Kurt Helin

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant: “If you asked me today, this would be my last year”

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Kobe Bryant was sitting there with ice on both knees, plus he was hooked up to a machine that kept his surgically repaired shoulder cold. It’s just part of the daily, lengthy routine Kobe has to endure to keep playing NBA basketball.

That’s when the question came: Is this his last year in the league?

Kobe has long denied knowing the answer to that question, but he was channeling a little of Danny Glover’s Roger Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon in giving his answer, as reported by Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

“If you asked me today, this would be my last year. But you never know,” said Bryant, who is in the final year of his deal with the Lakers. “We’ll keep it open. Whatever happens, happens.”

Kobe has been clear about a few things. He’s not going to play for a team other than the Lakers (it would hurt his brand). And he’s certainly not going into coaching. And he does not want a farewell tour (even though his reception at Madison Square Garden Sunday will feel like one).

But whether he is going to retire, I believe him when he says he ultimately doesn’t know yet. I’ve always been in the camp that this will be it for Kobe — if he’s not going to chase a ring with another team, why would he put himself through all this physically to be part of a multi-year rebuilding process he will not be on the court to see the rewards from?

Bottom line, he’s getting too old for this… stuff.

Sixers’ Nerlens Noel ejected after retaliatory swing at Jason Smith

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Referees always seem to get the guy who retaliates — but if you retaliate with a blow to the head, you have to expect what’s coming next.

Late in the third quarter of the Sixers’ 105-97 loss to Orlando, the Magic’s Jason Smith threw a forearm to the chest of Nerlens Noel as those two were starting to try to establish position for a play. It was a foul, Smith would be given a technical for the play.

But Nerlens Noel responded with a blow to the back of Smith’s head, and that got him ejected. It looked like Noel was trying to go for a headlock, it wasn’t much of a punch, but a shot to the head will get you ejected every time. There likely will be a fine from the league to follow.

Smith and Noel had been going at it all night, and Smith is an instigator (this is far from his first run-in like this). But Noel has to know that about Smith already, and he has to know how any contact to the head in a situation like this is going to get treated.

Harden scores 46, Rockets hang on to beat Clippers 109-105

James Harden
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Seven games into the season, the Houston Rockets have already experienced more ups and downs than most teams. They lost their first three games and have turned things around to win four in a row.

Much of it is due to James Harden, who scored a season-high 46 points in his second straight game over 40 to help the Rockets beat the Los Angeles Clippers 109-105 Saturday night.

Harden made 13 of 14 free throws and was 5 of 10 from 3-point range a night after he scored 43 in a 116-110 win at Sacramento.

“We got some open shots and I was just being aggressive,” Harden said. “These last couple games when we have been playing well, our defense has led to easy buckets in transition for our offense, so that’s what we have to hang our hat on.”

Blake Griffin had 35 points and 11 rebounds for the Clippers, who played without Chris Paul. The star point guard sat out with a sore right groin as Los Angeles lost at home for the first time in four games.

“We needed to make things tougher for James,” Griffin said. “We needed to make him drive, but he’s good at that just like he’s a good shooter. He had it going and we need to do a better job by committee.”

Marcus Thornton added 16 points, and Dwight Howard had 20 points and 20 rebounds for the Rockets.

With Thornton and Harden hitting 3-pointers, Houston led by 11 midway through the fourth.

The Clippers responded by outscoring the Rockets 17-6, tying it at 105 on a 3-pointer from the left corner by Paul Pierce with 41 seconds to go.

J.J. Redick fouled Harden, who made both to put Houston ahead 107-105.

After a timeout, Griffin put the ball up and it hit the rim and bounced away, with the Clippers arguing Howard should have been called for goaltending. Paul, dressed in street clothes, came on the court during a timeout to make a case with one of the referees.

“That’s textbook goaltending,” Griffin said. “The review really didn’t help us.”

After a video review, the ball was awarded to Houston with 17 seconds to go. Ty Lawson made two free throws for a four-point lead before Jamal Crawford‘s 3-pointer missed at the buzzer.

“I thought our entire team played like they had cement boots on the first three games,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “We were just slow. When you watch the film we just looked sickly. We were able to turn the corner and get downhill.”

