Tag:Los Angeles Lakers
Posted on: March 1, 2012 7:57 pm
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On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

The 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game is not only an occasion to remember the accomplishment, but also the man.

What better way to reflect on Chamberlain’s signature moment than through the eyes of his friend and most bitter rival?

So I called Bill Russell, the 11-time champion of the Celtics, and asked if he’d be so kind as to share his thoughts about the occasion 50 years ago Friday. I’ll provide his response, followed by the context.
 
The response from Russell: “Not really.”

“Is it a bad time, or is it a topic you don’t really want to talk about?”

“A little of both,” he said.

And that was that. I apologized for the intrusion and wished Russell the best.

“No intrusion,” Russell said. “And thank you.”

I shared the conversation with Sy Goldberg, Chamberlain’s longtime friend and attorney. On the phone from Los Angeles, Goldberg was neither surprised nor particularly offended by Russell’s reaction.

“There was a love-hate relationship between these two guys,” Goldberg said.

Let it be noted that Russell, who turned 78 last month, harbors no grudges or animosity toward Chamberlain – nothing different than they ever did, anyway. Goldberg said in the old days, the NBA used to schedule the Sixers and Celtics on Thanksgiving Day, and when the game was in Philadelphia, Russell was a guest at casa de Chamberlain for Thanksgiving dinner.

“Russell was there all the time,” Goldberg said. “They were close friends.”

But Chamberlain never forgave Russell for questioning his toughness after Lakers coach Jan van Breda Kolff refused to put an injured Chamberlain back into Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals against the Celtics. Chamberlain had asked out with six minutes left and asked back in with three minutes left, but van Breda Kolff declined. The Celtics won, 108-106, for their second straight championship and last of the Russell era.

“That day, Russell said something like, ‘I don’t care how bad he was, I would never have come out of the game,’” Goldberg said. “Wilt never forgave him for that.”

But with Russell and Chamberlain, the hard feelings weren’t permanent. On the day Chamberlain died of heart failure, Oct. 12, 1999, Goldberg got a call from a frantic Russell, who didn’t want to believe the news.

“I had been called by the gardener, and the police were there, and it was real pandemonium,” Goldberg said. “And I got a call from Bill Russell. His quote was: ‘I wouldn’t believe any news at all unless you tell me it’s true.’ And he sounded like he was devastated.”

In the old days, Chamberlain got all the attention and Russell got most of the championships. So on the eve of Wilt’s 100-point anniversary, the old Celtic stays quiet.

Maybe that’s for the best. Maybe that’s how Wilt would’ve wanted it.
Posted on: April 2, 2010 4:58 pm
Edited on: April 2, 2010 5:53 pm
 

No Kobe in 2010

Forget about Kobe Bryant joining the 2010 free-agent frenzy. The three-year, maximum extension he finally agreed to Friday with the Lakers put an end to that.

Instead of exercising his early termination option after the season, Bryant is signing up to finish his career in a Lakers uniform. With a $24.8 million salary next year, Bryant is eligible to make $27.4 million in 2011-12, $30 million in '12-'13 and $32.6 million in the final year of the extension.

This is splendid news -- and not only for Bryant and agent Rob Pelinka, who will get a nice chunk of that $90 million as a commission. It's splendid because it promises four more years of Lakers drama -- the annual questions about whether Phil Jackson will be back to win one more title, and what Kobe will do/think/say if Phil ever does decide to ride off into the sunset with Jeanie Buss and never look back.

It's also splendid because it may offer a glimpse into the decision LeBron James will have before him three months from now. Granted, they are at very different stages of their careers. But if Bryant just laid down the blueprint for LeBron -- hey, if they've given you everything you want, you might as well stay -- then there will be a handful of extremely disappointed general managers standing around with cap space and nothing to spend it on come July 1.

Bryant's extension offer has been on the table since July, when he decided not to exercise the first of two straight termination clauses. It was widely believed that he would follow that good-will gesture by quickly signing an extension, but it took months to finalize.

