Expect to see facilitator Kobe in his return to Lakers

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LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant is back — he was walking around the Lakers’ locker room pregame in uniform ready to go — and he is going to try to score. It’s what he does.

But don’t be surprised if on his return Sunday night against Toronto you see a lot of the dishing, facilitating Kobe for the Lakers. Mike D’Antoni suggested as much before the game.

“I think he will try to facilitate early, just to get into a rhythm,” D’Antoni said. “Again, I just want him to be able to read the situation and make the play.”

Kobe’s return means there will be some bumps in the road — it’s never perfectly smooth when a new No. 1 option in the offense is inserted back into the lineup.

“There’ll be a little bit of a sorting out process now, we’ll find out what we need to adjust and he needs to adjust to the team and visa versa and go from there…” D’Antoni said. “Obviously we want to keep our pace the same, but he practiced at that pace with the ball movement and all that.”

Teams have been known to have letdowns when their stars return, D’Antoni said he warned his team about that.

“I think the biggest thing we need to guard against is standing around and watching him play,” D’Antoni said. “Sometimes you go to an All-Star Game and you watch somebody that you haven’t played with and you just sit there watching and you really don’t get into it. We can’t afford to have Nick Young take a step back, or Wesley Johnson — they have to take a step forward.”

That said, the only limits on Bryant will be his own.

“He’ll be limited by his conditioning and how he feels about the other parts of his body,” D’Antoni said. “His Achilles is fine, it’s just everything else. I’m guessing in the 20s (minutes).”

The Lakers are a team looking at trying to make a playoff run in the deep Western Conference. The Lakers went into Sunday night 10-9 and just one game out of the eighth slot in the West.

Whether the Lakers can make that cut with Kobe Bryant is up for debate, but they were not going to do it without him.

“Just be Kobe Bryant, I think that’s good enough…” D’Antoni said. “It might not be today, but down the line, finishing games, controlling games down the fourth quarter, putting us in a position to win games, I think he’s the best at it in the league. Before that he will draw so much attention it should make it easier for other players to score.”

It should. But now we will see if it will.

Brandon Jennings no fan of the NBA’s new Awards Ceremony event

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Come June 26, Drake will be on stage in New York City, handing out the NBA’s awards — Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and so on. (We need to set an under/over on the number of players Drake hugs that night.)

The NFL does it. The NHL does it. And the NBA has decided to follow suit with a broadcast awards ceremony where everything — except the All-NBA Team — will be announced that night. It’s happening because the broadcast partners want it.

Brandon Jennings is not a fan. Here is what the Wizards’ point guard Tweeted:

Jennings took down a Tweet that said if he had won the award he would have wanted to get it with the organization and his teammates around him. (And no, he knows he’s not winning the award. If you were going to put that in the comments be more creative.)

There’s something to what Jennings is saying. The NBA award roll out was awkward at times in previous years, but it gave the fans a chance to celebrate the awards with their favorite player. Now, everyone will watch it unfold on television from a ballroom in NYC. That feels a little colder. Also, we will get to see the reaction of those who don’t win (particularly this season, where several players can make a strong case for MVP).

It will be interesting to see how this first year goes, and how the league tweaks it going forward. The more than two month gap between the end of the regular season and the awards could feel a bit awkward. But we’re not going to knock the idea until we’ve seen it in action.

Portland GM makes it official, Festus Ezeli will not be back with team next season

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This season the Portland Trail Blazers found their center of the future (and the present) in Jusuf Nurkic.

Which makes the next step fairly obvious: Portland will not pick up the option on Festus Ezeli for next season, GM Neil Olshay confirmed at the team exit meetings Tuesday.

Portland signed Ezeli on what they thought was a great contract (one-year, $7.4 million, with a team option for the second year) because he was coming off knee surgery last summer. However, Ezeli was never healthy, needed a second surgery, and never got on the court. After taking it slow over last summer he practiced with the team twice in mid-October, there was more swelling, so he pulled back.

This summer Ezeli will not draw any guaranteed money from teams, but some teams may take a look at him. Athletic bigs get a lot of chances in the NBA.

Gordon Hayward will play for Jazz in Game 5 without minutes restriction

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Gordon Hayward has averaged 20.5 points a game in these playoffs — and that includes a 40 point outburst in Game 3 — but what has been more impressive is he has done it efficiently, with a true shooting percentage of 61.1. While Joe Johnson and others have stepped up, Utah will need Hayward’s shot creation if they are going to win this series.

They will have it Tuesday night in Game 5.

After missing the second half of Game 4 due to food poisoning (he tried to play but was ineffective in the first half), he is back and ready to go this time around.

So is Rudy Gobert. The Jazz will be at full health, while the Clippers remain without Blake Griffin for the remainder of the playoffs.

Having those two back is a boost for the Jazz, they need to score more consistently against the Clippers, but the bigger key will be defensively trying to deal with Chris Paul on the pick-and-roll. He has been masterful this series, and the Jazz need to keep him in check to give their offense a chance.

When NBA switches to Nike uniforms next season, Hornets will move to Jordan Brand

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There are not going to be dramatic changes to the look of the NBA when Nike takes over the apparel contract for next season, replacing Adidas. Instead of the Adidas logo, there will be a swoosh, sleeved jerseys will fade away, and some teams will modify their alternate jerseys, but the league is not getting a total uniform makeover next season. Things will look basically the same.

Except in Charlotte — they will not have a swoosh, they will have the Jordan Jumpman logo.

The why is obvious — Michael Jordan is the primary owner of the Hornets and, obviously, the guy the Jordan brand was named after. The Jordan Brand is part of Nike. The Hornets made the announcement this week buried in a press release about moving the fan shop at the arena, hat tip to Sole Collector for finding this. Here is what the release says:

The re-opening of the Hornets Fan Shop will coincide with the launch of the team’s new Jordan Brand uniforms as Nike becomes the NBA’s uniform provider beginning this season.  The Hornets will be the only team in the NBA wearing Jordan Brand uniforms, and with the agreement taking effect, the Hornets Fan Shop will have even more of the popular Jordan Brand Hornets merchandise than it has had previously.

While it’s not like the Lakers or Celtics are going to be changing up their traditional uniforms, even teams like the Hornets will keep a similar look under Nike.

What should be interesting to see is what the Christmas Day and All-Star uniforms look like under a Nike touch.