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.

NBA coaches to pick their own Coach of the Year

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 08:  Head Coach Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks calls a play during the second half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 8, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.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 Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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NBA executives pick Executive of the Year. Players now have their own awards.

Now, coaches are joining the act.

National Basketball Coaches Association release:

The National Basketball Coaches Association (“NBCA”) is proud to announce the inception of the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award.

The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award will be an annual award given to honor the most successful Head Coach in the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) as voted upon by his or her peers. It will be the only award chosen entirely by NBA Coaches. Every season, Head Coaches representing all 30 NBA Teams will select the winner. The winner of the 2017 Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award will be announced at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 NBA regular season.

This award will recognize the dedication and hard work of NBA Head Coaches. The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award will be presented to a Coach who helped guide his or her players to a higher level of performance on-the-court and showed outstanding service and dedication to the community off-the-court. The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award is named after the esteemed Michael H. Goldberg, the long-time Executive Director of the National Basketball Coaches Association (a group that encompasses all Head and Assistant Coaches in the NBA and its alumni group).

In 1980, six years after the NBCA was founded, Michael H. Goldberg became its first Executive Director. Building upon the existing foundation of the NBCA, he guided it during the years of the greatest growth in professional basketball. He helped gain significant benefits for NBA Coaches, including billions of dollars in increased retirement funds, and disability insurance. And so, the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award honors the substantial contributions of Mr. Goldberg, who set the standard for loyalty, integrity, passionate representation, and tireless promotion of NBA Coaching.

“This award honors the life work of a great leader, tireless foot soldier for the best interests of Coaches and the NBA, and most importantly, a trusted friend,” said NBCA President Coach Rick Carlisle. “The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award will have special meaning because of its namesake and the fact that it is voted on by all Head Coaches.”

Media will continue voting for the Coach of the Year award that already existed. As the players learned, it’s difficult to supplement – let alone, supplant – the awards that already exist.

But if coaches feel better about picking their own honoree, more power to them.

Pistons owner gives Stan Van Gundy vote of confidence

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MAY 15: Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores (L) stands with new head coach and President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy after a press conference to introduce Van Gundy at the Palace of Auburn Hills on May 15, 2014 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Pistons were the NBA’s youngest playoff team last year, and they returned their core and upgraded their bench. This season was supposed to be another step forward.

Instead, the Pistons are 19-24. Their defense is a wreck. Reggie Jackson‘s return from injury has invited finger-pointing. A lot of talk has produced little change.

Where does that leave president/coach Stan Van Gundy?

Pistons owner Tom Gores, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

“I have absolute confidence in Stan,” Gores said. “We are having a hard time — and Stan and I are very real about that — but we also know we have a great group of guys and we believe they’ll work through this.”

“We’ve got a bump in the road and that’s what success is about — you have to work through it. It’s all about having rough times and your ability to work through,” Gores said. “I never worry about Stan because he wants to win; he’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen in my life.

“I believe in him as a man and I believe in him as a strong person.”

This is why Van Gundy, a career coach, pushed to become team president. He has only one boss now, protecting his job security. Only Gores – not some middleman – can fire him.

Gores has staked his reputation on Van Gundy by giving Van Gundy such broad power. That’ll buy Van Gundy much more time to turn this around.

The Pistons aren’t as bad as they’ve looked – if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gets healthy. Regression to the mean and a softer schedule will lift Detroit. But the Pistons are already down in the standings and Caldwell-Pope is so important to them, it might be too late for this season. So much rides on the shooting guard’s rotator cuff, but Detroit’s struggles also mean depending on other teams to falter.

If the Pistons miss the playoffs, it’d be a disappointing season in Detroit. But that probably wouldn’t cost Stan Van Gundy his job.

LeBron James says he doesn’t see Cavaliers-Warriors as rivalry

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes while under pressure from Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Tyronn Lue said Cavaliers-Warriors could eventually match Celtics-Lakers as a rivalry.

First, if you ask LeBron James, Cleveland-Golden State would have to become a rivalry at all.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon Cleveland.com:

“We don’t look at it as a rival,” James said. “They’re a great team. They’ve been the best team the last couple years, last three years.”

“It’s just the next game, it’s Golden State,” James said. “They’re a helluva team, like I said the best team in the league and they’ve been that way the last three years, four years, however long it’s been, I’m not quite sure. But, listen, you guys know, we don’t put all our eggs in one basket for one game.”

Of course, Cavaliers-Warriors is a rivalry. These teams have met in the last two NBA Finals, played each other with relentless intensity, talked plenty of trash and remained elite.

LeBron just doesn’t want the Cavs to become comfortable. They’ve beat Golden State in four straight games – the last three of the 2016 Finals and on Christmas – and could extend the streak to five today. Beating a rival that frequently is a cause for celebration, and celebration leads to contentment. LeBron would rather keep Cleveland focused and hungry. Hence, saying the Warriors aren’t a rival.

Andre Drummond hits 3-pointer from inside Pistons’ own 3-point arc (video)

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Andre Drummond is really good at these deep heaves.

His 3-point percentage (44%) is even better than his free-throw percentage (38%) the last two years, though that says too much about his work from the line.

Drummond wasn’t the only Pistons player converting to end quarters. Ish Smith and Tobias Harris also stepped up in the Pistons’ 102-97 win over the Lakers: