Older Kobe needs more rest


nba_bryant2_250.jpgWhat makes Kobe Bryant legendary is not the skill but the will.

Certainly, he’s gifted athletically. But a number of players come into the NBA with gifts, and most use a fraction of what God gave them and have a nice career. Not Kobe, he outworks everybody — he’s the first in the gym, he watches more game tape than some coaches, he works on his game hard in the off-season. Winning matters. Being the best matters. Nothing gets in the way.

He also in tremendous condition. He takes care of his body like no other. But at age 31, with plenty of miles on his legs, Kobe needs more rest than he is willing to allow himself. Sometimes, even the best gladiators need to pace themselves.

Bryant is not 23 anymore — he is 31 and has played 43,387 minutes over the course of 14 NBA seasons (counting playoffs). That’s 2,000 minutes more than Larry Bird before injuries ended his career. It’s more than Magic Johnson. It’s basically right about the career ending number for many of the game’s legends.

Kobe can — and should — keep going. He’s playing at the highest level of his career. But his body does not bounce back like it used to. Sprained ankles after Lamar Odom steps on your foot take a little longer before you’re running full speed. Sore backs don’t bounce back. Fractured fingers take a little longer before the splints can come off. And all of that is harder to play through.

Bryant knows all this, intellectually. But what makes Kobe fascinating is he is like the lead character in a classic Greek tragedy — his greatest strength is his greatest weakness. The will and drive that made him the best player of a generation is the same thing that makes it nearly impossible for him to take his foot off the gas now.

Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said he would like Kobe to sit out through the All-Star Game. Phil Jackson knows better than to tell Kobe what to do, so he is playing the “whatever Kobe wants to do, he can do” card.

Bryant said he wants to play Wednesday in Utah, but that is a game-time decision. Same with the All-Star Game. “I’m not clairvoyant” was his response when asked if he would play.

The Lakers are not better without Kobe, but the last two games (wins over Portland and San Antonio) show they can survive just fine for a little bit. Kobe knows if he can go, but his teammates will be fine if he takes a short break, so he can be ready for the final push of the season and into the playoffs.

Bryant knows all this, intellectually. But will the drive that made him push his body to be one of the all time greats allow him to give his body the rest it needs as he ages? We will have to stay tuned to see how that play ends.

51Q: Can Billy Donovan or Fred Hoiberg repeat Steve Kerr’s success?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Can Billy Donovan or Fred Hoiberg repeat Steve Kerr’s success?

Has any first-year NBA head coach ever walked into a more “win now” situation than Billy Donovan?

The Oklahoma City Thunder are have been considered title contenders ever since they stepped on the court in the 2012 Finals. However, they have yet to return to that stage due to a combination of personnel moves and injuries. Next summer their superstar Kevin Durant is a free agent and he’s the kind of franchise-changing player who will draw 29 other suitors. If OKC is going to keep him they have to prove to Durant he can win it all without having to change addresses. It’s a lot to ask of a rookie NBA coach.

Maybe the guy who can best relate is Fred Holberg, who was brought in from Iowa State to take over a Chicago Bulls team that has not lived up to expectations the past several seasons. He takes over for an innovative coach, but with with a mandate from management to rest guys more, modernize the offense, and lift a team known for physically breaking down up to challenge Cleveland.

That’s setting the bar ridiculously high.

Donovan and Hoiberg can thank Steve Kerr for that — he cleared that bar his rookie season. Kerr came in and made the right personnel changes — starting Draymond Green over the higher-paid David Lee, for example — and pushed the right buttons all season long to lift the Warriors to the level of champions.

Can Donovan or Hoiberg match that success?

It would take a lot of luck — Kerr and the Warriors caught breaks on the injury front — but Kerr laid out a blueprint for how to do it.

The first step was admitting what he didn’t know — Kerr went out and hired top-flight NBA assistant coaches (Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams). The Warriors paid to bring in the experience Kerr lacked.

Donovan has followed that well — Monty Williams and Maurice Cheeks and Thunder are assistant coaches. Both are well-respected former NBA head coaches who can help Donovan with the details, plus help him avoid stepping in some steaming piles of trouble along the way.

