5-Star SG Tyus ‘Kid Mamba’ Battle, Next Kobe Bryant?

Tyus Battle, a 5-star shooting guard, is one of the biggest recruits in the 2016 class. This New Jersey native took some time to talk with Bleacher Report about everything from his nickname to who he models his game after. 

How well do you think he will do in college?

Check out the video and let us know!

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Kobe Bryant Finds Inspiration to Change, Prepare for Future, in Tracy McGrady

LOS ANGELES — It happens all the time with all sorts of people. On occasion it can be as graphic as what has happened to Donald Sterling and Ray Rice with their livelihoods. At other times it happens gradually, when an athlete faces the march of time or the struggle to bounce back from the wear of thousands of games played at an elite level.   

Only when the enjoyment of something those in sports, or those in every walk of life, have grown accustomed to is taken away does the real cherishing and coveting sink in.   

Take Tracy McGrady, who popped back on the radar last month when he told Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski that McGrady, with an eye toward another run at the NBA, had been working out last month with Kobe Bryant.

It was difficult not to feel a little pity and sympathy for McGrady, 35. Poor T-Mac, desperate to take advantage of Kobe’s ongoing relevance. It’s a shame the guy can’t let go and keeps trying to recapture the past.

Inspiration can be found in McGrady’s determination, but it’s hard to take too seriously someone who earlier this year had dabbled in independent league baseball and was quoted there as saying: “It feels good to be celebrated again.”

Bryant and McGrady, preps-to-pros jumpers who joined the NBA a year apart, are longtime friends, so it’s not shocking to hear of them working out together. What Bryant might be able to get out of it, though, is what’s really interesting.

Bryant needs more work than usual this offseason, which is why, besides his usual early morning workouts at the Los Angeles Lakers‘ training facility in El Segundo, he has been hosting sessions near his Orange County home—some with Lakers teammates Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Ed Davis.

Bryant played only six games all last season between his Achilles and knee injuries, and although he is viewed as completely healthy now, he needs extra work.

But it’s not that simple.

In a broader sense, Bryant is very much determined not to become McGrady…or anything close to McGrady.

First of all, Bryant is resolute about maximizing and relishing the latter years of his career. Anything less would taint the bar he has set for himself so far.

McGrady doesn’t motivate Bryant, per se, yet his presence a year after retiring at age 34 can’t help remind what disappointment could await if Bryant doesn’t adhere to his same standards now that his body and game have changed.

Allow Bryant’s trusted longtime physical therapist Judy Seto to explain.

“What’s the secret? What’s the inside scoop?” Seto said. “It’s not something fancy. He works at it. He works at it consistently. He works at it religiously.

“Some people work hard because someone’s watching or someone’s pushing. His motivation isn’t someone else. It’s within him. It’s this internal drive that he has.

“And he’s smarter now. He’s not one to sugarcoat things. I think he has a very good handle on what his abilities are and what he’s able to accomplish and what he’s not. He realizes that there is a certain amount of mileage; he’s not the same person—no one is—from when he was 10 years ago.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t other attributes that he can’t tap in to. He’s got 10 more years of basketball knowledge and experience. His basketball IQ is 10 years better. He’s not saying, ‘This is all I can give. Oh, my gosh, I’m approaching the end! What will I do?’”

There is no doubt that McGrady failed to bring Bryant’s level of attentiveness, both mental and physical, to a career that infamously lacked postseason success and ended with him bouncing to five different NBA teams down his stretch, going to China and then missing a coattails ring in 2013 with the San Antonio Spurs.

McGrady didn’t score in a handful of playoff appearances as the Spurs fell just short against the Miami Heat in an NBA Finals series so close that McGrady could rightly imagine being a champion if he could have given the Spurs just a little help.

The Spurs redeemed that without him this year, while McGrady tried his hand at pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters, a team name straight out of a screenwriter’s imagination and a place close enough to McGrady’s former Rockets fans in Houston for the Skeeters to derive some publicity out of the stunt.

When McGrady retired from baseball right on the spot upon finally recording his first strikeout, the small-time sideshow could be summed up in the fact that the radio reporter who got the quotes about it was the father of the Little Leaguer who partnered with McGrady in a home-run derby competition that night.

One of those quotes, it’s worth noting, started this way: “Not having my basketball career end the way I wanted…”

So McGrady, more than a year younger than Bryant, is back entertaining thoughts of the one thing he has been able to trust in his life: playing basketball.

Which brings us to the second key point in comparing and contrasting Bryant and McGrady.

When it does end, Bryant will not live in or for the past.

He prides himself on having delivered a consistency that Michael Jordan and his two failed retirements never could, never needing or seeking any breaks. And even though it is a veritable certainty that Bryant’s obsession with competition will give him some trouble without that basketball fix, he’s not nearly as single-minded as is often portrayed.

