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Update on investigation: Crash-warning device might not have saved Bryant helicopter

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant didn’t have a long-recommended warning system to alert the pilot he was too close to the ground, but it is not clear whether it would have averted the foggy-weather crash, investigators and other experts say.

At issue is what’s known as a Terrain Awareness and Warning System, or TAWS, which would have sounded a cockpit alarm if the aircraft was in danger.

While the cause of the wreck that killed the former NBA superstar, his 13-year-old daughter and the seven others aboard Sunday is still under investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board may again recommend that helicopters with six or more passenger seats be required to have such equipment.

The pilot in Sunday’s crash, Ara Zobayan, had been climbing out of the clouds when the chartered aircraft banked left and began a sudden and terrifying 1,200-foot (366-meter) descent that lasted nearly a minute, investigators said Tuesday. It slammed into a fog-shrouded hillside, scattering debris more than 500 feet (150 meters).

“This is a pretty steep descent at high speed,” the NTSB’s Jennifer Homendy said. “We know that this was a high-energy impact crash.”

Bryant was not the only NBA player to have flown with Zobayan in that helicopter.

The last of the victims’ bodies were recovered Tuesday, and coroner’s officials said the remains of Bryant, Zobayan and two other passengers have been identified using fingerprints.

The NTSB recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration require TAWS after a similar helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76A carrying workers to an offshore drilling ship, crashed in the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston, Texas, killing all 10 people aboard in 2004. Ten years later, the FAA mandated such systems on air ambulances but not other helicopters.

FAA officials had questioned the value of such technology on helicopters, which tend to fly close to buildings and the ground and could trigger too many false alarms that might distract the pilot.

“Certainly, TAWS could have helped to provide information to the pilot on what terrain the pilot was flying in,” Homendy said of the helicopter that was carrying Bryant.

At the same time, Homendy said it was too soon to say whether the pilot had control of the helicopter as it plummeted. And Bill English, investigator in charge of the NTSB’s Major Investigations Division, said it was not clear yet whether “TAWS and this scenario are related to each other.”

Helicopter pilot and aviation lawyer Brian Alexander said any collision warning system on aircraft going over mountainous terrain is welcome. But he said the FAA recognizes such systems sometimes do more harm if they are going off constantly and distracting the pilot.

In any case, he added, it is not clear one would have helped Bryant’s pilot if, as some aviation veterans have speculated, Zobayan had gotten disoriented in the fog.

“Another warning system screaming at you isn’t going to help,” Alexander said.

At the time of the crash, Bryant was on his way to a youth basketball tournament in which his daughter Gianna was playing. Two of her teammates also were on the helicopter with parents.

Zobayan, 50, was well-acquainted with the skies over Los Angeles and accustomed to flying Bryant and other celebrities, racking up thousands of hours ferrying passengers through one of the nation’s busiest air spaces. Friends and colleagues described him as skilled and cool-headed.

His decision to proceed in deteriorating visibility, though, led experts and fellow pilots to wonder whether pressure to get his superstar client where he wanted to go played a role in the crash.

Randy Waldman, a Los Angeles helicopter flight instructor who viewed tracking data of the flight’s path and saw a photo of the dense fog in the area at the time, said Zobayan should have turned around or landed but may have felt pressure to reach his destination, an occupational hazard often referred to as “got-to-get-there-itis” or “get-home-itis.”

“Somebody who’s a wealthy celebrity who can afford a helicopter to go places, the reason they take the helicopter is so they can get from A to B quickly with no hassle,” Waldman said. “Anybody that flies for a living there’s sort of an inherent pressure to get the job done because if too many times they go, ‘No, I don’t think I can fly, the weather’s getting bad or it’s too windy,’ … they’re going to lose their job.”

Pilot Kurt Deetz, who flew Bryant dozens of times in the chopper over a two-year period ending in 2017, said: “There was never any pressure Kobe put on any pilot to get somewhere – never, never.”

Coroner’s officials confirmed the remains of Bryant, 41; Zobayan; John Altobelli, 56; and Sarah Chester, 45. Relatives and acquaintances have identified the other victims as Gianna Bryant; Chester’s 13-year-old daughter, Payton; Altobelli’s wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa; and Christina Mauser, who helped Bryant coach his daughter’s team.

 

Report: Knicks interested in hiring 76ers’ Elton Brand as GM

76ers general manager Elton Brand
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The 76ers’ eventful offseason has fallen flat so far.

Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) has generally underwhelmed and especially struggled to fit with franchise player Joel Embiid. At 33, Horford faces even more issues as he ages.

Though Tobias Harris has been fine, it’s hard to feel good about his five-year, $180 million deal. That contract makes it difficult to build a quality bench, even if ownership is willing to pay the luxury tax. Every team has spending limits, and Philadelphia has tied significant capital to a merely solid forward.

Josh Richardson isn’t shooting as well as he did while looking like a burgeoning star with the Heat. It’s also hard not to notice Jimmy Butler thriving in Miami.

The cumulative results are also concerning. Creating enough spacing around Embiid and Simmons was always challenging. This group isn’t coming close to answering that call. That has produced some strain throughout the season.

Will 76ers general manager Elton Brand take the fall for Philadelphia’s problems?

If so, he could have a fallback job under new Knicks president Leon Rose.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

According to a league source, Elton Brand has been targeted by Rose as a candidate for Knicks GM. Brand, 41, is currently the Sixers GM and is under contract next season, complicating any designs of bringing him to New York. The source said Rose wanted to see if Brand was dismissed after the playoffs.