Hoiberg and the Bulls didn’t go for the big names, which isn’t to say they don’t have experience and these are not good coaches, it’s just a different tactic. Hoiberg hired Randy Brown — the Bulls’ assistant general manager the past six seasons — and Charlie Henry, who was with Holberg at Iowa State. The Bulls also retained Mike Wilhelm on staff.

The second step for Kerr was to take the time to talk to each and every player over the summer, get to know them, and sell them on his vision. He didn’t disparage the popular coach he was replacing; rather he sold the players on his vision.

Hoiberg and Donovan both did this. What’s more, both are considered very good communicators — their college players love them to this day. Both of these guys realized that they may have left college but they didn’t stop recruiting.

The third thing on Kerr’s list was the primary reason both Donovan and Hoiberg were hired — modernize the offense.

This doesn’t mean changing who gets shots — if you’re Donovan you want Durant and Russell Westbrook to take a lot of shots. But where they get them on the floor and how they come about getting them is going to change — less isolation is a good thing. Westbrook has already said he feels more space to operate in Donovan’s offense. This shouldn’t be a surprise.

“The thing that makes Donovan so appealing from an NBA perspective is that his coaching style will fit in well at the professional level,” CollegeBasketballTalk’s Rob Dauster told PBT right after the hire. “At Florida, he ran a ball-screen motion offense built around floor-spacing, which are offensive concepts that are quite prevalent in the NBA. Not all college coaches will fit in well at the professional level. Donovan will.”

Hoiberg is doing the same thing in Chicago, where the offense under Tom Thibodeau was predictable. Hoiberg is also going to trust his bench more and get guys like Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol more rest in the regular season, so they are fresh come the postseason.

The fourth and final thing Kerr did brilliantly was keep the team focused on the finish line. To use the coaching cliché, trust the process. It was not about wins and losses in December, it was about getting better, staying healthy, and peaking when the playoffs hit. This may have been what Kerr did best — and considering he played for Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, you see where he got it.

Donovan and Hoiberg understand this, but the NBA regular season presents twice as many games as their college teams ever played in a season — and it’s after that things get serious. It’s easy to talk about focusing on the big picture, but both of these men need to walk the walk.

I think Donovan, if everything goes right and guys stay healthy, has a shot to replicate what Kerr did. That is a contending team he takes over, if they can just not devolve into a M*A*S*H* unit again there’s a chance. I think Hoiberg will be a good coach, but I’m not sure there’s enough left in the roster he was given to get out of the Eastern Conference.

But Kerr may have set the bar impossibly high even for two excellent coaches.

Stan Van Gundy rips ‘selfish’ Pistons

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The Pistons had just 19 assists – to 22 turnovers – in their 93-83 loss to the Nets last night.

Stan Van Gundy was none too pleased.

On offensive problems:

I told them in there – that was the first thing – we’re not playing together at all. I thought it was a very selfish performance, and guys wouldn’t just pass the ball to open men. They wanted to see if they could take one more dribble to get their own shot, so the passing angles were gone. I just thought we forced play after play after play. We’re not willing to move the ball

On Reggie Jackson, who scored seven points on 3-of-10 shooting with six assists and six turnovers, and was coming off Achilles soreness:

He was not good at all. He was forcing everything.

On injuries to point guards – Jackson, Brandon Jennings and Steve Blake – hindering the team’s flow in practice and that carrying over to the game:

We could probably make a lot of excuses for our guys, but we were selfish.

Van Gundy is clearly trying to send a message, and the preseason is the best time to do it.

But it’s somewhat troubling he had to do it after this game.

Eight of the 10 Pistons who played against Brooklyn project to make the regular-season rotation. Joel Anthony played over Aron Baynes, and once healthy, Blake could challenge Spencer Dinwiddie to become back up point guard – at least until Jennings is ready. Otherwise, Detroit – with Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Ersan Ilyasova, Andre Drummond, Jodie Meeks, Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver – looked similar to its opening-night lineup.

Van Gundy is blunt, but he doesn’t tell the media things he hasn’t already directly told his players. They appreciate that.

He’d appreciate them getting this message.