Kobe 9 Elite launch event recap, and discussing the science behind the high-top choice

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NEW YORK — Nike Basketball launched the latest signature shoe for Kobe Bryant on Saturday, and the Masterpiece colorway of the Kobe 9 Elite sold out in minutes, despite the $225 price tag.

The demand is understandable.

The shoe’s eye-catching design is like nothing we’ve seen for basketball, integrating the company’s Flyknit technology that was previously used for running shoes along with a high-top cut that’s the highest on the market.

At a recent launch event in Manhattan, Bryant appeared and spoke a little bit about the technology, and five colorways were on display that will all be releasing in the coming months. I got a chance to speak with Kelly Hibler, Nike’s VP of Global Basketball Footwear, about some of the elements that went into the design process.

“Kobe said when we started, we needed to make sure it would stand up to the rigors of the game,” Hibler said. “He is no compromise for what he wants to do on the court, and it took a lot of work to figure out how to make it just right for him, and if it wasn’t for him we never would have gotten here. And that’s why it feels the way it does, because we needed to be able to provide that support for any basketball player.”

The high cut of the shoe is a unique look, and a change from the way basketball shoes have been progressively getting lower over time. The choice had nothing to do with Bryant’s Achilles injury, as these have been in the works for well over 18 months. Instead, there was some science behind the decision.

“The beautiful thing about being able to work with Kobe is having the dialogue about what he needs,” Hibler said. “When we started with Flyknit, we talked about how we could build the feel of a low-top, like he had been playing in in the 8, and provide additional support. We’ve never been able to give him that tight kind of fit around the ankle, that proprioceptive feel with another construction. So what the innovation of Flyknit allowed us to do was deliver both, but the question was how we got there. The innovation allowed us to get there, and then we played with science basically to figure out what the right height was to know exactly how high up to go.”

Proprioception is pretty in-depth stuff, but essentially it’s receptors in the tendons and muscles that send signals to the brain. So, when an ankle, for instance, feels supported, it sends a feeling of comfort to the mind which can put an athlete at ease.

“The notion has always been historically that if you don’t have a high-top, you don’t have enough support,” Hibler said. “The true science proves that the support comes [a bit lower], so he didn’t need a high-top to get the support he wanted. There’s also science that says with pressure around your ankle, that feeling, that’s what the proprioception is. It sends signals to your brain that makes small moves in your ankle that gives you that added stability.”

After the launch event, 24 of us (likely not a coincidence) were transported to a high-end private school, where we would get to demo the shoes for ourselves. As always, Nike spares no expense for these types of experiences, and when we arrived there were lockers full of basketball gear for us to change into, a brand new Nike FuelBand SE for us to track just how hard we played, and of course a pair of the Kobe 9s.

Before the physical part began, we were treated to a Q+A session with Bryant’s (and Michael Jordan’s) personal trainer, Tim Grover, who then put us though a workout consisting of conditioning and basketball drills that left me sore for the next five days. Finally, we were given some time to play in the shoes, which felt as light as the Kobe 8s, but with that little bit of added support. The high-top feel was distracting initially, but it’s so light that after about 15 minutes you forget it’s even there. And the cushioning is the same used in the 8s, so it provided a nice comfortable ride for the entire session.

The design cycle for footwear is such that Nike is already working on the Kobe 10s, which obviously are a year away from releasing. Hibler wouldn’t get into specifics, of course, but said that the way the Kobe 9 turned out made the team aware of the wealth of possibilities that exist.

“We built a basketball shoe that we couldn’t have envisioned when we started,” he said. “And it’s opened doors for us to do all kinds of other things. I can tell you this: You’ll be surprised.”


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Jimmy Butler trade sets the stage for looming free agency

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(AP) — As draft night approached, some of the heavy hitters in the NBA – Cleveland, San Antonio, Houston, Boston, the Clippers among them – were jockeying, making calls and looking for deals to try to position themselves to make a run at the Golden State juggernaut.

The Warriors’ greatness has forced the rest of the league to do deep self-examination and be aggressive in upgrading their rosters if they’re even going to have a chance to compete. The Celtics and Cavaliers were looking hard at Pacers star Paul George and Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, the Rockets and Spurs were looking at clearing cap space to make a run at some big-name free agents next week and the Knicks were, well, the Knicks.

Draft night always lays the groundwork for what will happen when the circus (officially known as free agency) begins on July 1. And with all of those contenders looking to make a splash, the biggest move was made by … the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Wolves reunited Tom Thibodeau with Butler, giving up two promising young players in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick to land one of the best two-way players in the game. The move should jumpstart Minnesota’s pursuit of its first playoff spot since 2004 and, the Wolves hope, pave the way for success in free agency.

“I think it will (help) a lot,” Thibodeau said. “With players, they look around the league, they see the makeup of the team, they see how they play, play together. That’s the main thing. Both offensively and defensively.”

The Timberwolves have long had difficulty attracting free agents to a relatively small market that spends four months of the year covered in ice and snow. Landing a top-15 player like Butler to team with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins sends a sign of how aggressive the teams could be.

The Bulls plunged head-first into a rebuild with the decision, and now it’s up to the Pacers to decide if they want to do the same.

Much to the dismay of Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard, George let it be known last week that he did not plan to re-sign in Indiana when he becomes a free agent next summer. Most of the league assumes that he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, who appear to be in a tug-of-war with the rival Celtics for George’s attention.

“I’m confident we’ll get something,” Pritchard told reporters in Indianapolis on Friday.

