunity gaps" facing young boys, particularly young men of color, and how Bryant's passion for being "a storyteller," as he puts it, could be of use.

"He said he's right behind me," Bryant said. "In 14 months, he's stepping away, and we look forward to kind of working together and coming up with something to help the youth."

It's so simple sometimes. You might be young, you might be talented, but this guy is really talented. You may be talented, but it's not impressive. So you have to fall in line, unless you're really impressive.

– Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace

Wednesday was a good day in an ocean of bad ones this season. It has been a brutal start for both Bryant and the Lakers. Even the team's home crowds at Staples Center -- normally delirious at any Bryant action on the court -- have been sodden as the team got off to a 2-15 start. As well, Bryant played the worst basketball of his career. His shooting numbers have been horrific: 3 of 15 against Dallas, 6 of 19 against Detroit, 1 of 14 against Golden State, 4 of 20 against Indiana. Overall, he's shooting a career-worst 29.6 percent and 21.8 percent on 3-pointers.

He had heard that Kevin Durant had come to his defense, and had attacked the media for being hard on Bryant when he was struggling, but of course, Bryant would never acknowledge any criticism from civilians has any effect on him. "I don't budge from that stuff," he said after the 76ers game. "I appreciate the good stuff. I appreciate the bad stuff. I would never whine: 'oh, you're too hard on me, stop.' "

Yet his inaccuracy had a dark benefit to the franchise he has loved and stayed with (despite the dalliance with the Clippers as a free agent in 2004, and the trade request to Chicago in 2007, never seriously considered by the franchise): the Lakers can only keep their 2016 first-round Draft pick if they finish with one of the three worst records in the league. If they don't, that draft pick goes to Philadelphia. So every awful night for the Lakers now gives them a better chance at adding an impact player in June, to go with this year's first-round pick, guard D'Angelo Russell, and 2014 first-rounder Julius Randle.

GameTime: Kobe Dominates In D.C.

The guys talk about Kobe Bryant's solid night in Washington and his focus moving forward.

That's the macro. The micro is how does this team get through the rest of the season.

It is a dichotomy acknowledged only in whisper, with people in the organization: there is the emerging team of Russell and Jordan Clarkson and Randle, learning on the go, taking their lumps, trying to build chemistry. And there is Kobe, who basically can do what he wants on the court. It is not said in anger or despair; it is understood that this is the valedictory Bryant is owed, after 20 seasons of being the catalyst that delivered five rings and untold financial benefits to almost everyone connected with the organization. It is why ownership and management didn't think twice about giving Bryant a two-year, $48 million extension in 2014.

What can the young guys really say: no, I deserve the rock more?

"I mean, I think he definitely has earned it," Clarkson said. "He's been in these situations, and we're all confident he can make the shots. Maybe he's a little more fatigued now, legs and stuff. But we're still confident he can do that. Me, I'm a fan as well. Just watching and trying to learn as much as I can. But some of the stuff he's doing is crazy. I don't know if I'm putting any of that stuff in my game."

It is a delicate dance, trying to get the potential of the young guys to flourish while respecting what Bryant has done.

"You don't have to set aside; you have to play together," said Metta World Peace, in his second stint with the Lakers. "It's so simple sometimes. You might be young, you might be talented, but this guy is really talented. You may be talented, but it's not impressive. So you have to fall in line, unless you're really impressive."

Bryant didn't tell anyone with the Lakers before the start of the season that he planned to make his retirement announcement during the season. So there's no plan on how to make this all go like clockwork.

The Starters: Kobe Farewell Gifts?

When visiting arena after arena, what is the best gift Kobe will receive?

"There's an element of distraction that goes along with people that want to say goodbye and recognize a great career like Kobe's in different cities," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Saturday.

"But there's positives that go along with that as well," he said. "Our young guys may have to deal with some of the distractions, but they get to see for the first time what it's like to conduct yourself in a professional manner, prepare yourself ... just being around Kobe, seeing how he handles things with the press, his competitive nature on the court, how hard he plays, how well he prepares, those are good lessons for young players as well. So there is a tradeoff and a balance, but we can't change anything, and I don't think that I would even if I could. Those are hard lessons. The best way to learn it is to live it."

And while the development of the young core is important, the overarching goal for coach Byron Scott and the rest of the organization this season is to make sure Bryant finishes the season, and does so with some dignity.

Whenever you're watching, you've got to be a fan and observe his every move. And then when you're talking to the media and they're talking about the same things, I just try to be honest.

– Los Angeles Lakers rookie D'Angelo Russell

"That's something that I've been thinking about all year long," Scott said in Philly. "One thing that I wanted to do, if I can -- I can only do so much -- but if I can make sure I keep his minutes to a minimum and he can finish this year standing up, not laying down or on some surgery table or anything like that, if that's in my power, that's what I plan on doing."

Scott finished his own playing career at 36, with the Lakers. He played in 79 games that season, but knew it was time.

