Utah’s Alec Burks Burns Kobe Bryant with Behind-the-Back Move

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has earned a spot on the NBA‘s All-Defensive First Team nine times throughout his career, so it’s rare to see him gamble and not convert on that end. 

During the Utah Jazz’s preseason game vs. L.A., Alec Burks crossed over the Black Mamba with a beautiful behind-the-back move that left Bryant frozen.

Get all of these plays out of your system before the season starts, Kobe.

[Danny Hazan]

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Kobe Bryant Lashes Out at Low ESPN Ranking: ‘Bunch of Idiots’

Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant might feed off criticism as well as anyone in NBA history, but that doesn’t mean he likes to hear it.

The 36-year-old, who played only six games last season due to injury, checked in at No. 40 on ESPN.com‘s 2014 NBA player rankings.

Once word got back to the Mamba of his not-so-flattering position, he fired back a shot of his own at those responsible for the list, per Bill Oram of the Orange County Register:

If this story sounds at all familiar, there’s a reason for that.

It played out in almost the exact same way prior to last season, only that ranking placed him 15 spots higher at No. 25. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with that standing either, per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:

Like all subjective rankings, these are nothing more than opinions. And those aren’t easily formed with a player attempting to rebound from a serious injury.

Perhaps that’s why Bryant finds himself in the same company as former All-Stars Dwyane Wade (No. 36) and Rajon Rondo (No. 37). All three are set to enter the 2014-15 campaign surrounded by uncertainty, having missed a combined 156 games last season.

Bryant has plenty to prove, both as an aging veteran looking to evade Father Time and as a member of a Lakers team that set a franchise record for futility last season. It’s understandable to question what he has left in the tank after 18 years in the league, especially in light of his struggles to stay healthy during the most recent one.

Of course, being understandable doesn’t necessarily make it advisable, as ESPN analyst and former NBA head coach George Karl observed:

“An older player like Kobe is bound to fall in preseason lists like this because everything points to a fall in his numbers,” wrote LakersNation’s Corey Hansford. “However, you can never doubt Kobe Bryant and he tends to take note of those who do—just so he can prove them wrong.”

It’s hard to say whether Bryant still has enough juice to quiet his critics. There is a ton of mileage on those legs, and they seem to be starting to show all that wear and tear.

Then again, he is all of one season removed from averaging 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game. In 2012-13, he had the 10th-highest player efficiency rating in the entire league (23.0).

While the Los Angeles Daily News‘ Mark Medina reports that Bryant might not play enough minutes to recover all of that production, it isn’t out of the question for him to post relatively similar stats on a smaller scale. With his footwork, basketball IQ and relentless competitive drive, he will be a force for as long his body cooperates.

Assuming he holds up, he could still be a special player this season. It’s hard to imagine there are 39 other players in this league who could realistically make a similar claim.

And don’t be surprised if Bryant reminds us all of that throughout the year.

 

Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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Kobe Bryant: ‘We are overpaid, but so are the owners’

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant isn’t the biggest fan of how the NBA business works. The 36-year-old veteran went on a brief Twitter rant about the NBA’s new television contract after the deal became official on Oct. 6.
Players are “encouraged” per new CBA to take less to win or risk being called selfish+ungrateful while nbatv deal goes UP by a BILLION #biz— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) October 07, 2014
But Kobe wasn’t done there. When asked to expand on the matter after Tuesday’s practice, Bryant had plenty more to say on the subject. “It’s very easy to look at the elite players around the league and talk about the amount of money that they get paid and compare that with the average (player),” Bryant said, per ESPN’s Baxter Holmes. “But we don’t look at what the owners get paid and how much revenue they generate off the backs of these players.” With the new collective bargaining expected to take place in the summer of 2017, Bryant made it clear that the owners, like play

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Kobe Bryant Showing Road Back to Superstardom Will Be an Uphill Climb

Kobe Bryant is playing NBA basketball, a victory in itself for a man with his injury history and mileage. But what we’ve seen in the preseason so far indicates he’s got a long way to go before he ever plays it as effectively as he once did.

And as much as it hurts to say so, the Kobe we used to know, the superstar so many revered, may be gone forever.

Through three exhibition tilts, Bryant has produced mixed results.

 

Bryant’s Struggles

He has connected on just 13 of his 36 total field-goal attempts, and he appears unable to get into the lane off the dribble. This isn‘t altogether unexpected, but Bryant’s total lack of lift has robbed him of the ability to generate easy shots—a problem made worse by the fact that so few of his Los Angeles Lakers teammates can create some for him.

Still, a torn Achilles and broken leg (Bryant’s two most recent injuries) would have ended the careers of most players his age. And the version of Kobe we’re watching today looks pretty darn good for a 36-year-old guard—even a healthy one.

In that regard, this non-superstar Bryant remains remarkable.

But the shots Bryant is taking…man. To call them tough is a gross understatement. The contested fall-away flings are difficult to describe. In some ways, watching Bryant shoot them is like watching Kevin Garnett run the floor: The movements are the same, but the speed and bounce just aren’t there.

In another comparison that strikes closer to home for the Lakers, watching Bryant shoot those leaned-back faders is like watching Steve Nash navigate his way into the lane. The things he’s doing are aesthetically similar, but the degree of difficulty is immeasurably greater than it used to be.

Bryant’s worst career field-goal percentage was the 41.7 percent he shot as a rookie. In his abbreviated 2013-14 campaign, he connected at a 42.5 percent clip. Those modest figures seem out of reach now, and his overall efficiency will likely suffer even more because he appears to lack the quickness to work his way to the foul line.

You can make the argument, as Lakers head coach Byron Scott has on ESPN Radio, via Matt Moore of CBSSports.com, that Bryant will be in better shape by opening night: “He’s in terrific shape. That’s what I love about him. He came with the right attitude from day one. I think in the next few weeks he’ll get better and stronger, and be ready for the regular season.”

That’s a tough sell because it relies on a pair of faulty presumptions: first, that Bryant didn’t practically kill himself to get into the shape he’s currently in, and second, that it’s possible for legs with over 54,000 minutes on them (regular season and playoffs combined) to gain strength with even more wear.

Bryant could get technically sharper as he knocks off the rust, but saying his legs can be played into shape seems far-fetched at this stage.

Scott’s insistence on limiting the Lakers’ three-point attempts won’t help either. If defenses don’t have to worry about L.A. shooting triples, they’ll have all the more reason to send an extra defender at Bryant on the block.

Of course, even if the Lakers were willing to fire away from deep, their lack of accomplished marksmen might result in defenses taking the same post-focused approach anyway.

 

Another Superstar Trait

Maybe there’s another way to view Bryant’s climb back to superstardom. Maybe we need to take a broader view of his place in NBA lore, of his legacy as a whole. Frankly, we have to do that because there’s almost no credible argument for his chances to return to conventional on-court superstardom this season.

If you think about it, Bryant’s career has been missing something to this point. It’s been lacking a rare and laudable quality that many previous NBA luminaries have possessed.

Bryant hasn’t done much to foster the growth of his teammates—especially the younger ones.

According to Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com, that’s changing:

Bryant has never had the patience for others to learn on job, not on his watch. He has always been too busy thinking about winning another championship and building on his legacy. 

But in the twilight of his career and on a team that in his heart of hearts he knows isn’t destined for a title, he has changed his ways. 

He has embraced his role as a mentor, a leader and a teacher on a young Los Angeles Lakers team in desperate need of all of the above.

That’s a distinctly new development in Bryant’s career, and while it’s not fair to say his surefire Hall of Fame credentials need boosting, what Kobe is doing now could serve as ammunition against critics claiming he was selfish and never made teammates better.

Granted, barbs like that have had the ring of truth for most of his career, and his newly selfless humility comes largely because he can’t dominate on his own anymore. Still, it’s meaningful.

Precious few Bryant teammates of the past would have ever said something like what Jeremy Lin revealed to Markazi:

He’s pushing me and he’s demanding a lot from me. He’s definitely taken on a mentorship role for me on the court. That’s something that I don’t think I’ve had in my previous four years in the league. It’s just nice to have somebody who is pushing me and helping me and teaching me the tricks. It’s also nice when he’s one of the best to ever do it.

