51 Questions: Is this Kobe Bryant’s final season?

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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:

Is this Kobe Bryant’s final season?

Kobe Bryant does not want a Derek Jeter-style farewell tour.

Even if Kobe were sure this coming season — his 20th in the NBA, all with the Los Angeles Lakers — was to be his last, he’d be coy about it just so it didn’t become a thing (although, he can only slow that so much). He doesn’t want opposing teams presenting him with a rocking chair before games.

Still, the question still hangs over the Lakers: Will this be Bryant’s final NBA season?

Nobody knows.

That includes Bryant himself.

If there is one thing Kobe fans — really all hoops fans — should root for it that on April 13, Bryant will be healthy enough to run out of the Staples Center tunnel with his teammates and take part in warmups before the Lakers take on the Jazz in their final game of the season. For the past few years, the end of Kobe’s season has been determined by injury — which each time left Kobe determined to overcome that, outrun Father Time a little longer, and leave the game on his own terms. Another serious injury would pretty much answer the question about his return.

If he gets through the season healthy, then he gets to make his own decision.

He will have options.

• He can decide to walk away. I think this is the most likely outcome. We all know the mythology of Kobe’s competitiveness — much of that myth is true — and it will be a challenge for him to move on from the game. Having been around him, I believe him when he says he doesn’t want to play for any other franchise. I also think Kobe will get to the end of this season and see some hope in the direction the Lakers are headed (with D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle) but realize they are still years away from title contention (and that’s if things go right). There is not a good enough Lakers short term, so he will choose to walk away. He is a man with a business plan, charitable foundations, and a platform for his life after basketball that few players have when it’s over. He can transition.

That said, a lot of people who know Kobe better than I — Phil Jackson, Jerry West, long-time Lakers beat writer (now with Bleacher Report) Kevin Ding, among others — think he will continue to play.

• He can choose to re-sign with the Lakers. If Kobe wants to stay a Laker, the Buss family will welcome him back — he is worth too much to them financially not to. Kobe sells season tickets, he fills the luxury boxes, he draws television ratings (and that massive local cable deal the Lakers have is ratings dependant). But there are questions with this approach. First, would Kobe be willing to take $10 million (give or take) a year, Tim Duncan style deal to give the Lakers’ flexibility to go after big name free agents? Would those free agents still come to L.A. the shadow of Bryant looms over the team? (For a lot of elite players the answer there is no, even though they would never say that publicly.) Finally, will Kobe accept a role that has fewer minutes and more mentoring, as his skills decline with age, and the Lakers try to transition to their next phase?

• He can choose to sign with another NBA team. This one comes up around NBA circles when you discuss Kobe’s future, and there two schools of thought. The more common one is that he joins Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher in New York as a member of the Knicks, playing in the nation’s other major market in a sort of reunion tour. This makes no sense for the Knicks in their effort to rebuild, and I’m not sure you can play Kobe and Carmelo Anthony together for heavy minutes, but relationships play a big part in how decisions are made in the NBA. The other option you hear is he takes a big pay cut to join the Warriors (Jerry West is there), Thunder (with Kevin Durant back), Spurs, or some other contender to chase ring No. 6. I doubt any of this happens because Kobe is too protective of his brand — and part of his brand is being a Laker for life. Plus, can you see Kobe agreeing to be option No. 4 on a team?

• He can choose to play in China for a season. Because of his years of work, taking trips for Nike there every summer — he has his own Chinese-language website and a charitable foundation — Bryant is huge in China. He could go there, play only once or twice a week in games where defense borders on optional (have you ever watched a CBA game?), put up numbers and sell a lot of shoes. It would be good for the Kobe brand. But that would also mean a lot of time away from his family, something that is very important to him.

We don’t know what path Kobe will take — Kobe doesn’t know what path he will take.

All we can hope for is that he is healthy enough to choose his own path.

Watch Jamal Murray hit insane hand-switching layup around LeBron

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Are. You. Kidding. Me.

You are not going to see a better layup these playoffs than this one by Denver’s Jamal Murray, going around LeBron James near the end of the first half of Game 4.

Murray went up thinking dunk, had to change his mind because of LeBron, brought it down, went around him, and spun it in off the glass. Insane. It had some people on Twitter referencing the legendary Michael Jordan hand-switching shot. Not sure I’m willing to compare this Murray shot to a layup that helped launch a dynasty, but it’s close.

Murray had 16 in the first half but the Nuggets trailed at the break 60-55 in a high scoring first half. Anthony Davis had 19 to lead the Lakers.

Former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell “sad, angry, disgusted” with Breonna Taylor decision

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NBA players — like large swaths of the United States — are shaking their heads at the decision not to prosecute the police sho shot Breonna Taylor in her home. That includes LeBron James, who said the walls of Taylor’s neighbors got more justice than she did.

Now former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell has spoken out on the issue.

View this post on Instagram

We’re Sorry Breonna😔🤦🏾‍♂️

A post shared by Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) on

The hate and racism in too many of the responses to that Instagram post highlight the injustice and additional hurdles Black people in America have to clear every day.

Louisville has faced a night of protests and backlash to the decision by the grand jury, which included the two police officers getting shot (they both survived).

 

Report: Bulls paying Billy Donovan $6 million-plus annual salary

New Bulls coach and former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf just spent the NBA hiatus – at least if you looked beyond “The Last Dance” itself – getting dragged for not spending enough to give Michael Jordan another year of title contention in Chicago.

Paying to hire Billy Donovan is a way for Reinsdorf and the Bulls to repair their reputations.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I’d be surprised if all four years are fully guaranteed. Coaching contracts of this length usually contain a team option or two.

But that’s still a hefty salary. Especially in these times. Especially considering it was believed the Bulls would keep Jim Boylen for financial reasons.

Donovan left the Thunder despite them offering him a new contract. He likely knew he could get more elsewhere.

Credit Chicago for being the team to spend. The Bulls needed a solid coach after Boylen and Fred Hoiberg.

Donovan won’t solve all Chicago’s problems, but he should help on multiple fronts. This upgrade costs nothing but Reinsdorf’s money, which every Chicago fan is perfectly willing to spend.

NBA playoff schedule 2020: Date, time, matchup for every game

NBA playoff schedule 2020
AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
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And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA has released an NBA Finals schedule to teams and their target is still a Sept. 30 Game 1. If either conference finals goes seven games that date will need to be pushed back.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101
Game 3: Celtics 117, Heat 106
Game 4: Heat 112, Celtics 109 (Miami leads series 3-1)
Game 5: Sept. 25, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 7: TBD (ESPN)*
*If necessary

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Lakers 126, Nuggets 114
Game 2: Lakers 105, Nuggets 103
Game 3: Nuggets 114, Lakers 106 (Lakers lead series 2-1)
Game 4: Sept. 24, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Sept. 26, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 6: Sept. 28, TBD (TNT)*
Game 7: Sept. 30, TBD (TNT)*
*If necessary

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0