Bryant has been plotting this out for years and years, determined to maintain his relevance in a real, different and earned way.

Now that the Kobe Inc., office building is a reality in Newport Beach and he has invested to own 10 percent of BodyArmor sports drink, the vision he has been reluctant to discuss sans any accomplishment is taking shape.

“There’s so much more to him than just being a basketball player,” Seto said. “He’s not the same person that he was when he entered the league. What people don’t realize about him is he’s already put in motion the things in his life that he wants to pursue and move into.

“It’s not like suddenly it’s over and then there’s nothing. He’s already made preparations for what he wants to do with his life. It’s a natural continuum.

“Maybe it’s because I’ve seen behind the curtain, but I already see that his life is just going to keep on going and evolving. He’s not going to go back and try to relive it.

“You’ve got to realize one thing: When basketball ends, his competitive drive doesn’t end. It’s just going to shift to other things. He’s competitive as a basketball player. He’s focused.

“Wait till you see him in the business world.”


Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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Can the NBA Ever Replace Kobe Bryant?

Few jerseys are as recognizable as the purple-and-black No. 24 (or No. 8, if you go back far enough), donned by a current player who will be elected to the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible. Few players are as respected as the man whose name has become virtually synonymous with a poisonous species of snake from sub-Saharan Africa.  

Few names are as recognizable as Kobe Bryant‘s, whose presence in the NBA has been as ubiquitous as any over the last decade-and-a-half. 

But what led to the Los Angeles Lakers All-Star shooting guard turning into the legend he is today? 

For starters, how about everything? 

Everyone’s definitions of stars and superstars seems to vary, but you’d find precious few people who would dispute No. 24′s status as a superstar. Though I’m one of them, that’s only because he falls more into the realm of superduperstars, a classification occupied by only a few players throughout the course of NBA history. 

Bryant simply transcends the game.

Even now that he’s 36 years old and fighting to come back from two major injuries while carrying a mediocre Lakers squad, there’s still a widespread belief that he won’t skip a beat. No one has ever done what he’s trying to achieve, but there’s still this underlying assumption that Bryant is a superhuman, basketball-playing entity who is somehow beyond the reach of laws that apply to mere mortals. 

Isaac Newton may have stood on the shoulders of giants while furthering the pursuits of physics and mathematics, but Bryant somehow looms even larger, unaffected by all those laws Newton helped quantify and explain. 


Seriously, go out, and ask a few basketball fans why they believe in Kobe Bryant. Chances are, you’ll hear a few different answers of the same iteration: Because he’s Kobe Bryant. Some might even include an expletive as Bryant’s fake middle name. 

It’s a silly argument. Tautological as it gets, it’s supplying no form of rhetoric other than an unsubstantiated opinion.

Yet somehow, it still makes sense. 

Again, simply because this is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about. 

It was a ridiculous convergence of factors—some controllable and others uncontrollable—that got us to this point, and that’s saying nothing of Bryant’s immense popularity, both domestically and internationally. Just think all the way back to the beginning of his career, when a precocious teenager was drafted out of high school by the Charlotte Hornets and almost immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Whatever involvement Kobe had in that process, it happened. And it allowed him to play for what’s arguably the sport’s No. 1 attraction. Though the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls would all disagree for various reasons, the Lakers are the league’s marquee franchise, enjoying gargantuan levels of support from virtually all areas of the globe. 

Anytime you combine a captivating athlete with a franchise that’s always in the global microscope, sparks are going to fly. And Kobe promoted them by being so damn good early in his career, even if his first All-Star appearance was a little bit ridiculous. Plus, the titles flowed in during the afro-bearing, No. 8-wearing portion of his career, setting the stage for a widely viewed prime and twilight to his NBA tenure.

Let’s not overlook how rare it is for a superstar to spend his entire career in one uniform.

There have been negative aspects to Bryant’s life with the Lakers—the time he spent in Colorado early in his career, as well as the summers in which he was no longer satisfied with the direction and success of the organization—but he’s worn purple and gold throughout his entire time as an NBA player. From brash teenager to sage, unfiltered veteran, Kobe has gone through every stage of an NBA life without changing colors.

Kevin Garnett can’t say that. Paul Pierce can’t either.

Nor can Shaquille O’Neal, Ray Allen, LeBron James or virtually any other star of the modern era. Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are the exceptions, though neither has risen to the level of worldwide popularity and unmitigated scrutiny that Bryant has both enjoyed and put up with throughout his time playing professional basketball. 


Ridiculous Popularity 

How many people truly fit the definition of a household name? 

If you walked into the home of a family that had as little interest in the NBA as possible, which players could they name? Due to how much they dominate the news cycle, James and Bryant would likely be mentioned. But beyond that? Even Kevin Durant hasn’t spent enough time making headlines, and the rest of the big guns—O’Neal and Michael Jordan, above all else—are long retired. 

