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Could Kobe close his career in New York?
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Is Kobe really going to go through 60 losses?
It sure looks that way with a decimated Lakers team that started 0-4 losing by an average of 17 points per game, worse even than the 76ers. Kobe’s going to have to ask, but there’s one response to this. It’s a trade to the New York Knicks. It hasn’t been broached by either side, as far as I know, and hasn’t been raised by Bryant. But it makes sense for both franchises and Bryant as his career comes to a close.
Yes, Bryant remains vital for the Lakers’ fans base, though he hardly sells tickets. No one is giving up their Lakers’ tickets no matter who is playing. Because they’ve always come back quickly. Though it may not be so quick now. Not because of Bryant as the debate went a few weeks back. But you need luck. Red Auerbach didn’t get dumb. He got unlucky and Celtics had a two decade slump. It coincided with ownership instability, which has overtaken the Lakers. Things may not change for a while. And no matter how much the Lakers paid Bryant, no major free agents were going there with their roster this summer. So take care of him. Good for them. Jeanie Buss rightfully defended Bryant on a recent media blitz.
But if the Lakers feel they owe Bryant anything, it should be to finish his career in a competitive situation where he has a chance, if not any certainty, of playoff success.
Trading Bryant and taking back a matching short-term contract like the Knicks have and perhaps a young player and/or draft pick and also having the spending money this summer would enable the Lakers to start rebuilding. They cannot as long as Bryant is there, which is now two seasons.
New York is not only the ideal place; it’s the only place.
And not so much because they have the matching money deal with a year left with Amar’e Stoudemire. It’s because it’s second home for Bryant with Phil Jackson as team president, longtime teammate Derek Fisher as coach and close friend Carmelo Anthony as star.
What better way for the Knicks to have a crash course in the triangle offense than have Bryant, who knows every position and role? It would be a mentor off the court in Fisher and Jackson and on the court in Bryant to speed the process and thus take the pressure off Anthony. And in the process give Anthony a high scoring sidekick who is a threat to the defense. Bryant has shown in the four games he is healthy, averaging 24.8 points, though on 21 shot attempts per game. The Knicks have had a nice 2-1 start. They could harbor serious dreams of being in the top four in the Eastern Conference by pairing Bryant with Anthony. And what a show for New York, where Bryant always has relished playing.
And it’s not like there’s some big free agent to get next summer for the Knicks. Marc Gasol gets mentioned often, but he’s hardly a franchise player even if he were to leave. Neither is Rajon Rondo. LaMarcus Aldridge seems all but headed back to Portland. Rudy Gay? Greg Monroe? Luol Deng? Hey, Lin-sanity! No, LeBron’s not opting out. Taking a chance Kevin Love will? Having Bryant on the books for two years serves also as a space holder for the salary to come off when the free agency class is more significant in 2016 and 2017.
There’s an intriguing near precedent for this. It involves Isiah Thomas, who had such a chance in 1994 and long has wondered if he made a mistake by deciding to end his career in the same place. The Knicks and Pistons had agreed to a trade of Tony Campbell and a No. 1 for Thomas after Doc Rivers was injured and out for the season. They later acquired Derek Harper for the same package. That was the famous season when the Knicks went to the Finals and were shot out of the potential clincher by John Starks misses. Thomas has joked he’d have made sure Starks instead was passing to Patrick Ewing or he would have. But Thomas asked the Pistons, on the way to a 20-62 season, not to make the trade.
“During that time I couldn’t see myself wearing any other uniform other than a Pistons uniform,” Thomas said in an interview Sunday. “Just my loyalty to the organization and to the jersey was too hard to break. Even today, I don’t know if I could have broken that bond I personally had. It was a personal bond I had to the jersey and organization. You don’t want to bail on tough times. I’d been the face of the franchise. You don’t want to go when the chips are down.”
But Thomas has since wondered. He tore his Achilles later that season laboring for the 20-win Pistons and retired at age 33. He’s wondered since how much longer he would have and could have played in a competitive environment and if the Knicks would have gotten those titles, which might have also led Pat Riley to stay.
Bryant appears to have some terrific basketball left in him. What a shame it would be if it were wasted with a 20-win team trying to fight its way out of last place in the conference. Imagine Kobe and Carmelo in New York with Jackson. New York is all about the show. And who better to be the triangle guru? Don’t the Lakers owe Bryant that much? And isn’t it time after seeing what they have for the Lakers to get started on reloading that roster? All it likely would take is for Kobe to ask. How long will he wait?
