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.

Bucking trend, NBA television ratings up both nationally, locally

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Traditional television ratings are down across the board — in sports, but also in dramas and comedies and just about every other category across the board. More and more people are cutting the cord, and even for people who still pay for cable/satellite, there are countless more options and streaming choices like Netflix that divide the marketplace. That’s why the people trying to pin the NFL’s rating declines on political issues miss the point — America’s most powerful sports league is not immune to market trends.

The NBA, however, is bucking the trend.

From The Business Sports Journal.

Nationally, NBA games on ABC, ESPN, NBA TV and TNT are showing double-digit viewership increases. The combined 15 percent jump puts the league’s TV viewership at its best mark heading into All-Star weekend since the 2012-13 season.

Locally, regional sports networks are seeing a 7 percent increase in ratings so far this season. SportsBusiness Journal analyzed ratings data for 27 U.S.-based teams across the NBA. Seventeen RSNs showed increases; 10 posted decreases. Information for Memphis, Utah and Toronto was not available…

Overall, local NBA games on NBC Sports’ RSNs have seen a 16 percent jump this season. NBA games on Fox’s RSNs are up 5 percent.

The NBC regional sports networks are seeing a massive boost in part because of Boston, which has seen an 82 percent jump in ratings this season.

This is good news for the NBA, which recently signed a massive new television deal with its primary partners, ESPN/ABC and Turner Broadcasting.

Why the increase? Likely a number of factors. One, the NBA has a strong crop of young stars — and those stars are engaging fans on social media. The NBA also embraced technology and other media in a way other sports did not — you can see any NBA highlight you want on YouTube, try that with the NFL. The NBA was more willing to change with the times, but that still doesn’t fully explain why a sport with a younger demographic — more cord cutters — is seeing its ratings rise.

Anthony Davis on Pelicans if Cousins healthy: “We go to the Finals”

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On January 27, the Pelicans were 27-21 and had won seven-of-eight (including just beating the Houston Rockets), and they were solidly in as the six seed in the West. They looked like a solid playoff team in the West, and with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins they were going to be a tough matchup in the first round.

Jan. 27 was also the day it became official that Cousins had torn his Achilles and was done for the season.

It leads to a lot of “what ifs” in New Orleans. During All-Star weekend ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Anthony Davis about that and he was more optimistic than most.

“We could have gone through the playoffs. No one could really stop us as bigs. We go to the Finals if we went,” Davis told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in an interview over All-Star weekend.

“[Teammate Rajon Rondo] reminds us of it: ‘You guys are the two best bigs. I know what it takes to win championships; we got it.'”

Two quick thoughts here. First, no the Pelicans were not contenders. Second, I want Davis to think like this, to say this if I’m a Pelicans fan or in Pelicans management. The best players always think they can find a way to win.

The big question around the Pelicans now is how the Cousins injury impacts the future of GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry. Those two were under a mandate to make the playoffs or a housecleaning was coming, and they were clearing that bar before a catastrophic injury. Are they both back now? Neither? There are rumors out of the Big Easy they are leaning toward keeping Demps but dumping Gentry, however, it’s still unclear.

Also unclear, how much do the Pelicans re-sign Cousins for (they will) and for how many years? It’s going to be a hot summer in New Orleans one way or another.

Stephen Curry would love to captain Team Stephen again in 2019

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Stephen Curry would love to be an NBA All-Star Game captain again next year, especially since the game will be in his hometown of Charlotte.

LeBron James would be OK with someone else taking his place, depending on who the top two vote-getters are, although his draft prowess led to Team LeBron beating Team Stephen 148-145 Sunday night.

And there’s a definite appetite for the NBA to televise the captains’ draft rather than conduct it clandestinely like it was this year.

“Televise it,” said DeMar DeRozan of Team Stephen. “Give the people what they want to see. I think everybody wants to see it. At the end of the day, every single person that gets picked, you are an All-Star, so it doesn’t matter where you really go, so I think televise it.”

Players raved about the new format of having captains draft the teams rather than the traditional format of East vs. West.

And James finally revealed his draft order: Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, his former Cleveland teammate Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins, who missed the game due to a season-ending injury.

“I know who I like watching and I had a draft board. I had a process,” James said. “Some of it went according to plan. A couple of them fell through, but I was satisfied and happy with the guys that I got.”