"I remember everything I couldn't do," he said. "Couldn't run like I used to, couldn't jump like I used to. The athleticism was fading fast, but the mind was still sharp. And I think that's what KB is going through. He can still see it and think it and imagine, (but) he just can't do it. That's hard. That's real hard. And it's hard to accept it."

But Scott still has to be Bryant's coach. He says Bryant has been receptive when he's told he's taken too many 3-pointers in a game, or bad shots at inopportune moments.

"It can be in a film session, it can be just coming off the court," Scott said. "It can be after the game, in the locker room, it can be on the bus. It's just when the time is kind of right, really. It's no specific time when you tell him. Most of the time after watching the tape. And he'll even say it before, coming out (of the game) -- 'I took some crazy shots.' After that, you really don't have to say anything much. 'Cause he already knows it."

Best of Phantom: Kobe Bryant in Philadelphia

Check out the best of Kobe Bryant's final game in his hometown of Philadelphia.

The struggles aren't rooted in any injury. After the ruptured Achilles' (April, 2013), and the fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee (December, 2013) and the torn right rotator cuff (January, 2015), Bryant is pretty healthy. He works out just as maniacally as ever, gets to the practice facility in El Segundo just as early, stretches just as much, watches just as much film.

But, by his own acknowledgment, he can no longer sustain on the court. And once he comes out of a game, his legs stiffen. Riding the stationary bike in the corner while out of the game to stay warm in past seasons left him depleted, he said, and also jacked up his back. He's tinkering with different ideas, trying to release the submission hold in which Father Time currently has him.

It does not help, though it frequently goes unwritten and unsaid, that Bryant is usually on the floor with, essentially, two rookies (Randle played three-fourths of the regular season opener last year before breaking his leg), a second-year player in Clarkson and three new players added last summer -- Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass. If Bryant has taken more than his share of bad shots so far, he's also frequently had little choice.

GameTime: Shaq on Kobe

Shaquille O'Neal joins the show to share his thoughts on Kobe Bryant's retirement announcement.

"A lot of the bad games that people said he had, it wasn't his fault," World Peace said. "Some of it was. Some of his shot selection was crazy. But it was kind of 50-50. We're not an experienced team, so sometimes as a unit, we make each other look bad.

"We make Kobe look bad. We make me look bad. We make the rookies look bad. 'Cause we're not experienced. Kobe's used to having the ball, and everybody spaces, rolls, easy pops, easy rolls. And that's just not the case right now. (Wednesday) was the first high-low we've done all season. Now, we didn't convert it. But it was things like that. Roy flashed up high, threw it to Julius down low, and I was like, 'oh, wow -- that's what I've been waiting for.'"

It nonetheless leaves the season in a kind of suspended animation, with the future held in abeyance. The young players are and will be for some time peppered with questions about Bryant, what they're learning from him, what he means to them.

"Can't do nothing about it," Russell said. "Like I said, just be a fan. Whenever you're watching, you've got to be a fan and observe his every move. And then when you're talking to the media and they're talking about the same things, I just try to be honest."

GameTime: Charles on Kobe

TNT's Charles Barkley joins the show to share his thoughts on Kobe Bryant's retirement announcement.

And even while Bryant isn't shooting well, he can help in other ways. He did so before the game-deciding sequence in Washington, with the Lakers up by two with 23 seconds left.

"He knows his stuff," Russell said. "He said they were going to Brad Beal -- 'Lou, say home; John Wall's a decoy.' And Lou stayed home and got a steal. I was like, man, that's crazy. And when he says 'that was a great call,' you're like, yeah, that was a great call. Just because it's him."

The win in Washington came at a critical time, after seven straight losses, including the Philly debacle. "Everybody's been a little frustrated," Clarkson said. "That last game hit us pretty hard, 'cause we lost to the Sixers, and they was on their way to their worst start."

A generation ago, the Lakers had to deal with a similar circumstance: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's final season, 1988-89. That was a much different team, of course -- a back-to-back champion trying to accomplish something that hadn't happened since the old Celtics dynasty days, a new phrase that Pat Riley coined earlier that year -- a "three-peat." Yet then, as now, there was speculation that the slow old man -- Abdul-Jabbar was 41 in his last season -- would drag the younger and faster Showtime Lakers down.

GameTime: Reggie on Kobe

TNT's Reggie Miller joins the show to share his thoughts on Kobe Bryant's retirement announcement.

And then, as now, instead of fighting the tributes and gifts, Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers tried their best to embrace them.

"There are two ways of doing this," Riley said then. "If you say it's going to be a distraction, you can do it that way. But if you will celebrate with this man, with everybody else, not only can it be a meaningful experience for him, but also one for the team."

(Abdul-Jabbar wrote a "Dear Retirement" poem last week for Time Magazine) that spoke of the joys of discovering what comes after one's athletic life ends.)

But there are 60 games left.

The first week of the tour ended as it began, with the Lakers looking disconnected for large stretches of their games, losses in Atlanta and Detroit, with four more stops in week two before returning home. When this leg is done, Bryant will have said goodbye to a third of the league's cities for good. There will be nothing left of him as a player when he is finished.