If you walked into a sports bar instead, you could gauge how much conversation just saying a name sparked. People always seem interested in arguing about Bryant, whether discussing the strength of his career resume, his ability to excel upon his return from injury or whether he or O’Neal was the leader of those early-2000 L.A. teams that were so successful. 

Who else passes the bar-fight test? James again. Maybe Derrick Rose. But beyond that, you’ll be met with some indifference by at least some portion of the otherwise-interested crowd. 

Everyone seems to care about Bryant, and that’s not a statement that’s limited to the United States. China, above any other country, has a torrid love affair with the future Hall of Famer, as Chris Ballard carefully detailed for Sports Illustrated in one of the best sports articles of 2014: 

As for Kobe, here in China he really is, as the sign reads, “forever young.” Here the local media dotes. The fans not only adore him but arrive with no expectations beyond glimpsing the icon. Hang around a Lakers’ road hotel in the U.S., and you’ll see groupies and autograph hounds awaiting the bus, and if the players don’t acknowledge them, angry 40-year-old men will berate them. In Shanghai, I saw one group of nearly a dozen teenagers outside the Shangri-La hotel at 10 in the morning one day; at 11:30 p.m. they were still there, waiting, hopeful, asking any Westerner who entered if they knew when Kobe might return. They carried a succession of handwritten placards, in English, that, one holding each, read “kobe can we take photo with u [heart sign]?”

This kind of unconditional love is rare. Growing up, Kobe received it, like most kids, from his parents. Now he gets it from 17-year-old Chinese kids. 

There’s no telling why exactly this popularity sprang out of nothingness, though Ballard speculates it happened organically, with a hardworking people respecting and admiring the unmatched dedication that Bryant has shown to his craft. 

Regardless of the reason, it exists. 

In fact, ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell reported during the 2013 offseason that Bryant was the most popular player in the NBA from 2008-09 until last summer, when James surpassed him.

Think about that. It took four MVPs and two titles for the best basketball player in the world to move past a star who should be aging. 

A summer later, Rovell wrote that James had become the most popular male athlete in America, but let’s not overlook where Bryant ranked. 

Keep in mind that the Lakers superstar was coming off a season in which he’d played only a handful of games, limited by an Achilles injury during the early portion of the ill-fated campaign and a major knee injury after his brief return. Despite being largely out of the public eye for the vast majority of the year, Bryant remained the fifth-most popular male athlete in the country, trailing only James, Jordan, Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning. 

This isn’t the result of a normal career. 


An Abnormal Career

It’s a testimony to everything Bryant has done in his NBA life.

He’s stayed with the same franchise, which again just happens to be the most popular one in the Association, and excelled throughout his career. He’s won titles, consciously—and convincingly—imitated the greatest player of all time and displayed a near-psychopathic ability to avoid distractions and believe in himself unfailingly. 

Armed with unequaled self-confidence and an insatiable desire to prevail over opponents—both literal and figurative—on his own terms, ferrying Los Angeles’ hopes has become Bryant’s preferred way of life,” Dan Favale writes for Bleacher Report. “He wouldn’t have the Lakers entrusting their fate to anyone else. He wouldn’t share the strain of expectations even if he could.”

Bryant has drilled countless game-winning shots, shaking off the misses so vigorously but simultaneously with so much ease, that everyone in the arena believes the ball is finding the bottom of the net when it next leaves his fingertips while the last seconds of a game tick off the clock. He’s posterized what seems like every great big man during his era of NBA history. He’s crossed over myriad opponents, leaving them clutching their ankles as he rises for another successfully converted jumper. 

In his prime, he was even a lockdown defender, capable of impacting a game immensely on that end of the floor. Though he’s devolved into a ball-watching, opportunistic defender who thrives on his previously earned reputation, he remains capable of serving as a shut-down one-on-one player to this day. 

It was probably the best defense somebody’s ever played on me since I’ve been in the league,” Brandon Jennings said about the 2-guard, via The Associated Press’ Greg Beacham, after a January contest during the 2012-13 season. 

He wasn’t the first to feel the wrath of a jilted Bryant on that end of the court, and he certainly won’t be the last. 

Bryant’s game has constantly evolved, as he’s developed some of the best footwork in NBA history to counteract his falling athleticism. When the need arises, he’s served as a de facto point guard, piling up assists and eschewing those volume-shooting outings for the better of his team. 

He’s by no means a perfect player, but he’s always going to do his darnedest to ensure he comes as close as possible to that descriptor. Well, as close as possible to his version of that descriptor, as Bryant’s idea of a perfect player doesn’t always show a perfect correlation with everyone else’s.

