The Extra Pass: Kobe’s thoughts on Carmelo Anthony to L.A. speculation, plus Sunday’s recaps

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by Brett Pollakoff

NEW YORK — When Carmelo Anthony scored a jaw-dropping 62 points in a win over the Bobcats on Friday, he didn’t just set a Knicks franchise record.

He took something that belonged to Kobe Bryant.

The Madison Square Garden arena record, since the building opened its fourth incarnation in 1968, was set by Bryant when he scored 61 points against the Knicks in a sizzling performance back on Feb. 2 of 2009.

Bryant seemed supportive of Anthony’s accomplishment when speaking with the media before Sunday’s game between his Lakers and Carmelo’s Knicks, and tried to explain to us common folk exactly what it feels like to be in that type of zone.

“The pace of the game, everything just slows down for you,” Bryant said. “When I’ve had those games, it’s just such a serene feeling. It just feels like everything else around you doesn’t matter. It’s not important. The most important thing is what’s going on at that moment in time, so it’s just a level of focus that’s astronomical.”

Anthony is one of the game’s elite scorers as far as Bryant is concerned, and someone he’d undoubtedly like to play alongside in Los Angeles while finishing out the final years of his Hall of Fame career. The conjecture surrounding Anthony’s future in New York intensifies with the team mired in so much more losing than was expected, but then again, performances like the one we saw a couple of days ago just wouldn’t feel as special if they happened anywhere else.

While Anthony can opt out of the final year of his contract this summer to become an unrestricted free agent, the smart money remains on him staying in New York, for a variety of continually-discussed reasons. Bryant wouldn’t speculate on Anthony’s future, of course, but could understand if Carmelo chose to play on the West Coast for at least one fairly important reason.

“Everyone wants to play in L.A.,” Bryant said. “I mean, New York’s a beautiful place, don’t get me wrong. But it’s colder than sh– out here.”

All jokes aside, Bryant can understand why Anthony may consider his options when he gets his turn at free agency. Being labeled solely as a scorer can be frustrating, especially when there’s not a lot of winning to accompany those on-court accomplishments.

“It’s tough for players, because a lot of times you’re really subject to the culture around you, in terms of the players and the talent that’s around you,” Bryant said. “You’ve seen it with players from the past, whether it’s Dominique Wilkins or Bernard King. It can contribute to a lot of frustration.

“That’s one of the reasons why I was so frustrated with this organization back in 2006 and 2007, because I didn’t want to be known as a scorer,” Bryant continued. “I wanted to make sure I had a team around me that could contend for a championship. This is a team sport. A lot of times you have to work with what you have around you, and you have to be lucky in the sense of having an organization that can put a great team around you to be successful.”

Is it possible to shake that label?

“I’ve won five championships and there are some of you that still say that,” Bryant said. “So you’ve just got to take it and toll with it. The important thing is winning a championship. That’s the only way to shake it. That’s the only way [Michael Jordan] shook it. That’s the only way any top scorer will be able to shake it.”

If Anthony does choose to leave New York, it’ll be a bit of an embarrassment, at least initially. He very publicly, remember, forced his way out of Denver specifically to play in the nation’s largest market as the leading star of the Knicks franchise. Anthony will be forced to deal with a whole host of commentary pointing out that “he couldn’t win in New York” if in fact he goes, but Bryant doesn’t seem to think that should factor at all into Anthony’s decision.

“I mean, that’s a familiar story with LeBron James, and he seemed to turn out OK,” Bryant said.

Bigger picture, Kobe understands as well as anyone what it’s like to want to win more than anything, but not have the talent around you that’s necessary to get that accomplished.

“From a psychological perspective, as a player, you don’t want to get too frustrated about things that you can’t control,” he said. “So you have to find that balance. At the same time, it’s important for the organization to understand the level of competitiveness that you have — that you won’t tolerate having a team that’s not in contention for an NBA championship, which is what I did.

“It rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but sometimes you’ve got to kick down a few doors and piss some people off, and trust that it’ll pay off in the long run. If you’re willing to do that, more times than not, you’ll be OK.”

Bryant’s blueprint seems to be the most likely course of action for Anthony at this stage of things, and one that he wouldn’t mind seeing his friend follow when his decision in free agency needs to be made.

As for Bryant’s praise of his friend’s 62-point performance that shattered his own Madison Square Garden record, well — let’s just say he was a little less convincing.

“No, I mean it’s great,” Bryant said. “If I was a competitor, I would say that Melo has more opportunities to set a Garden record than I did. But I’m not a competitor, so I won’t say that.”

