Kobe says he doesn’t want input on Lakers free agent decisions this summer

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NEW ORLEANS — Kobe Bryant was voted in by the fans as an All-Star this season, an honor he received for the seventeenth time in his Hall of Fame career.

He’s been sidelined with a knee injury since Dec. 20, however, so not only was he replaced in the lineup for the midseason exhibition, but he was excused from the usually exhaustive media availability obligations the players are subjected to over the course of the weekend’s festivities.

Since Bryant is one of the game’s biggest stars, you knew the league wouldn’t allow him to escape those duties entirely. He met with reporters a little more than an hour before the All-Star game tipped off on Sunday, and with this season completely lost in Los Angeles, questions focused on the Lakers and how they may go about returning to title contention by rebuilding the roster this summer.

With just five players at most under contract for next season besides Bryant, the Lakers will have the cap space to completely overhaul the roster. While getting back to the level of being seriously considered a part of the championship discussion is the priority, Bryant himself somewhat surprisingly said he wants no part of the decision-making process.

“In all honesty, I don’t want it,” Bryant said, when asked if he expected to have more input in front office decisions this summer. “That’s what they do. I’m not a general manager. I don’t know about scouting players and doing things of that nature, so I’ll let them do their job. They have obviously done a phenomenal job at it for years, so I’m not going to jump in the way. All I ask is if something is going to go down, just let me know about it beforehand so I don’t hear about it on a ticker or something. But that’s about it.”

It was pointed out that the last time the Lakers had a down season like this one (amassing only 34 wins during the 2004-05 season), it took them just three years to return to the Finals. Bryant believes the same thing is possible this time around.

“What we have coming up this offseason with the cap space and what we have ahead of ourselves seems to be right in the Lakers wheelhouse in terms of turning things around pretty quickly,” Bryant said. “We have had summers like this, they have never really faltered. They’ve normally made really sound and excellent decisions that put us right back in contention. So I think this offseason is right in their wheelhouse.”

The Lakers are one of the league’s most storied franchises, and that along with the large market Los Angeles has to offer would theoretically make them a prime destination for any star-level free agent. Bryant’s intensity level and competitive fire isn’t for everyone, however, as we saw with Dwight Howard last season.

He’s well aware of his reputation, but doesn’t feel it should hinder his team’s pursuit of top shelf talent to play alongside him.

“I’m a difficult person to deal with,” Bryant said. “For people who don’t have the same kind of competitiveness or commitment to winning, then I become an absolute pain in the neck. Because I’m going to drag you into the gym every single day. If you need to be drug in, that’s what I’m going to do.

“But for players that have that level of commitment, it’s very, very, easy,” he said. “And we can wind up enhancing the entire group and elevating them to that type of level. But if we don’t have that commitment, man, I’ll absolutely be very, very tough to get along with. No question about it.”

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.

Bulls Fred Hoiberg complains Isaiah Thomas gets away with palming. Thomas shrugs.

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The Boston Celtics have evened their series with Chicago Bulls, and more than that seem to have been able to take the Bulls best punch and now are responding.

At the heart of that is Boston All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who had 33 points on Sunday. He was attacking and getting into the heart of the Bulls defense all night, telling Michael Carter-Williams “you can’t guard me” so many times Thomas got a technical. Thing is, Thomas was right. No Bull has been able to guard Thomas the past two games.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said the reason for that is the officials let him get away with a palming the ball when dribbling. Via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com (video above).

“Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor, a warrior, everything he’s going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight,” Hoiberg said. “When you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he’s impossible to guard. Impossible to guard. When you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball, take two or three steps and put it back down. It’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”

I liked the follow-up comment from the reporter (not on the video), which was essentially “the league doesn’t call that on anyone, so that’s your complaint?” Thomas doesn’t get away with palming any more than any other ball handler in the league. If you want to define the rule by a 1950s standard then yes, he does carry, but so does pretty much every Bulls’ ball handler. So does 3/4 of the league by that measure.

Fortunately, Hoiberg never had to coach against Allen Iverson or he might have completely lost it watching him dribble.

This came off as a desperation ploy by Hoiberg. Or it was the worst attempt ever at a “take that for data” rant ever.

Thomas, for his part, basically shrugged when told about it.

When told about Hoiberg’s comments, Thomas said, “That’s not the reason. It is what it is. I guess (Hoiberg) is just going to continue to say it. I’ve been dribbling that way my whole life, I don’t know what to say to that.”

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.