Kobe Bryant on his play so far: “I freaking suck”

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LOS ANGELES — Through three games, Kobe Bryant has looked older, slower, without the same lift after his injuries, and not willing to accept any of it. He’s averaged 17 shots a game, hitting 31.4 percent of them (20.7 percent from three where he’s launching more than nine shots a night), and he’s struggling on defense. It hasn’t been pretty.

Kobe was more succinct assessing her performance after a 3-of-15 shooting night in a loss to Dallas Sunday.

“I’m 200th best player in the league right now. I freaking suck.”

That’s a reference to ESPN’s NBA rank, an effort by the site to rank nearly every player in the NBA, and they had Kobe 93rd best this season. Kobe always used that kind of doubt for fuel, but that only works if you play above the expectation. Kobe has not, as evidenced by his shot chart so far this young season (notice all the threes).

Kobe 3-game shotchart

As always, Kobe is not afraid to launch a shot with a defender in his face — nine of his 17 shots per game have been contested (a defender within four feet), and he is shooting 25.6 percent on those, according to the NBA’s Sports VU cameras.

Bryant put it more simply Sunday, “I’m just playing like s***.”

He added he’s getting the shots from the spots he wants (such as the elbow area), that rookie D'Angelo Russell is doing a good job setting him up, and that he’s healthy. Kobe has an effective field goal percentage of 44.1 on his 5.7 catch-and-shoot opportunities a game so far, but just 28.9 percent on his 6.3 pull-up jumpers a game.

“You know it’s fun,” Kobe said of playing with the young Lakers. “D’Angelo’s putting me in the right spots. I just have to capitalize better, that’s all.”

Kobe admitted being out a couple of weeks at the end of the preseason with a calf injury may have thrown off his rhythm, but he wasn’t making excuses or pulling punches. He was honest and demanding about his game, as he is with everyone else.

Kobe added he is frustrated. As you’d expect. At points he tries to play through it and take over like he used to — getting the ball on the wing in isolation, pounding the rock looking for an opening or a place to pull up and shoot. None of it has gone well. It will go better at some point, but he’s been off early.

What’s the fastest way to turn things around?

“Well, if I’d make a damn shot, that would help,” Kobe said.

He added he believes that will happen soon, that he had felt in a good rhythm in the preseason before he got injured, and he thinks he can recapture that groove again quickly. Kobe never lacks for confidence, that hasn’t changed.

However, other things change. In recent seasons, the offense ran more through Bryant, and he could become more of a facilitator and not just a scorer if the occasion called for it. Kobe admitted he’d like to do that again, but the young Lakers’ guards need to have the ball and learn how to run a team. Even if it’s the hard way.

“Sure (I’d like to facilitate), but no, you can’t” Bryant said.

As bad as the Laker offense has been, that’s been the better side of the court for them. Their defense has surrendered 111.7 points per 100 possessions through three games (third worst in the league) — and they haven’t played the real offensive powerhouses of the West yet.

Kobe, how would you describe the Lakers’ defense Sunday.

“S***.”

That sums up the feelings of a lot of Lakers’ fans through three games.

Michelle Roberts says if you don’t like player movement blame owners, too

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Last summer was one of the wildest offseasons in NBA history, maybe the wildest, and the headline was player empowerment. Anthony Davis pushed his way to the Lakers, Paul George forced his way out of Oklahoma City to go to the Clippers and join Kawhi Leonard, which soon had Russell Westbrook joining his old teammate James Harden in Houston. It led to frustration by some owners and changes in how the NBA will handle tampering.

Except, by choice is not how most players change teams. While AD or George has the leverage to make a power play — because of their exceptional talent — most of the time players are traded because the owner/team has all the power and can uproot players for whatever reason (basketball reasons sometimes, saving money other times). The stars have free agent options, rotation players much less so in that system.

Michelle Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Association, wants you to remember that it’s not just player power that has led to the increase in player movement, as she told Mark Spears of The Undefeated.

Michele Roberts, told The Undefeated that she believes there is a “double standard” between how stars are viewed when they decide to move on compared with when franchises choose to make a major transaction, adding that team owners “continue to view players as property.”

“If you want to be critical of one, be critical of both,” Roberts said from the NBPA’s offices in Manhattan. “Those of us who made decisions to move, it’s really astounding to even consider what it feels like to be told in the middle of your life you are going to have to move. But that’s the business we’re in. …

“No one seems to spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to make those kinds of moves completely involuntarily. You volunteer to play or not play. But, yeah, if it’s still the case that if you think you’ve got to suck it up, player, then, hell, you’ve got to suck it up, team.”

She’s right. From Chris Paul to Blake Griffin, plenty of big stars have been moved against their will. The door swings both ways, but in those cases most fans tended to see why and like what the teams did. Those fans like it less when players do the same thing.

There’s also a classic labor vs. management angle to all this, which has political overtones.

For my money, how one views player movement tends to be part generational and part where you live.

Older fans remember days — or, at least think they remember days — when players stayed with teams for much or all of their career. It’s understandable, fans form a bond with players and want them to stay… while they’re still good and useful, after that fans beg ownership to get the “dead weight off the books.” Players before the late 1980s stayed with teams because they didn’t have a choice — for Bill Russell in the 60s or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s, free agency was not an option. And for every Kobe Bryant that did stay with a team, there were a lot more Wilts and Shaqs, who were traded several times and played with multiple teams.

Younger fans (generally, nothing is universal) are okay with the player movement, sometimes are more fans of a player than a team, and like the action and buzz of all the trades.

Location matters because if you’re in Oklahoma City there’s reason to not like what George did and the era of player empowerment. New Orleans fans can feel the same way (although part of that case is the “supermax” contract that owners wanted but really forced up the timeline on teams and players to make a decision on paying stars). But fans in Los Angeles or wherever players ultimately choose to go will feel differently. Fans want what’s best for their team, but there is no way in the star culture of the NBA to wash away the lure of big markets or of teaming up with another elite player.

The NBA dynamic is different from the NFL’s (for now), but it’s not changing. LeBron James helped usher in an era of player empowerment and it’s the new reality for the NBA, one the best franchises will adapt to rather than fight.

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

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New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

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A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.

Damian Lillard says he plans to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

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Stephen Curry said he wants to play for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics.

He isn’t the only star point guard eager for Tokyo.

Damian Lillard, via James McKern of news.com.au:

“I plan on being a part of that. I plan on playing,” Lillard said

Though neither Curry nor Lillard played for Team USA in this year’s World Cup, there’s a potentially large difference: Curry never agreed to play. Lillard did then withdrew. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo indicated particular scorn for players who decommitted.

Of course, Colangelo also wants to win. That might require swallowing his pride and accepting players who withdrew this year. He has talked tough in the past about players who didn’t show his desired devotion to USA Basketball. Lillard got cut in 2014 then missed the 2016 Olympics citing injury. It can be difficult to determine which absences Colangelo forgives.

One factor working against Lillard: The Americans’ point guard pool is deep. Curry rates higher. Kemba Walker earned respect by playing in the World Cup. James Harden (who also withdrew from the World Cup) and Kyrie Irving also factor.

I expect Colangelo to operate on a sliding scale: The better the player, the less prior commitment to USA Basketball necessary. Lillard is an excellent player. We’ll see how far that gets him.

And whether he’ll even want to play next year. The reasons for playing – pride of representing your country, prestige marketing opportunities – are more obvious now. The reasons not to play – injury, fatigue, personal commitments – are more likely to emerge closer to the Games.