Game of the night: Kobe can’t will the Lakers past the Spurs

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From the opening tip, it was obvious this was one of those games Kobe Bryant wanted to take over. Call it ego, call it leadership, just know that it has worked before. Many times. He has elevated the Lakers by his sheer will.

It worked Tuesday on one level — this was the most energy and activity the Lakers have played with in weeks. The effort was there from the team.

What was lacking was execution, or the ability to knock down shots against a stout Spurs defense. What was not there was the ability to stop Tony Parker in transition and as he penetrated off the dribble, shredding the Lakers hesitant defense.

The result was a 97-82 win for the Spurs that was further evidence that right now in December they are better than the Lakers.

This was not a statement game, no message for the playoffs. The Lakers and Spurs make their statements in the second season, not late December. But it was an accurate snapshot of where the two teams are right now.

The Spurs are executing. They have revamped their offense but the efficiency is still there. Parker and Manu Ginobili are masterful and the two did a good job of attacking early in the clock before the Lakers got set defensively. Plus the Spurs still play good defense — and on that end of the floor and on the boards Tim Duncan is still key to this team.

The Lakers are not executing. They came out with the energy to right the ship tonight but they have not spent the first two months of the season building a base of good habits, and that has to be rebuilt now. That is not a switch to flip — the Lakers can get there faster because they’ve been there before, but they still have to travel the road.

Kobe came out and scored 8 of the Lakers first 10 — and on the couple plays where Ron Artest got the shot (and good looks) Kobe was still calling for the rock. He wanted to own the game and he hit 4 of 5 to start the game. Then he went cold, hitting 4 of 22 the rest of the night.

Part of that was the Spurs, part of that was Kobe — and the rest of the Lakers. As a team the Lakers shot 35.4 percent for the game and in a key stretch in the fourth quarter where they got some stops they just could not hit shots consistently. That includes Lamar Odom missing a layup driving to his left that is his go-to shot. Or Kobe open in the midrange. Shannon Brown was 1-11.

The one exception was Andrew Bynum, who was 4 for 4 and seems to be finding his touch — his shot was softer than it has been.

The Spurs just continued to impress as they have all season. The Lakers had no answer for Parker, who finished with 23 points on 10 of 18 shooting with two rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Parker blew by whomever the Lakers put on him on the perimeter and with both slow transition defense and hesitant rotations in the halfcourt Parker could pretty much do what he wanted inside.

Same with DeJuan Blair, who was the best big on the court and finished with 17 points and 15 boards.

The Spurs took control of this game at the start of the second half as they picked up the defensive intensity and the Lakers countered that with less player movement and more dribbling. Bad idea.

Kobe tried to carry his team and by the end looked exhausted on the court. This is not the end for the Lakers, but in the last two games they have seen where the bar is set and how far short of it they are right now. The Spurs and Heat are two of the four best teams in the league right now (with Dallas and Boston). The Lakers are on the next tier. They are the one team on that tier fully capable of making the jump up to the elite, but they have to get their execution back.

Something the Spurs already have down.

Important news: Nick Young has gotten over his fear of dolphins

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Where NBA players really make improvements is over the summer. They can get in better shape, work on their jumper, improve their handles…

Or get over their fear of dolphins.

Which is what the new Wizards guard did this summer. Remember these tweets from Young’s then fiancée a couple of years ago?

He’s gotten past that fear.

I gave these dolphins another chance we cool now

A post shared by Nick Young (@swaggyp1) on

Next, just needs to pick up a right with Golden State and show that to the Dolphins — they respect titles.

Report: Mikhail Prokhorov ‘warmed’ to selling controlling stake of Nets

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Mikhail Prokhorov bought 80% of the Nets in 2010. A couple years ago, he tried to sell his stake, but decided to keep it. Then, he bought 100% of the franchise and its arena. After last season, he said he was selling 49% of the team.

Now?

Josh Kosman and Brian Lewis of the New York Post:

Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, while focused on selling a minority stake in the franchise, has warmed recently to the possibility of offering a controlling slice of the team, sources close to the situation said.

The change of heart comes after the initial reaction to the minority stake sale was weak — and with interest in the Houston Rockets sale heating up, one source said.

The Rockets’ sale could shake out potential Nets buyers, and Prokhorov selling a controlling stake could also help. It’d cost more money than the 49% he’s offering now, but people with the money to buy an NBA team tend to value control.

