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


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.”

51 Questions: Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

It has been five years since the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs, tying the franchise record for longest playoff drought. It’s the fourth longest active drought in the NBA (Timberwolves at 11, Kings at nine, and Pistons at six).

Think about it this way: The Magic, Sixers, and Jazz have been to the playoffs more recently than the Suns.

Phoenix hasn’t bottomed out on a rebuild, they’ve actually been pretty good — they surprised everyone and won 48 games two seasons ago, then had 39 wins last season when things went very wrong and injuries crushed the team after the All-Star break. However, in a deep Western Conference pretty good isn’t good enough.

Suns management and ownership wants that to change. They want back in the playoff dance. Now.

It’s why they went hard after LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, coming in a surprising second to a Spurs team that nobody was likely to catch in that chase.

This summer the Suns made other moves to address needs. They went out and got Tyson Chandler as a free agent. The first reaction was he was there to provide a shot blocking and defensive quarterbacking, two things the Suns sorely lacked. However, just as importantly, they needed a vocal locker room leader, a vacuum that was part of the problem in Phoenix’s implosion last season.

The Suns also needed shooting, they went out and got Mirza Teletovic and drafted Devin Booker.

It’s easy to think the Suns regressed because they lost a lot of talent since the last trade deadline — Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, Brandan Wright — but they believe the pieces they have now fit together better.

Phoenix believes it can make the playoffs; it thinks it finally has the right formula.

Maybe. They will be in the mix. But a four things have to happen to make that a reality.

First is Chandler has to lead a defensive renaissance on this team. Last season they were average, 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but Chandler can help change that. First, he gives them defensive rebounding that they lacked. He gives them a quarterback that they needed to call things out and have everyone on the same page (reports of how he talks on defense are already pouring out of camp). And he helps protects the paint — that means Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and P.J. Tucker can pressure the ball more and take risks out on the perimeter knowing Chandler can erase some mistakes.

The second is an obvious one: Bledsoe and Knight need to be able to work well together. They are going to share playmaking duties, and both are going to spend time working off the ball, both need to be ready for that mental adjustment. We haven’t seen that much yet, we need to see how it works out.

Third, there needs to be shooting to space the floor. Bledsoe is a penetrator who is a career 32 percent from three, while Knight shot just 31.3 percent from three after being traded to the Suns (likely due to ankle injuries that required off-season surgery). Those two men will be running the pick-and-roll with Chandler, who sets a good pick, rolls hard and can finish, but doesn’t have shooting range. The Suns other two starters are likely P.J. Tucker, who is not a huge threat from three but shot a respectable 34.5 percent from there last season, and Markieff Morris, who is a career 32.8 percent from three.

If I’m an opposing defense, what’s to keep me from going under picks and packing the lane against the Suns? Phoenix needs Knight to return to the guy who is a career 36 percent from three, they need Morris to improve from the outside, and they need guys like Teletovic and Booker to play key minutes and space the floor at times.

Fourth, and finally, they need the potentially volatile mixture of an unhappy Morris and a coach in Jeff Hornacek in the last year of his contract not to combust. Everyone is saying all the right things at the start of camp, and this is why guys like Chandler and Ronnie Price were brought in, but there is the potential for things to go sideways, especially if some early losses pile up.

The biggest hurdle for the Suns in ending their playoff drought is they are in the Western Conference.

Even if all four of things mentioned above go right for them — if they run and hit more threes plus play better defense — this is likely a 45 win team (give or take a few, and probably take). The problem is that in the West that may not be enough. Barring injuries, there are likely seven lock playoff teams in the West — Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans. That leaves the Suns battling teams such as the Jazz, Mavericks and maybe the Kings for that final playoff spot. It may take more than 45 wins, and things are going to have to break the Suns’ way to get there.

Maybe Robert Sarver gets his way and the playoff drought ends this season, it’s more likely than snow in Phoenix this winter. But I wouldn’t bet much on either happening.

LeBron says “get it done” message was for both Cavaliers, Thompson

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Everything LeBron James does and says gets magnified and scrutinized.

So when he put out this photo on Instagram standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Tristan Thompson and the caption “get it done” it seemed a message to the Cavaliers.

Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother @realtristan13

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron clarified that on Sunday, saying this has become a distraction, and the message was for both sides to bend, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN and Chris Haynes of the Plain Dealer.

When Thompson didn’t sign the qualifying offer he surrendered a lot of leverage, the Cavaliers don’t have to raise their five-year, $80 million offer — but reportedly they still would, a little. Thompson and his agent Rich Paul have pushed for a max contract, but that’s not happening.

At some point, the two sides will come to an agreement. For the Cavaliers, this is a distraction, their star is unhappy with that, and ultimately if they are going to make a title run they need the energy and rebounding Thompson brings (even if it is just off the bench). For Thompson, he can’t make up a year of lost salary, he has to come in and start getting paid at some point.

The two sides will get it done. Eventually. Likely before the season tips off.