Even 1,300 miles away lying in bed, Kobe Bryant was still the story for the Lakers Sunday.
Kobe watched the game just like you did… well, his house is bigger than yours and he had more painkillers in his system than you did (probably). But he watched it on television (recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon) and tweeted about the game, just like I and you and a lot of others did.
Except Kobe’s tweets became the story. Because he’s Kobe.
During the game and during the halftime analysis they showed his tweets. Mike D’Antoni was asked about it after the game even (and said that right now Kobe is “a fan.”)
Kobe’s tweets sounded like the rantings of a lot of frustrated Lakers fans — he wanted the Lakers to pound the Spurs inside.
For Lakers’ fans (and Magic Johnson) who have never taken to D’Antoni — because he’s not who they wanted in Phil Jackson, an issue they should take up with management and not D’Antoni — this was a chance to pile on the coach more.
Thing is, it’s really hard for the Lakers to do what Kobe talks about without Kobe on the court.
These are the San Antonio Spurs we’re talking about, not some pushovers. They are going to take away what you want to do first — they made entry passes to Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol in the post difficult, they didn’t let the Lakers just set up what they want to do. If you’re going to beat the Spurs you have to do it with your second and third options (and as the playoff series moves on those will be more difficult as well).
Kobe was frustrated watching the game (like a lot of Lakers fans).
Kobe was late to the twitter game, just signing up for his account earlier this year, but because of who he is (and because it’s clearly him tweeting and not his PR person) he gained a huge following. Including among the media. He had no idea his 140 character breakdowns would become stories in and among themselves.
But Kobe learns from his mistakes.
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.
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.
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.
Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.