In addition to eliminating Bryant from a free-agent class that is expected to include James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others, his decision to commit to three more years with the Lakers suggests that Bryant believes Jackson will be back for at least one more year as coach. Jackson, 64, told NBA.com last week that he expects to be back, barring any surprises in his annual post-season physical. Jackson later backtracked, saying he wasn't leaning one way or the other. Bryant, it would appear, believes otherwise. 

Bryant's decision will come as a surprise to several GMs I've spoken with recently who are in the planning stages for this summer's free-agent signing period. They had begun to expect Bryant to make himself available to the highest bidder -- that Bryant was the free agent everyone kept forgetting about. It was never assumed that Bryant wanted to leave L.A., but rather that uncertainty over Jackson's future might compel him to keep his options open.

With four titles and another one possible this June, what better options could there have been? Apparently, according to Kobe, none.

The last time I saw Bryant, he was walking toward the loading dock at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, sunglasses on and head hanging after a particularly humiliating loss to the Thunder. Minutes earlier, Bryant had gotten more of the rubbish he gets in every NBA city -- more of these comparisons to players who haven't won anything yet. It would stand to reason that Bryant put the LeBron comparisons to rest last June, when he hoisted his fourth championship trophy, and first without Shaq. James hasn't won any yet, and Bryant is within two of tying Michael Jordan, and yet all anyone can talk about is LeBron, LeBron, LeBron.

Bryant can take that; there is no denying James' talent and no telling how many titles he'll ultimately win if he puts himself in the right situation, starting this summer. But now Bryant supposedly has been passed in the NBA hierarchy by Kevin Durant, according to the great basketball publication Rolling Stone

"Whoever said that is a little bit over their head with that one," Jackson said.

Asked that night in Oklahoma City if he "got caught up" in the head-to-head matchup with Durant, Bryant smiled and said, "That's a silly question." With nine turnovers in the loss, Bryant also was asked if the player defending him -- Thabo Sefolosha -- had become one of the better defenders in the league.

"Sure," Bryant said, with about $90 million worth of sarcasm.

Bryant could have joined the new generation chasing him in the chase for dollars this summer. On Friday, the best player of his generation decided to sit that one out. Let's compare the resumes in four years and see if he was right.

 
Posted on: March 27, 2010 12:18 am
Edited on: March 27, 2010 12:21 am
 

Speed kills the Lakers again

OKLAHOMA CITY – With a signature win for a franchise on the rise, the Oklahoma City Thunder forced the defending champs to look into the future and cringe. 

The Lakers won’t know for a couple more weeks who they’ll be facing in the first round when they begin their title defense. If it’s the Thunder, who ran them out of the gym Friday night in a 91-75 rout, things could get a little uncomfortable. 

“It’s disappointing we didn’t respond to the challenge,” said Kobe Bryant, who had 11 points and nine turnovers before sitting the entire fourth quarter with fellow starters Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher. “That being said, when the playoffs start, it’s a different situation.” 

Probably so. But the Lakers were reminded Friday night of a weakness that was exposed in the conference semifinals last spring against the Rockets: Quick teams and quick guards cause them problems. 

A year ago, Ron Artest was playing for the Rockets and Aaron Brooks was forcing Lakers coach Phil Jackson to protect Derek Fisher in that matchup by putting quicker guards Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar on Brooks for long stretches. 

“The death knell was ringing for us last year in the Houston series when Brooks was lighting us up, and we actually had to make a change a little bit in our rotation,” Jackson said. “In fact, Derek helped us out by getting suspended a game, otherwise I would’ve stuck with him. But we started playing a little different, with speed on speed in that situation. Before you know it, Fish is right back in the lineup and contributing the rest of the playoffs, and I anticipate that’s going to be his role.” 

But on Friday night, it was Russell Westbrook playing the role of Aaron Brooks, and Jackson was never able to find an answer for his speed. Westbrook had 23 points and six assists on 10-for-13 shooting with only two turnovers – despite leaving the court briefly in the second quarter with what appeared to be a badly turned ankle that caused him to miss only three minutes. 

“I tried everybody but Sasha [Vujacic] in the backcourt on him,” Jackson said. “We tried to match him and see what we could get done. And he got in a zone there in that lane, and that’s his strength.” 