What he’s done in the NBA is irrelevant here. There will be players who match his number of titles as a key player. There will be stars who put together similar statistical resumes. Someday, another standout will score more points than Bryant has to his credit when he’s done lacing up his sneakers for a final time. 

That much feels inevitable, even if it’s hard to fathom in the present. 

More important is how Bryant has risen to such prominence. That’s where the tireless work ethic, nonstop improvements and tinkering, willingness to play out his career with a single franchise and knack for handling the spotlight all come into play. 

And that’s why there won’t be another Bryant. 


No Potential Replacement in the Current Landscape

There are plenty of superstars in the current iteration of the NBA. In fact, James seems awfully close to superduperstar status, if he hasn’t reached that popularity nirvana already, and Kevin Durant won’t be far behind if he keeps improving each and every season of his already impressive career. 

But no one has been mythologized like Bryant. Plus, each star has a notable flaw in the resume he’s submitting while trying to walk in the shooting guard’s size-14 footsteps.

James has already changed teams multiple times, alienating the Cleveland Cavaliers fanbase before returning to his hometown team after winning two championships with the Miami Heat. Even though he’s the most popular athlete in the sport now—objectively speaking, based on those earlier popularity reports from Rovell—his career has been filled with too many twists to enjoy the unbridled adoration so many project upon Bryant. 

As for Durant, he simply hasn’t been as successful.

Now gearing up for his eighth professional season, he’s ringless and has yet to develop the following that Bryant enjoyed at such a young age. He’s widely viewed—whether it’s fair or not—as the league’s second fiddle, a status that might be different if he’d already three-peated, as Bryant had already done at Durant’s age, young as that may be.

Who else is going to get there? 

Anthony Davis is the next big thing, but he’s playing for the small-market New Orleans Pelicans. Ditto for Andrew Wiggins, who’s now set to toil away in relative obscurity for the nondescript Minnesota Timberwolves.

Poking holes in the candidacy of the league’s other young up-and-comers is a similarly easy process. 

Plus, the way we view the NBA has changed. 

The role of analytics has risen rather dramatically, shaping the way the game is played and viewed by fans. Though some remain stubbornly opposed to the impact of numbers, they’re doing so at their own peril, passing up a chance to glean valuable information and become more intelligent consumers of an incredibly complicated, ever-evolving and often awe-inspiring product. 

Bryant had the luxury of playing in the era just before everything was scrutinized. Basketball was quite popular in the early-2000s, but the sport wasn’t a 24/7 entity in which each move was broken down. Allen Iverson was allowed to loft up 25 shots per game while shooting low percentages from the field, and hero ball pervaded late-game situations. 

That doesn’t fly anymore. Well, it doesn’t fly to the same extent. 

But that offensive freedom—the ability to operate in a one-on-however-many situation—allowed Bryant to start his career in soaring fashion, then continue on his merry way as the game changed around him. It’s hard to fathom any player in this day and age recording an 81-point game, for example, despite this particular 2-guard doing so only eight years ago.

Still, the thought of anyone so much as scoring 70 points in a single game—in a league that’s gone to great lengths to encourage ball movement and spacing and de-emphasize isolation play—is a fleeting one, at best,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Josh Martin while looking back at what has arguably become the most famous game of Bryant’s incredible carer.

So, regardless of whether anyone touches that 81-point milestone, will the NBA be able to replace Bryant? 

Absolutely not. 

Just as Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and the rest of the stars from the post-Jordan era helped the Association move past the absence of the greatest player the sport has ever seen, remaining ever-popular all the while, Davis, Wiggins and the new breed of basketball superstars will help the league fill the void left by this particular shooting guard.

However, that in no way means the Association will replace the man, the myth and the legend named Kobe Bryant. 

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Can Kobe Bryant Really Still Carry the Los Angeles Lakers?

Carrying the Los Angeles Lakers is a familiar task for Kobe Bryant.

Armed with unequaled self-confidence and an insatiable desire to prevail over opponents—both literal and figurative—on his own terms, ferrying Los Angeles’ hopes has become Bryant’s preferred way of life. He wouldn’t have the Lakers entrusting their fate to anyone else. He wouldn’t share the strain of expectations even if he could.

Nothing has changed.

Almost two decades into his reign as Hollywood’s king, the Lakers are still very much Bryant’s team, the roster reflective of their dollars-dependent future and—most importantly—a patent pledge to continue building around No. 24 until the bitter end.

But where such conduct once engendered hope and teamwide tenacity befitting of Bryant’s own aplomb, time has turned the tables. 

Certainty has given way to confusion. Age and injuries have created doubt. Bryant’s burden-bearing, hope-hauling capabilities have come under siege.

Can he still carry his team? 

For the first time, the answer is less about Bryant’s bionic mystique and more about where the Lakers intend to go.


Charting Expectations

Talk of summer 2015 and all the promise it holds has been temporarily suspended.

