Bryant passes against Claver and Pavlovic during NBA basketball game in Portland, Oregon

Kobe fantastic in win over Blazers, but teammates still stress team play


How Kobe Bryant functions within the structure of the Lakers’ offense will always be a hot-button topic. Even when the Lakers win the game.

Last night Kobe was brilliant in the Lakers’ win over the Trailblazers, a win that kept the team in control of their own destiny to the playoffs. His 47 point, 8 rebound, 5 assist (with only a single turnover), 3 steal, 4 block performance was one for the ages, impressing fans and teammates alike.

However, in the wake of his tremendous night, there is still the question of whether that type of performance is best for the team in the long term. Yes, it led to a very important win and that can’t be lost in this discussion. But, if the Lakers are to really be a threat in the playoffs (should they make it), they can’t rely on super human efforts from Kobe. They must play a more balanced game and get more players going.

After the victory over the Blazers, a couple of Kobe’s teammates spoke to this point. From Dave McMenamin at ESPN Los Angeles’ Laker Index:

“It’s bittersweet,” Pau Gasol said when asked about Bryant’s dominating performance against the Blazers, in which he played all 48 minutes in a non-overtime road game for the first time in his career. “Because, I think it’s spectacular and it’s very impressive and it’s remarkable to be able to play 48 minutes and score 47 points. That’s incredible. On the other hand, I’m a player that likes to see a little bit more ball movement and better balance. I’ve always been [like that]. That’s just how I perceive this game.

“But again, he was incredible tonight. He scored a tremendous amount of points that I never scored in my life. So, like I said, it was very impressive and it’s not something that you do every night, of course.”

Over the years Pau Gasol has not been shy about speaking up about wanting the Lakers to play more team ball. As a long time teammate of Kobe’s and, more importantly, a major contributor to the Lakers’ last two championship teams, Pau has the stature and experience to say these things and to have them taken seriously. Gasol understands what it takes  to win a championship playing with Kobe and knows that it will take team play to get there. Sure, Kobe can — and likely will be — the focal point of the offensive attack. But more balance is needed.

Metta World Peace has also played with Kobe for several years and was also in the trenches with him in claiming a Larry O’Brien trophy. And he too speaks to the need for more contributions from Lakers not named Kobe, but comes at it from the perspective of those players seizing the opportunity rather than waiting for Kobe to give it to them:

 “The five guys that are on that floor? We go to work. We’re not watching. We don’t take pictures. That’s what you guys [in the media] are for, you take pictures. We’re not taking pictures out there. We can’t even bring a camera on the floor if we had a chance.”

Against the Blazers, the Lakers did get some very good contributions from other players. Gasol had a fantastic night both as a scorer and a facilitator. Dwight Howard was great as a finisher, making the most of his scoring chances and taking advantage of some great dishes from his teammates. All in all, those three scored 90 of the Lakers’ 113 points and did so in a very efficient manner.

But, in the big picture, the team won’t just need great nights from Kobe, Gasol, and Howard. They’ll need the entire team to contribute offensively (and defensively) if they’re to make any noise in the playoffs.

It’s good to be reminded of that even after a win.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.