kobe crutches game 4 ovation

Kobe says he was ‘fighting back tears’ following ovation from Staples Center crowd after surgery

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The vast majority of days that I work in arenas covering live events, I am not subjected to filing a game story on deadline. It’s by far the worst part of the industry, and it’s what many of the best writers covering the NBA face on a daily basis out of necessity as part of their gigs working for newspapers around the country.

The online model is quite different, and the details will be spared here and saved for another time. But immediacy is rarely required unless something monumental occurs, so usually the first story can wait for some depth, context, and texture from the players involved speaking in post-game locker rooms long after the final buzzer has sounded.

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 28, however, there was no reason to wait. The Lakers were getting predictably shellacked in Game 4 of their first round playoff series against the Spurs, and the game was effectively over early in the second half. The brief initial story was done before the final buzzer, and only a couple of minor details needed to be included for the sake of accuracy.

The first was Dwight Howard intentionally getting ejected in a blowout of an elimination game, in what at the time appeared to be (and ultimately was) his last in a Lakers uniform. That moment was a microcosm of how he handled his entire season in Los Angeles, so it was somewhat fitting that he ultimately chose to bail on his teammates before the game was officially finished.

But there was a more important moment following Dwight’s ejection, and one that will resonate much longer than Howard’s ill-fated stint in Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant emerged from the locker room on crutches after Howard had departed, early in the third quarter with the Lakers down by 30-plus points and the game having already been decided.

It was his first appearance since undergoing surgery to repair the torn Achilles that ended his season, and the Staples Center fans responded with a loud and passionate greeting that drowned out the disappointing basketball being played by what was left of their team on the floor below. 

Bryant was affected by the emotional outpouring, as detailed in a fantastic piece by Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

As he limps out, center Dwight Howard cruises in. “What the f— is going on?” Bryant asks a trainer. “Dwight got ejected,” he is informed. In the retelling, Bryant waits eight seconds to utter another word, looking as if he might literally bite his tongue. “Sports have a funny way of doing s— like that,” he says.

L.A. is about to be swept and Howard is about to leave for Houston, where he will forfeit $30 million and avoid discomfort. But Bryant is the rare modern athlete whose presence can transcend playoff results and free-agent decisions. Sometimes, just seeing him is enough. “The long year, the injuries, the Shaq stuff, the Phil stuff, it all came to a head when I walked out to the bench,” says Bryant, who was serenaded with a standing ovation and MVP chants. “It was the first time I ever felt that kind of love from a crowd. Oh, my God, I was fighting back the tears.”

It could be argued that Bryant has received that kind of love from the hometown faithful plenty of times over the 17 years he’s played in Los Angeles. But every time previously, it was in response to his on-court heroics, so in his mind, the adulation was deserved.

Only in this rarest of moments of vulnerability was Bryant truly moved by the reception he received.

Phil Jackson: ‘Today’s players simply lack the skills to play the triangle’

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Greenburgh, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Derek Fisher was fired as New York Knicks coach Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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See whether you can follow this timeline:

1. Knicks president Phil Jackson stated his commitment to the triangle offense entering the 2015-16 season.

2. Jackson in a December interview published today, via Charley Rosen of Today’s Fastbreak:

Today’s players simply lack the skills to play the triangle. They know how to play one-on-one, catch-and-shoot, and they’ve mastered crossover dribbles, spins, playing off of screens and step-back shots. They don’t know how to execute things like inside-reverse pivots and other basic footwork. They have no sense of timing or organization. They don’t really know how to play five-on-five basketball. It’s strictly generational.

That’s why Fish {Derek Fisher} wants to uptempo the offense. And why he spends a half-hour before practice doing lots of skills work.

3. Jackson fires coach Derek Fisher, who — according to interim coach Kurt Rambis — resisted the triangle.

4. Jackson said the Knicks would continue to run the triangle and even ran a triangle camp for New York players.

5. Jackson hired Jeff Hornacek, who has little triangle experience, and said the new coach wouldn’t have to run the triangle.

¯_(ツ)_/¯

Maybe Jackson, relying on his December thoughts, finally changed his mind about the triangle. Maybe he believes players can still be taught triangle skills and actually plans to have Hornacek use the system.

Or maybe the Knicks are just rudderless.