Kevin Durant, who had 28 points, called Westbrook “one of the toughest players I have ever played with. … He won the game for us. He was incredible.” Oklahoma City snapped a 12-game losing streak against the Lakers -- a streak that dates to the franchise's final days in Seattle.

These are problems the Lakers could very well have to contend with again in a month or so. The Thunder (44-27), currently in the sixth playoff spot, are only 1 1-2 games ahead of eighth-place Portland. San Antonio and Phoenix are in that mix, too. But until now, the Thunder were the biggest unknown – a team the Lakers hadn’t played since November, when L.A. handled them easily. 

This time, Oklahoma City built as much as a 33-point lead against a Lakers team that offered little resistance. What was billed as a marquee matchup of Kobe vs. Durant wound up being a layup drill with D.J. Mbenga getting posterized by Jeff Green and Durant on consecutive trips in the fourth quarter. 

“We know what San Antonio is; we know what they’re going to come out and do,” Jackson said. “We sort of have a dance that we do between us. This team is a young team with a lot energy, somebody we’re not aware of – we haven’t seen them in four months – and those things change up how you play.” 

Pau Gasol took issue with Jackson’s assessment that he played soft, but didn’t have much more to say. He discouraged the traveling analysts from reading too much into this one. 

“You don’t want to search too deeply into it,” Gasol said. “There’s nothing to search for.” 

Nor was Bryant in an inquisitive mood. Asked by a nemesis in the L.A. media if he got caught up in the competitive challenge of playing against Durant, Bryant shot him a puzzled look and said, “That’s a silly question.” 

Earlier, he was asked the same questions he’s asked every time the Lakers serve up a clunker like this: Do you have a feel for your team? Do you know what you have? 

“I will when the playoffs come around,” he said.
Posted on: March 5, 2010 1:02 am
 

Kobe: Wade needs help

MIAMI – After the Lakers sleep-walked through another in a string of sluggish, disinterested starts and lost to a Heat team just happy to be back at .500, did Kobe Bryant think it was panic time?

No.

Did he think the Lakers needed anything dramatic to shake them from their doldrums on the road, where the defending champs are a pedestrian 9-8 this calendar year – with 10 of their next 13 games away from Staples?

Not really.

After scoring 39 points and hitting the overtime-forcing jumper in his sixth game back from a five-game absence with a nagging assortment of injuries, Bryant’s most astute observation was not about his team, but about the opponent.

The guy who needs a little help was wearing a Miami Heat jersey Thursday night.

“He had 14 assists, but there’s still too much on him,” Bryant said after Wade did it all – 27 points and 14 assists – in Miami’s 114-111 overtime victory over the Lakers. “He literally had to make every play, had to try to penetrate and pitch in. That can wear you down. So hopefully, he’ll get somebody who can step up and make plays and give him a couple of plays off.”

This is a sensitive topic in these parts, and also in a certain city on the Cuyahoga River where free agency D-Day looms. Every crucial Miami basket Thursday night came from Wade or resulted in a play he set up with his play-making dominance. You watch him will his .500 team to a victory over the defending champs, and you wonder: Damn, how good would he be with some help?

In fairness, he got more than usual Thursday night – 25 points from Quentin Richardson, who along with Wade had Ron Artest’s head on a swivel all night. Q-Rich made 7-for-11 from 3-point range, including one off an assist from Wade that gave the Heat a 99-97 lead with 11.1 seconds left. Instead of that being the game-winner, Kobe casually accepted the ensuing inbounds pass, dribbled the length of the court, and drilled the tying jumper over Wade with 3.3 seconds left.

Wade also didn’t have to make the two defensive plays of the night. Those were turned in by Jermaine O’Neal in the final minute of overtime – a chase-down block of Jordan Farmar and a drawn charge against Bryant with 18.7 seconds left. But in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime, nearly every one of Miami’s baskets and scoring opportunities came from Wade. Of course they did. Who else? 

“He’s a fantastic player,” Bryant said. 

Despite Artest’s interesting comment that the Lakers won’t see Miami again “until June” – what, June 2011? – Wade will have to settle for being fantastic player happy to get the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. And there are no guarantees about that. 

