Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard

Report: Kobe, Howard almost came to blows after New Year’s Day loss


UPDATE 12:56 pm: As we suggested in the story below, pretty much everyone around the Lakers is saying “what are you talking about?” Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLA.com went on SportsCenter and said: “Everybody I’ve talked to associated with the Lakers said nothing like that has happened.”

She went on to say the chemistry in the Lakers locker room has not been great and the losing adds to that tension.

As we said in the original post, there are people around the league that are hoping Howard bolts Los Angeles because they would like to get their hands on a franchise center. It’s not happening unless Howard leaves this summer as a free agent, and frankly all indications are he is not leaving as a free agent this summer. He wants to be the next franchise anchor of the Lakers.

The Lakers are struggling and losses inflame issues on teams. Enough losses and some infighting could change the scenario in Lakersland. But don’t bet on it.

10:04 am: Salt. As in take this report with a large grain of it because of where we are hearing this.

No doubt the Lakers, now losers of three straight after Sunday night, are a frustrated bunch. They were a frustrated bunch on Tuesday when they lost to Philadelphia at home, a game where Kobe Bryant had 36 points and Dwight Howard had 7 on 1-of-7 shooting (but did have 14 rebounds).

The New York Daily News is reporting the two almost came to blows in the locker room after the game.

A league source told the Daily News that the Lakers stars got into a heated exchange following a New Year’s Day loss to the 76ers, and Bryant went for a low blow – referencing and agreeing with Shaquille O’Neal’s criticisms of Howard being soft.

Howard was restrained from going at his teammate, according to the source, and there have been rumblings from the center’s camp that he’s been unhappy with Bryant since earlier in the season.

Salt. And why should we be wary of this rumor? Two reasons.

First, none of the Lakers media has reported it — there are very good beat writers and broadcasters who cover the Lakers and there is not a chance they sit on this if they knew. Instead, the report comes from “league sources” which talks to a paper on the other coast. That should raise eyebrows.

Second, they talk to Stefan Bondy of the Daily News — a good reporter but a guy who covers the Nets. Bondy goes on in the story linked above to talk about how the Nets would still want Howard to pair with Deron Williams and now they could do a sign and trade with Brook Lopez next summer and….

Pipe dream.

Howard’s camp and Howard himself have said up to recently that the big man is happy in Los Angeles and has hinted he plans to sign an extension with the Lakers this summer when Howard becomes a free agent.

Certainly there is frustration around the Lakers right now as they continue to struggle, particularly on defense, and have put themselves in a place where the talk has gone from titles to making the playoffs. And there can be no doubt Kobe and Howard are a contrast of locker room styles — Kobe is focused and serious when it comes to business, Howard wants things to be fun.

But it is still a huge leap from there to to a near locker room fight and dreams of Howard considering further damage to his already scarred reputation by going out on the free agent market or forcing another trade (even if it is a sign-and-trade). I’m just not buying it.

And let the denials from the Lakers start in 5…4…3…

Pizza and soccer on agenda for Celtics on trip to Italy

Perry Jones III, Malcolm Miller, James Young, Jordan Mickey
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MILAN (AP) — After a couple of days in Milan, Isaiah Thomas‘ Italian experience is still lacking a certain something.

“I’m waiting on some pizza,” said a laughing Thomas, who used to do commercials for a regional pizza franchise when he played for the Sacramento Kings. “The place we went to last night didn’t have no pizza so hopefully tonight we go somewhere I can order some pizza for real.”

This trip isn’t just about culinary experiences, though. The Celtics are in Milan to play an exhibition game against Olimpia Milano on Tuesday before traveling to Spain to play Real Madrid as part of the NBA Global Games.

Ahead of the team’s practice session on Sunday, Thomas was also looking forward to his first soccer match, as the Celtics headed to San Siro later for AC Milan’s home match against Napoli in the Italian league – after an afternoon trip to nearby Lake Como.

“That’s going to be fun,” Thomas told The Associated Press at the Celtics’ first practice in Italy. “I’m excited about that. I’ve never been to a soccer match, to have my first soccer match be in Italy is going to be nice.”

Teammate Marcus Smart said the trip was also an important bonding experience for a young roster with plenty of new pieces. They went for a players-only meal in Milan on Saturday night.

“We had a good time with each other,” Smart said. “No phones, so everyone was talking to one other. It was good overall fun.

“We understand the severity of this trip, it is a business trip but at the same time not many people get this chance to travel like we do so we understand its business but we’re here to have fun at the same time.”

Coach Brad Stevens has overseen plenty of rebuilding since taking over the Celtics in 2013 but still led the team to the playoffs last season after trading point guard Rajon Rondo – the only remaining player from the 2008 championship team. After being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team is aiming higher this season. For Stevens, it all starts here in Italy.

“These sessions are really important to get something accomplished in practice and to make sure that we’re continuing to progress,” Stevens said. “It’s still very much a part of our training camp, and so you’ve got all of the great things about being a tourist – getting a chance to see new things and experience new things – and at the same time we’re 24 or 25 days away from our season opener.”

And after spending so many hours in the gym during the offseason, Thomas is ready to start playing actual games again – even if its just preseason.

“We’re ready to beat up on somebody else, we’re tired of beating up on each other,” Smith said.

Kings’ Karl admits mistakes in DeMarcus Cousins trade controversey

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In the NBA, elite players have the leverage. It is just simple supply and demand.

DeMarcus Cousins is an elite player — and a favorite of owner Vivek Ranadive. He is not going anywhere.

Which made this summer’s “George Karl wants trade Cousins” a battle the coach couldn’t ultimately win — the owner wasn’t going to sign off on it, and the fans are going to side with Boogie. Remember Karl said he never had a player that was untradable, and that spiraled into reports Karl probed trade options with other teams, much to the frustration of management and Cousins himself.

Karl owned up to some of his mistakes in an interview on Comcast Bay Area, as reported by James Ham at CSNBayArea.com.

“To be honest with you, I apologized to DeMarcus for making the trade comment that I’ve never coached a player that’s untradeable,” Karl told Christensen. “That was wrong for me to say, because you all (the media) took it and blew it up into crazy.”

“But it’s my responsibility to be smart enough to not say things like that,” Karl continued. “So I did apologize because I thought that was the only thing, maybe some other things, but really the only thing that got us separated was that comment that then everybody wrote the we’re going to trade [Cousins].”

The relationship between Cousins and Karl — not to mention Rajon Rondo and other veterans — is the biggest key to the Kings’ season. Karl and Cousins say their relationship is solid now, but what happens when that is put under stress at some point during the season?

In talking to people around the team, the Kings players seemed to have formed a tight bond — even if part of the glue of that bond is a distrust of Karl that can work for them. This is a team that has the talent to compete for the bottom couple playoff seeds in the Western Conference, but everybody needs to be pulling on the rope in the same direction. We will see pretty quickly if the Kings can do that.