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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Kobe Bryant studying old rival on how to adjust game

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is using his old rival as an example of how to become “more efficient” on the court at the age of 36. Bryant, who turned 36 on Aug. 23, is preparing to make his comeback from a knee injury and has been studying Paul Pierce this offseason. From Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard: 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 Pierce. This is part of his goal to become “more efficient” on the court. Said Bryant, “I’m going to max [my last two years] out too, to do whatever I can. Leave no stone unturned, no water left in the sponge.” 

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Kobe Bryant trash talked LeBron James after ‘The Decision’

The Los Angeles Lakers had just defeated the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals, making them back-to-back NBA champions, but all of the attention was on LeBron James and his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. That did not sit well with Kobe Bryant. From Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding: With a brutal seven-game victory over the Celtics in the bank for Bryant, the 2010 offseason is dominated by LeBron James’ decision to leave Cleveland for Miami. What matters to Bryant is Phil Jackson agreeing to return to coach the Lakers again in pursuit of a third consecutive NBA title. Bryant sends James a text message. It goes like this: “Go ahead and get another MVP, if you want. And find the city you want to live in. But we’re going to win the championship. Don’t worry about it.” James went on to win two NBA titles during his four years in Miami, while Bryant has failed to make it out of the second round with the Lakers since the summer of 2010. [Boston.com] The post Kobe Bryant

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Why Kobe Bryant Enters 2014-15 Season as the Most Unpredictable NBA Star

There are two kinds of people who claim to know what Kobe Bryant will give the Los Angeles Lakers this year: legitimate clairvoyants and liars.

Actually, there are three. If pressed, Bryant himself would reveal that in his heart of hearts, he believes he’ll have a dominant age-36 season. But even the supreme confidence of a generational star like Bryant now comes with a dash of rationalization, per an interview with Scooby Axson of Sports Illustrated:

So when I hear pundits and people talk, saying, ‘Well, he won’t be what he was.’ Know what? You’re right. I won’t be. But just because something evolves, it doesn’t make it any less better than it was before.

Bryant may have convinced himself that he knows what lies ahead this season, but with all he’s been through, the rest of us can’t be so sure.

There was the Achilles rupture in 2012-13 that ended his season. After just six games in the subsequent campaign, Bryant’s fractured leg put an early coda on 2013-14 as well.

There’s just no way to know how Bryant will perform physically after losing so much time to serious injuries. Maybe he’s right, though. Maybe the productivity will still be there—just achieved through different means.

Head coach Byron Scott told Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: “He will be on the low box, he’ll be in the mid-post, he can be there a lot more than he has in the past and I think he can be very, very effective in all those areas.”

In Bryant’s last full season, he was an absolute monster on the block, ranking fifth among all NBA players in points per play on post-ups, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).

Just 13.1 percent of Bryant’s possessions were devoted to touches on the block in 2012-13, a figure that should significantly increase in the upcoming campaign. If Bryant suffers a modest decline in efficiency as his volume spikes, not to worry—he’ll remain a flat-out elite threat in the post.

“The mid-post is my kill zone. I have a go-to move and a counter. Try to stop ‘em,” Bryant told campers in a Shanghai Q&A.

It would seem that if Bryant is capable of walking upright, he’ll be capable of dominating down low.

Then again, the strange composition of the Lakers roster makes matters a bit more complicated than that. New additions in Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin and Ed Davis all figure to have significant roles, and Pau Gasol is no longer on the roster as a facilitator in the frontcourt.

Toss in the perpetual uncertainty surrounding Steve Nash’s health, and it’s awfully tough to get a handle on how this team will play and what roles each cog will fill. Bryant has had success as a primary scorer (duh) and a setup artist (he averaged six assists per game in 2012-13 and 6.3 in his shortened effort last year, the two highest totals of his career).

But in addition to the uncertainty of a body that may not hold up anymore and the challenges of establishing chemistry with new teammates, Bryant’s projected performance gets even hazier because of the issues he might have with a potentially poor Lakers team.

“If things are going well, I don’t think there will be a problem with him buying in,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Bolch. “It’s when things aren’t going well and maybe we’re not playing as well as he thinks we should be, things of that sort, that he may feel that he needs to play more, do more.”

Kobe has never been shy about voicing displeasure with his team’s performance, and he’s never waited long to initiate “Operation: Takeover” when he doubts the abilities of teammates. Mediocrity, which is probably the best bet for the Lakers this year, has never sat well with Bryant.

Per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, Bryant laid it all out on the line late last season: 

How can I be satisfied with it? We’re like 100 games under .500. I can’t be satisfied with that at all. This is not what we stand for. This is not what we play for. A lot of times it’s hard to understand that message if you’re not a diehard Laker fan. It’s hard to really understand where we’re coming from and what we’re accustomed to, which is playing for championships and everything else is a complete failure. That’s just how it is.

That was a frustrated Bryant, one who had just recently decided his season was over. He’s been less extreme in his comments since then, but we can all agree that those sentiments came from a truthful place.

How will Bryant react, physically and mentally, to a season in which the playoffs are a pipe dream? And will his body even allow him to shoulder the load like it used to?