Bryant’s magnanimity has even extended to opponents:

Not only did Bryant seem genuine in his congratulations for Stephen Curry‘s ridiculous in-your-face triple, but he also sent a message to the younger Lakers. Kobe wouldn’t have even been in position for Curry to drop that long-range bomb on him if he hadn’t taken the challenge of picking up the Golden State Warriors sniping stud full-court.

After watching Curry torch teammates, Bryant gave his best effort.

He failed to slow down Curry, but he succeeded in another respect: showing the young Lakers the nobility of attacking a challenge—the more difficult, the better.

 

Making a Mark

There’s value in what Bryant’s doing these days.

Superstars leave marks on the game. They change it, and they change the players they played with for the better.

Kobe racked up titles and individual honors during the first 18 years of his career, leaving plenty of marks in the process. Now, by helping teammates, setting examples and paying his vast stockpile of knowledge forward, he’s leaving his superstar mark in a new way.

So even if Bryant’s uphill climb to stardom proves too steep, he’ll still add to his legacy this season.

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Kobe Bryant gives Stephen Curry respect after a great shot (Video / GIF)

Kobe Bryant showed Stephen Curry some respect after Curry shot a three-pointer over him during the third quarter of Sunday night’s NBA preseason game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors in Ontario, Canada.Bryant was defending Curry all the way up the court, but Curry managed to free himself up to drain the long three. Bryant congratulated him by playfully slapping him on the rear end and telling him “Nice shot”.Curry scored 25 points on 8-11 shooting as the Warriors blew out the Lakers 116-75.Video via NBA.
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Kobe Bryant Steals Ball from Stephen Curry, Slams Home Oldest Old Man Dunk Ever

Kobe is old.

He’s so old that his current teammates wore his jersey growing up. He’s old enough to have actually been a fan of Twin Peaks. The Black Mamba could run for president right now.

But like Sisyphus, Kobe Bryant returns year after year to work that rock, and he does it better than most.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ star stepped back onto the court Thursday night for a preseason matchup against the Golden State warriors. He wasted no time in reminding everyone how good he is, and just how old he’s become.

Bryant’s moment came on a slick steal off Stephen Curry. The 36-year-old swiped the ball out of Curry’s hands and took it to the rim for the oldest, old man dunk that has ever been dunked.

Eighteen years in the NBA takes a toll, and after last season’s fractured tibia and torn Achilles tendon, it’s a credit to Bryant that he even went for the slam.

Scarcely a year ago he was slamming over two defenders:

We may never see that Kobe again, but you can’t rule anything out when it comes to the Black Mamba. Between his otherworldly determination and the miracles of German franken-science, life’s rules only loosely apply to this man.

 

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Watch: Kobe Bryant looks vintage in preseason debut

TweetThe Los Angeles Lakers played the Denver Nuggets to open their preseason Monday night, with a healthy Kobe Bryant in the lineup. To the Lakers fans enjoyment, Bryant looked like he’s back to his old self in his first NBA-level game in 10 months, scoring 13 points in 21 minutes of play.
Check out the highlights of Kobe looking like vintage Kobe:
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Bryant played only six games last season after suffering a knee injury just a week into his return from a torn Achilles. At 36 and in his 19th season, Bryant is nearing the end of his career but if he can regain even a semblance of his form from 2012-2013 the Lakers just may be respectable again.
-ALR

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Kobe Bryant Debut: Mamba Must Adapt to Limitations to Boost Lakers

Kobe Bryant returned to the court for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Denver Nuggets, tallying 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting and adding five assists. What can we take away from Kobe’s first appearance back in the purple and gold?

Kevin Ding joins Stephen Nelson to dissect Bryant’s 21 minutes in the video above.

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Lakers News: Latest Reports on Availability of Kobe Bryant, Nick Young and More

Before we know it, a new NBA season will commence, and the Los Angeles Lakers will begin their journey to bounce back from the worst season in franchise history. Obviously, the health of the team will play a crucial role in its ability to bounce back, so keeping up on player availability is pertinent.

Kobe Bryant missed all but six games last season, Steve Nash only appeared in 15 contests, and Nick Young will need to stay healthy, as his role figures to increase in the coming season. Recent reports have provided some insight as to how each of these players is looking as the preseason rolls along.

Here’s a glance at the status of all three players for the foreseeable future.