"What am I going to do -- save it for pickup basketball at Equinox?," he said. "I'm going to play. I'm not coming back to the venues anymore. God willing, I'm healthy, and if I can walk and run, then my butt will be out there."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(previous rank in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)

1) Golden State [1] (4-0): You can't pooh-pooh the Warriors' chances at 72-10 now. You can't. To tie the Chicago Bulls' mark they'd have to go 50-10 from this point to the end of the season. Is that likely? It wouldn't be easy. But can anyone say it's impossible? I can't. Not anymore.

Warriors Improve To 22-0

Stephen Curry scores 28 points and grabs five rebounds as the Warriors beat the Nets at the Barclays Center.

2) San Antonio [2] (3-1): Twenty straight wins at home for the Spurs. Remember that rough patch around this time last season when they were having trouble at AT&T Center, and lost all those games to Detroit and Portland and Memphis? Neither do I.

3) Miami [5] (2-1): I didn't believe Dwyane Wade could ever recover the slipperiness and ability to get to the basket he had before his knee troubles. He has.

Wade's Clutch Floater

Dwyane Wade drives to the basket and hits the clutch floater to tie the game late in the 4th quarter.

4) Cleveland [3] (0-3): First three-game losing streak since that six-game slide in January -- most of which happened while LeBron was taking those two weeks of R&R.

5) Atlanta [6] (2-1): Tim Hardaway, Jr., one of the Hawks' big offseason pickups, was sent down to the NBA D-League last week after playing spot minutes in just four games this season.

6) Oklahoma City [4] (1-2): Glass half-full: I think the Thunder should take a lot from battling Miami pretty much evenly throughout last Thursday, even though OKC wound up with the loss. The Thunder didn't shoot all that well, but each of the team's starters had at least five rebounds, and had a chance to win in the final seconds on the road against one of the league's hottest teams.

7) Indiana [7] (1-2): Defense, which was outstanding going into the week, departed the Pacers in losses to Portland and Utah.

8) Dallas [8] (2-2): Dirk Nowitzki with the major trollage of Pau Gasol celebrating his 1,000th NBA game. Well done, Diggler!

9) Chicago [11] (2-1): Gasol tells CSNChicago.com it's "very likely" he'll opt out of the final year of his contract next summer and again test free agency. Given how he played at EuroBasket last summer, he could well get near-max money for two or three years.

10) Memphis [10] (2-1): Just your standard, eight-tenths-of-a-second-left, out-of-bounds-alley-oop to Jeff Green for the game-winner.

Green's Game-winner

Jeff Green throws down the game-winning alley-oop off the inbounds pass from Courtney Lee.

11) Utah [9] (1-2): Don't know if the Jazz will be able to maintain success if Rudy Gobert is out a long time, but Derrick Favors is having an outstanding season thus far at both ends of the floor. Vastlly improved offensive game.

12) L.A. Clippers [13] (2-1): Clips need their depth to carry them through their latest batch of injuries as it did in a come-from-behind win over Orlando, the last home game before a long eastern swing.

13) Toronto [12] (1-2): If Raptors could get decent minutes in the middle out of Lucas Nogueira, fresh off some very good NBA D-League minutes for their affiliate in Mississauga? Hmmmm....

14) Charlotte [15] (1-1): The Hornets, dead last in the league in 3-point shooting last season, are 14th so far this season. Nicolas Batum is leading the new-look, fire-away Bugs at 40.4 percent.

15) Orlando [NR] (2-1): Impressive win at Utah, and the Magic should have beaten the Clippers Saturday night in L.A., which would have given the Magic a six-game win streak. That would have been the team's longest win streak since a nine-game win streak dating back before the Dwight Howard trade: Dec. 23, 2010 through Jan. 8, 2011.

Dropped out: Phoenix [14]

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Houston (3-0): My NBA TV colleague Rick Fox had a great line about the Rockets, slowly getting themselves back together, on Saturday: "progress, not perfection." If Houston can get Donatas Motiejunas, who made his season debut against the Kings Saturday, back on line, and can somehow get Dwight Howard up and running on a night to night basis, maybe they can salvage something meaningful this season.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Phoenix (0-4): Ends East swing with four losses after impressive win to start in Toronto. Missed Tyson Chandler (hamstring) and his defensive presence; one imagines he would have seen that game-winning lob from Courtney Lee on Sunday coming.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

What was your most heartbreaking loss in a game?

My house is a Packers house, so there was nothing but joy in the watching and re-watching of Aaron Rodgers's miracle Hail Mary pass at the gun Thursday to beat the Detroit Lions. (Why, yes, I'd love to look at it again!) But there is always another side to a result like that, and if you've ever been a fan of a team, you've been on that side, probably more than once. It's brutal.

So I just threw it out to a few people over the weekend: what was your worst loss as an athlete? It could be in any sport, in high school, college or the pros?