“When I had the ball and gave it up to Q to hit that three, that shows my teammates that I’m about winning,” Wade said. “I’m not about, ‘I need to hit this shot because Kobe just hit a shot.’ To me, it’s not about that.”

No, Wade doesn’t want or need Kobe’s pity – and that’s not how Kobe meant it, anyway. Hey, not every superstar has the good fortune of playing with two 7-footers, one of the most dominant shutdown defenders in the league, and a guy named Lamar Odom coming off the bench. 

Not every team is so good it can sputter around for three quarters against one of the top three players in the world and still have a chance to win at the end. Cognizant of all this, the Lakers were appropriately nonplused by the evening’s events. The postgame comment that most closely approximated concern was this from Artest: “Unfortunately, I think we took this game lightly. … We have to start winning some games on the road. We have to.” 

The only other perceptible bristling in the Lakers’ postgame routine came from Phil Jackson, who just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tweak the referees and invite a sizeable fine for the good of the team. With 29 seconds left in regulation and the Lakers leading 97-96, Bryant air-balled a 20-footer. Only neither Bryant nor Jackson thought it was self-induced. 

“Kobe shot an airball, but I’m sure he didn’t shoot an airball,” Jackson said. “It’s unconscionable that that call can’t be made at that point in the game.”

Informed of Jackson’s description, Bryant said, “That’s a good term. A good term. I actually stopped playing for a second. I thought I didn’t hear the whistle, honestly.” 

For Bryant, there’s always the next game, with plenty of reinforcements at the ready.
Posted on: March 1, 2010 11:45 am
 

Shaq out 8 weeks; not a deal-breaker for Cavs

The Cavaliers confirmed Monday that Shaquille O'Neal will miss about eight weeks after undergoing thumb surgery. Despite the fact that Cleveland has gone from having two 7-footers to none in the past two weeks, this isn't a devastating blow to the Cavs' championship hopes.

While the Cavs were playing well with Shaq -- 12-3 from Jan. 16 until he got hurt last Thursday night in Boston -- they never needed him for the regular season. From the beginning, Shaq was strictly a postseason asset -- specifically, an asset big and bad enough to play mind games with Dwight Howard and get in his way just enough for Cleveland to beat the Magic in a seven-game series this time around.

Eight weeks from today is April 26 -- near the end of the first round, or (more likely) in the midst of a second-round playoff series. That will give Shaq enough time to get his tree-like legs back under him before Howard is posting him up in the playoffs. Maybe while he's rehabbing his thumb, Shaq could adopt Ron Artest's fish-and-veggie diet and drop a few LBs before he returns.

From now until the rest of the regular season, Shaq's absence will allow the Cavs to concentrate on getting Antawn Jamison acclimated to their offense. More importantly, it will give the Cavs a chance to play a little more freely, with better spacing, and at a quicker pace. They won't be a running team as they get deeper into the playoffs, but pushing the ball without Shaq down the stretch will only help them for the postseason stints when they'll need to play smaller lineups.

In the meantime, Cleveland will get back one of its 7-footers, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, once the 30-day waiting period expires following his trade to the Wizards. If Lakers coach Phil Jackson thought that was a "sham" before Shaq got hurt, imagine what the Zen Master thinks now.


Posted on: May 5, 2009 11:47 am
 

Here's how Rockets can beat L.A.

Are the Lakers in big trouble? Nah, they've been down this road before. They're a confident team with playoff experience, and they know how to win on the road.

But are they capable of losing a seven-game series to the Rockets? Oh, absolutely. Here's how:


1) Who defends Aaron Brooks? It became obvious while watching the second half of Game 1 in a social establishment near TD Banknorth Garden in Boston Monday night that one of my hunches about this series is absolutely true. The Lakers have no one to guard Brooks. He's quick, crafty, steady with the ball, and he looks like he will be able to get into the paint at will in this series. The only guy capable of stopping him is Trevor Ariza, but the Lakers would rather use him to grapple with Houston's wing players. Plus, if Ariza has to play big minutes to slow down Brooks, the Lakers are down a shooter. That may compel Phil Jackson to go with Shannon Brown against Brooks for long stretches, placing even more demands on the Lakers' bench.