James’ original roster was dramatically altered by injuries to Cousins, John Wall, Kristaps Porzingis and Kevin Love, who all missed the game.

“Even with the four guys that got injured we were able to get four new guys that came in and played well for us.”

James was named the game’s MVP after making the go-ahead, finger-roll layup with 34.5 seconds left and scoring a game-high 29 points.

Where did he hide his draft board?

“Ain’t none of your business. You’re going too far, man,” James said with a laugh.

Curry didn’t divulge his draft order.

“As the draft kind of unfolded, you start to game plan around positions,” he said. “For me, I tried to get the best shooters. It was kind of cool to see both teams come together as me and LeBron were picking. So that part, that vibe of the format and having two guys select from your peers will be a fun show as it unfolds year after year.”

The All-Star draft led to interesting dynamics on court.

Curry chose his Golden State teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but the trio had to play against Durant. James also chose Oklahoma City duo Westbrook and Paul George to play along with Kyrie Irving, who forced a trade away from James in Cleveland just last summer.

Irving and James had no obvious friction, even laughing and joking on the bench. Neither did Durant and Westbrook, who broke up in 2016 when Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State.

Durant helped James smother Curry in the final seconds to prevent him from getting off a potential tying shot.

And then there was Toronto’s Dwane Casey coaching Team LeBron against Raptors star DeRozan.

“I think that having the captains and selecting the guys and being able to mix them up gave it a more authentic feel of kind of what us players want to be part of in an All-Star Game,” Irving said.

“It’s great to play with guys in your conference, East-West. But when you get a chance to have Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and you know they’re teammates already, and then you mix them with myself and Kemba (Walker), and LeBron, and you could see the mix and it just worked.”

 

Will Sam Hinkie ever be an NBA GM again?

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The buzz around the NBA is that Sam Hinkie would like to get back in the game. He’s a bright guy who is teaching graduate business classes at Stanford, he’s investing in and helping some startups in the Silicon Valley. Like smart people in every walk of life, NBA GMs have interests outside of just their profession. Hinkie can live a very good life outside the NBA world if he so chooses, but the buzz is he wants back in.

Will a team let him?

Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report asked other executives about the potential of a Hinkie return, in a story about his legacy. There was caution.

One owner of an Eastern Conference team said (Hinkie’s 13-page, esoteric resignation) letter—which was not intended to be shared publicly—damaged Hinkie’s chances of being hired to run a franchise again as much as anything he did while with the Sixers. Still, sources both close to Hinkie and around the league said owners and executives routinely reach out to him for counsel. Several basketball operations vice presidents and owners said they would hire him, but they wouldn’t put him in charge.

Others believe Hinkie and The Process weren’t given a full trial, and that he didn’t do anything wrong as much as the league turned on him.

“They clearly changed the rules on Sam,” the longtime front office executive said. “That wasn’t all on him. If he lasts five more months, maybe it all looks different and he is given credit for what they’re doing now.”…

“Once you stockpiled all those talented players, was Sam capable of flipping the switch and becoming a real GM?” the second Western Conference GM asked. “Because you don’t hire the demolitionist to do the remodel. Those are two different jobs with two different skill sets.”

Hinkie gamed the system in Philadelphia — with ownership’s blessing, at first. Until the pressure from the league and other owners, and the weight of the losses, became too much. Jerry Colangelo came in and the writing was on the wall for Hinkie and “The Process.” Every team has “tanked” to improve draft position and gain financial flexibility at some point, but nobody was as naked and extreme in their ambitions as Hinkie’s 76ers. Most Sixers fans seemed to get it, but other owners didn’t like what it said about the business of the NBA.

The Process also worked — Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz (who has yet to play but will make a difference) have the Sixers as an on-the-rise team that makes the playoffs this year. Whether they get there depends on Embiid’s health and if the right players can be put around them, but he started a process that works.

At some point, I expect a team will give Hinkie another shot, a team near the bottom of the standings in a smaller market with an owner ready to gamble. It may be, as the one executive suggested, Hinkie in some kind of executive role setting the tone while another “GM” handles the day-to-day and relationships, but I expect Hinkie will get his shot. He learned some lessons the first time around, and his model in Philly is not one size fits all (especially with the draft lottery changes that kick in for 2019).  But he deserves another turn in the big chair somewhere.