New head coach Byron Scott refuses to accept that the mountain ahead is too steep to scale now. References to patience and process have come few and far between, their existence secondary to seemingly ungovernable optimism.

“I think it would be unfair for us to put any expectation on those guys, but the bottom line with me is winning. That’s the bottom line, so I’m not putting any limitations on our guys as well,” he said on Fox Sports Live, per NBA.com’s Joey Ramirez. ”I’m gonna go in there the first day of training camp and say, ‘Guys, we’ve gotta shoot for winning a championship.’”

Title talk can be interpreted as any number of things. 

Is Scott being serious? Using boundless bluster as a motivational tool? Selling something the Lakers don’t—and won’t—stock anytime soon?

This year’s Lakers will stumble into 2014-15 following a 27-win, injury-infested debacle. They’re barely recognizable from last year, though not in ways that guarantee they’ll win more games, play more defense or move forward at all.

Through it all, Scott constantly cites Bryant.

Sometimes he focuses on Bryant’s limitations and the balance between reality and stardom he must find. Other times he can be heard adding weight to Bryant’s two-ton crown.

“I’ve got a lot of guys that I don’t really know,” Scott admitted in August, via the Los Angeles Times‘s Eric Pincus. ”I’ve got to get to know these guys and see what makes them tick—but I’ve got one guy that I do know what makes him tick and that’s a great piece to have.”

Judging by those words, Scott is no different than any other Lakers coach, and this team no different from any other Lakers team. 

Winning—impractical or not—remains the standard, and it’s Bryant who must lug the bar to which they hold themselves.


Bryant’s New Reality

Current expectations would have seemed tame not two years ago. 

Neither time nor age had bested Bryant. Serious injuries weren’t holding him back. His game was his game, his production and reliability timeless.

Circumstances have since changed, even if Bryant’s career-long role hasn’t.

At 36, his basketball mortality obvious, Bryant must adapt. And though adjustment isn’t exact science, specific lines—those which Bryant, Scott and the Lakers are forbidden to cross—must be drawn. 

That may involve him settling for even more jumpers or playing point guard and ceding the most physically demanding responsibilities to Nick Young, Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and Julius Randle.

It most certainly entails him playing less.

Scott has already stressed the importance of conservation, hinting at a minutes limit for his shooting guard, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. Yet a potential minutes cap has done little to curb his enthusiasm.

“I see a guy who’s going to average 20 something points a game, will have a great year and have a lot of people eating crow,” he told Medina. “I’m glad people are saying [otherwise]. Keep adding it. It motivates him that much more. It makes my job easier.”

Averaging 20 points is a tall order by itself. Forget collective wishes, wins and losses and every other aspect of the game. Twenty points, on its own, is ambitious.

Players aged 36 or older have averaged 20 points per game only nine times since 1983. More complicated still, three players—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (three times), Michael Jordan (twice) and Karl Malone (four times)—make up all nine occurrences.

Not once did any of those players log fewer than 30 minutes per contest. Jordan and Malone—who make up the last six instances—each needed at least 34.9 minutes to complete the feat. 

Bryant, meanwhile, is supposed to eclipse similar numbers on a minutes cap. 

Only five qualified players in NBA history have ever averaged 20 points in under 30 minutes per game. It hasn’t been done since 1990-91 (Ricky Pierce), and the oldest player to do it was 32 (George Gervin).

Last season saw a 35-year-old Bryant muster 13.8 points a night in 29.5 minutes. Six-game sample sizes don’t offer windows into Bryant’s basketball soul, but if he’s to score as much as Scott and the Lakers want, stringent playing restrictions are the enemy.

And even if he does that, even if he stays healthy and makes history while playing at a familiarly high level, there’s still the matter of having to carry everyone else.

The Lakers ranked 28th in defensive efficiency last season, according to NBA.com, and aren’t built to be much better this year. They ranked 21st in offensive efficiency, playing a fast-paced brand of basketball Bryant isn’t fit to exist within and Scott won’t run.

Single cures aren’t out there for what ails this Lakers team. Not even a statistically magnificent Bryant would be enough to revive Los Angeles’ winning ways. Not if he stands as the Lakers’ lone star.


Different Reality, Same Old Misconceptions

Mentions of the Lakers and “winning” and “playoffs” in the same breath casts a cloud over Bryant’s impending return.

These (mostly) self-delivered forecasts—borne out of design or blind belief—are, as Bleacher Report’s Jim Cavan implies, a double-edged sword:

On the other hand, the Lakers are coming off their worst season in almost 60 years, play in a perpetually loaded Western Conference and are poised to pay their best player—the 36-year-old Kobe Bryant—a whopping $48.5 million over the next two years, despite recent injuries to the aging star’s Achilles and knee.