Nobody knows.

If Bryant were to somehow perform like a star this year, it would be unprecedented. But in 2012-13, he averaged over 27 points, five rebounds and six assists per game, joining Boston Celtics great John Havlicek as the only players to accumulate those totals after their 10th seasons. LeBron James became the third last year.

Bryant has a way of setting precedents for the unprecedented.

Maybe he’ll put up numbers like those. Maybe he’ll decline a bit on offense but actually make an effort on defense. You know the growing criticism for his asleep-at-the-wheel approach to D in recent seasons has to be irking him.

As should now be abundantly clear, there are more questions than answers surrounding Bryant.

He’s not alone in his unpredictability, though.

Derrick Rose could soar as a born-again MVP threat, or his surgically reconstructed knees might bring him crashing back to earth again.

The spectrum of possibilities open to Anthony Davis might be as broad as the one ahead of Bryant, though The Brow’s potential outcomes cover a more positive range—with fringe MVP candidate and Holy Basketball God-King representing the two extremes.

Milwaukee Bucks second-year stud Giannis Antetokounmpo could also rightly be termed an unpredictable talent. We’ve never seen anything quite like him.

But with Bryant’s combination of past greatness, age and mileage, we can’t rule anything out. Maybe we’ll witness a complete physical breakdown. Younger players with less wear and tear have fallen off cliffs before, and most of them hadn’t suffered through the catastrophic injury Bryant did.

Or perhaps we’ll watch a guy who put together one of the best age-34 seasons for a guard double down and perform as the best age-36 guard of all time.

Sift through the numbers and you can probably come out with evidence to support whichever preexisting bias you have for or against Bryant’s chances to perform like a superstar this year.

Kobe will either do the impossible because he’s Kobe, doer of impossible things, or he might be done as an impact player.

Kevin Garnett screamed it when he beat Bryant’s Lakers in the 2008 Finals:

That’s right, KG, anything is possible—especially when it comes to Kobe’s 2014-15 season.

The search for certainty has so far proved fruitless, but we can safely bank on this: Whatever limitations Bryant’s body imposes, and whatever constraints his team and situation place on him, he’ll try like hell to overcome them.

He’s never been doubted like this before, and Bryant hasn’t had more to prove for almost two decades.

Nobody knows if Kobe will succeed in his struggle to dominate, but the only safe prediction is that he’ll push himself to the absolute edge trying. 

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Can Kobe Bryant Silence Even His Strongest Skeptics Entering Age-36 Season?

Kobe Bryant and the concept of “can’t” have never gone together. 

He couldn’t win a title without Shaquille O’Neal. He couldn’t will the ill-starred 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers into the playoffs. 

He can’t successfully come back from two severe injuries at 36 years old, with nearly two decades of NBA wear and tear on his treads and inordinate amounts of self-foisted pressure on his back. 

Supernatural work ethic and competitive fire in mind, Bryant could be done. He should be done. His 78-game on-court attack in 2012-13 will go down as his swan song, the last time Bryant is remembered for being Bryant.

That’s what his strongest skeptics will say without hesitation. They won’t bend to Bryant’s unfathomable drive. They won’t submit to his self-endorsing droplets of wisdom.

Is this decision to doubt him, to write him off, something Bryant will make them come to regret? Or are his agnostics the ones with a firm grip on reality? 

 

Laying Groundwork

Doubt is everywhere as it pertains to Bryant. But so, too, is optimism.

“I’m not worried,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Sports On Earth’s Lyle Spencer. ”Kobe looks great. He’s had two rough years. The Achilles was a freak thing, and the knee—I’m not sure anybody can predict that kind of thing. He’s actually been healthy since May. He’s ready, motivated. And he’s engaged.”

For every one person who believes Bryant is finished, there are more dreamers and idealists subscribing to different logic. Many of them are members of the Lakers organization itself, like Kupchak. Anyone responsible or who had a hand in offering him that two-year, $48.5 million extension before he even returned from a ruptured Achilles can be colored a believer.

This is one of the many things often lost on said extension. It’s quickly cited for its ridiculousness. Ensuring that Bryant remains the highest-paid player in the NBA through 2015-16 is questionable at best, if not insane.

Defenses of said deal are even less common this side of his latest knee injury. Those bold enough to justify it frequently turn to Bryant’s off-court value. He is a brand himself—a moneymaking powerhouse on his own. He is the Lakers.

On some level, though, the investment is about faith. Part of the organization has to believe he can return amid fanfare and peerless anticipation only to defy conventional thinking again. 

Why else would a transitioning Lakers team assemble a supporting cast that, while cheap, is enough for Bryant himself to believe? 

“It’s my job to go out there next season and lay it all out there on the line and get us to that elite level,” he said while reflecting on Los Angeles’ offseason.

The roster isn’t being mythologized in Bryant’s mind, nor are the standards he’s holding himself to being inwardly fabricated. The Lakers will ask him to do things. Big things. New head coach Byron Scott is already counting on him to be the glue holding everything Lakers together.

“I am looking forward to having Kobe as a guy that I can turn to and say, ‘Let’s get the ball to this guy, and he can make things happen,’” he told CBS Los Angeles’ Jim Hill.

