PBT’s Top 10 NBA stories of 2014, No. 8: Kobe Bryant returns


He’s the NBA’s most divisive player — you love him or you hate him.

But you watch him.

Also, you have to respect his game. He’s going to retire soon with a career that will be looked back on as Top 10, Top 15 all time in the league (depending on who is doing the rankings).

Kobe Bryant returned to the court in 2014 after missing almost a full season battling injuries and the league is a better, more interesting with him in it. He’s been one of the most interesting story lines of the young season, even though the Lakers are terrible.

Kobe had been hinting about retirement back in 2013 before when he ruptured his Achilles, a devastating injury that oddly provided something he needed — an obstacle to overcome. A goal to focus on. There were people saying he couldn’t come back from that in his mid 30s, and nothing motivates Kobe like people telling him he can’t do something. He got back on the court for an entire six games last season before a knee injury ended that first comeback. But that just fueled his fire.

Bryant wanted to come back because he wanted to see how far he could push himself, what he could do at age 36 coming back off two major injuries. How far could he push himself, how far could he carry a rebuilding Lakers’ team?

He can push himself all the way back to averaging 24.1 points a game — fourth best in the NBA. He did it playing 35.4 minutes a game (14 most in the NBA) while using 35.8 percent of his team’s possessions when on the court (second highest in the NBA). Those are amazing numbers for a 26-year-old, let alone a 36-year-old. He pushed himself past Michael Jordan to become third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. His footwork is still impeccable, his ability to get to his spots on the floor amazing. He is incredibly fundamentally sound.

Of course, this is Kobe so those numbers and accolades come with controversy. With detractors.

Kobe has been far from the model of efficiency — he is shooting 37.2 percent overall and 24.5 percent from three. He has attempted more shots in the inefficient midrange (276) than he has in the paint, and he’s shooting just 38 percent on those. Of course, when he does get to the rim (106 shots in the restricted area) he’s not finishing, shooting just 50.9 percent.

What’s more, the Lakers have been predictable — and in the NBA that means defendable — when he has the ball. Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report said it best, coach Byron Scott had built a shrine to Kobe, not an offense. The Lakers have had better offensive numbers with him off the court (although the adjusted +/- stats have the Lakers as slightly better when Kobe is on the court). Kobe tends to pound the rock, either in the post or out on the perimeter, and when he gets it teammates don’t move or cut, they stand and watch. His shots are often contested — 93 percent of his midrange shots this season have been contested. When other teams send a double at Kobe he passes out quickly and smartly, and his teammates — mostly guys who need open looks to knock down shots — are getting open looks. The Lakers’ offense looks better. But left single covered Kobe tends to think he can still just beat his guy. Like 26-year-old Kobe.

All the load on his shoulders forced him to miss three games — including Christmas Day against the Bulls — to get rest and reset his body. Kobe’s not the kind of person who loves the idea of a Spurs-style maintenance program, but he seemed to have learned he needs one.

When asked recently if it was foreign for him to have to think about his body this much and in this way, he said, “Of course… It’s frustrating but I have to figure it out.”

On his return Sunday he promised to play a more patient game, and more patient with his body. We’ll see. He has matured as a person but changing his persona on the court is a different process. A harder one.

What we do know is that whether he is chucking up ill-advised shots or playing patiently, we can’t stop watching.

Kobe Bryant is a draw, a guy fans will likely vote in as an All-Star starter again this season (he is currently second in voting among Western Conference guards and is well ahead of third place James Harden).

He’s back. And the league is more interesting to watch with him in it.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

2023 NBA Playoffs - Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
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Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.

Phil Knight says he still wants to buy Trail Blazers, still waiting for team to be available

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Mens Championship: Duke v Purdue
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Phil Knight — not a man known for his patience — is waiting.

The Nike founder still wants the chance to buy the Portland Trail Blazers to ensure they stay in Portland, reports Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the team remains unavailable. More than a year ago Knight and Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky reportedly offered more than $2 billion to buy the Trail Blazers. Jody Allen, who currently runs the team on behalf of her late brother Paul Allen’s estate, said there is no plan to sell the team right now, and it could be years.

Knight continues to try and buy the team, the Journal reports.

So Knight and Smolinisky tried again, according to a person familiar with their plans. On numerous occasions, including earlier this year, they made it clear to Jody Allen that they still wanted to make a deal. They indicated that they realized the price had gone up and that they were willing to pay more than their initial offer, this person said. Again, Knight’s calls to Jody Allen were diverted to Kolde [Bert Kolde is the Executive Vice President of Sports Strategy at Vulcan Inc., which owns the Blazers and Seahawks], and nothing came of the brief discussions.