Anthony Morrow, guard, Oklahoma City: "In 10th grade we were undefeated and favored to win state championship and we lost in the first round at the buzzer, that one hurt!! But then we won the next two straight lol"

Raja Bell, former player (Phoenix) and executive (Cleveland): "Worst was Kobe in the first round 2006. 6.1 seconds (left), jump ball between Luke Walton and Nash at half court. Ball to Kobe, weaves up court and knocks down a leaning 18fter over me and Boris Diaw to beat us in OT. For what it's worth ... Luke was standing out of bounds when he tied Nash up for the jump ball. "

Darvin Ham, assistant coach, Atlanta: "Most certainly would have to be when I was with Detroit, losing Game 5 in the 2005 Finals to the Spurs at home, Big Shot Bob struck again..."

Horry Saves The Day In Game 5

Robert Horry's clutch shooting led the Spurs to a win and a 3--2 series lead. He scored all of his points in the fourth quarter and overtime periods, including a three-point shot with 5.8 seconds left. The San Antonio Spurs went on to defeat the Detroit Pistons and win the series

Danny Ainge, General Manager, Boston Celtics: "Magic Johnson's hook shot, 1987, Game 4 of The Finals. Best miracle win of all was BYU bowl win vs SMU 1980. Down 3 TD's with about 4 minutes. SMU had (Craig) James and (Eric) Dickerson. But (Jim) McMahon led BYU to 3 TDs including a Hail Mary to Clay Brown as time expired."

Tracy Murray, Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach: "Mine was in High School. The California State Championship loss to Menlo Atherton. I scored 64 points, had 19 rebounds, seven blocks, five assists and three steals and lost 89-83."

Reggie Miller, Hall of Famer, Indiana Pacers: "Great question, because I've had a few but the one that comes to mind is the Larry Johnson 4-point play. Reason why it's heartbreaking is because it shouldn't have counted, shot came after the foul, and the official Jess Kersey knew it, series was tied 1-1 at the time, Knicks won that game to go up 2-1, we evened series in Game 4, but if they don't give them that call we win Games 3 and 4 and are up 3-1. BIG difference.

"I just watched it again on YouTube, No. 1 it WASN'T a foul in first place, No. 2 was CLEARLY if it was a foul on the floor, terrible officiating on that play ... Please find out the officials for game, terrible terrible terrible!!!!"

Nicola Vucevic, center, Orlando Magic: "So one of the tougest losses for me that I remember was from my freshman year at USC. We lost to Michigan State in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament. It was tough because we had a rough season and then started playing really well towards the end, won the Pac 10 Tournament and had a good thing going. The Michigan State game was really close and after the loss, everyone was really disappointed because we felt like we had a good chance of doing something special. We had a good team."

Beno Udrih, guard, Miami Heat: "Well, the worst I been a part of was with the Spurs in Houston when TMac went off in the last minute of the game when we were up 11, I think, 1 minute to go!!! Can't remember what year but I am sure u remember that game!!!"

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Failure to Launch. From Charles Elmer:

I'm concerned about the Rockets. We obviously are one of the deepest, most talented teams in the League with a former multiple DPOY in Dwight Howard, MVP candidate in James Harden, borderline All-Star in Ty Lawson, champions in Jason Terry and Trevor Ariza, and a plethora of lanky, versatile young players on the come up (Terrence Jones, Montrezl Harrell, Donatas Motiejunas and Sam Dekker).

Obviously, the first month of the season has been littered with red flags (and not that Rockets red that we like to see). Stories of Harden and Lawson partying with Meek Mill before the Miami game we later blew a 21 point lead in, with Harden unable to hit from long distance in 10 attempts, just make me cringe. Our WCF foe is 19-0. What do we need to do to get motivated?

Rockets vs. Heat

Dwyane Wade scores 20 points and records eight rebounds as the Heat drop the Rockets at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Basketball is obviously a very emotional and thoughtful game. I'm not saying all players have to be saints. But, if your life is filled with solid habits and you have everything taken care of off the court, it seems that you can devote all that extra energy and effort to being great.

Do you think that the success of teams like the Warriors and Spurs has as much to do with their on the court mettle as with their off the court values? They seem to just be solid guys. These Rockets, on the other hand, don't, and I think it's showing through with their product on the court.

All championship teams seem to have great collective focus, Charles. They think the same on the floor. They make incredible individual and collective sacrifices. They are extremely well-coached. And they usually police themselves. I'm not around the Rockets every day, so I can't tell you if the outside world is distracting them, or if they've just had a bad run with injuries, or if it's some of both.

Memoirs of an Invisible Superstar? From Isaiah Pierce:

Just a year ago, it was universally agreed from what I could tell that when mentioning the possible best players in the world it was LeBron James, Kevin Durant and maybe Anthony Davis (I think since he hasn't accomplished nearly as much as the other two in both the regular season or playoffs, an argument can be made against Davis) on one tier and everyone else lower.

Nightly Notable: Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant scores 30 points, grabs 6 rebounds, and hands out five assists during Wednesday's game versus the Nets.

But since Durant's injury, the media no longer even mentions his name during this debate and that, to me, is just disrespectful. There hasn't been any proof he can't play at his MVP level or better. In fact we've seen him come back from injury three times and play like the NBA monster he is every time.