What he’s able to make—or not make—happen will define his second return. 

 

Adjusting the Concept of Success

Cautious optimism on behalf of the Lakers creates expectations—unclear expectations.

Ask Bryant, and he’ll talk about the playoffs. He’ll discuss competing for a championship. He’ll tell you all the things that Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and Julius Randle can do. He’ll argue in favor of himself and his capacity to carry an entire team.

Realistically, though, the Lakers aren’t a championship team. Even if Bryant were five, seven or nine years younger, this Lakers squad would remain a placeholder for what the franchise hopes is better days. 

Expectations must be adjusted accordingly.

Skeptics aren’t those who think Bryant and the Lakers won’t win a championship next season. They are the realists. Bryant’s season cannot be written off no matter what he does just because a team that’s not built to contend didn’t contend.

Non-believers are the ones who are precluding Bryant from being successful on an individual scale. Questions about his health will be met with pessimism. His potential to prosper statistically will be scoffed at. They will not be sold on his ability to remain elite. 

The grounds for such thinking aren’t unwarranted completely. Bryant isn’t going to match his otherworldly efforts from 2012-13 point for point, minute for minute. 

Scott isn’t going to play Bryant 38-plus minutes a night the way Mike D’Antoni did then, making it hard for him to duplicate his statistical output. He became the oldest player in league history to average at least 26 points, five rebounds and six assists per game during the 2012-13 campaign. To believe he’ll rival those numbers is to set him up for failure, because the Lakers aren’t going to put him in a position to go that bonkers.

Instead, Bryant will be measured against more general feats.

Can he stay healthy? Can he adjust his game to accommodate his new limitations? Will he be productive at all, able to function as a No. 1 offensive option on a team that still needs him to score and make plays?

Those are the tasks—among others—Bryant is up against. They’re what he’s been up against since rupturing his Achilles in April 2013. For him to silence his critics, this return, like the one before it, needs to carry substance. It cannot be purely symbolic. 

That’s a harrowing chore by itself. And it’s one in which The American Journal of Sports Medicine (h/t Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com)—responding to Bryant’s placement within ESPN.com’s 2013 player rankings (No. 25)—found evidence to suggest cannot be completed after looking at 18 players who suffered the same Achilles injury:

Of those 18 players, 7 were never able to return to NBA action, 3 returned for just one season, and the remaining 8 would go on to play 2 or more seasons. And of those players that returned, their performance suffered drastically, especially in their first season. In their study of the 11 players that returned to the NBA, the players’ PER (player efficiency rating), decreased by an average of 4.57 points. In the second, it decreased by 4.38 points.

… If you decreased his PER by the average reduction of 4.57…you’d find that Kobe would’ve ranked 49th in the league last year, some 24 spots higher than where ESPN has him in their NBA Rank. Kobe is an animal, but the stats indicate that the anger towards his NBA Rank of 25 is far from justified.

History is further against Bryant after his latest setback. It also doesn’t help that he regressed into a defensive liability during his last dominant season. 

The Lakers—who finished 18th in defensive efficiency that year—were 4.4 points worse per 100 defensive possessions with Bryant on the floor, according to NBA.com. How is he supposed to be a two-way player now? Without the comfort of Metta World Peace or Dwight Howard? When he already started devolving into a one-sided contributor? 

Past examples—like that of Elton Brand—work against Bryant. Age works against Bryant.

Part of Bryant’s historic 2012-13 crusade works against Bryant.

Defying each form of logic, and each piece of evidence, is the only way Bryant silences his doubters.

 

Disproving the Immeasurable

So, can he? Can Bryant quell the cries of detractors? And if so, what will that look like?

Measurable expectations are the enemy here, because they don’t exist.

There is no statistical calculation that will draw the line between success and failure. No definitive number of wins or losses makes judging his second return any easier. The answer to our query is fluid, and as Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Ballard inadvertently alludes to, located within the presence of expectations themselves: 

At this point, Bryant has institutionalized his mentality. Again and again over the week, he repeats his mantras, telling the Chinese kids to ‘be strong’ and ‘learn from failure’ and ‘never stop working to get better.’ Here is the thing: Bryant encourages these kids to grow from weakness, but he never shows any himself. You know how Kobe deals with a torn Achilles? He tries to pull the damn thing up, then stays in the game to take, and make, two free throws. Aging? Kobe has publicly scoffed at the notion that Father Time is undefeated. Armed with a roster of Lins and Boozers, Kobe says he’s thinking championship. And he really does buy into this stuff. 

In other words, let the question be the answer.

None of this would be an issue if we weren’t discussing Bryant. We wouldn’t have to entertain his capacity to prove people wrong—and to what degree he can prove those people wrong—if he weren’t himself. 

This is what makes him Bryant: the fact we’re wont to dissect otherwise absurd claims he makes and beliefs he has. 

Imagine if another player Bryant’s age had suffered these injuries less than a year apart. Steve Nash, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are the only qualified players aged 36 or older to post a player efficiency rating above 20 since 2009. Would they have been expected to perform at that exact level following similar setbacks?

Probably not. 