Meanwhile, L.A.’s second-best player, Carlos Boozer, was grabbed off waivers after being released by the Chicago Bulls via the NBA’s amnesty provision.

If this doesn’t sound like the blueprint for a championship-caliber team, congratulations: You are firmly grounded in this dimension.

Multistar powerhouses make up the Western Conference. Kevin Durant isn’t on his own in Oklahoma City. Chris Paul has Blake Griffin. Damian Lillard has LaMarcus Aldridge. James Harden has Dwight Howard. Tony Parker has the rest of San Antonio‘s roster. 

Old and fragile as ever, Bryant is all alone, surrounded only by bit role players acquired to appease his unbending faith and protect Los Angeles’ books. 

Teams built on this whim—however well-intentioned—don’t make the playoffs out west, let alone contend for championships. Contenders aren’t founded upon one 36-year-old superstar who has appeared in just six games since April 2013. 

No NBA player of Bryant’s age has ever racked up more than 18.2 win shares. Under the most ideal circumstances—Bryant has never amassed more than 15.3 wins in a single season—if the Lakers actually wish to flirt with a playoff berth, where are the other 30-35 victories coming from? 

Some combination of Boozer, Lin, Young, Jordan Hill, Ed Davis and Steve Nash, who totaled 17.4 victories between them for their respective teams last year?

Hope of Bryant’s return resembling a miracle runs amiss here, where he’s being asked to carry the Lakers further than reason allows, acting as something more than an encouraging bridge between this era and the one in which lofty expectations belong.


*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise cited.

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Kobe Bryant Says Championships Don’t Drive Him, Reveals He Only Uses 2 Moves

Most people assume that Kobe Bryant is driven by winning championships, but that apparently isn’t the case. 

Bryant has helped the Los Angeles Lakers win five championships in his 18-year career, and he is known as one of the fiercest competitors in NBA history. However, winning isn’t how he defines success.

The Black Mamba shared how he views success in a recent question-and-answer session. His answer may surprise you. 

The 36-year-old also revealed that he only uses two moves, despite the common belief that a player needs a lot of moves. That’s a good lesson for young players.

Bryant has had one of the best careers in NBA history, so he knows what he’s talking about. 

[Lakers Nation]

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Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant Forming A Big 3?

Los Angeles Lakers rebuilding sounds delightful to envious fans that have despised the nearly two decades of championships owned by the franchise. For the Los Angeles faithful, this rut in their search for success has them reaching for tissues. Boasting a laundry list of Hall of Famers and 16 Larry O’Brien trophies, the expectation of […]
Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant Forming A Big 3? – Hoops Habit – Hoops Habit – Analysis, Opinion and Stats All About The NBA

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James Harden says Kobe Bryant has “been working,” expects to see “20-year-old Kobe” next season

On October 28, the Los Angeles Lakers will begin the 2014-15 season with a much anticipated matchup with the Houston Rockets. While there are intriguing storylines surrounding the game involving Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin, Kobe Bryant will obviously be the big draw for a couple of reasons. For one, it will be the first time that Kobe has faced off against Dwight since he left town last summer, though, more importantly, it will be the return of the Black Mamba to the basketball court.
After appearing in just six games last season, the basketball world is anxious to see Bryant back on the court, and if Harden’s assessment of the five-time champion’s current form is anything to go by, fans of the purple and gold should be very excited.
“I know he’s been working. We’ve talked a few times and he’s ready. He’s 20-year-old Kobe,” Harden said in an interview with ThePostGame. “So, it should be a crazy environment. I’m ready for the upcoming season, it should be a good one.”
20-year-old Kobe

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Do the Los Angeles Lakers Owe Kobe Bryant More in His Final Chapter?

As Kobe Bryant prepares for the mental, physical and emotional rides sure to follow in his 19th NBA season, it cannot be easy for him to shake one haunting question.

Is this it?

That’s not a confrontation with mortality either. After a torn Achilles and fractured tibia have twice put him face-to-face with the game’s grim reaper over the past 16 months, he knows all too well which side of his hourglass holds the most sand grains.

What Bryant could (and honestly should) have a hard time understanding is how the Los Angeles Lakers have botched the last leg of his journey this badly.

L.A. set a franchise record for losses last season (55) and had its second-lowest winning percentage ever (.329). While they should have a healthy Bryant this time aroundwhich it didn’t for all but six games last yearthe Lakers could conceivably be worse.

“The team has gone from not knowing who was its third-best player behind Bryant and Pau Gasol to not knowing who is its second-best player now,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding. “And Bryant still has to prove that he can stay healthy and produce as a best player must.”

Even if things get better, the difference could be marginal. Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal pegged the Lakers for 32 victories, two more than they were given by the ESPN Forecast panel.

“Those thinking the Lakers will be marginally better than last year are on the right track, because that’s what they are: slightly more talented, walking a slippery slope, one injury away from another season-long fiasco, one Kobe Bryant renaissance shy of exceeding minimal expectations,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale.