With Curry setting fire to everything in permanent human torch mode now, he should be added to this list for debateable best player in the world. But why does the media act like Durant no longer exists?

I don't know the media that you follow, Isaiah. But there's no one I know that covers the league that doesn't still have Durant on any list of the top three or four players in the game. If your argument is that Oklahoma City doesn't get as much attention on a daily basis, that's a different question (though I'm not sure how you'd measure that). I would say that neither Kevin nor Russell Westbrook seem exactly eager these days to open up to the media, and Golden State has, most assuredly, taken the lion's share of national coverage with its unbeaten streak to start the season.

The very, very long and short of it. From Brian Simontacchi:

If you were to take a look back at the Carmelo Anthony trade's effect on the Knicks, Nuggets, and perhaps even the Orlando Magic, what would you say? Is Kristaps Porzingis the real treasure of that trade? Has Carmelo's tenure been a disappointment? How have the Nuggets, whose best players are still Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, moved on, or are they still stuck in the shadow of a four-year old move?

Well, Brian, let's review. (This will take a while.) On Feb. 20, 2011, the Knicks, Nuggets and Timberwolves made the deal. Anthony, along with guards Chauncey Billups and Anthony Carter, forward Renaldo Balkman and center Shelden Williams, went to New York. The Knicks sent Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Ray Felton, Timofey Mozgov and cash to Denver, and traded Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph and $3 million in cash to Minnesota in exchange for Corey Brewer. The Nuggets got center Kosta Koufos from the Wolves, along with second-round picks from New York in 2012 and 2013 (via Golden State), and the Knicks' first-rounder in 2014. The Nuggets also acquired the right to swap 2016 first-rounders with New York.

Anthony, of course, is still with the Knicks. He's been an All-Star in each of his four full seasons in New York, during which time the Knicks have made the playoffs three times after a postseason drought that lasted six years, and won a playoff series for the first time in 13 years.

The Knicks waived Brewer a week after the deal. New York amnestied Billups after his half-season in New York in 2011 in order to create enough cap room to sign free agent Tyson Chandler. Carter signed with Toronto as a free agent in 2011. Balkman played 17 games in New York over two seasons before being waived in 2012; Williams signed with the Nets the following summer as a free agent.

Melo's Milestones

Check out Carmelo Anthony's milestones throughout his career from his first points in Denver to his 20,000th point at Madison Square Gardens.

If you accept the premise that the Knicks couldn't have signed Chandler without getting Billups' contract/room, the deal also should include what New York got from Dallas after doing a sign-and-trade deal with Chandler in 2014; the Knicks sent Chandler and Felton (whom New York had re-acquired from Portland in a separate trade in 2012) to the Mavericks for Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin, Samuel Dalembert and two 2014 second-round picks (the Knicks took Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo). Calderon, New York's current starting point guard, is the only player remaining on the Knicks' roster from the Chandler deal. Early and Antetokounmpo are on the Knicks' NBA D-League team in Westchester.

So: the Knicks have gotten four pretty good seasons (including three playoff appearances) out of Anthony, a superstar in the prime of his career who helped them sell a lot of those really expensive seats at Madison Square Garden, a couple of good years from Chandler, and a solid point guard in the veteran Calderon for the last year. (I'm not sure how you factored Porzingis in this; he was the Knicks' own first-round pick on the basis of their terrible season last year. They didn't get any firsts from Minnesota or Denver in the 'Melo deal.) I wouldn't call that a bonanza, but I wouldn't call it a disappointment -- unless you think the haul they sent to Denver was too much.

The Nuggets initially did very well by the deal. Their new guys (Gallinari and Chandler became starters) blended with holdovers Nene, J.R. Smith, Al Harrington and Ty Lawson, and Denver finished that season 50-32, losing to Oklahoma City in the first round. But the 2011 lockout had a deleterious impact. Chandler, a free agent, wound up having to sign in China, where he played most of the season before coming back to Denver in March of 2012. But he only played eight games before tearing the labrum in his left hip. The rest of the ex-Knicks helped the Nuggets get to the playoffs, where they again went down in the first round (this time to the Lakers).

The following season, Denver had the best season in franchise history, finishing 57-25 and leading the league in scoring. George Karl was named NBA Coach of the Year. Koufos started 81 games at center, and Gallinari was third on the team in scoring. But Chandler missed most of the first half of the season rehabbing after the hip surgery, and Gallinari's season ended when he tore his ACL just before the playoffs in April -- an injury that cost him most of the two succeeding seasons, with Gallinari needing two surgeries to finally repair the damage correctly.

The Nuggets were then upset in the first round of the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors. Karl and the team couldn't agree on a contract extension, and he was let go. Though Chandler returned to play for most of the next two seasons, he's already out for all of this season after again needing hip surgery. Gallinari has returned this season and is averaging 17.7 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Nuggets, shooting 36 percent on threes. Denver traded Koufos to Memphis in 2013 for Darrell Arthur and Joffrey Lauvergne.

