Kobe's ride: a helicopter

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Thumbnail image for nba_bryant2_250.jpgIf you make $23 million a year with your body, taking a helicopter to work is actually quite practical.

That may be my favorite line this year, and it comes from GQ’s profile of Kobe Bryant (via TrueHoop). Personally, I would take a helicopter to work if I made $23 million. Except my commute is to my living room most mornings, but even then I still I might do it.

Maybe no other player in the NBA could pull this off. Kobe can do it because he is Kobe and because he lives in Los Angeles. The city worships him and the city has no fear of excess — if you are going to go over-the-top in LA, you have to do better than just taking a helicopter to work. We expect our excess to be more salacious than that.

And Kobe has a good reason, anyway. He always has a reason.

This is how the 31-year-old co-captain of the Lakers, the eleven-time All-Star, the four-time world champion, the most prolific and accomplished scorer currently drawing breath and an NBA paycheck, commutes. He takes a private helicopter from Orange County, where he lives with his wife and two children, to every home game. It’s a nice dash of glitz, a touch of showbiz that goes well with the Hollywood sign in the hazy distance. But sexy as it might seem, Bryant says the helicopter is just another tool for maintaining his body. It’s no different than his weights or his whirlpool tubs or his custom-made Nikes. Given his broken finger, his fragile knees, his sore back and achy feet, not to mention his chronic agita, Bryant can’t sit in a car for two hours. The helicopter, therefore, ensures that he gets to Staples Center feeling fresh, that his body is warm and loose and fluid as mercury when he steps onto the court.

What makes Kobe fascinating — what a writer of the caliber of J.R. Moehringer (Andre Agassi’s biography “Open”) does a good job getting at in this piece — is that you can’t sum up Kobe simply. We want our athletes to fit into neat little stereotypes, but Kobe is too complex a person to do that with. He is not simple, he takes time to understand, and even then you really don’t understand him completely.

The article traces Kobe’s career through his various injuries — up to and including his current broken finger that is “three different shades of purple and five kinds of black.” But that is just to tie the narrative together, the goal is to paint a picture of Kobe the person. As much as that could ever be done. The article is worth reading because it comes as close as anyone has.

Although at the end you still won’t understand the man.

Report: Spurs annoyed some in Kawhi Leonard’s camp by not giving him 2014 contract extension

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Kawhi Leonard proved to be a burgeoning star while leading the Spurs to the 2014 championship. He won Finals MVP at age 22, a huge accomplishment just before becoming eligible for his rookie-scale contract extension.

San Antonio gave him… zilch.

That actually made sense. Leonard’s cap hold in the summer of 2015 was just $7,235,148 until he signed. If he inked a max extension the previous year, his cap number would have been $16,407,500 the entire 2015 offseason. The Spurs used the resulting $9,172,352 in cap flexibility toward signing LaMarcus Aldridge. Then, they used Leonard’s Bird Rights to give him a max deal – with the exact same terms an extension would have stated.

The plan worked perfectly.

Unless it didn’t.

A few years later, Leonard requested a trade, which San Antonio granted yesterday to the Raptors. Obviously, his quad injury played a prominent role in the rift between Leonard and the Spurs. There was also contention over a super-max extension this year.

But that 2014 contract saga might have planted seeds of the fractured relationship.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

It annoyed some in Leonard’s camp that the Spurs had him wait for a max contract after the 2014 Finals to keep cap space free for the following summer, but Leonard understood the logic and appeared to accept it, sources familiar with the matter say.

At the time – before he even got his max deal in 2015 free agency – Leonard said:

“I was never upset about (the extension),” Leonard said. “I mean they explained to me what their deal is and why they didn’t do it yet. That’ll play out. I’m just here to play basketball and have fun and try to win another championship. If I think about that, then I’m not going to be the same player that I am and will be just out of it. …

“I don’t think I’m going anywhere,” Leonard said. “I mean they love me here. I like the organization, and if it was up to me, I want to finish out with one team like a lot of great players have done, to stay with one organization their whole career and just be loyal to that. You never know. We’ll see what happens next summer, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be in a Spurs jersey for my whole life.”