Adam Silver not a fan of LeBron James’, Kevin Durant’s 1+1 contracts

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - FEBRUARY 21 :  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder tries to keep the ball away from LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the third quarter of a NBA game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on February 21, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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LeBron James has signed a couple 1+1 contracts since rejoining the Cavaliers. Kevin Durant inked a 1+1 deal to join the Warriors.

The superstars are maximizing their compensation under the NBA’s salary-cap rules and extracting leverage over their teams in the process. Risky? Somewhat. If either player gets hurt, he has no long-term security. But LeBron and Durant are so good, teams would still line up to pay them max money after a major injury. There’s a reason even the next class of stars hasn’t duplicated this strategy.

But, as limited as 1+1 contracts are, NBA commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t give them a ringing endorsement.

Silver, via Cleveland.com:

“One of the unintended consequences (of doing contracts like James) I feel on behalf of the players is the fact that they end up putting themselves in this position where they’re taking enormous financial risk,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver told cleveland.com. “The system is designed for guys to enter into long term contracts, so, and you can only get so much insurance. So one of the unintended consequences is they take risk beyond what we would like to see them take.

“The other thing is, the system is designed and incentivizes players to stay with the same teams,” Silver said. “At the same time I respect free agency so if they make those decisions to leave, that’s fine too. But as I said, I’d like to talk to the union about maybe modifying the system so there’s a little bit more of an incentive to stay with your existing team.”

Silver sounds like he might be overreacting to a narrow problem — something that might not even be a problem at all.

Not long ago, the NBA had a real problem: Contracts were too long, and raises were too high. Players signed long-term deals, declined over the life of them and became deadweight by the end. Teams were too often strapped with expensive unproductive players, and because those players ate up significant cap room, there wasn’t money left to sign upgrades.

So, the league has pushed to save teams from themselves. Two Collective Bargaining Agreements ago, the max contract length was seven years and max raises were 12.5%. In the previous CBA, it was six years and 10.5%. Now, it’s five years and 7.5%.

Simply, teams aren’t allowed to offer LeBron or Durant enough long-term security where that would trump a one-year deal — especially with the salary cap rising rapidly.

Last year, the salary cap rose 11.0%. This year, it was 34.5%.

The max 7.5% raises — which LeBron and Durant can’t even yet, because without full Bird Rights, they’re limited to 4.5% — won’t cut it. Even if LeBron and Durant are totally committed to staying with their current teams, there’s more money in signing a new contract each year as the max skyrockets in line with the cap. However, that opens the door for a change of heart and leaving in free agency.

The max-salary tiers also encourage 1+1 deals. A player’s max depends on his experience, and it escalates among three tiers: 0-6 years, 7-9 years, 10+ years.

Imagine the typical max player. He was a first-round pick, so his rookie-scale deal covers his first four seasons. He might sign a five-year max contract extension or max deal as a restricted free agent — which gets him to unrestricted free agency with nine years of experience. If he locks into a long-term deal that summer, he’s stuck with the 7-9 max. Wait one more year, and he can get the 10+ rate.

With both factors — the skyrocketing salary cap and tier system — working together, players are more incentivized than ever to take 1+1 deals.

That won’t remain the case, though.

The salary cap will level off as the new national TV contracts become the norm. There will still be free agents with nine years of experience who could wait one more season to lock in long-term, but that had long been the case, and nobody took a 1+1. LeBron and Durant are as likely to be outliers as trendsetters.

But if other players follow their lead, that’s not so bad. If players sign a new contract annually or even biannually, they’re more likely to be paid in accordance with their production. That’s something owners want.

Owners also want to keep their top players, and 1+1 deals allow for greater player movement. So, I see the downside for teams.

The “solution” would be mandating unguaranteed contracts — players tied to their teams long-term while the team still has the ability to drop the player if he’s not living up to his salary. Of course, that’s almost certainly a non-starter for the union.

In a world of compromise, the current system isn’t as harmful as Silver insinuates.

 

Jeremy Lin stars in Space Jam 3 (video)

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LeBron James will reportedly star in Space Jam 2.

Space Jam 3? Jeremy Lin already claimed the top role in a very, um, strange video.

Kids Jeopardy! contestant whiffs on LeBron James question (video)

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Did LeBron James lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2012 and 2013?

If you haven’t already gotten your fix of laughing at children, here’s a kid who guessed that happened:

The question, as you surely know, is who are the Miami Heat?