 

Kobe Bryant

Bryant is entering his 19th year with the Lakers after missing almost the entire 2013-14 season. While he’s healthy and practicing, there are still questions about exactly how much the 36-year-old guard will be able to contribute in the regular season.

A tweet from Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times relayed comments from trainer Gary Vitti and Bryant, which help shed a little light on the subject:

Judging by those comments, we’re looking at somewhere between 32 and 36 minutes per game. That’s not too shabby. In the Lakers’ championship-winning season of 2009-10, Bryant played an average of 36.1 minutes per game and was highly efficient.

The most integral part of this Los Angeles team, Bryant shouldn’t bite off more than he can chew and play more than the recommended minutes. Keeping him healthy for an entire season far outweighs getting an extra two minutes of production from the team’s star.

 

Nick Young

Young’s first season with the Lakers went quite well. He appeared in 64 games, starting nine, and played an average of 28.3 minutes per contest as one of the team’s most dependable role players. He averaged 17.9 points per game, and that production will be necessary in the coming season.

Unfortunately, things didn’t get off to a great start for the forward, as a thumb injury will hold him out for an extended period of time. According to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Young’s return could come a bit sooner than expected, though:

We should get an update after the conclusion of his surgery. In the meantime, Young leaves us with this, via his Instagram account:

Luckily, he won’t be guarding Kobe during the regular season.

 

Steve Nash

Nash enters his third year with the Lakers, but he only played in a total of 15 games last season. Health and longevity have become concerns for the guard, who is now 40, and things began in ominous fashion just before the preseason commenced.

After tweaking his ankle in practice, Nash was considered day-to-day. His status changed after Mike Trudell of Lakers.com tweeted an update from head coach Byron Scott:

Nash participated in the team’s first preseason game Monday, which is a great sign. However, he’ll definitely be a player to monitor as the regular season approaches.

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Julius Randle at Center of L.A. Lakers’ Transition to Life After Kobe Bryant

The Los Angeles Lakers have been careful to temper expectations for Julius Randle. On paper, the rookie out of Kentucky may seem an obvious choice to receive the torch that Kobe Bryant‘s carried for years, albeit in large part by default. After all, Randle, the No. 7 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, is easily L.A.’s most promising young prospect, which says as much about the rest of the roster as it does about the Dallas native.

Fortunately for the Lakers, they appear to be at least two years away from any concrete transition between Bryant and Randle. Bryant’s two-year, $48.5 million extension runs through the end of the 2015-16 season, though he hasn’t ruled out playing beyond that.

“Whether I do or not, we’ll have to see that two years from now,” Bryant said at Lakers media day, via Yahoo Sports’ Marc J Spears. “I don’t know, but I could [play longer]. Physically, I don’t see an end to the tunnel.”

Until then, the Lakers’ proverbial flame will be Bryant’s to carry. As for Randle, he’s got his work cut out for him before he’s ready to be anointed the Next Great Laker.

“Julius is still 19 years old,” general manager Mitch Kupchak said just prior to the opening of training camp, per The Los Angeles Times‘ Eric Pincus. “You wouldn’t know that by looking at him, because he’s really a well-developed, big, strong, athletic kid. Over the years, I’ve never looked at a rookie and said, ‘Hey, this guy’s gonna bring us to the top.’ It doesn’t do any good to have high expectations.”

If nothing else, Randle seems to have a strong grasp of the company line as it pertains to his present and future. “I’m just a 19-year-old kid, making the adjustment to the NBA,” he said at media day, via the Los Angeles Times. ”When you’re coming into the NBA as a rookie, you have to prove yourself. I know that, and that doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t want anything given to me in the first place.”

Good thing, too. So far, Randle hasn’t proved much in camp, other than that he’ll need time to adjust to his new situation. He’s already gotten his comeuppance from Bryant, who’s been schooling his supposed successor in conditioning drills, despite being 16 years older and coming off a season lost to Achilles and knee injuries.

That’s not a good look for the newcomer, to say the least, even though it’s coming in contrast to one of the most maniacally competitive and acutely conditioned athletes the NBA has yet seen. Fortunately for Randle, the Lakers aren’t counting on him to play big minutes or shoulder a significant share of responsibility for the team’s success out of the gate. He’s not even likely to start during the Lakers’ preseason opener against the Denver Nuggets:

In truth, Randle’s relegation to bench duty might be what’s best for everyone. The Lakers want to bounce back from from a bad season in a big way, in part to ensure that the best efforts of Bryant and Steve Nash won’t be wasted entirely.