A few months ago, Smolinisky even sent a handwritten letter to Jody Allen seeking common ground and saying he and Knight would love to discuss the Blazers with her, according to a person familiar with the matter. In response, Smolinisky received an email from someone replying on Jody Allen’s behalf with a familiar message: Paul Allen’s sports teams aren’t on the market.

Paul Allen died of cancer in 2018 and some reports say his will requires the Trail Blazers — as well as the NFL’s Seahawks — must be sold within 10 years of that date, with the money from the sales going to a variety of charitable causes. We are halfway into that window.

In the case of the Trail Blazers, it would be wise to wait until the new national broadcast rights deal — which is expected to double, at least, the league’s television revenue — is locked in, raising the franchise value. Values have already gone up, with the Phoenix Suns being valued at $4 billion when Mat Ishbia bought them last December.

In the short term, the Trail Blazers and their fans are focused on the NBA Draft, where they have the No. 3 pick but are reportedly open to trading that for the right veteran to put next to Damian Lillard.

Coaching updates from around NBA: Stotts to Bucks, Young paid to stay with Suns

2021 NBA Playoffs - Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets
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In the 24 hours since the last time we put together a list of coaching updates from around the NBA a lot of things transpired, some expected, some not.

Here’s an update on the NBA coaching carousel.

• As was rumored to be coming, former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts will join Adrian Griffin’s staff with the Milwaukee Bucks. This is a smart hire, putting an experienced coach known for creative offense next to the rookie coach on a contending team. With the Bucks getting older and more expensive quickly — 35-year-old Brook Lopez is a free agent this summer — the Bucks don’t have time for a rookie coach to figure things out on the job.

• Kevin Young will stay in Phoenix on Frank Vogel’s staff after new owner Mat Ishbia made him the highest-paid assistant in the league at $2 million a year, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Devin Booker reportedly backed Young to get the head coaching job, although how hard Booker pushed is up for debate. Keeping Young on staff — likely in an offensive coordinator role — next to the defensive-minded Vogel could be a good fit.

• Former Hornets coach James Borrego was in the mix for several jobs but has settled in New Orleans, where he will be on Willie Green’s staff. This team is stacked with offensive talent — Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum — if they can just stay on the court.

• There is now just one head coaching vacancy open around the league, the Toronto Raptors, and they are entering the final interview stages, reports Josh Lewenberg of TSN. Among the finalists for the job are Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez and highly-respected European coach Sergio Scariolo (the head coach of the Spanish national team and Virtus Bologna of the Italian league).

• The makeover of the Celtics coaching staff could go even deeper than expected because Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser and Garrett Jackson are all leaving Boston to join Ime Udoka‘s staff in Houston, reports Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

• Former Pacers player Shayne Whittington is now a part of Rick Carlisle’s coaching staff in Indiana.

Hawks’ Trae Young plans to shoot more 3s… is that a good thing?

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six
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Quin Snyder wants his teams to shoot 3-pointers. A lot of them. In his final season as coach of the Utah Jazz, they took 10 more 3-pointers a game than his new Atlanta Hawks team did last season after he took over.

Trae Young has heard his coach and is ready to get up more than the 6.3 attempts a game he took last season.

That’s a good thing… but only if they are “good shots.” It’s good only if Young hits more than the 33.5% he shot from 3 last season.

While he has a reputation as a 3-point marksman, Young is a career 35.1% shooter from 3 and has been below that 35% number in three of his five NBA seasons. (Also concerning for the Hawks and Young’s fit with Dejonte Murray, he shot just 20% on the less than one catch-and-shoot 3 he took a game last season.)

Young has had better years, he shot 38.2% in 2021-22 and he is an offensive force as a creator capable of doing that again. That is the Young Snyder needs.

He also needs Young to buy into his system of ball and player movement more. Last season, 45% of Young’s shots came after he had at least seven dribbles — he pounded the ball into the ground and jacked up a shot without getting teammates involved far too often (77.9% of his shots came after at least three dribbles). Young shot 33.3% on the 3s he took after those seven dribbles, and less than that percentage on 3-pointers taken after three dribbles or more, which were the majority of his attempts.

This coming season will be an important one for Young, who has proven he is an All-Star who can put up numbers and drive an offense — he’s made an All-NBA team for a reason. The question facing him is whether he will fit into a team system that balances multiple shot creators, off-ball movement, willing passers and selflessness — what you can see in the two teams playing in the NBA Finals. Snyder will call pick-and-rolls, he wants his team to hunt mismatches at times, but there has to be more of a flow to what is happening. There can’t be many shots after seven dribbles (and that’s not touching on the defensive concerns around Young).

The Hawks will evolve over the next couple of seasons under Snyder. Where Young fits in that will be something to watch.

But we will see more 3-pointers.