Late 30-somethings coming off two major injuries aren’t supposed to be counted on for regular minutes and consistent contributions. Bryant will be.

Nineteen-year veterans who have come to grips with their own basketball mortality aren’t sources of anomalistic bravado most 25-year-old All-Stars wouldn’t dare embrace. Bryant is.

Fading stars who are actually finished, who are wholly incapable of matching or exceeding the expectations set in front of them—whatever they may be—don’t incite this seemingly unnatural debate. 

Bryant has, which tells us all we need to know about this 36-year-old: As loud and logic-loaded as his most strong-willed critics may be, the possibility that he spits in their face and vanquishes their doubt is stronger, because it exists at all.

 

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Anonymous NBA General Manager Says Kobe Bryant Has ‘Zero’ Trade Value

Trade value is often a subjective measure of a player’s actual worth, and Kobe Bryant could be the extreme example of that.

Last seasonbefore he had returned from a torn Achillesthe Los Angeles Lakers deemed him valuable enough for a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension. That cemented his spot as the NBA‘s highest-paid player and all but assured that the five-time champion would eventually retire having worn only the famed purple and gold during his storied career.

Having Bryant’s basketball story end in the same place where it started seemed to be a major motivation for both sides. The business and sentimental ties were just as apparent as the money when the heavy commitment was made public.

According to one general manager, though, those bonds need to be as strong as ever. Even if Bryant and the Lakers somehow grew apart, the executive said the two sides would be stuck with one another, via Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated:

Seven months after he ruptured his left Achilles ­tendon—and three weeks before he fractured his left ­kneecap—Bryant­ signed a $48.5 million, two-year deal. The contract, widely derided as the worst in the game, makes Bryant nearly impossible to move, even were the Lakers to try. Asked about Kobe’s value on the market, one GM answers definitively: ‘Zero. Look at that number. Who takes him?’

The words carry more of shock value than any actual surprise.

Many dubbed Bryant’s extension an overpay at the time he signed it, and that was before injuries limited him to six games for the entire 2013-14 campaign. Even those who supported the deal saw it as something of a lifetime achievement award, handed over more for what he had done in the past than what he could do in the present or the future.

“Is Kobe worth $48 million over the next two seasons? Probably not,” wrote USA Today‘s Sean Highkin. ”But will he have been worth $328 million over the last 20? Absolutely.”

Obviously, that logic doesn’t work for the other 29 teams in the league.

If they brought in Bryant, they would only get the high-risk, high-priced years at the end of his career. Only the Lakers can fully reap the rewards of what he has sown, whether in the form of the championship banners he helped raise or the jerseys he continues to sell.

Whatever his value is around the league, it isn’t nearly as much as it is in L.A. Put the focus on his present, and he’s a 36-year-old with injury questions, an attitude that doesn’t work with everyone and a heavy salary coming his way during each of the next two seasons.

All of that said, it’s hard to imagine that he would be completely impossible to move should the Lakers ever decide to pursue that path. As NBC Sports’ Brett Pollakoff observed, history has seen worse contracts exchanged on the open market:

There have been plenty of contracts far worse than Bryant’s that have been traded over the years (the Rashard Lewis for Gilbert Arenas deal comes to mind), and when you consider that Bryant’s is a deal that expires after next season, which would be of value to a team trying to rebuild by clearing space on the roster, it’s certainly not impossible to envision.

It is, however, impossible to imagine Bryant or the Lakers examining that option.

His extension was made to guarantee his legacy as a one-franchise talent. It doesn’t matter what his trade value is, because he isn’t going anywhere until he’s leaving the game for good.

 

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Kobe Bryant Believes NBA Players Like Him, LeBron James Are Underpaid

Kobe Bryant believes that elite NBA players, including him, are underpaid.
The Los Angeles Lakers star told Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard — who wrote the most recent cover story on Bryant — that he doesn’t think that the league’s maximum contracts are fair or that players should be pressured to take pay cuts to create more cap room for their team.
KB believes players like him & LeBron are underpaid (put LBJ free market at ~ $75 mil). Believes important to set an example in contracts…— Chris Ballard (@SI_ChrisBallard) August 22, 2014
But, “that being said, I took a pay cut. I’m very very lucky to be w/ LA. They could have lowballed me, but that’s not what they stand for.”— Chris Ballard (@SI_ChrisBallard) August 22, 2014
KB:”As athletes, you get the pressure of playing for the love of the game.Of course we do.But do owners buy teams for the love of the game?”— Chris Ballard (@SI_ChrisBallard) August 22, 2014
As ProBasketballTalk’s Kurt Helin pointed out, B

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Can Kobe Bryant Match NBA History’s Best 36-Year-Old Wings?

Succeeding in the NBA is hard enough for young studs fresh out of college, but—with a few notable exceptions—it’s downright impossible for a 36-year-old to excel.

Kobe Bryant, who celebrates his 36th birthday this Saturday, will attempt to join a handful of standouts throughout league history as a veteran who simply won’t conform to the mandates of Father Time.

