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.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.