How does it go from Leonard saying that on the record to this?

This report will accomplish two things:

1. It will raise even more questions about Leonard’s advisors – whether they know what they’re doing and whether they or Leonard run the show.

2. It will enable rookie-scale-extension-eligible players and agents to strike fear into teams. Nobody wants to wind up in San Antonio’s situation. In a copy-cat league, teams might become more willing to sign players to early extensions rather than wait for following summer for new deals – even at the expense of cap flexibility.

Mavericks add Jenny Boucek to coaching staff

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DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks have added Jenny Boucek and Stephen Silas as assistant coaches.

The club made the announcements Wednesday.

Boucek will be an assistant to the team’s basketball staff and will be involved with special projects. Boucek spent last season as a player development coach with the Sacramento Kings, making her the third woman to coach in the NBA. She was an assistant with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm when they won championships in 2004 and 2010 and was their head coach from 2015-17. She was the head coach of the WNBA’s Sacramento Monarchs from 2007-09.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who had her help with Dallas’ training camp in 2014, said she “will be involved in wide-ranging basketball assignments.”

The hire comes months after a Sports Illustrated report that indicated Dallas had a hostile workplace for women in the organization, and after the Mavericks hired former AT&T executive Cynthia Marshall as CEO.

Silas spent the previous nine seasons as an assistant with the Charlotte Hornets and was associate head coach last season. In 2015-16, he helped lead the Hornets to a division-best 48-34 record and the franchise’s second playoff appearance in three years. He is heading into his 18th season as an NBA assistant coach.

Dwyane Wade signs ‘lifetime’ deal with Li-Ning

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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade has signed a lifetime contract with Chinese apparel company Li-Ning.

Wade made the deal official at an event in Beijing on Wednesday with the company’s CEO and namesake Li Ning, who is revered in China for his gymnastics success.

Wade’s relationship with Li-Ning began in 2012, after he previously was an endorser for Converse and Jordan Brand. In addition to the continued production of basketball and lifestyle apparel, the new deal calls for Wade to take “a greater role” in youth developmental camps and basketball clinics in China and other parts of the world over the coming years.

Wade finished last season with the Miami Heat. He has not decided if he will return to the Heat next season, which would be his 16th in the NBA.

New Bulls forward Jabari Parker: ‘They don’t pay players to play defense’

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Jabari Parker never found his footing with the Bucks. Parker’s injuries and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ascension left Parker – a top recruit then No. 2 overall pick – trying (and often failing) to to fit into a complementary role he clearly never envisioned for himself.

After signing a contract to become the Bulls’ highest-paid player, Parker is unapologetically embracing a new mission.

Parker, via 670 The Score:

I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them.

A better offense wins a championship.

Parker is generally right. Scoring is rewarded far more than defense. If NBA teams don’t want to encourage that attitude, they ought to pay players more for other skills. Until then, players like Parker – who has no salary guarantee beyond this season – will continue to be drawn to scoring.

Parker is also correct that certain players get their points-per-game average no matter what. What he fails to explain: If that player needs too many shots to get it, he hurts his team. Good defenders force inefficiency from their opponents.

But, again, players who get theirs in the points column are often rewarded in salary.

So, expect Parker to hunt his points during his upcoming contract year.

These quotes only reinforce what we’d already seen from Parker. He showed glimpses of strong defense during this year’s playoffs, but that was rare for him. His skill set and approach are offense-first.

And great offense probably beats great defense. But offenses are rarely reliably great. Defense more often can be. The Warriors, as exceptional as they are offensively, are also elite defensively. I’m not sure Parker grasps that.

It’s on Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to convince him, but managing this issue is easier said than done. Not only does Parker bring years of habits to Chicago, he’s playing to prove himself next season. The Bulls have a team option on him for 2019-20.

Parker will most positively affect winning by trying hard on both ends of the floor. He might most positively affect his bank account by saving his energy for offense.

You might not like him saying it, but it’s also reality.