Bryant has always been one of the league’s best scorers, but he’ll have his work cut out for him if he hopes to join Alex English, John Havlicek and the rest of the premier point producers who suited up at either shooting guard or small forward when they were 36: 

There’s a clear conflict here. 

No 36-year-old wing player has ever touched the 20-point milestone, although Michael Jordan averaged 22.9 and 20.0 points per game in 2001-02 and 2002-03, respectively. Jordan was 38, 39 and 40 in those two seasons. Of course, he retired for the second time after the 1997-98 campaign and missed his age-36 season.

Bryant averaged 27.6 points per contest during the two campaigns prior to his injury-plagued 2013-14 go-around. 

How about passing, which the Lakers 2-guard has done better and better as his career has progressed?

Matching Scottie Pippen’s mark will be rather difficult, though Bryant has been above 5.9 dimes per contest each of the past two seasons. Admittedly, one of those years saw him play only six games, so his role as a de facto point guard might have been a small-sample-size fluke. 

He’ll have a better chance at the No. 1 spot there than as a rebounder, though. 

Bryant’s career average of 5.3 rebounds per game is barely higher than Pippen’s record for wing players at 36 years old, and most players have tended to trend downward in rather definitive fashion. Coming off a season in which he averaged only 4.3 boards per contest, he could have his work cut out for him. 

Finally, we have the catch-all stat—win shares: 

Reggie Miller is the clear-cut winner in this category, but Bryant will be hoping to get somewhat close. That would mean the Lakers are far more competitive than most expect, seeing as win shares require wins. 

Of course, Bryant is doing more than playing at 36 years old in 2014-15; he’s doing so while coming off a second major injury in two years. The odds aren’t exactly in his favor, but we’ve also learned that betting against this particular veteran is never a good idea. 

So, what are you expecting from Bryant during his age-36 season? Where will he place in these rankings? 

 

Note: All statistics come from Basketball-Reference.com

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Kobe Bryant Reveals Competitive Fire, Unique Kindness in Untold Stories

LOS ANGELES — What’s he really like?

That kind of question is the entire premise of the paparazzi and the springboard for all of reality television.   

We live in an era when we demand more inside information than ever about the rich and famous, yet someone who has been one of the world’s most prominent figures for nearly two decades amid feuds, scandals, success and championships still seems something of a mystery.

Sometimes the smallest moments in time can be the most revealing.

With Kobe Bryant‘s 19th Los Angeles Lakers training camp about a month away, here are 19 little-known slices of Bryant’s NBA life to convey how the man matches up with the mythical machine—and how he so totally does not…

 

Gary Vitti, the Los Angeles Lakers’ athletic trainer for 30 years, has been with Bryant the whole way. And what Vitti remembers most from the night Bryant tore his Achilles in April of 2013 is something mental, not physical.

After Bryant tries to pull the ruptured tendon back up as if it were just some loose sock, focuses enough to sink the free throws and makes the long walk under his own power offstage to the private of the nearly empty locker room, the frustration and confusion needs an outlet.

Bryant starts throwing things around the room. Vitti diagnoses something even more shocking.

“I see for the first time an element of doubt in Kobe’s eyes,” Vitti recalled. “It didn’t last long.”

That’s because Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, has brought their daughters into the room. Natalia and Gianna are scared—and Kobe won’t stand for that.

He blitzes through the remaining stages of grief, not wanting them to grieve. He hugs them and comforts them.

And he asks in a tone of business as usual, not fear or grief, for his daughters to hear: “What do I have to do to get back?”

No one has seen Bryant shake off more pain than Vitti, but this was different.

“The soft spot that nobody sees in Kobe Bryant,” as Vitti later describes how Bryant melts with kids, especially his own, is what fuels him on the worst night of his career.


 

Bryant has just won his first Olympic gold medal. He is thrilled. Amid the celebration, Bryant runs into Lisa Leslie, and plans are made for a happy photo—until Bryant notices Leslie doesn’t have her gold medal on her.

The U.S. women’s basketball team won its gold medal the previous night of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Leslie didn’t want to wear it out to the men’s final.

In fact, Leslie has won four consecutive gold medals, as Bryant is fully aware. So he says: “There’s no way I can stand here with my gold medal if she’s not wearing one in the picture.”

He takes his gold medal off.

And with that gesture, the photo of Bryant and Leslie becomes a true portrait of him, not just another snapshot of him in a winning moment. 


 

It is July 12, 1996, the day Bryant is officially introduced as a Laker. He has a thin little mustache on his face, a gold bracelet around his right wrist, a suit and matching tie clashing with the purple and white Lakers cap on his head.

He’s a kid trying to look like a grown man, except when Jeanie Buss fills in for her vacationing father and has lunch with Bryant at the Forum Club after the press conference, something unexpected happens.

The waiter comes to take their order. Bryant proceeds to mention to him that he wants to learn Spanish. Bryant says that it’s a goal he has set for himself now that he’s moving to L.A.

(Today, it is common to see Bryant conduct a full interview in Spanish.)

It’s an offhand little comment on his first day of work, and Spanish is certainly easier to learn if you already know Italian, but it’s something Bryant’s future boss will never forget.