Redick added 19 points and DeAndre Jordan had 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Clippers.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Harden just missed his career best of 51 points set against Sacramento on April 1. … The Rockets outscored the Clippers 22-10 in fast-break points. … They improved to 2-0 in the second game of back-to-backs. … They have won four straight for the first time since March 23-29 of last season. … Houston has won three straight against the Clippers for the first time since March 28-Dec. 22, 2009.

Clippers: Austin Rivers started his first game of the season in place of Paul, who is averaging 17 points and 8.2 assists. The coach’s son had 10 points in 31 minutes. … Without Paul, the Clippers still had a season-high 29 assists.

UP NEXT

Rockets: Host Brooklyn on Wednesday night.

Clippers: Host Memphis on Monday night.

Byron Scott’s comments show what’s wrong with Lakers’ development

Byron Scott
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Developing young players means pain — you have to put them out there in situations where they will struggle, watch them fail a few times, and help guide them to make better decisions the next time that situation arises. It takes time. It means some losses.

Which is why this comment from Lakers’ coach Byron Scott, via Baxter Holmes at ESPN, from before the Lakers beat the hapless Nets on Friday makes no sense to me. Scott talks about benching his young players D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson to teach them a lesson.

“I think when you make a mistake over and over again, sometimes that wood has a good way of talking to your butt a little bit, too,” Scott said Friday before the Lakers’ 104-98 win over the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. “Getting a couple splinters here and there, sometimes that has a great way of communicating how important it is to play on that [defensive] end of the floor.”

The Lakers have the second-worst defense in the NBA this young season, allowing 109.3 points per 100 possessions — they do need to focus more on that end of the floor. And after the game, Scott admitted Russell and company need minutes.

But if you’ve watched the Lakers this season, you’ve seen Scott coaching like someone looking to win games now. Which is why Lou Williams is closing out games and not Russell (and a hundred other little decisions that show they do not want a repeat of last season’s win total).

That’s backwards. The clear top priority for this team is not to win games now, it’s to develop players who can be a core part of a team that wins a lot of games a few years from now. This is not a playoff team, not anywhere close to it. (Not that I suggest tanking, their pick is just top three protected or it goes to Philly, that’s not when you tank. It’s a question of priorities.)

Threatening a rookie’s minutes is a thing Scott does, this is not the first time this has happened, last preseason Scott threatened Randle’s minutes with Carlos Boozer. It’s a pattern. And it’s not one you see in Utah or Milwaukee right now, or back in the day with OKC, or with other franchises that have shown to be adept at developing young players. You live with the mistakes and teach from the lessons.

The Lakers organization has never had to develop talent in this way before. They have had a good young players — Kobe Bryant, young Andrew Bynum, etc. — but they were always surrounded by veterans who could guide them along. The Lakers never had to rebuild like this. More often they let other teams do the development work (Shaq, Pau Gasol, the list goes on) then swooped in and grabbed them fully formed. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement (plus the power of social media to market a brand outside a major market) have changed the rules, and the Lakers are still adapting. They are going to have to get a development program in place that can build a base elite free agents want to play with (think Greg Monroe going to Milwaukee over larger markets).

Byron Scott has yet to show he is the guy to build that program. He’s run players into the ground with old-school training camps two years in a row. He instituted an old-school offense. He has yet to show he can coach a good defense; this team will make five of his in a row in the bottom 10 in the league. Now he’s calling out young players in the media. Phil Jackson would send messages to veterans that way, but it’s different with young stars, and if you’re trying to recruit free agents next summer things like this get noticed.

Scott was put in a difficult spot, anyone who took this job knew the first few years were going to be tough. The question becomes is he doing enough to make the next few years better?

That said, I don’t expect the Lakers to let Scott go, at least not in season. There’s a sense he’s a Laker teaching the Laker way. I’d say that is magical thinking, but it will keep his job safe for now.

Watch James Harden drop 43 on Sacramento

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The Sacramento Kings are not nearly the same team without DeMarcus Cousins (sore Achilles). The Rockets were heavy favorites to win Friday night’s matchup between these teams and even their record on the young season (3-3).

James Harden took full advantage and had a monster night — 43 points on 23 shots, plus he dished out 13 assists. He looked like the Harden of last season again.

The Rockets got the win 116-110. Cousins is expected to return and try to get the Kings back on track Monday.