The Nuggets took forward Quincy Miller with the 2012 second-rounder acquired from New York. Miller played 59 games over two seasons before being waived in 2014. Denver dealt the 2013 second-rounder it got from New York to Orlando as part of the four-team deal with the Lakers, 76ers and Magic that sent Dwight Howard to Los Angeles, Andrew Bynum to Philly and Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets. (Iguodala played one season in Denver before signing with Golden State in 2014.)

Then there was Mozgov, who became a starter in Denver by 2013, and was putting up solid numbers last season (8.5 points, 7.8 rebounds) when he was dealt to Cleveland, desperate for big man help, for two first-round picks -- a 2015 first that the Cavaliers got from Oklahoma City and a 2015 first the Cavs got from Memphis.

OKC's first was protected for picks 1-18, so the Thunder kept the pick in the '15 Draft, taking guard Cameron Payne (No. 14 overall). The pick is protected in 2016 for picks 1-15, so it's likely it will convey to Denver next year. The Memphis/Cleveland pick was protected from 6-14 in 2015, so it didn't convey to Denver; the Grizzlies took forward Jarell Martin with the 25th pick in the first round. It has similar 6-14 protection in 2016, so it's not likely the Nuggets will get the pick next year. If they don't, the pick only has protection for Memphis from 1-5 in the 2017 Draft.

So: Denver got a short-term boost from the trade, though it didn't lead to any playoff success, and two of the key pieces -- Gallinari and Chandler -- have been slowed significantly by injuries since 2012. But Denver still has up to three first-round picks coming its way because of the moves set in motion by the Anthony deal.

To use a boxing analogy: if you're scoring the trade at home, the Knicks are ahead on points going into the late rounds, but the Nuggets still have a puncher's chance to win it.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and a better seatbelt for Carter to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(last week's averages in parentheses)

1) Stephen Curry (34.5 ppg, 4 rpg, 4.8 apg, .608 FG, .762 FT): You know you've arrived when The Wall Street Journal even notices your pre-game shooting ritual that has attracted hundreds of fans the last couple of years.

2) LeBron James (30.5 ppg, 10 rpg, 6 apg, .429 FG, .947 FT): Missed first game of season for rest Saturday in Miami.

3) Russell Westbrook (26 ppg, 9 rpg, 8 apg, .473 FG, .960 FT): Posted 22nd career triple-double Sunday night with 19 points, 11 boards and 10 assists against Sacramento.

Nightly Notable: Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook records his third triple-double of the season with 19 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds in the Thunder's win over the Kings.

4) Kawhi Leonard (20 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, .424 FG, .840 FT): With 41 3-pointers in his first 20 games, he's well on his way to obliterating his career single season high of 69 3-pointers in 2013-14. Amazing when one considers his shot has been completely remade since college.

5) Paul George (30 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, .418 FG, .778 FT): Career-high 48 points in the Pacers' overtime loss to the Jazz Saturday night.

BY THE NUMBERS

$680,000,000 -- Estimated salary and endorsement earnings by Kobe Bryant through his 20-year NBA career, per Forbes Magazine, which also claims Bryant is the highest-earning athlete in a team sport in history.

15 -- Players in league history with 26,000 or more points, a plateau reached Saturday by Kevin Garnett during Minnesota's win over Portland. KG, behind Tim Duncan, 14th on the active list, will also have to get on his horse to catch or pass Boston's John Havlicek, who's currently 13th (26,395 points).

Garnett Hits His 26,000th Point

Ricky Rubio feeds Kevin Garnett for the long jumper notching his career 26,000th point.

68 -- Points, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey, that the 76ers have been outscored by (108-40) in the final five minutes of play this season. Philly blew another fourth-quarter lead to the Nuggets on Saturday in losing for the 20th time in 21 games.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) The Warriors are so cartoonishly good right now that, at the quarter mark of the NBA's regular season, they already have a 10-game lead on the Clippers for the Pacific Division lead.

2) Coaches are damned if they do and damned if they don't, so I'm sure David Blatt knew he'd get heat (sorry) for holding LeBron James out of the second night of a back-to-back -- especially in Miami -- on Saturday. But for James' and the Cavs' long-term health, finding days off during the regular season is vital.

On Cavs Resting LeBron

The guys spotlight teams and players from this past week as well as all the leftovers in this edition of the Sunday Feast.

3) Kristaps, Dirk. Dirk, Kristaps. Tonight in the Garden.

4) Ran into old friend Michael Curry, now in his third season as coach at Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton. He's cautiously optimistic about the Owls in Conference USA this season. Curry's staff includes former NBA player Eric Snow and former Pistons assistant coach Ron Oliver.

5) There have been some impressive runs in the history of football, but you can put L.J. Smith's will-not-be-denied touchdown on fourth and goal for Michigan State, with a berth in the College Football Playoff at stake, in the final seconds Saturday against Iowa, at the top of the list.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) What on earth has happened to Milwaukee's defense? The Bucks were second in defensive rating last season ... they're 26th today. They were eighth in points allowed last season; now they're 20th. And while steals are an imperfect measure of defensive success, it is interesting to note that the Bucks have fallen from first in steals last season to 13th through the first quarter of this season.

