Kurt Helin

Kobe Bryant

Will Kobe Bryant be a “high-volume, low-efficiency scorer” this year?

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Is there any more polarizing question among NBA fans than “What should we expect from Kobe Bryant this season?”

Even his most staunch defenders realize that he is not 2006 Kobe anymore, but they expect him to stay healthy, use his high hoops IQ, and be closer to his old self than people realize. Then there are the doubters that note he played in just 41 games the past two seasons and when he did play last year he shot just 38 percent — they don’t expect Kobe to change, and they don’t expect him to play well.

Mark Medina at the Los Angeles Daily News asked a variety of people around the league, here are a sampling of responses.

NBA executive: “He’ll be a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer. The biggest deficiency will be on the defensive end. He can’t defend quick guards anymore. But he’s still going to get buckets. He’s still smart. He’s going to draw fouls. He’ll average a very inefficient 22 or 23 points a game.”

Rick Fox, former Lakers forward and NBA TV analyst: “He has a lot of miles on his body. But he’s smarter as a basketball player this year than he was last year and the year before. So above the shoulders, he will continue to progress.”

Anonymous NBA assistant coach: “I could see him consistently post 18 to 24 points a game, five rebounds, five assists and a couple of steals. He will shoot well from the free-throw line. He will be more in a catch-and-shoot situation at small forward so his 3-point percentage should go up. He just can’t be in a situation where they throw it to him with six seconds left on the shot clock. He’s not as athletic anymore and can’t beat so many defenders.”

I have trouble seeing Kobe changing his style after 19 NBA seasons, when it matters the Lakers offense will go through him. Nor do I see filling the true mentor role with the Lakers young players such as D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson — at some point he will grow frustrated with their mistakes and try to take over games, which will not go well. As noted by the assistant coach, Kobe is not physically that guy anymore. He’ll put up numbers, hit some big shots and hopefully be healthy at the end of the season, but he’s not the guy who can put a team on his shoulder for any length of time anymore.

Flowing out of the first question is the next one: What he will do at the end of the season? Is Kobe going to retire or keep playing?

Obviously, if he can stay healthy is the biggest factor in that decision. But for fun, let’s say he stays healthy and plays 65 or more games this season, not a lot of people around the league think he can walk away.

Fox: “I don’t think this is his last year. It might be his last year in L.A. But it won’t be his last year in the game. I think he’ll play overseas in China. Or maybe go to New York and be with Derek (Fisher) and Phil (Jackson) and mentor the other players with the triangle offense.”

Anonymous NBA executive: “If the Lakers can get a couple of guys, he’s going to want to be a part of it. But if they strike out, he could get another monster paycheck because they think he’s worth the price of admission.”

Kobe has repeatedly said he will not leave the Lakers (and I tend to believe him, being a Laker is a big part of his brand). No other team is going to play Kobe more than a $10 million, one-year contract — and any contending team will tell him he has to subjugate his game and be a third/fourth/fifth option. The idea that the Lakers would pay him more because he is worth more to them financially is spot on, but the Lakers have to realize it will be hard to land elite free agents if Kobe is still there (top guys will say publicly they will play with Kobe, but they don’t want to be in his shadow and have a fight for touches at points).

In his 20th season, Kobe may not be the most important part of the Laker season — development of the young stars is — but he’ll be the most interesting.

51 Questions: Will Knicks win enough to ease pressure on Phil Jackson?

Phil Jackson
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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:

Will the New York Knicks win enough to take some heat off Phil Jackson?

Phil Jackson brought with him to New York 11 championship rings and moving trucks full of heightened expectations — the former Knick player returned home and was going to lift the Knicks to their first title since American Graffiti was still in theaters. And since Jackson was a player. Add to those hopes the fact New Yorkers are not exactly world renown for their patience and this was the reality:

Jackson was on the clock the moment he took the job in Manhattan.

Part of his challenge has been that managing those expectations — rebuilding the Knicks was always going to be a long-play project, not a quick fix. The last guy to look at New York in a big picture way was Donnie Walsh, and once he got the roster out of Isiah Thomas’ hole owner James Dolan lost patience and the Knicks went back to their short-sighted ways.

Could history repeat itself with Phil Jackson? Or is he going to get the time to fully implement his vision?

Which may come down to this:

Are the Knicks improved enough, and do they show enough promise this season, to ease pressure on Jackson?

There are plenty of fans (and other executives around the league) who don’t trust the Phil Jackson rebuild process. They didn’t see positives in a 17-win season, then they watched him draft a skinny, European project in Kristaps Porzingis. They look at the roster for this season and seriously question if they can make the playoffs, even in a diluted Eastern Conference.

As the losses mount up on the Knicks this season — and they will mount up, this is not a playoff team even if Carmelo Anthony stays healthy — the number of fans that have lost patience with Jackson will grow. Their voices will ring out on sports talk radio and in the Post and Daily News, reminding everyone the Knicks should not tank this season because they don’t own their own draft pick next June.

The only question that matters is if James Dolan is among those voices?

So far, Jackson has been worth his $12 million a year just to keep Dolan at arm’s length from basketball decision making.

There is a plan now in New York. Jackson has worked to change the locker room culture of the Knicks — gone is Amar’e Stoudemire and his wine baths (and massive contract), gone is J.R. Smith with his late nights and contested shots, gone is Andrea Bargnani and whatever it was they saw in him in the first place. In their place are solid, professional, consistent rotation players such as Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo.

Certainly Jackson rolled the dice on Porzingis — a player that his higher risk, higher reward than guys still on the board at No. 4 such as Emmanuel Mudiay and Justise Winslow. The challenge again is patience because it will be a couple of seasons before we find out how good the raw Porzingis really can be. Comparing him to Pau Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki is too high a bar to set for any player, but he’s not going to be Bargnani either. The question will be where he ultimately falls on the scale, and it’s going to take a while to find out.