2) Kobe Beef. There is an excellent Japanese restaurant on the outskirts of Houston called Azuma. One of the specialties there is the Hot Rock Kobe -- slabs or raw, 100 percent Kobe beef delivered to your table with a steaming hot stone. You take the slabs of Kobe and sear them yourself on the hot stone. For symbolism's sake, Ron Artest and Shane Battier should visit Azuma on the day off between Games 3 and 4, just to practice taking turns cooking Kobe. That's a luxury that is unique to the Rockets. They're the only team with two players capable of defending Bryant. If one gets into foul trouble, Rick Adelman hands the chop sticks and hot stone to the other one, and away they go. (Full disclosure: This theory was capably espoused by my friend and colleague, Chris Sheridan from ESPN.com, during numerous radio interviews Monday -- one of which was with a station in L.A. that introduced him as the dumbest man on the planet. Silly boys, they forgot about me.)

3) Luis Scola. He may look awkward at times, but Scola is a very capable post player with diverse skills who affects winning at both ends of the floor as much as any player in the NBA. His diversity of post moves gives the Lakers something else to think about in the paint besides Yao, and he has an uncanny knack for finding loose balls and rebounds. Plus, he's a very underrated defender. Few players are more efficient with their opportunities.

4) Yao. The knee-to-knee contact that crumped Yao to the floor in the fourth quarter could have been a turning point in the series. With
a frontcourt of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, the Lakers are better equipped than most teams to deal with Yao. But if he stays healthy and out of foul trouble, Yao is going to get his 25 and 10 on a nightly basis in this series despite the Lakers' best efforts to contain him.

5) Bench scoring. Other than Lamar Odom, the Lakers' bench has been inconsistent and much maligned at times this season. L.A.'s reserves outscored Houston's 18-16 in Game 1, and they still lost. For the Lakers to win the series, they will need consistent superiority from their bench.

6) The Artest factor. Not only is Artest equipped with on-board Kobe radar and weird hair, but he's also one of the few players in the NBA who can match Kobe's twisted competitiveness and flair for the dramatic. Yes, Artest will kill some possessions with bad shots, but the Rockets have learned they have to take the good with the bad. Simply put, No. 96 is an assassin. In my mind, only two other players in the league share his flair for the pressure-packed crucible of playoff time: Kobe and Paul Pierce.

So can the Lakers shake off their Game 1 loss, get a game in Houston, and still achieve their destiny of facing Cleveland in the NBA Finals? Sure they can. But they can also lose this series for the reasons outlined above. That's why the center of must-watch drama has shifted from Boston -- where the defending champs are in a fight of their own against the Magic -- to Houston-L.A.

Posted on: April 12, 2009 6:23 pm
 

Will someone smash the guitar over LeBron's head?

It's easy to draw kneejerk conclusions from a blowout over the defending champs in the final week of the regular season. I'm not going to do that. I will give the Cavaliers this: The path to the Larry O'Brien Trophy goes through Cleveland this year, plain and simple.

It's hard to say whether the Celtics are flat-out playing second fiddle to the Cavs now, especially since everyone knows the Celts aren't at full strength and probably won't be until the sometime in their second-round playoff series. Kevin Garnett is expected to chip the rust off in Boston's regular season finale against the Washington Wizards. Even after that, it'll take some time for the Celtics to find the rhythm and cohesiveness that led them to banner No. 17 last June.

I understand there was a reason the Cavs were dancing, strumming air guitars, and mugging for the ABC cameras during a 107-76 evisceration of the Celtics on Sunday afternoon. Not only were they proclaiming their superiority in the East, the Cavs also were celebrating the stranglehold they have on homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals if and when they get there. With their 65th victory of the season, Cleveland would have to lose both of its remaining games and the Lakers would have to win both of theirs for the Cavs to lose their grasp on home court. (If somehow all that happened, the Lakers would get the nod because they were 2-0 against Cleveland this season.) The way the Cavs play at home -- 39-1, for goodness sake -- it would be hard to imagine a more confident team going into a Game 7 against the Lakers in mid-June.