2) It is painful to watch the Sixers compete, game after game, and play well enough to have fourth-quarter leads -- to have wins so tantalizingly close -- only to not know how to close games out and lose night after night. One can only imagine what it feels like to actually experience it.

3) RIP, Loscy.

4) What a voice God gave Robert Loggia, the distinguished character actor who died last week at 85. It was distinctive and let you know his character, whatever his faults, was not to be messed with, whether in westerns or in comedies like "Big", which featured this all-time gem of a scene with Tom Hanks.

Q & A: RUDY GOBERT

Life changes your plans, you know?

The idea for the rebuilding Utah Jazz was to become strong in the post again with Enes Kanter, the third pick in the 2011 Draft, an offensive whiz who would team with Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. But while Kanter and Favors did well inside together, Utah was not progressing as quickly as a team. Fortunately, the Jazz had hedged its bet on Kanter by arranging for a Draft night trade with Denver in 2014 for the rights to center Rudy Gobert, who'd gained everyone's attention in the NBA by blocking almost two shots a game at age 20 for Cholet, a Pro A League team in France, and by displaying an insane 7-foot, 8 ½-inch wingspan at the Chicago PreDraft Camp.

All NBA League Pass Team: Rudy Gobert

See why Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert is on the All NBA League Pass Second Team.

With a new coach in Quin Snyder, the Jazz went all-in for defense, and that was all the opening Gobert needed. He put down his marker playing for France in the 2014 World Cup, on a team without normal stalwarts Tony Parker and Boris Diaw. Yet Gobert dominated the tournament, ending the hopes of host Spain, with NBA players Pau and Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka, in the quarterfinals. Gobert's role also increased for the Jazz, which realized the emerging defensive monster it had on its hands.

Utah traded Kanter to Oklahoma City last season at the trade deadline, and its defense went through the roof. Utah had given up 98.2 points per game before the All-Star break; after the break, it gave up 89. Freed up from having to guard opposing centers (Kanter's defense leaving a lot to be desired), Favors blossomed. Gobert's defensive rankings from February through April were an A student's dream: 92, 94 and 97. And Gobert became one of the advanced crowd's darlings, with catchy nicknames (the "Stifle Tower" and "The French Rejection") to boot.

And then...life, again.

The Jazz got off to a solid start this season as they smoked Indiana, and beat Memphis, Atlanta and Toronto. But last week, in practice, Gobert suffered a Grade II sprain of the MCL in his left knee, and is out indefinitely.

(Note: this interview was conducted before Gobert's injury.)

Utah bucked up for an emotional overtime win at home Saturday without its anchor, but the Jazz's long-term prospects for growth will depend on when their big man can stretch his leg out comfortably again.

Me: It's been stunning how quickly you all have become an elite defensive unit. When did you start to see that? I assume it was during the second half of last season?

Rudy Gobert: I think it started from the beginning (of last year) ... even the guys that don't like to play defense have found that, really, they have to play defense. If there's four guys on the court and they're playing hard defensively, and one guy don't do it, it kind of (bleeps) up everything. Everybody feels like he needs to play defense. We've got defensive pride and that defensive pride has gotten strong month after month. It's just gotten better playing with each other defensively.

I like "Stifle Tower." I like "Gobzilla." There's a lot of nicknames that are pretty cool.

– Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, on his nicknames

Me: How did you and Derrick get such good chemistry on defense?

RG: I think we started trusting each other. I know he's got my back and he knows I've got his back, you know, game after game. Playing with each other, trusting each other, just getting into that relationship.

Me: You mentioned that defensive pride. So is that the Jazz's calling card now?

Rejected by Gobert

Rudy Gobert protects the paint and denies the shot attempt by Jonas Valanciunas.

RG: That's what we want to be. We know we don't have a guy that's going to score 30 every night. We've got a lot of very talented guys that are very good players. We've just got to do it every night. And I think we can be, last year we were second. We can be the best defensive team in the league. That's our goal. Every team we play, we want them coming in saying 'oh, we've got the Jazz; it's going to be a long night.' That's what Coach says every time: be that defensive team that nobody wants to play.

Me: How important is it to validate that against a great offensive team like the Clippers?

RG: Yes, especially against the West, the best teams in the West. The Clippers are one of the best offensive teams in the league. So everyone wanted to be active, and we did a great job. Now we just want to be consistent and do it every night, have the same focus defensively every night. And our offense, like I say, on offense, you don't always play well, but you can play well defensively. So it's just all about our defense.

Me: By the way, do you like the nickname "Stifle Tower?"

RG: I like "Stifle Tower." I like "Gobzilla." There's a lot of nicknames that are pretty cool.

Me: How comfortable are you getting on offense?

Gobert Leads the Break

Rudy Gobert picks off the pass and takes it the other way before feeding Rodney Hood in the lane for the layup.