NBA news and notes
-- It was Michael Jordan everywhere last week as the NBA season opened. Predictable, one might say, given Jordan owns the Charlotte Hornets. So there had to be some marketing as Jordan spoke to ESPN and local media among others. But it’s a big departure for Jordan, who has been a virtual basketball recluse in recent years. Jordan flew to Las Vegas this summer to recruit Lance Stephenson and Stephenson said Jordan told him he could do without the ear blowing antics, but “I like your competitive drive and the way you challenged LeBron. Because if we’re ever going to get out of the East, you have to get past LeBron.” But friends say this is more than the improvement of the former Bobcats from 6,000 season tickets when Jordan purchased to 10,000 and what most believe is a playoff team from one that recorded the lowest winning percentage in league history. Jordan told Charlotte media: “Four years ago we ventured into this whole process unknowingly. We believed we were going to make some sound decisions, and yet we did not. We faced those decisions. And I think we took a little more meticulous view, learned from our mistakes and chose a different path. I think we’re on the right path. I think we’ve finally gone through those rough roads and steered it in the right direction. Everyone’s kind of smiling right now.” Jordan, especially, as he’s told some close to him he’s more content now than ever with his personal situation and new family and, no, doesn’t want to play basketball anymore. I always felt Jordan regretted never being the father he wanted to be because of his basketball and public obligations as a player and that, really, he still was a kid himself. That’s why in his 50s he’s become a doting father, friends say, and happier than they’ve seen him and why you now see him so much more in public. Around golf and the NBA, on TV, talking with media, really being back, more like 1984 than 1996.
-- Former Bulls coach and Knicks president Phil Jackson Monday will receive the Johnny Bach award at the Fordham University basketball tipoff dinner in New York City. The award honors an individual who has had a substantial and lasting impact on basketball and emulates Bach's drive and passion for excellence. Bach is the winningest coach in Fordham history, coaching there 18 seasons before his NBA coaching career, which included three championships with Jackson on the 1991-93 Bulls "It's with great pleasure and honor that I'm to receive the John Bach Award,” Jackson told me last week. “He was an inspiring colleague during my seven years with him on the Chicago Bulls staff. I asked him to be the defensive coordinator of those first three peat Bulls. The defense those Bulls teams played was awesome. He named that unit the Dobermans. John Bach had a big influence on my coaching and our team." Bach turned 90 this summer and remains active in basketball and does some part time scouting for the Bulls.
-- Former Bull Chet Walker, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, will be among those inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame Nov. 13. Walker was the third leading scorer to Wilt Chamberlain and Hal Greer on the 1967 76ers’ title team, which some regard as the best team in NBA history. Among those in this class will include baseball pitcher Curt Schilling and NFL player Marvin Harrison. The general manager of that team was Jack Ramsay and the coach Alex Hannum, who Walker wants to remind everyone ran the triangle offense. Hannum played college ball at USC with Tex Winter for coach Sam Barry, who devised the offense. It was popularized by the 1990s Bulls under Jackson and Winter and now is much discussed in New York with Jackson as team president and the team using the offense. But Walker says it helped win the 76ers that 1967 title. “We called it ‘shape,’” recalled Walker. “Alex showed us this offense they call the triangle and just said that’s what we’ll run. He’d yell, ‘shape up’ and we were into it. It’s been around a long time. It’s a programmed offense, and a lot of guys today think it’s too slow for the current, big basketball players. But Hannum always won with it. It won that title in ’67. It works. It was around long before Phil Jackson.”
-- Nice to finally hear someone in basketball say something about the fraud being perpetuated by the 76ers. Former 76ers (and most everyone) coach Larry Brown said last week: "Can you imagine telling Allen Iverson that this is a rebuilding season so we're going to be bad on purpose? I love [Nerlens] Noel, I love Joel [Embiid]. But you can't put that stuff into them. Again, it boggles my mind. I understand you have to get assets to get better. You get assets by developing young players, draft picks, and moving contracts. But how much teaching is going on?" There are many around the NBA who say just fine them $10 million for acting outside the best interests of the game. But others who don’t disagree about building in a similar matter say the basketball problem is an organization teaching its young players to lose, habits that are hard to break. What’s also been curious is the lack of media scrutiny in a city that likes to consider itself a tough fan market. Apparently not so much. … The poster child for staying in college and learning the game has become former Bulls No. 1 pick Marquis Teague, recently traded by the Nets to the 76ers and waived and now in the D-League. He’s at best a minimum player now and seems likely to have a career overseas without a chance to mature and be a much higher draft pick. It’s also the appeal and danger of John Calipari. He will help you become a first round NBA draft pick, which draws so many to Kentucky. But not many of his players have the NBA careers they might have because other than the elite, top picks he’s always adding the next guy. … America is all about second chances, especially if you are contrite. Tyrus Thomas sounded that way in an interview with the Basketball Insiders web site, saying he’s working out in San Antonio for a comeback after a divorce, back surgery and being let go from the worst team (by percentage) in NBA history. Said Thomas: “I was 19 years old when I first entered the NBA; it’s no excuse and I’ve owned my mistakes, but whew have I grown a lot. Over the last two years, I’ve grown not only as a player but as a person. I now realize the opportunities that, at times, I took for granted. I look back now and I was just a poor kid from South Baton Rouge. I didn’t understand then what I understand now.” Thomas did have amazing potential but the worst attitude of any rookie I’ve ever seen come into the NBA. Good luck to him.