The offensive talent has improved through the offseason arrivals of Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and rookie Julius Randle, but where is the fortune-reversing needle-mover in that group? Don’t go looking for it, because it isn’t there.

New coach Byron Scott isn’t bringing it with him either. He wants to form a defensive identity, but neither this roster nor his track record suggests that one is coming.

On paper, the Lakers should score a ton of points and give up even more. If that recipe sounds familiar, it should. Those are the same ingredients left over from last season’s debacle.

Bryant, of course, will never see the situation as such. Or he won’t admit it if he does, at least.

Rather than sulk over swinging and missing on Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James this summer, Bryant has tried taking a page out of the “good job, good effort” kid’s book on positivity.

When he says those things, you really want to believe him.

You want to feel like he’s excited about getting a veteran like Boozer or a prospect like Randle. You hope that he can help Lin find some of his old magic and stabilize the point guard position Steve Nash’s 40-year-old frame won’t allow him to play.

You almost get excited for Bryant when you remember the size of that chip on his shoulder and what it might mean for this opportunity in front of him.

“There’s a reason ‘Braveheart’ stands next to ‘Gladiator’ and ‘The Godfather’ atop the movie-loving Bryant’s all-time list,” Ding wrote last summer for the Orange County Register. ”Beyond winning or leading his own army, his dream was to lead his underdog army to the ultimate victory.”

The concept is enticing. Just try imagining a rejuvenated, refueled Bryant helping the undermanned Lakers slay the dragons of the Western Conference.

But that picture doesn’t last long, does it? It’s just not realistic enough for our minds to really bring it to life.

Now, think about what that actually means. Think about the caliber of player we’re discussing—and the fact that he isn’t good enough to save this squad.

This is Kobe Bean Bryant, or the Black Mamba as he’s known inside the lines. This is a generational superstar, one of the greatest players this league has ever seen.

This is a guy who not only patterned his game after Michael Jordan’s, but also built one of the very few resumes capable of standing toe-to-toe with his.

This is one of the only names that can be mentioned in the same breath as Jordan’s without the speaker getting laughed out of the room. Heck, Jordan himself has linked the two together, via author Roland Lazenby:

“Kobe is the only guy with the will and the skill to even come close,” wrote NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin. “Kobe and Jordan are cut from the same cloth, both driven to compete, to win, to do whatever it takes to get there. Their will and drive stood out in the ultra-competitive NBA. There will not be many more like them.”

The Lakers need to appreciate the time they have left with Bryant, and handing him a lifetime achievement award in the form of a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension isn’t nearly enough. Not even if he might say it is:

This isn’t about money.

It’s about preserving Bryant’s identity.

His reality is changing. His lift isn’t the same, and neither is his place in this profession. He’s trying his best to adjust on the fly, to learn how to exist inside a kingdom he used to claim.

It isn’t likely Bryant will return to his past production levels, but he could find his way somewhere close.

Before suffering that torn Achilles—after logging 43.5 minutes a night over a 10-game stretch for this franchise at age 34—he was putting up 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.3 rebounds. He isn’t as far removed from his elite past as his prolonged absence has made it seem.

But his days of being that vicious, venomous Mamba as we know him are over. Because what separated him from his peers wasn’t statistics, success or star power.

It was his perpetually unquenched competitive thirst, now a wasted gift for a team with a best-case scenario that stops short of a playoff berth.

Bryant has given the Lakers everything: 1,245 games (25th in NBA history), 45,567 minutes (13th) and 31,700 points (fourth). He’s the only player among the league’s top-nine scoring leaders to have never worn a different jersey.

His loyalty has been rewarded with endless stacks of cash, complementary supporting casts and, for a long time, one of the loudest voices inside the organization.

The Lakers are moving forward now, only Bryant’s reign hasn’t ended. He’ll close out one of the finest careers in NBA history by spending the next two seasons as a walking relic, a legendary competitor with no chance to compete.

For everything he has given this organization, this league and this sport as a whole, he deserved a far better fate than this.

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James Harden Expects to See a ’20-Year-Old’ Kobe Bryant on the Court This Season

Everybody is curious to see how Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant plays this season after he has missed parts of the last two seasons with serious leg injuries. The Houston Rockets’ James Harden firmly believes that the Black Mamba will be ready to play when he steps onto the court.

The Lakers and the Rockets open the 2014-15 season against each other on Oct. 28 at the Staples Center. There is no doubt that all eyes will be on Bryant that night.

[ThePostGame, h/t LakersNation]

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What Kobe Bryant Can Learn from Paul Pierce’s Ageless Game

He may be 36 years old and coming off a season fraught with injury, but Kobe Bryant‘s superhuman credentials remain as credible as ever.