As unrealistic as a return to postseason play may seem for L.A., it almost certainly won’t be in the cards if the team has to count on Randle to handle the starting spot at power forward. At present, the league is littered with frontcourt players (i.e. Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Zach Randolph, Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins) who could probably pick on the 6’9″ greenhorn with something approaching impunity.

Not that Carlos Boozer, a notoriously porous defender, will fair that much better, but at least the 12-year veteran has been around long enough and enjoyed a measure of success therein to hold his own more reliably than his understudy might. Hypothetically speaking, with Boozer doing the heavy lifting at power forward, Randle can acclimate himself to the NBA game more comfortably while learning the ropes from a seasoned veteran.

“We didn’t decide, ‘Well, [Randle isn't] going to help us this year, let’s get a veteran,’” Kupchak added. “We got [Boozer] to help us win games this year. Whatever Julius gets, he’s going to have to earn.”

It may be a while before Randle earns his keep, but that might not be so bad. Once upon a time, a certain precocious teenager spent 150 of his first 157 games as a Laker on the bench.

His name? Kobe Bean Bryant.

This isn’t to suggest that Randle is or will ever be on Bryant’s level as a player. Rather, if Bryant began his journey to greatness as a reserve, Randle could stand to do the same.

Above all, it’s incumbent upon the Lakers to take every precaution, necessary and otherwise, to ensure that Randle is brought along properly and elevated in due course. Barring another complete and utter collapse in the months to come, L.A. won’t get to select another blue-chip prospect in next year’s draft; the Phoenix Suns own their 2015 first-round selection (top-five protected) as recompense for the 2012 Steve Nash trade.

The Lakers will have their own pick to play around with in 2016, but Bryant might already be gone by then. Moreover, if Kupchak and executive vice president Jim Buss are going to convince a star free agent or two to soak up the cap space that Bryant will leave behind, they’ll have to be able to lay out a clear plan to return the franchise to championship contention.

In all likelihood, that blueprint will begin with Randle. At least, it’ll have to if the Lakers are going to regain, much less retain, relevance post-Mamba.

Historically speaking, transitions like the one for which the Lakers are preparing don’t often go smoothly. The Chicago Bulls suffered through a franchise-worst six-year playoff drought following Michael Jordan’s second retirement. The Lakers won just two postseason series in the six years after Magic Johnson began his battle with HIV. Larry Bird’s departure preceded a stretch of eight seasons with but one playoff appearance among them for the Boston Celtics.

Go back even further through the annals of NBA lore, and you’ll see the Lakers struggling to regain their footing after Jerry West called it quits, and the C’s doing the same without Bill Russell in the early 1970s and without John Havlicek later that same decade.

None of this should come as a shock. Great players are exceedingly difficult, if not nigh on impossible, to replace. There’s only so much any franchise can do to prepare for the departure of a crucial cornerstone, especially one like Bryant, who has spent half of his life in purple and gold.

The Lakers, though, are fortunate to have at least one potential star to bridge the gap between their glorious past and what they hope will be a similarly bright future. Randle showed off some studly upside while averaging 15 points and 10.4 rebounds as a freshman at Kentucky. Rebounding tends to translate well to the NBA—just ask Kenneth Faried, the NCAA’s all-time leading rebounder who’s soon to be the proud owner of a five-year, $60 million extension, per Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.

But Randle, like Faried, isn’t without clear shortcomings as a player, as Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman noted:

He’s going to need to develop a jumper in the pros to complement his face-up game in the mid-range and inside game down low.

Between Randle’s defensive limitations and questionable style of play, his transition to the NBA might not be as smooth as his pro-ready body suggests it should be.

The chances of Randle seamlessly assuming Bryant’s role in Lakerland are slim, even with no fewer than two years to develop before then. But if the Lakers play their cards right and don’t heap too much on the rookie too soon, they just might be able to weather the storm they’re in right now and the more dangerous one that figures to follow, thanks in no small part to Randle.

 

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