It’s nearly impossible to see Brand going to New York unless the 76ers fire him. Though the titles in each franchise would be the same, they’re very different roles. He holds the top position in Philadelphia’s front office. With the Knicks, Brand would work under Rose.

Would the 76ers fire Brand? Maybe. It could depend how they do in the playoffs, and this team still has a championship upside this season.

Even with an early-round loss, Philadelphia seems more likely to fire coach Brett Brown than make a larger change. But it’s not as if Brand – who held minimal front-office experience when hired in 2018 – has done much to instill confidence. There’s not a great affirmative case for keeping him.

The Knicks have Scott Perry as general manager, but he’s a holdover from the Steve Mills regime. After all the handwringing about Steve Stoute saying the Knicks will hire a new coach while they still had Mike Miller as interim coach, this more reflects reality. Professional sports are a cutthroat business. It’s perfectly fine for the Knicks to seek a new general manager while still having someone in that position running out the clock.

Could that be Brand? He’s smart and connects well with people. His long playing career provides invaluable experience. He’d fit well as No. 2 in an NBA front office.

But, right now, he has an even better job.

Carmelo Anthony: Nuggets should have won 2009 championship

Carmelo Anthony in 2009 Lakers-Nuggets Western Conference finals
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Carmelo Anthony said he would’ve won multiple championships if the Pistons drafted him in 2003.

Of course, Detroit picked Darko Milicic No. 2. Anthony went to the Nuggets No. 3.

But Anthony still had a big opportunity to win a title.

Denver – led by Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin – reached the 2009 Western Conference finals. Facing the Lakers, the Nuggets lost Game 1 by two points then won Game 2 by three points in Los Angeles. The Lakers then won Games 3, 5 and 6 to take the series.

Anthony on Instagram with Dwyane Wade:

I was sick, because we were supposed to beat them that year. I don’t like saying “We should have.” I don’t like saying all that. But when you re-evaluate everything. We really wanted Orlando in that Finals that year. We was like, “If we get Game 1 in L.A. or Game 2, we’re going back to Denver, we’re sweeping them.” We was going to beat them. We was going to beat them that year if we would’ve won in L.A. If we would’ve won both games, we would’ve beat them. And we would’ve swept Orlando that year.

Wade:

Orlando was alright, but they weren’t –

Anthony:

No, would’ve swept them. We would’ve swept them that year.

Yes, Denver would have likely won the series if taking the first two games in Los Angeles. The Nuggets also would’ve had a strong chance against the Magic, whom the Lakers beat in five in the Finals.

But it’s a major leap just to give Denver another win in Los Angeles. The Lakers were better than the Nuggets throughout the season. The Lakers were better than the Nuggets in that series. The Lakers were better than everyone. They had just reached the NBA Finals the prior season and were on their way to winning consecutive titles. This wasn’t some unfortunate break for Denver.

And even if the Nuggets won Game 2, the series wouldn’t have been over as Anthony says. The Lakers were led by Kobe Bryant and had savvy veterans like Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher. They wouldn’t have just folded with a 2-0 deficit.

Sometimes, lesser teams beat better teams. The Nuggets COULD have beaten the Lakers.

But SHOULD have? Nah. Not even close.

Parents: Obi Toppin wants to play for Golden State Warriors

Obi Toppin and mother, Roni Toppin
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Dayton star Obi Toppin declared for the NBA draft. The Warriors will have a high pick (whenever the draft is held).

Could it be a fit?

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Golden State,” Toppin’s mother, Roni, said when asked by Dell and Sonya Curry who Obi wants to play for on an episode of the “Raising Fame” podcast.

“Let’s go to the Bay.”

Toppin’s father, Obadiah, was a well-known street baller in Brooklyn who played for several semi-professional teams. He seconded his wife’s declaration, and praised Dell and Sonya’s son, Warriors superstar Steph Curry.

“I got my few point guards that I always dreamed of playing for, just because they were the truest point guards — like Steph Curry,” Obadiah said. “I think Obi would be great playing with Steph Curry.”

These are Toppin’s parents, not Toppin himself. The elder Toppins might also be just flattering their interviewers, Stephen Curry‘s parents.

But I bet many top draft picks want to play for the Warriors.

Golden State is a sleeping giant with Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Highly picked rookies rarely join a contender. This is a special opportunity.

Players have extremely limited control of where they get drafted. After all, the draft is a mechanism designed by teams and for teams. But draft prospects can choose when and where to work out, whether to share medical information with certain teams. They can even threaten to be disgruntled if drafted by a certain team.

The most common strategy for controlling draft destination – choosing workouts – might be limited this year. It’s possible there are no workouts anywhere.

But if Toppin wants to join the Warriors, best of luck to him making that happen.

Washington big man Isaiah Stewart declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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University of Washington forward/center Isaiah Stewart had declared for the 2020 NBA Draft.

The six-foot-nine big man averaged 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks as a freshman for the Huskies. He possesses one of the longest wingspans in this draft class at seven-foot-four. That length, combined with his strength and athleticism, makes Stewart an ideal defender at the NBA level.

Stewart shot 57% from the floor and 77% at the free throw line. ESPN currently ranks Stewart at 26th on their draft board.

The 250-pound Stewart earned All-Pac-12 first team honors. These honors came after winning the Naismith Award for national high school player of the year in 2019.

The 2020 NBA Draft remains scheduled for Thursday, June 25. That date, as are all dates associated with sports, is up in the air as the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.