“I was so taken by that comment, for a 17-year-old kid to set a goal like that for himself,” Buss said. “He just got signed by the Lakers, and he was setting goals for himself that most wouldn’t think were important. To me, he has always been about the next challenge. To me, that’s why he’s so inspiring.”


 

It’s April 2001, and Bryant is granting a child’s wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This is hardly the first time. There will be perhaps 200 sick kids he meets overall, but this is Darius’ night. Darius is 11, loves basketball, wears huge glasses and is very small for his age.

He asks Bryant all his prepared questions in a small, private room at Staples Center—then pauses and says softly that he has one more question. This is not uncommon in these meetings, shy kids warming up fast when a welcoming Bryant keeps his promise to answer with complete honesty (and, for example, admitting he’s only 6’5″ with sneakers on or revealing his post-basketball Kobe Inc., business plans and passions).

“What did you do when you were little and kids would make fun of you?” Darius asks, going off script.

Bryant answers: “I wouldn’t listen to them. I would just focus on getting good grades—and show them on the basketball court.”


 

The 2005 season has not gone well. Shaquille O’Neal is gone, the Lakers are struggling, and the criticism of Bryant is mounting.

Bryant sits alone with John Black, who runs the Lakers’ public relations department.

Bryant: “What are all these motherf—–s going to say when I lead this team to a championship?”

Black: “They’re going to say you’re one of the greatest players of all time.”


 

Bryant has won the post-Shaq title he wanted in ’09, and now it’s a year later and Bryant hopes to redeem the Lakers’ ’08 loss to Boston in the Finals and beat the Celtics in the ’10 championship series.

The teams split the first two games in Los Angeles, and before Game 3 in Boston, Lakers massage therapist Marko Yrjovuori brings his four-year-old daughter into the visiting locker room for a moment.

Bryant spots Emma. He asks her to sit on his lap.

“Gimme some magic,” he says, stretching his fingers toward her.

She opens up and touches his hands.

Final score: Lakers 91, Celtics 84.

Bryant: 29 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals.


 

With a brutal seven-game victory over the Celtics in the bank for Bryant, the 2010 offseason is dominated by LeBron James’ decision to leave Cleveland for Miami.

What matters to Bryant is Phil Jackson agreeing to return to coach the Lakers again in pursuit of a third consecutive NBA title. Bryant sends James a text message. It goes like this:

“Go ahead and get another MVP, if you want. And find the city you want to live in. But we’re going to win the championship. Don’t worry about it.”


 

Bryant has broken his nose and will be diagnosed with a concussion from a blow to the face delivered by Dwyane Wade in the 2012 All-Star Game. (Bryant makes both those free throws, too, by the way.)

He finishes the game, a three-point Western Conference victory, and breaks Michael Jordan’s career All-Star scoring record. Bryant feels bad enough, though, that he skips the postgame media session.

Before leaving Orlando‘s Amway Center, getting more treatment and taking a long flight home, Bryant has one stop to make: seeing Wade, who had hit Bryant from behind upon being blown by on a third-quarter spin move. The moment is recounted in the book Relentless by Tim Grover, trainer to both Bryant and Wade:

“Kobe wanted to see him face-to-face before he’d go to the hospital. It wasn’t about vengeance or retaliation or settling the score. It was about the law and order of the jungle, two animals instinctively facing off, the lion king getting up on that rock so the rest of the jungle could see who was in charge. One direct, silent look that says, ‘I still own this, motherf—-r.’”


 

Chris Douglas-Roberts of the Charlotte Bobcats has lost a 2014 first-round playoff game to the Miami Heat. Douglas-Roberts has played a lot and played well in the losing effort. It’s one of the high points in his individual career.

The guy spent pretty much all of ’13 without a job, but latched on in Charlotte after a series of injuries to others. He seized the opportunity and helped the Bobcats finish the regular season 20-9, becoming one of the team’s go-to guys at crunch time.

Less than two years before, Douglas-Roberts was briefly a Laker, trying and failing to make the team at training camp in ’12. More than gaining a roster spot, the experience meant mostly bonding with Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.

But Douglas-Roberts made an impression on Lakers assistant coach Steve Clifford, who went on to be the head coach in Charlotte. He also caught the attention of his temporary teammate Bryant, who appreciated Douglas-Roberts’ tenacity and determination to improve—and openly offered secrets to success.

As he vies against James, Wade and the Heat, Douglas-Roberts has Bryant on his mind…and gratitude in his heart.

Douglas-Roberts sends a text, and the point is simple:

When someone has as much confidence as Bryant and shares some of it, what a boost it is to the other person’s confidence.


 

Bryant is bored in Minnesota in the middle of the day.

He wears a hoodie to keep a low profile and sets out to walk through the Skyway, the system of indoor catwalks connecting the buildings in usually freezing downtown Minneapolis.

Bryant is nearing the team hotel when a woman inside one of the stores spots Bryant from afar. She is probably more than 250 pounds and begins racing out of the store toward Bryant.

“Kobe! Kobe Bryant!” she screams as she sprints.

Except she trips. She goes down.

When she gets up, blood is pouring out of her nose and covering her face. Bryant asks, “Are you OK?”

She is red-faced, but not really.