This might be a good time to sell for Prokhorov, who lost a ton of money as the team paid major luxury tax for an all-in championship pursuit that flopped spectacularly. The NBA’s popularity is rising, and the league is reaping huge revenue from its national-TV contracts.

However, he shouldn’t assume the Rockets’ sale price will predict the Nets’. Buyers might prefer a good team with James Harden and Chris Paul to a bad one short on young talent after years of mismanagement. At least Brooklyn’s payroll is now tolerably low.

The big loser here: Leslie Alexander, who’s trying to sell the Rockets. The supply of NBA teams now available might have just doubled, and unless there’s no overlap in demand for those franchises, that can only drive down Alexander’s eventual sale price.

Report: Clippers paid $3.2 million – second-most ever – for draft pick (Jawun Evans)

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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The Warriors set a record by paying $3.5 million for a draft pick, buying the Bulls’ No. 38 pick and using it on Jordan Bell this year.

That eclipsed the $3 million spent by each the Thunder in 2010 (to the Hawks for the No. 31 pick, Tibor Pleiss) and Nets in 2016 (to move up 13 spots for Isaiah Whitehead).

So did the Clippers’ purchase of the No. 39 pick (Jawun Evans) from the 76ers this year.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

The Clippers also paid the Bucks $2 million for the No. 48 pick (Sindarius Thornwell).

I rated Evans a low first-rounder due to his speed and drive-and-kick game, so getting him in the second round is good value. I’m not as keen on Thornwell, who’s already 22 and built so much of his success at South Carolina on being more physical than younger opponents.

But the more swings the Clippers take on young players, the more likely they are to find long-term contributors. More power to owner Steve Ballmer for greenlighting this expenditure.

Importantly, as players acquired through the draft, Evans and Thornwell will count for the luxury tax at their actual salaries. Players signed otherwise, even if their actual salaries are lower, count at at least the two-years-experience minimum.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can spend $5.1 million in cash this season. That amount will increase (or decrease) in proportion with the salary cap in coming years. So, expect the previous record for draft-pick purchase price – $3 million – to fall again and again.

There’s just more leeway now for the NBA’s haves to separate themselves from the have-nots.

Jeannie Buss says she didn’t understand why Lakers signed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov

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Last summer, the Lakers signed Luol Deng (four years, $72 million) and Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) to contracts that immediately looked like liabilities.

At worst, Deng and Mozgov would help the Lakers win just enough to lose their top-three protected 2017 first-round pick – which would have triggered also sending out an unprotected 2019 first-rounder – then settle in as huge overpays. At best, Deng and Mozgov would provide a little veteran leadership while the team still loses enough to keep its pick… then settle in as huge overpays.

The Lakers got the best-case scenario, which was still pretty awful.

They had to attach D'Angelo Russell just to dump Mozgov’s deal on the Nets. Even if he no longer fit long-term with Lonzo Ball, Russell could’ve fit another asset if he weren’t necessary as a sweetener in a Mozgov trade. Deng remains on the books as impediment to adding free agents (like Paul George and LeBron James) next summer.

Who’s to blame?

Jeanie Buss was the Lakers’ president and owner. Jim Buss, another owner, ran the front office with Mitch Kupchak.

Bill Oram of The Orange County Register:

Within the walls of the Lakers headquarters, Jeanie’s grand corner office had begun to feel like a cell. She could not make sense of the strategy employed by her brother and Kupchak. They had cycled through four coaches in five seasons and under their watch the Lakers won a combined 63 games in three full seasons. Last summer, they spent $136 million of precious cap space on veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, who made little sense for the direction of the team.

“I just didn’t understand what the thought process was,” she said, “whether our philosophies were so far apart that I couldn’t recognize what they were doing, or they couldn’t explain it well.”

No. Nope, nope, nope. I don’t want to hear it.

Jeanie empowered Jim and his silly timeline, which made it inevitable he place self-preservation over the Lakers’ best long-term interests. That’s why he looked for a quick fix with Mozgov and Deng, who’s still hanging over the Lakers’ plans.

She deserves scrutiny for allowing such a toxic environment that yielded predictably bad results (even if family ties clouded her judgment).

That said, she also deserves credit for learning from her mistake. She fired Jim and Kupchak – admittedly too late, but she still did it – and hired Magic Johnson. There’s no guarantee Johnson will direct the Lakers back to prominence, but he clearly has a better working relationship with Jeanie than Jim did and, so far (in a small sample), looks more competent in the job.