Has Kobe Bryant cost the Lakers Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and others?

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Kobe Bryant knows he’s a superstar.

He has won five championships. He ranks fifth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He trains at a level not even Michael Jordan matched.

The Lakers traded a quality center for him before he ever played beyond high school. They jettisoned Shaquille O’Neal for him. They gave him a huge contract extension without him even having to negotiate for it.

Based on his own talent and the Lakers’ enabling, Kobe has every reason to believe he’s above everyone else.

[ RELATED: Kobe says ESPN voters who ranked him No. 40 in NBA players are ‘idiots’ ]

That’s why he can call out the Lakers’ front office. That’s why he can make the “selfish” demand the Lakers contend the next two seasons, even if their roster is more conducive to rebuilding. That’s why he can call ESPN voters who ranked him No. 40 in the NBA “idiots.”

But that sense of entitlement has become increasingly damaging as Kobe’s production has fallen in recent years. It’s one thing for Kobe to act spoiled when he has Shaq or Gasol helping him win rings.

I don’t know if Kobe could ever do it alone, but now he’ll have to if the Lakers have a chance of winning another title.

Because he keeps alienating everybody.

Henry Abbott of ESPN has written a fantastically detailed article on the ways Kobe serves as a detriment to the Lakers. It includes several stories of players shunning the Lakers, in part, due to Kobe’s presence.

Dwight Howard is one of the most famous examples. Sure, Kobe participated in Howard’s meeting with the Lakers during free agency, but it didn’t exactly go well. Abbott:

Kupchak, Howard’s closest ally on the team, prepped the Lakers’ pitch. One big point: Listen carefully. Another: Dress appropriately. “Our approach,” a Lakers source explained at the time, “is that we are interviewing for the job. We want to show that this is a place his dreams can come true.”

As the Lakers’ contingent settled into the conference room’s ergonomic chairs, it was clear that two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash, in a nice crisp shirt, listening attentively, was running Kupchak’s game plan. But Bryant showed up, according to a person in the room, in “hoops shorts, a T-shirt and a gold chain.” He had also packed an attitude.

When Howard asked why his teammates let the injured center take all the flak when the Lakers’ season went south, Nash said he didn’t know that Howard had felt that way and that had he known, he would have acted differently. Bryant, on the other hand, offered a crash course in developing thick skin and a mini lecture on learning how to win. Sources told ESPN Insider Chris Broussard that Bryant’s lecture was “a complete turnoff” for Howard.

Apparently, Kobe didn’t learn much from that. Even when he flew back to Los Angeles this summer for Carmelo Anthony’s free-agent meeting, Kobe wasn’t prepared. Abbott:

And the particular way that recruitment was botched — Bryant made news by flying home from Europe, but somehow wires got crossed and he missed the meeting anyway — reminded Lakers insiders of the manner in which he nearly alienated Steve Nash in 2012. In the days before LA acquired Nash, sources say, the point guard wanted to hear from Bryant that the Lakers’ star was amenable to having Nash control the ball much of the time — a key tenet of the D’Antoni offense from the Suns days. When Lakers brass asked Bryant to call Nash, Bryant failed to do so, saying he preferred that Nash call him. The pettiness took days to resolve and nearly scuttled the deal.

The Lakers got Nash, though he has been too old to help much. Paul George, though, is definitely not too old. Still, Kobe’s presence interfered. Abbott:

Paul George, Angelino through and through, had once been the team’s safest choice. But sources say one reason the two-way star had re-signed with the Pacers in the fall of 2013 instead was that he was turned off by the thought that Bryant would police his efforts.

There are other examples – including Ramon Sessions – in Abbott’s article, which also contains plenty of quotes from anonymous executives and agents painting an unfavorable picture of Kobe’s people skills. It’s worth reading.

To be fair, I think some of the criticism is overblown. George, for example, would have been a restricted free agent, and the Pacers paid him more than the Lakers could have. Blaming Kobe’s presence might be an easy cover for taking the money, the most common reason players sign somewhere but one that gets poor PR.

[ RELATED: Kobe would take Iggy Azalea over Nick Young ]

There are also always agendas from anonymous sources, and I’m sure Kobe has rubbed some the wrong way. This is an easy time to kick him while he’s down.

Some players (like Darius Morris) fondly recall their time playing with Kobe. Others (like Smush Parker) do not.

The view of Kobe is clearly mixed.

However, to anyone who claims Abbott is out to get Kobe and looked only for sources who had an axe to grind, I’m certain that’s not the case. It’s far more likely Abbott holds his opinion of Kobe because of what he’s learned talking to people.

Abbott’s article provides excellent insight into why some people perceive Kobe the way they do. Whether or not you agree, it’s worth reading.

Knicks: Reggie Bullock has spine injury

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Reggie Bullock had his agreed-upon salary cut by more than half with the Knicks. He’ll reportedly miss at least a month of the regular season.

All because of a mysterious health issue.

The Knicks have finally disclosed what’s happening.

Knicks release:

Reggie Bullock underwent successful surgery today at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York for a cervical disc herniation. The team will plan to provide an update on his rehab and progress around the start of training camp.

Bullock is a good shooter from the wing. New York could use him. Many teams could use him.

But Bullock must get healthy first.

At this point, we probably shouldn’t expect much from him any time soon. The best indication: how eagerly his agent praised the Knicks for their handling of this situation. Again, Bullock settled for less than half his initially agreed-upon salary.

Report: Suns signing Cheick Diallo to two-year contract

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The Suns went old in the draft, picking 23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11.

Phoenix will go younger in free agency with 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Barring another move, the Suns have only the minimum available. Diallo will get $1,678,854 next season and $1,824,003 the following season.

The No. 33 pick in the 2016 draft, Diallo worked his way into the low end of the rotation during his three years with the Pelicans. He’s a hustle big, committed rebounder and athletic player. But at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he’s not strong enough to bang with most centers. His skill level is low for power forward.

Phoenix will stick him behind Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in the frontcourt. Diallo might receive situation minutes, but he must develop further to hold staying power.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.

Ben Simmons reverses course, withdraws from Australia’s Word Cup squad

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ben Simmons‘ new contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers came with bad news for Australian basketball fans: The Melbourne-born NBA All-star won’t play for the Boomers at the World Cup.

Hours after Simmons and the 76ers agreed to a $170 million, five-year contract extension on Tuesday, Simmons said he preferred to spend time with his new teammates in September instead of travelling to China for the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 World Cup.

“I wanted to let everyone know that after consulting with my representation, I’ve made the difficult decision to forego playing in the World Cup in China,” Simmons said in a statement.

“Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new teammates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Simmons had been selected for Australia’s World Cup squad and had earlier indicated he planned to play the tournament in China.

He now plans to play only for the Boomers in two exhibition games against the United States in Melbourne on Aug. 22 and 24 at a stadium that is expected to be sold out – 50,000 fans – for each game. He also said the Olympics next year in Tokyo remain on his schedule.

“I will still be heading back home to Australia to host my camps as well as train and play with the Boomers in the upcoming exhibition games,” Simmons said. “I’m really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honored and humbled to represent my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.”

Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. He made his NBA debut in the 2017-18 season and was the Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star for the first time last season. He has averaged 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his two seasons.

Australia’s World Cup lineup is set to feature San Antonio’s Patty Mills, Joe Ingles of Utah Jazz, Phoenix center Aron Baynes, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, Detroit center-forward Thon Maker and Simmons’ 76ers teammate Jonah Bolden.