One of the big markets affected on Thursday night was at point guard, the deepest position in the league. Philadelphia, the Lakers, Sacramento, New York and Dallas all drafted point guards in the top 10, which could diminish the options for veterans like Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Jeff Teague and Patty Mills.

The elite point guards available – Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry – should have no trouble finding significant contracts. With Tony Parker suffering a serious injury in the playoffs, the Spurs were reportedly trying to clear space to make a run at Paul, who is widely considered the best point guard in the league. Paul has spent the last six seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, but has yet to advance to the Western Conference finals.

The Clippers are trying to make a decision about retooling around the core of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but really it’s a decision that depends largely on Paul’s thinking. He has long struggled to win big in the postseason, and heading to San Antonio to join with Kawhi Leonard or Houston to team up with James Harden could prove to be more attractive.

Lowry figures to remain in Toronto with a Raptors franchise that he has helped put back on the map, but after that there will be few teams in the market for a high-priced starting point guard. Denver, Utah, New York and Indiana could wade into those waters. But if they look at themselves as still being a couple of year away, they might be hesitant to spend big bucks on a veteran.

Other big names available include Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and Andre Iguodala. And while some of the very biggest names like Kevin Durant and Steph Curry figure to stay put, it only ramps up the sense of urgency for teams that have big holes to fill.

The clock is ticking and Thursday night provided the first steps toward making big improvements to the roster.

The Timberwolves rocked the boat with Butler, but the waters were calm after that, which should only mean one thing: It’s about to get real choppy when the clock strikes midnight on July 1.

 

Report: Dallas picks up option on Yogi Ferrell for next season. As expected.

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When teams sign a guy out of the D-League, or late second-round picks/undrafted guys as you see this summer, they are often announced as “a three-year deal.” The reality, this is a non-guaranteed contract (or at most a guaranteed contract for a short period of time) with team options for future years.

Why teams do that is guys like Yogi Ferrell.

Dallas snapped him up out of the D-League last season when they needed a point guard, and Ferrell proved to be a solid rotation-level player to bring off the bench. With that Dallas now has the option to bring him back at a good price next season, and they will do just that, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Sources say the Mavs have informed PG Yogi Ferrell that they are picking up his team option for next season, an easy decision after he proved himself capable of being a rotation player after his promotion from the D-League.

Ferrell will make $1.3 million next season, a steal for a rotation player. Dallas needs that, because the cost of keeping Nerlens Noel could push the Mavericks close to the luxury tax.

If Ferrell keeps playing like he did last season, and his big payday is coming in a couple of years.

What exactly was on the table for Bulls in Jimmy Butler trade?

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It’s been the cry since the Bulls’ front office traded Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine (coming off an ACL surgery), Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen):

Why didn’t the Bulls get more?

I’m in the camp they didn’t get enough, starting with the question why did they give Minnesota the No. 16 pick in the deal? Even if the Bulls keep that pick, it doesn’t feel like they got enough for an All-NBA player, a top-flight wing defender who can also get buckets with the ball in his hands. The Bulls could have been patient and waited out a better offer, one of this quality would always have been on the table.

However, the deals for Butler may not have been as rich as fans assume. Here is part of what ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote breaking down the trade.

It’s not as if Chicago didn’t canvas the league, either. The Bulls talked to Phoenix about a package centered around Eric Bledsoe and the No. 4 pick, but nothing came close, according to league sources. (Those talks may have been linked at one point to Cleveland’s pursuit of Butler, which apparently fizzled Thursday as Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ owner, tried to hire a new president of basketball operations on the freaking day of the draft.)

They poked around with Denver, but the Nuggets drew a line at Jamal Murray, sources say. Those teams had to weigh the possibility of Butler bolting in 2019, which cooled the market a bit, sources say.

Boston has danced around Butler for almost a year now, and would not include the No. 3 pick in any package for him as the draft approached, sources say. Other reports suggest they refused to offer next year’s Nets pick, or the Lakers-Kings pick they snagged from Philly in the Markelle Fultz deal.

Boston’s Danny Ainge wanted a deal, a bit of a discount, and the Bulls were not going to give it. Those pick requests are reasonable for a Top 15 player, but Ainge knows he can be patient and the Celtics will still win more than 50 games next season and be a contender in a couple of years. Ainge knows he has a real shot at Gordon Hayward as a free agent this summer. He knows it’s not Butler or bust, so he didn’t go all in. He can afford to be patient right now, but eventually he will have to make a move.

The lack of a better market for Butler speaks to a couple of things. Phoenix, Denver, and other teams are correct to worry about overpaying for a player that could leave in a couple of years. Maybe they can win him over with their culture, maybe a team like Denver becomes very dangerous with Butler in the mix with Nikola Jokic, but is that enough. This is also where the looming shadow of Golden State, the Mount Everest looming over all things in the West, comes into play — how much do teams want to pay to try to contend right now?

Still, the Bulls could have done better. At least know a direction is set, the Bulls are rebuilding. Can Gar/Pax pull that off is another question entirely.

Klay Thompson goes up for 360 dunk in exhibition… and he’s not a dunker (VIDEO)

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Klay Thompson has an amazing skill set — one of the best pure shooters in the league, he can put the ball on the floor and create, and he’s a very good perimeter defender.

He’s not a dunker. Oh, he can dunk, but he’s not the guy you’re inviting to the Dunk Contest.

Case in point, this video out of China where Thompson was part of an exhibition and tried to show off his dunking skills.

Thompson’s shoe sponsor is China-based Anta, which explains why he’s there playing some exhibition ball. In case you missed it, Thompson had a Finals shoe released.

Those are about as good as the 360 dunk.