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Heat 113, Spurs 101: Miami’s been coasting for a couple weeks now, but the Spurs coming to town for Finals rematch snapped them out of it — Chris Bosh had 24 and the Heat looked like contenders again. The Spurs looked shorthanded and not quite the same as last season. We broke it all down in more detail here.

Knicks 110, Lakers 103: Carmelo Anthony was shooting well again but Sunday he got a little help against a weak Lakers’ team that got some good performances (Jodie Meeks for one) but in the end it was a pull-up jumper and a nifty layup by Anthony that helped give the Knicks the win. You can read more about it here.

Pelicans 100, Magic 92: With Nikola Vucevic out Orlando has nobody who can begin to match up with Anthony Davis and he made them pay — 22 points, a career-high 19 rebounds, and seven blocked shots. The Pelicans took control of this game late in the first quarter and it was going to be a runaway but thanks to Arron Afflalo’s 25 and some feisty Magic play it was a game again the fourth quarter. Then Tyreke Evans went of for 13 in the fourth quarter to help keep the Magic at bay.

Suns 99, Cavaliers 90: Cleveland owned the first half of this game — Kyrie Irving was dishing assists, Jarrett Jack came in off the bench and had 8 points, Luol Deng had 10 in the second quarter and it was 61-43 at the half. Cleveland was in control. Then in the third quarter Channing Frye drained a couple threes and suddenly Phoenix was on a 20-4 run and it was a ballgame. Markieff Morris had 10 of his 27 in the fourth quarter (he had 15 assists as well) and the Suns pulled away for a win that is a punch to the gut of the Cavs.

Nets 85, Celtics 79: The Celtics fans were incredibly classy and they got to see some vintage Kevin Garnett — the steal then drive and dunk to seal the game. Mostly though Nets fans should be thanking their bench — that was the group (led by Deron Williams) that made the second quarter run that put Brooklyn on top, then it was Andrei Kirilenko and D-Will who helped close out the game. Along with KG.

Mavericks 116, Pistons 106: This game was fairly close for three quarters, but the Pistons just play terribly in the fourth quarter — Dallas opened the fourth on a 10-0 run and they never looked back. Brandon Jennings put up 26 for Detroit but got torched on the other end by Jose Calderon who shot 7-of-8 against him. Dirk Nowitzki had 28 for Dallas because he is very good at basketball.

Warriors 103, Trail Blazers 88: Portland, with the best offense in the NBA, shot just 33.7 percent in this one. Borderline MVP candidate LaMarcus Aldridge shot 2-of-14 when guarded by David Lee. It wasn’t Portland’s night. For a game that should have been a shootout neither team was knocking it down but the Warriors found their groove behind Stephen Curry, who had 38 points on 23 shots and the Warriors pulled away in the third to get the win. A win they can chalk up to their defense (although Portland missed shots they normally make).

Nuggets 125, Kings 117: Credit the Kings for putting up a good fight in a game where they were without Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins, but in the fourth quarter Denver was just too much. Wilson Chandler had 7 of his 20 in the fourth quarter while Ty Lawson led Denver with 27.

Watch Lonzo Ball dodge relentless stream of LeBron James questions (video)

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Shortly before the draft, Lonzo Ball was asked in a televised interview to pitch LeBron James on joining the Lakers – and did.

A couple months and a tampering investigation into the Lakers later, Ball learned his lesson.

Sports Illustrated:

Rohan Nadkarni’s questions were all in good fun, and he couldn’t trick Ball into tampering, anyway. The NBA has essentially decided it won’t punish players for tampering with each other.

Ask Ball an honest LeBron question, and he’ll give an honest answer.

Report: People close to LeBron James ‘fairly confident’ Dwyane Wade will join Cavaliers

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Will the Bulls and Dwyane Wade reach a buyout?

Apparently, not only do people close to LeBron James believe it’ll happen, they have a read on Wade’s destination.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

As of right now, people close to James are fairly confident that, at some point this year, Dwyane Wade is going to end up on the Cavs.

Earlier in the podcast, Vardon even listed the only five people he believes reports should source as close to LeBron:

  • LeBron
  • Rich Paul
  • Maverick Carter
  • Savanah James
  • Adam Mendelsohn

So, that something about the proximity of this information to LeBron. Given Wade’s friendship with LeBron, Vardon’s sources could have inside information on Wade’s plan.

But hold your horses on Wade to Cleveland.

Though they could buy him out sooner, the Bulls are incentivized to keep Wade past the trade deadline. His $23.8 million expiring contract could prove useful in a trade. If no trade comes up and Chicago is out of the playoff race, as expected, a buyout would make far more sense. Now, eliminating that trade chip and sticking a large amount of dead salary on the books would be problematic for the Bulls – unless Wade cuts them a big discount. He doesn’t sound inclined to do that.

