Kobe injury a reality check for Lakers, doesn’t really change plan

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Even with Kobe Bryant, the playoffs were a long shot for the Lakers this season — their defense was slipping, and their offense was not going to carry them far enough in a deep Western Conference.

Kobe Bryant’s injury — out six weeks now with a fracture of tibial plateau in in his left knee — only exacerbates the problem. The Lakers have a rough stretch of the schedule coming up including some tough road games and in a West where the pace is 47-48 wins just to get the eight seed the Lakers are going to fall short.

Even with the injury, the Lakers long-term plans don’t really change.

This Bryant injury may be a reality check for some around the Lakers (and some of their rabid fans). They thought Kobe was going to come back from his Achilles surgery, return to near his All-NBA form fairly quickly and with just a few moves (a major signing or trade) they would be back as a contenders.

It was never that simple or easy and this injury should help bring that reality into focus. Kobe is not going to be the same, building a team around him will be difficult.

However, the injury doesn’t really change the Lakers plans.

First, the Lakers do not tank. They are not going to sell off a lot of assets and try to go the full Wiggins here — they don’t need to as they can draw major free agents (unlike smaller markets). Plus they never really could tank. Kobe will be back around Feb. 1 and you try to tell him how the Lakers should try to be bad to get some untested rookie.

The injury also doesn’t change how the Lakers feel about Kobe’s two-year, $48.5 million contract extension — that was about rewarding a loyal Laker who still fills the expensive seats and brings in the sponsors. Kobe has made the Buss family a lot of money, they gave him another cut. There was and is no regret there, and from a business perspective it was the right move.

With the injury the Lakers are going to look to make trades — don’t be shocked if guys like Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman get moved, those guys have value around the league (all bigs do). The Lakers will listen to any calls, but they are not going to take on salary that messes up future cap space.

Likely Pau Gasol spends this entire season with the Lakers then they let him walk (don’t expect him back with this team next). They will look for trades but with his $19.3 million salary and the Lakers not wanting to take on salary in future years (and teams being stingy giving away picks) there just are not going to be options.

Then this summer — and really more intently in the summer of 2015 — the Lakers will hit the free agent market hard, looking for the star player that they can both pair with Kobe and who can take over the mantle of Lakers leader when he is gone. Around that guy they bring in the right role players (and possibly a new coach) to make it all fit. It’s about acquiring the big talent first.

And that was always the plan. Injury or not.

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”