Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe will be back, but what do Lakers do this summer now?


Kobe Bryant isn’t going to let his career end this way, limping off the court with a torn Achilles tendon.

It is going to end on his terns. He would not allow it to be any other way. He will be back. An hour after he limped off the court he was telling the media exactly that.

“I know I can do this,” Bryant said. “It’s fueling me. It’s fueling me. I can feel it already.”

As for when he’ll be back, it will be some time next season (we’ll have a better idea after his surgery but to get a full range of motion and leg strength back on these injuries often takes a year). He’ll almost certainly miss games — and at his age him returning to his current level of play seems unlikely — but you know he’ll be diligent about his recovery. He’ll be back. And when he’s back he’ll be good.

But what do the Lakers do this summer to prepare for next season?

Pretty much what they were already going to do. They don’t have a lot of other options.

First, re-sign Dwight Howard. He’s still the future. He’s still the man you build around for the post-Kobe era, it’s just now that era will include part of next season. The Lakers will offer him a max contract, you can expect him to sign it.

Next, they need to decide what kind of team they will be, what kind of system they will run. Coach Mike D’Antoni came in with how he wanted to play but the Lakers have largely modified away from that as it was clear the personnel on the roster didn’t fit that style. To D’Antoni’s credit they have gotten away from some of what he wanted to do and they run “horns” and some traditional NBA sets in there. With Kobe out do they go to a system that is a lot of Steve Nash with the ball in his hands, running the pick-and-roll with Howard?

This summer Lakers management has to decide what kind of team they want to be, how to tweak the roster to fit that ideal.

The problem is with a max Howard deal in place the Lakers remain hamstrung in trying to reshape the roster because they are so far over the luxury tax line — they are expected to have a payroll in the $100 million range, which under the new system would mean $85 million in taxes on top of it. Kobe alone will make $30 million next season. Even for the Lakers deep pockets with their rich cable deal that is a steep, steep price. It limits the trades they can make and they can only sign free agents for the veteran minimum.

The Lakers however, need to get more athletic on the wings with better defense on the perimeter (particularly while Kobe is out) and they need better depth at the point guard because Steve Blake functions okay as a shooter when Kobe is the ball handler but they now need better ball handlers to play when Steve Nash is sits/is out.

If you’re thinking trade, what do the Lakers have to trade that other teams want? Look at their rotation from Friday night outside Kobe/Howard (and Nash, who they would not move): Steve Blake, Earl Clark (who is a free agent this summer), Metta World Peace, Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison. On the bench there is Chris Duhon, Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill and Darius Morris.

There is nothing there you can trade for any real value because those are not players other teams want.

Then there is Pau Gasol.

The Lakers may not move him, they aren’t going to just ship him out for a lowball offer (which is why he wasn’t traded at the deadline). But he is the one player there will be interest in — he has a steep $19 million price tag but it’s the last season of his deal and he is still a very effective scorer in the post. Gasol could help a lot of teams.

What the Lakers will not take back in a deal is long-term contracts — right now the only guys on the books for the summer of 2014 are Steve Nash (for one more year) and the new Dwight Howard deal that would be signed in the summer. The Lakers will reshape the roster in a major way that summer.

And that likely will include Kobe — he wants this to end on his terms. That might mean a season or two after his current deal ends where he can play and show how he came back and could still play at a high level. Kobe would take a steep discount (ala Tim Duncan/Kevin Garnett) to be part of this reworked Lakers roster.

This was all pretty much the plan when Kobe was healthy. It doesn’t change much. But the Lakers could feel very different next season.

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.

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry

The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.