Even as his Los Angeles Lakers look to rebound from a 27-55 record, Bryant is attempting a comeback of his own after playing just six games last season.

Chances are the results will be impressive. They usually are when Bryant’s involved. 

But the anticipatory chatter is already cementing a reputation that probably didn’t need any help.

Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Ballard recently spoke with “longtime physical therapist for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers” Judy Seto, and the fallout only serves to further enhance an iconic legacy that—in the eyes of many—ranks as the true heir to Michael Jordan.

Regarding Bryant’s threshold for pain, Seto contended that, “It’s the highest that I’ve ever seen.  He channels his focus so well in terms of just the task at hand. But also when he’s had pain, he can block that out. I mean, I think a good example is when he tore his Achilles, he made those free throws. He blocked it out and focused.”

Those free throws were a reminder that for all of Bryant’s talent and titles, it may be his fortitude that truly sets him apart.

“He’s remarkable,” then-Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said at the time, per ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin. “For him to hit the fouls shots is remarkable. It just didn’t end. You have a greater appreciation to what he wills himself to do.”

It was a historic moment, but there’s little doubt Bryant hopes to avoid repeating it. Going forward, he’s focusing on staying healthy and making the most of his career’s few remaining years.

So it should come as no surprise that the 16-time All-Star is doing his homework.

Ballard separately reports that, “In preparing for this season, Bryant told friends that the player he is analyzing, as an example of adjusting your game as you get older, is fellow 36-year-old Paul PierceThis is part of his goal to become ‘more efficient’ on the court.”

The notion that Bryant has anything to learn from Pierce may sound self-evidently absurd.

Don’t get me wrong—Pierce, now a member of the Washington Wizards after just one season with the Brooklyn Nets, has left an indelible mark on the NBA.

But he’s no Kobe.

And after averaging a career-low 13.5 points last season, Pierce hardly seems like an appropriate role model for Bryant, who—during the 2012-13 campaign—tallied 27.3 points per contest. Pierce has never averaged more than 26.8 points in a season, and that was all the way back in 2005-06.

Still, one would assume Bryant knows best. He’s an unrivaled student of the game, so if he believes Pierce can teach him something, perhaps there’s something to it.

To his credit, Pierce has missed just 19 games combined over the course of the last four season. That’s a strong track record that indicates he’s taken good care of his body and subjected himself to minimal wear and tear late into his career.

It helps that he’s averaged fewer than 35 minutes per game in each of those seasons and as few as just 28 minutes per contest a season ago.

By comparison, Bryant averaged at least 38.5 minutes in both 2011-12 and 2012-13.

Though he almost certainly has the motor to sustain that kind of pace, there’s something to be said for more modest playing time—perhaps even sitting some games out. Selling Bryant on such a proposal may not be easy, but it’s probably the first thing he should take away from Pierce’s enduring health.

The Kansas product has also remained effective largely on account of methodical footwork, up-and-under moves and fall-away jumpers—the kind of savviness that obviates a need for elite athleticism and otherwise reduces the risk of collision or dangerous landings.

As NBCSports.com’s Kurt Helin recently put it, “Pierce‘s gets to the elbows and once there unleashes an old-man-at-the-YMCA game on his opponents, getting off an array of crafty shots that seem to always find the bottom of the net. He’s evolved that part of his game over the years.”

CBSSports.com’s James Herbert used similar language, writing, “The crafty Pierce has adapted about as well as anyone. He has an arsenal of little head-fakes and ball-fakes, and he knows how to get his shot off, even if he can’t create as much space as he used to.”

The common theme?

Pierce is ridiculously “crafty.”

And for that matter, so is Bryant. Even when his athleticism was still without peer, he conjured MJ with dizzying moves on the wing, from the elbow and in the post. Always a deep threat and lethal slasher, it’s been Bryant’s smooth in-between game that makes him virtually impossible to stop.

To that end, it’s probably fair to assume watching video of Pierce won’t translate into some kind of dramatic renaissance in Bryant’s game.

It’s the little things that will make the difference, nuanced tendencies that may add a few options to Bryant’s already robust bag of tricks.

Pierce’s game could be especially instructive in light of the fact that he was never quite as athletic as Bryant. In turn, his techniques reason to be of value for a one-time acrobat suddenly faced with the increasing demands of gravity.

“There are certain things that my body can’t do that I used to be able to do,” Bryant told Ballard. “And you have to be able to deal with those. First you have to be able to figure out what those are. Last year when I came back, I was trying to figure out what changed. And that’s a very hard conversation to have.”

Bryant added, “I’ll be sharper. Much sharper. Much more efficient in areas. I’ll be limited in terms of what you see me do, versus a couple years ago. But very, very methodical, very, very purposeful.”

Maybe he’ll get there with a little help from Paul Pierce.

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