What Jackson is creating is a solid foundation of players — guys like Jerian Grant, the rookie point guard already playing like a veteran — who could attract big time free agents. I can tell you there are people around Kevin Durant who would love to see him in New York (how much influence those people have remains to be seen, the smart money is on him staying in OKC). The advantage to being the Knicks is they can always get the meeting with elite free agents.

Jackson has a lot of work to do before hey can get serious about the 2016 free agent market. The Knicks as currently constructed will not have enough money to offer a max contract next summer to Durant or anyone else, even with a cap that will jump up to around $90 million (the Knicks will have about $19 million in cap space, according to former Nets executive Bobby Marks on twitter). The Knicks have to hope Afflalo opts out of his $8 million player option for next season, or New York is going to have to make some moves.

Let me be honest: I’m not at all convinced that Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher can revive the triangle in New York and win that way. They may be living in the Jurassic period.

That said, the steps Jackson has taken with this roster — and even the risks like Porzingis — are steps in the right direction and light years ahead of the quick-fix free agent grabs that have left this franchise struggling for more than a decade.

Jackson should be allowed to see his plan out for a while longer, Knicks fans just need to be patient.

LeBron James clarifies he owns, does not ride motorcycles

LeBron James
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It seemed pretty clear in a GQ video that LeBron James owns and rides motorcycles. When asked what the team thought of this he said, “Oh, man. They’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ I’m like, ‘What you think I’m doing? I’m getting a breath of fresh air.’ You know? I’ve got one life with this, man. So, that’s what I’m doing.” Turns out, however, riding a motorcycle is a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Saturday, LeBron backtracked.

Well, “clarified his statement” is how he put it. You can describe it however you wish, this is what he Saturday after practice, via Chris Haynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Following the Cavs’ practice Saturday, James said: “First of all, I don’t ride motorcycles. Second of all, I was talking about my team, meaning my LRMR team and the group around me. ”

A reporter told James his answer was confusing, given his “getting a breath of fresh air” remarks to GQ. He responded: “I don’t ride them, but I own them. There’s a lot of stuff that I own but I don’t use. I got a coffee maker, I don’t drink coffee. I won four of them, don’t drink coffee.”

For those of you wondering, he said he owns a Harley Davidson and a Can-Am Spider.

LeBron has a long history of saying what he means then walking it back a couple of days later. The best example last season was calling out Kevin Love on social media, then saying he didn’t. He can shrug this stuff off.

It’s all kind of moot anyway, it’s not like the Cavaliers are going to call him out on riding the Harley and try to fine him anyway.

World Peace on Today’s NBA: “It’s not really a man’s game anymore”

Metta World Peace, Norman Powell
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We’ve heard the same broken record since Socrates walked the earth, every generation of grandparents lament “these kids today don’t understand hard work” or “don’t appreciate how easy they have it” or “feel entitled.”

In that same vein, every generation of NBA players that has been in the league for a decade or so starts to complain that the game/younger players have gotten soft and don’t understand the nuances of the sport.

The latest in that line of “get off my lawn” old men is Metta World Peace, speaking after Lakers’ practice Saturday,

“I remember I came into the NBA in 1999, the game was a little bit more rough. The game now is more for kids. It’s not really a man’s game anymore,” World Peace said. “The parents are really protective of their children. They cry to their AAU coaches. They cry to the refs, ‘That’s a foul. That’s a foul.’

“Sometimes I wish those parents would just stay home, don’t come to the game, and now translated, these same AAU kids whose parents came to the game, ‘That’s a foul.’ These kids are in the NBA. So now we have a problem. You’ve got a bunch of babies professionally around the world.”

“It’s no longer a man’s game,” he said. “It’s a baby’s game. There’s softies everywhere. Everybody’s soft. Nobody’s hard no more. So, you just deal with it, you adjust and that’s it.”

He will get a lot of support in the comments, and readers at home — especially anyone over 30 — will be nodding their heads.

That’s crap.

The NBA in the 1990s had turned into a slowed down, dragged out wrestling match thanks to Par Riley’s Knicks and Mike Frattello’s Cavaliers (among others). Television ratings were high but only because Michael Jordan was the most transcendent of superstars, once he walked away people tuned out because the game became painful to watch.

The NBA tweaked enforcement of the rules, not allowing hand checking on the perimeter, cracking down on hard fouls, and modifying things to open the way for quick players to use that speed — slowly but surely penetration by point guards who weren’t getting mugged returned to the game. Speed mattered. Then Tom Thibodeau helped out by taking advantage of the zone defense rules to create a defense designed to stymie isolation basketball from the wing. It took a while for offenses to counter, but what you got out of it was a faster tempo and quality ball movement we’ve seen in the last three title winners (Miami, San Antonio, and Golden State).

Good teams are playing faster, moving the ball well, and playing beautiful basketball now. But sure, what we miss is a dragged down, game where you can just grab/clutch/hack your opponents with impunity on the way to the rim. That was sure fun to watch. Maybe we should return to the 1940s and 50s when professional basketball more closely resembled football in the paint?

Don’t be your grandparents, people. Embrace the modern game.

Karl-Anthony Towns with the and-1 slam on Bulls (VIDEO)

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This dunk was set up by a solid pick-and-roll play where Zach LaVine recognized the defenders both came to him and found Karl-Anthony Towns with the bounce pass, then the big rookie put it on the floor and got to the rim.

It was also set up by some pretty awful defense by Nikola Mirotic. For you young players at home, that is what happens when you reach and don’t move your feet.

Towns does very well for a rookie recognizing how a play is unfolding and where to attack. Minnesota may have something special here.