But ... and this is a significant caveat ... the Cavs are better than this. How can you be better than 39-1 at home? For one, you can show class -- not crass. You can show sportsmanship -- not gamesmanship. You can act like you're auditioning for a championship, not "Dancing With The Stars." I want to get LeBron, Mo Williams, and Delonte West in front of Bruno Tonioli for five minutes. They'd never pull stunts like this again.

The Cavs sure looked better than the Celtics on Sunday. A lot better. You can argue that LeBron can do whatever he wants on the bench during the fourth quarter of a blowout he'd so expertly orchestrated. He is the MVP in the league, hands down. His drive to the basket for a 3-point play -- dragging two defenders with him and getting fouled three times -- was awe-inspiring. So was the way he chased down a play from 60 feet and swatted Ray Allen's layup attempt away from the rim. He is an awesome talent at both ends of the floor, and there may very well be no one who can stop him and no team that can stop the Cavs.

But you don't show up the defending champs the way the Cavs did Sunday. You just don't. You celebrate when the season is over and when you are holding the gold-plated trophy on your home court. Not on the last Sunday of the regular season, in the midst of an eminently meaningless regular season game.

The Celtics will remember this. As to whether they're good enough to do anything about it, only time will tell. But I don't like it one bit. One of these days, somebody is going to take that air guitar and smash it over LeBron's head.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on: March 29, 2009 7:14 pm
 

Kobe: 'We can win anywhere'

ATLANTA -- The ship may have sailed Sunday on the Lakers' chances of securing homecourt advantage for a potential NBA Finals matchup with Cleveland. Just don't expect to find Kobe Bryant standing on the pier waving.

"We can win anywhere," Bryant said after shooting 7-for-19 from the field in the Lakers' 86-76 loss to the Hawks. "No question about it. I just feel like we’re a very good road team. Confidence, maturity, having seen the worst of the worst last year in Game 6 (against Boston) and then having to learn from that and then obviously the road success wthat we’ve been having this year. We’re fine playing on the road."

If they face LeBron James and the Cavs in the Finals, they better get used to it. Cleveland became the first team to 60 wins Sunday, and more importantly, opened a two-game lead on the Lakers for home court if the teams meet in the Finals. If they wind up tied, the Lakers own the tiebreaker by virtue of beating Cleveland twice.

After the Lakers shot 35 percent from the field in a team-wide meltdown Sunday -- the same day Cleveland was blowing out Dallas to extend its league-best home record to 35-1 -- Kobe was asked if the Lakers can catch Cleveland with only nine games left.

"Probably," he said. "They’ll have to give us a couple. But it’s fun. It’s a good challenge for us to see what happens."

The Lakers have won titles with homecourt advantage and without. But last year against Boston, they lost Game 4 of the Finals at home and thus had to go to Boston in Game 6 facing elimination. They were, of course, eliminated.

"Home court is important," Bryant said. "But in my years of experience, if you’re gonna be a champion, you should win on the road anyway. The better team is going to advance no matter where you play. It’s just the way it is."

Coach Phil Jackson has been trumpeting the importance of winning on the road all season, so he's not about to change his tune now.

"The fact that you can establish home court for as long as you possibly can in the playoffs is an added bonus," Jackson said, "but it’s not a determinant about whether you’re going to win or lose." Asked if a two-game deficit with nine to go is insurmountable, Jackson said, "We have no idea. Who knows what's going to happen with Cleveland? They're going to have to win, and we're certainly not going to win out. But we'll continue to put pressure on them."

As Bryant was shaking off the effects of a sore ankle -- it was fine, he said -- and an upset stomach that caused him to miss the morning film session, I asked him to assess the state of another race: the one between he and LeBron for MVP.

"I don’t even think about it. At all," he said. "It’s not something that crosses my mind. It didn’t cross my mind last year, either. I really, really, really, really, really want that championship. Really, really, really want it."

If they wind up playing Game 7 in Cleveland, a game like Sunday's is one they're really, really, really going to wish they could get back.

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com