RG: It's getting better. I think I'm just trying to stop thinking sometimes, try to do like in practice. I try to go into the game (and) stop thinking, just shoot the ball, and just be confident. That's getting better. I'm getting more aggressive. My free throws that I shoot are good now. So, I think, better. Like I say, my teammates try to throw me the ball, and pick and roll also, and we just go learning to play with each other. We work on it every day in practice, passing. When I get the ball and I hit them on the backdoor it's just playing together, like the Spurs, a team like that, they've been doing it for 10 years. We've just been together for like a year and a half. And this year it's getting better.

Me: If you can keep your core together, are special things possible down the road?

RG: Of course. I think that's what we're trying to build right now, having a strong core. I mean, Gordon, Derrick, me, Rodney (Hood), Alec (Burks), I think we're building our relationship. What I like about us is that we're very just very friendly. We're all trying to win. Everybody's trying to win and trying to compete every night and be the best team we can be. So I think we can only be better, and we can also be very good this year.

Me: You played for France in the Olympic qualifying tournament in your home country in September, and again battled Pau in the semifinal. What did you learn from that game and coming so close to qualifying for the Olympics, and defending France's EuroBasket title?

Every team we play, we want them coming in saying 'oh, we've got the Jazz; it's going to be a long night.' That's what Coach says every time: be that defensive team that nobody wants to play.

– Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert

RG: I learned that everything matters. We were up six and I think we turned the ball over on the fast break when we could be up eight. Might be a different game if we can score there. We learned that everything is different and can turn around the game, and I learned myself especially that I know I've got to be better offensively. I've got to be more physical. You can always say about the refs; I was mad about the refs, but when I think about it I think I had a good summer. But I think I've got to get better. I want to keep working, and next time we play we're gonna win.

Me: What was the legacy of Tony and Boris, the older French players who did so much to help put France back on the international basketball map, winning EuroBasket in 2014?

RG: I mean, Boris, for all the young French players, they're just great examples. They showed so much strength for French players, dominating. For us, they led the way. When I was young I watched Tony and I was like, I want to be one of the French players. I want to be in the NBA. If Tony can be in the NBA, I can do it. It was great for me to play with those guys.

Me: Do you talk to Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum about being the next generation of France's team?

RG: Oh, yes. Evan is one of my best friends. I've been playing with him since I was 13 years old. Evan is a great guy, Nicolas is a great guy. Nicolas, he's a little older than us, but he's younger than Tony and Boris. He's one of the guys who's kind of led the way, one of the guys I was looking up to.

Me: Are you ready to be a leader -- the leader -- of the next generation?

RG: That's what I want to be. I mean, I want to win. I'm really motivated for us to do well next summer getting in the qualification for the Olympics, to get to the Olympics, and get our revenge, and try to get the gold. Why not?

Me: I have to ask you, unfortunately, how everyone is coping with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, including yourself?

RG: For me, I was really glad that my family wasn't (impacted) by it. It was crazy. It was crazy. I was shocked when it happened, I was surprised. I've been going to those places. I was shocked when I saw it. So I think that the country, it's getting together, which is the most important.

Me: During EuroBasket, when France played Turkey, I read that everyone stood and sang the French National Anthem together, and how powerful a moment that was. I wonder if you think sports has any role in helping the country heal?

RG: Of course. I think sports can enrich people. It can unite people, too. This summer, everybody, when I got there in the stadium, that was the most impressive thing I've seen in all my life. There was 26,000 people singing the French Anthem. That was impressive.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Knicks center Robin Lopez (@rolopez42), Saturday, 12:14 p.m., in response to the Bucks' Twitter ad for Saturday night's game with New York that featured Lopez in a starring role.

THEY SAID IT

"We can't control it -- trying to figure out if a team from the Eighties could beat a team from the Nineties, or a team from the Sixties could beat a team from the Seventies. It can't happen, so it's pointless to discuss. I just don't see myself in ten, 15, 20 years belittling teams just because we won a championship or, you know, we had a good record. I hope that I won't be a grumpy old man who's belittling all the younger guys. I don't see myself doing that."

-- Warriors center Andrew Bogut, to Rolling Stone, on comparisons between this season's Golden State team and the 72-10 Chicago Bulls team of 1995-96.

"I didn't hold up my end of the bargain. I know the world wanted to see it. I wanted it, he wanted it. He held up his end, I didn't hold up my end and I hate that. I hate that it didn't happen."

-- LeBron James, to local reporters, on his lament that he never got to face Kobe Bryant in the NBA Finals -- most notably in 2010, when the Cavaliers were upset by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals. The Lakers went on to beat Orlando in The Finals in five games for Bryant's fourth NBA title.

"A guy who is 20 years in the league, 40 years old, comes two hours before practice and gets some shots up and does some extra work. Now everybody does the same. I used to do the same. I know your body got to rest sometimes, but it is something that, when you are home, you are thinking, 'KG is on his way to the arena' and I am just having breakfast at home or whatever. And you feel bad. You feel like, "I should be there." And that -- little things, little details change the culture from a normal team to a winning team."

-- Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio, to the Minnesota Post, on the impact Kevin Garnett has had on the Wolves since his return to the franchise he put on the map.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.