-- Klay Thompson signed his big extension and then produced with a career-high 41 points Saturday, 72 along with Stephen Curry in perhaps the most exciting early season game with a win over the Lakers and a brilliant Kobe Bryant 19-point third quarter. Bulls-Cavs was probably more intense, however. With Bryant and Dwyane Wade in decline, James Harden generally emerges as the top shooting guard. But Thompson is more the classic for that position as the better pure shooter. The Warriors appear to be a top Western contender. … Though 2-1, one of the bigger disappointments looks like the Clippers with poor wing play hurting them and a stagnant offense that makes them look much overrated. … Mark Cuban, like Donald Trump, says a lot of stupid things. But at least Cuban will admit his mistakes. He’s getting the band back together he broke up for no reason after the 2011 title with Tyson Chandler and J.J. Berea and the Mavs look like a contender. … The schedule hasn’t been that difficult, but Miami has been surprisingly gritty in a 3-0 start. It’s been an impressively quick transition from their celebrity status. And Dwyane Wade was better in the second of a back to back after playing in just three of them last season. It’s a different Miami if he’s that Wade or, at least, close. … It’s just two games, but third in scoring and first in blocks and rebounds is Anthony Davis, making him the biggest MVP challenger to LeBron if the Pelicans can get as high as fourth in the West. Omer Asik is fourth in rebounding and tied for eighth in blocks: The Reject and Retrieve Brothers?
-- The Pistons, predictably, are off to an 0-3 start and new coach/general manager Stan Van Gundy, known for being candid and an elite coach, told Detroit media after the third loss: "I just don't have a great handle on our team, especially at the offensive end. I'll keep working my butt off and we'll get it figured out. But I don't have it figured out right now. We'll get it rolling at times and not at other times." Perhaps no one has told him he has the worst starting point guard in the NBA in Brandon Jennings and the worst shooting big man who should not be shooting in Josh Smith. Smith also got into a petty verbal media altercation when Kenneth Faried said Smith shot the Pistons out of the game (not exactly new there) and Smith countered that Faried was a clown and demeaned Faried’s hair style. That should get him! C’mon, admit it: You missed these guys. "I'll have some words while I'm busting his (behind),” said Smith. “He fears me. He's scared of me. He knows it's coming." And imagine that Van Gundy cannot get a handle on his team’s sophistication. There’s this trend these days among coaches that they need to also run the team so they can pick the players. Van Gundy didn’t pick these, so it’s hardly his fault. But there’s the problem being more than coach. Personnel is your problem now. D.J. Augustin has been outplaying Jennings and finished the first two games, which already has Jennings moaning. If Van Gundy weren’t the gm, coach Van Gundy would be telling him to release Jennings and Smith and resign Greg Monroe. But gm Van Gundy cannot do that. Sounds better sometimes than it is. … Could be a very intriguing big man on the market next summer as the Jazz elected to extend Alex Burks, matched on Gordon Hayward and signed Derrick Favors long term. They apparently didn’t negotiate with center Enes Kanter, a good offensive seven-footer. … The injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may have saved Scott Brooks. Not that he was in any trouble, but suddenly expectations dissolved for the Thunder with their stars undergoing surgery and out a month or more. They’ll spend the season just trying to get to the top four. Plus, it will give Brooks a chance to actually coach the way Durant and Westbrook tend to dominate the ball. … And Steve Kerr of the 3-0 Warriors with a league best 15.3 winning margin understands: "I can't believe how lucky I am with my first team to have this type of versatility and tough minded guys."