There can be no pain. There is even less embarrassment.

“Kobe! Kobe Bryant! You’re my favorite player! Can I get a picture?!”


 

It is the second round of the 2009 playoffs. The Lakers have just played a Sunday afternoon game in Houston.

John Ireland, now the team’s radio voice but then a TV sideline reporter, does some live postgame shots at Toyota Center. By the time he returns to the team hotel across the street, a lot of the players are hanging out at the hotel lobby bar.

Bryant: “Hey, John. You want a beer?”

Ireland: “Thanks, but you don’t have to buy me a beer.”

Bryant smirks and points down at 17 beers—all open, all untouched.

People have been buying him beers for the past two hours.


 

The Lakers have returned from a road trip, and the players, coaches, staffers and broadcast crew fan out from the plane to their cars for separate drives home. Bill Macdonald, the Lakers’ TV voice, lives in Newport Coast in South Orange County, like Bryant. On a typical drive home from LAX, Macdonald will see Bryant’s car blaze past him—invariably, unapologetically.

On this day in 2012 after an afternoon game at Staples Center, Macdonald is heading home and notices a familiar white Bentley momentarily slowed in different lane of freeway traffic. Macdonald passes Bryant’s car for a change, but before he does, he looks directly over with eyes wide and offers up to Bryant a friendly greeting with a certain part of his hand.

Bryant throws his head back in laughter at the turn of events, gives a nod of recognition…and it is on.

Somewhere around Fountain Valley, the cat leaves the mouse behind, as usual.


 

The attention has begun in earnest. Sports Illustrated, 60 Minutes, everything under the All-Star 1997 sun. Bryant’s fame has erupted in his second NBA season, much to the consternation of Lakers vice president Jerry West and coach Del Harris.

West and Harris want Bryant to turn most of it down and not build additional pressure on him.

In his role as the PR guy, Black asks what Bryant wants to do.

“Bring it on,” Bryant says. “I’ll do it all. Anything and everything. I can handle it.”


 

It is 2012, and Bryant is the oldest player on a U.S. Olympic basketball team that will repeat and win gold in London.

The young stars have taken to calling Bryant “O.G.”

Original Gangster.

Asked if he has anything to learn from the younger guys, Bryant says nope. Asked if that means he knows everything, Bryant says: “I don’t know if I know it all. But I know more than they do.”


 

Bryant has recently completed a 2010-11 season he will call “a wasted year of my life.” The Lakers don’t three-peat as NBA champions, and much of Bryant’s anger is focused on the post-surgery, pre-blood spinning procedure right knee that keeps him tied to the training table.

Judy Seto, the physical therapist who has meant so much to Bryant in his career, is over at Bryant’s home in the offseason to work on the knee.

Bryant’s daughters are not in the mood for such seriousness.

Natalia, 8, and Gianna, 5, are bouncing around their father’s workout area, doing gymnastics, climbing on him while he gets treatment, hooting and chirping.

They find a miniature cowboy hat that is so small it might well belong to a Woody doll from Toy Story or serve as a child’s costume.

The girls put the tiny cowboy hat on Kobe’s head.

Of course, it doesn’t fit. Which just makes it more fun for them.

Kobe just sits there, letting them stay in the moment. Bryant looks so silly that the words actually run through Seto’s head.

You are Kobe. You’re the Black Mamba. You’re supposed to be the scary, death stare guy.

The moment sticks with Seto.

“It was him being just like any other parent,” Seto recalls. “And it’s so great to see how much he loves his family, how engaged he is, how he makes them a priority. I don’t think people realize that about him.

“He can switch gears. The side of him that people always see is unapproachable or really, really fierce. There is a time and a place for that part. There’s also a time and a place for him to be a parent and to be just as goofy as anybody else.”


 

Although Bryant basically hasn’t seen a need to read books anymore after high school, he has surprised a group of fifth-graders by showing up at a 2003 community event that rewarded the kids for reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with a private screening of the movie by the same name.

No one asks if he’s read it and deserves to stay and watch with them.

As he has always loved the special challenges of superhero stories, Bryant loves the Harry Potter movies—until Seto starts needling him.

Needling him about how far behind he is in the plot because the movies are two volumes behind the book releases. About how much more happens in the books than in the movies. About how she is going to tell him who turns evil and who dies before the movies can come out for him to see.

So Bryant goes from never reading to plowing through these 700-page Harry Potter beasts by J.K. Rowling. (Bryant even chooses an interesting escape from the Lakers’ 24-point blown lead in Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals: reading five chapters of Harry Potter to his daughters.)

 

Now it’s ’06, and Bryant’s rekindled reading means in that sense he stands on Jackson’s welcome mat for the first time. Someone who once prided himself on throwing Jackson’s books in the trash at the coach’s famous team gift-givings without even breaking the spines, Bryant finds he and Jackson are on literally the same page, reading Thomas Friedman’s globalization book The World is Flat at the same time.

Jackson jumps at the chance and winds up feeding Bryant book after book on leadership, including Jerry Lynch’s The Way of the Champion: Lessons from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and other Tao Wisdom for Sports & Life.