Even if Wade gets bought out, he has been rumored to follow LeBron to Cleveland for years. It obviously hasn’t happened yet. Wade’s friendship with LeBron is the primary lure – but it also might push Wade to signal a desire to team up while he can’t commit then go a different direction when push comes to shove. It can be hard to tell friends no.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Wade ends up with the Cavaliers. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if this is just wishful thinking by people close to LeBron.

Clippers’ Jerry West: ‘I did not want to leave’ Warriors

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A report emerged last spring that Jerry West was nearing a deal to stay with the Warriors as a consultant. Instead, he took the same job with the Clippers.

West, via Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, via NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Frankly it was very sad, OK? It really was. A place where I thought that if I was going to work another year or if somebody wanted me to work another year, I thought I could contribute; I did not want to leave. I did not want to leave. I was very happy there.

But those things happen sometimes. Obviously to be around a bunch of players that were as together as any I’ve seen and I think more importantly the talent that was on that team and to see the joy. There’s a lot of joy there. I think those are the kind of environments where people really prosper.”

“It was time for me to leave. I’m in Los Angeles again. For me, I’ll have a chance to go in the office a little bit and watch some of the people that have been hired, to watch our coaches coach. I’ve often said I’ve done some crazy things in my life because of the timing and maybe the timing was right.”

The Clippers’ appeal appeared to be their salary offer – reportedly $4 million-$5 million annually. And maybe that factored.

But it sure sounds as if there’s more to the story.

With Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, Celtics continue ascent – just not as steeply as hoped

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Celtics landed the No. 1 pick and signed the top free agent to change teams.

Given that, it feels like their offseason should have gone better.

Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are nice, and I won’t lose sight of that here. But…

Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3 to draft Tatum. Count me among those who believed there was a significant drop from Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball to the next tier – and the tier after that.

The extra first-rounder the Celtics acquired has also only lost value since the trade.

It’d convey from the Lakers if they pick 2-5 next year. But they added two players, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, better than they were expected to get. Los Angeles looks less likely to stumble into a top-five pick – especially without incentive to tank.

If not the Lakers’ pick this season, Boston will get the higher of Sacramento’s and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-rounders (or lower if one is No. 1). The Kings signed a couple veterans, George Hill and Zach Randolph, to help them in 2018-19. Sacramento’s young players will be more developed by then, and mirroring the Lakers this year, there’s no incentive to tank. (Philadelphia is also on the rise, but the Celtics probably already knew that.)

There’s still a chance Boston winds up with a high pick – or even wins the trade with a middling additional selection. Tatum, as the Celtics have claimed, might be a better prospect than Fultz outright.

I originally thought the trade was about fair. Developments swing the pendulum away from Boston, though perhaps I’m overly colored by my relatively dim evaluation of Tatum. (I expected the Celtics to draft Josh Jackson when the trade was made.)

Boston’s next big move, signing Hayward, also comes with a major caveat. To get Hayward, the Celtics had to downgrade from Avery Bradley to Marcus Morris.

The reasons are clear: Bradley is earning $8,808,989 in the final season of his contract. Morris is locked up for two more seasons at $5 million and $5,375,000.

Not only was that salary difference essential for clearing max cap space now, Bradley will enter unrestricted free agency with Isaiah Thomas next summer. The raises necessary to re-sign both likely would’ve pushed the Celtics higher into the luxury tax than they’re willing to go. Thomas and Morris should be affordable.

Morris is a fine player, but it looks like he’s caught between better combo forwards (Hayward and Jae Crowder) and higher-upside/younger combo forwards (Jaylen Brown and Tatum). How much will Morris matter in Boston?

Bradley certainly did plenty, defending the better opposing guard so the undersized Thomas didn’t have to. Marcus Smart can handle some of that responsibility, but that cuts into the time he can play in relief of Thomas at point guard and the time he can defend forwards.

Getting Aron Baynes for the room exception was solid. He might even start for the Celtics, eating up minutes against big starting centers. I suspect Al Horford will play center in most pivotal minutes, though.

Signing Baynes was one of Boston’s several respectable moves – drafting Semi Ojeleye in the second round, signing 2016 first-rounders Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic and paying to take a flier on Shane Larkin.

But the real needle-movers were signing Hayward, a 27-year-old versatile star, and adding a highly touted talent in Tatum. Even in the less-flattering greater context, those are huge additions.

Offseason grade: A-