Bryant devours the books and the lessons, and when asked in the ’07 playoffs why he no longer spews the same venom toward Phoenix‘s Raja Bell as just one year prior, Bryant answers:

 

“I read a book this summer from Mr. Phil Jackson that talked about warriors respecting other warriors. If you have respect for your opponent, the thing that you have to do is play hard every time down. That gave me a new perspective on things.”


 

Thanksgiving, 2013. The Lakers are on the road, and after back-to-back games in Washington and Brooklyn, Mike D’Antoni has nothing scheduled for the team in suburban Detroit. Not even a team dinner.

Bryant is on the trip, though 10 days away from his highly anticipated season debut, and hears nothing is planned for the holiday. Bryant says that’s B.S.

Soon enough, every member of the Lakers’ traveling party, from D’Antoni down to the broadcast production crew, gets a message to meet in the ballroom. A massive Thanksgiving spread, planned and paid for by Bryant, awaits.

There’s a Ping-Pong table in the room, and Bryant passes some time after dinner mocking whoever has the misfortune of being on the receiving end of a certain Spanish octopus-windmill named Pau.

When Bryant has a choice word for Lakers sideline reporter Mike Trudell while he’s playing against Shawne Williams, Trudell tells Bryant he’d be happy to beat him next.

It doesn’t take another word. In comes Bryant against Trudell, who is emboldened by having a Ping-Pong table in his house growing up and takes a quick 5-1 lead. Bryant tries to talk his way through it.

After every point Bryant loses, he spits out: “S–t,” under his breath. Then, more loudly, “F–k you, Trudell.” Then a snicker, the short kind that doesn’t resonate, because Bryant is not just blowing this off. He’s not going through the motions.

Trudell keeps preying on Bryant’s weak backhand, however. Bryant keeps cursing and keeps losing. Someone has called next, but when the game ends, Bryant doesn’t budge.

“No,” he says. “Let’s go again, Trudell. F–k you.”

Bryant is better in the second game. He makes adjustments.

Still not good enough.

Despite all that trash talk and throwing the paddle down at game’s end, he’s not a sore loser, even to the 5’9″ guy whose job is to do walk-off interviews celebrating him.

Even as it ends, Trudell isn’t sure it’s quite over. There’s a look in Bryant’s eye that says: OK. But whether tomorrow or next year or the day that I die, I am going to beat you.

Within the week, word reaches Trudell.

Bryant has ordered an official Olympic Ping-Pong table to be delivered to his house.


 

Shaq and D-Wade are about to win the 2006 NBA title together for the Miami Heat. Kobe has some time on his hands.

He is told that there is a “wish kid” who wants to meet him but is too ill to fly from Las Vegas to L.A. Bryant tells the Make-a-Wish Foundation that he will just go to the kid.

Juan Carlos is not really a kid. He has a girlfriend there in his hospital room, along with his parents and siblings. He is 17, the very same age as that beaming, brash Bryant who wore his sunglasses propped up on his head inside the Lower Merion High School gym and announced he was skipping college to “take my talent to the NBA.”

Juan Carlos hasn’t gotten out of bed for a very long time, much less gone outside for any sun. But when he compliments Bryant on the cool shades he is wearing on this day, Bryant hands his sunglasses over as a gift.

Juan Carlos brightens. In return, and using the burst of energy Bryant has brought him, Juan Carlos surprises the hospital staff:

He shows Bryant he can walk.

Two weeks later, Juan Carlos passes away.


 

It is January 22, 2006.

Eighty. One. Points. 

Afterward, Bryant is asked about perhaps scoring 100 points in a game. He laughs a little, but not a lot.

Quietly and honestly, he answers:

“I guess it’s possible for me.”

 

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

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Steve Nash Described Kobe Bryant in 3 Very NSFW Words, Black Mamba Approved

Many people have nothing but flattering things to say about Kobe Bryant, but Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash had some pretty strong words to describe his teammate. And the Black Mamba loved every bit of it.

This week’s issue of Sports Illustrated featured a very in-depth piece on Bryant by Chris Ballard. The article touched on quite a few things, but nothing stood out more than a story about how Nash described the Black Mamba to Gotham Chopra, the director of Bryant’s upcoming Showtime documentary.

During filming, Chopra interviewed a number of Bryant’s teammates, current and former, and he asked them to describe Bryant in three words. After each interview Kobe would text Chopra, eager to hear what people said. Most answered with some variation of ‘the ultimate competitor’ or ‘killer instinct.’ But when Chopra asked Steve Nash, he said something different. After thinking for a moment, Nash answered, slowly, in three beats: ‘Mother . . . f—— . . . a——.’

Those are some, um, interesting ways to describe a teammate. Words like that may offend some people, but not Bryant.

“Kobe thought this was awesome.”

That probably surprises nobody.

People around the league always say how intense Bryant is, even in practice. He may not always get along with everyone, but that’s only because he has a strong desire to win. Although that kind of personality may not make him the most likable person, it’s not a bad way to approach a career.

Rather than be politically correct with his answer, Nash was open and honest. His honesty just happened to create an awesome quote.

[h/t Yahoo Finance/Business Insider]

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