Kobe Bryant

There are countless injuries to star players in the West - Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, and James Harden. Obviously, injuries to players of this caliber can devastate an NBA Franchise and its fan base, especially come playoff time. However, an injury early on during the season does not necessarily have to be devastating. When approaching the obstacle the right way, a team can use injuries as learning experiences and opportunities to develop players along the depth chart. Other than Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers, the three aforementioned names are all watching their teams blossom in their absence.

In Oklahoma City, Russell’s Westbrook’s injury initially caused major concerns for the franchise considering he suffered a season-ending injury just last season. Questions arose concerning his durability and his health come playoff time. Nevertheless, the Thunder didn’t shy away from this challenge. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb stepped into the spotlight to become outstanding two-way role players. Durant now has a much more seasoned cast of players to help him defeat the West’s elite in April and May. Durant and the Thunder evidently used this as a learning experience and rose to uncharted territories.

In Los Angeles, Blake Griffin ensured the Clippers didn’t miss a beat as Chris Paul went down. Jamal Crawford stepped up as the second scorer, Deandre Jordan has become a defensive menace, and Griffin is playing with the confidence of an MVP-caliber player.

The Houston Rockets also seem to have forgotten that they don’t have their best player on the court. Without James Harden, the Rockets have a .750 record this season. Chandler Parsons and Terrance Jones, who was recently selected to the Rising Stars Challenge in New Orleans, have gained more experience as dynamic role players on this team.  

Every championship contender has to go through periods of adversity. Whether it be a star player going down for a part of the season or internal drama, the teams that shine during the playoffs are the ones that best overcome their obstacles during the regular season.  

With the NBA preseason kicking off over the weekend and the league’s regular season set to begin in three weeks, it’s about time to bring our attention back to one of Texas’ best athletes — Kevin Durant. He is about to start his seventh NBA season, and despite a trio of scoring titles, Durant still does not have an MVP on his mantle. That will change this season — I believe Durant will finally take home his first of many MVP trophies. Here are a few reasons why.

1. At what point is being the NBA scoring champion for three years in a row — from 2009 to 2012 — enough to beat out LeBron James or Kobe Bryant? He finished second in scoring to Carmelo Anthony last season. But in my opinion, Durant remains the league’s premier scorer. Does he need to make four out of five to have a legitimate shot? That would approach Michael Jordan territory. Between 2009 and 2012 Durant should already have had at least one MVP, and 2009-10 should have been an automatic award-winning season for him. He almost single-handedly elevated the Thunder from a 23 win team in the 2008-2009 season to a 50 win team in the 2009-2010 season. Durant must have been a pretty valuable player to pull that off. Keep in mind that at that time Russell Westbrook was still raw, and James Harden was a rookie. 

2. With Westbrook out for four to six weeks with knee complications and Kevin Martin moving on to Minnesota, the onus will once again be on Durant to keep the Thunder afloat. He will be the defensive center of attention every night. Serge Ibaka is not, and has never been, a dynamic scorer. Young point guard Reggie Jackson is too wild to be consistently reliable. The Thunder bench is usually one of the NBA’s best, but at most will average around 30 points per game. Durant will have to be 40 to 50 percent of this offense in the season’s first 25 games. 

3. Durant has far less to work with than James does with a loaded Heat squad. That should give Durant an edge. On that point, I think the voters finally realize what Durant has done in the last four years specifically, and he could finally get the nod as MVP. 

It’s the right choice — Durant deserves it and the league won’t suffer if James or Bryant don’t win the MVP for once.

Andre Miller and Chris Paul shine early in NBA playoffs

The NBA playoffs opened up on Saturday afternoon, and they got off to a decently anti-climactic start. Derrick Rose still hasn’t returned, Kobe Bryant is still hurt, and Jeff Van Gundy still seems uncontrollably bitter. The Chicago Bulls were the first road team to win a game, and that event didn’t happen until Monday night.  

It’s no secret the NBA often plays host to very lopsided playoff matches, and often times the first round doesn’t provide the sparks most fans want to see. That Golden State Warriors-Dallas Mavericks series seems like long ago at this point, but the opening weekend of the 2013 NBA Playoffs had its share of exciting moments.  
 
The Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets are matched up in what might be one of the most exciting series of the entire playoffs, and they didn’t disappoint in their first game in Denver. With seconds remaining Stephen Curry hit a corner three to tie the game at 95, and the recurring play Andre Miller took the ball strong to the basket for a go ahead lay-up with one second remaining to seal a Denver win.  
 
In similar fashion, Chris Paul dribbled out the winding seconds of the Clippers and Grizzlies game Monday night before attacking the paint for an off-balanced, banked shot at the buzzer to win the game. It might not be as good as Van Persie’s hat trick, but the NBA playoffs have given us some moments to be content with thus far.  
 
The saying in the league is that the series hasn’t started until the home team has lost. I guess if that’s sill the idea, then only one of our series has actually started. But this is usually what is to be expected with NBA Playoff Basketball, at least since the early 2000’s. The first round of the playoffs often isn’t the most exciting portion of the playoffs, but for an opening weekend there was not too much to be disappointed about. 
 
It was predictable that mostly home teams would win. It was rather predictable that Derrick Rose wouldn’t suit up. But what wasn’t predictable is that Chris Paul and Andre Miller would come up clutch for their teams when it mattered most. I wouldn’t have predicted it would take the Clippers four quarters to dunk the basketball in game one of their series, and the continuing emergence of Carmelo Anthony might lean a little more towards the predictable side, but it’s still satisfying to see.  
 
I’ve slowly realized this isn’t the same NBA I grew up watching. Dirk, Kobe, Vince Carter, and the cast of characters who owned the 2000’s are slowly being filtered out completely. It’s a strange thing to see as a fan that fell in love with the sport in that era, but the opening round of the playoffs was a friendly reminder that the league is in a great place.  

Lakers move on without Kobe Bryant, hope to earn postseason spot with win over Houston

Summer 2012 is starting to feel like a long time ago for the Los Angeles Lakers. A team that once looked so promising, and looked to be in perfect position to make a run at an NBA Championship, now finds itself in a position it didn’t expect. 

The Lakers have one remaining game on the schedule, a home game against the Houston Rockets, and a win ensures a playoff berth. But for this particular Lakers team, what happens in this calendar season doesn’t matter as much as what happens moving forward.

The Lakers are filled with looming questions, and large ones at that.

Dwight Howard is still a free agent come summertime, and though it’s likely he stays in Los Angeles, the question becomes whether or not he actually will, or if he’s the franchise player the Lakers want to build around. 

Pau Gasol has been logging quality minutes for the Lakers, but he’s only a few weeks removed from talks of him potentially requesting a trade in the summer. And with a team like the Lakers that has so many problems, Pau is one of the few remaining tradable assets. 

Earl Clark is an unrestricted free agent this coming summer. With his emergence it’s fair to assume he’ll have a few teams asking for his contributions, and does a Lakers franchise that’s already in luxury tax purgatory pay Clark what the market could potentially demand?

What about Steve Nash and Metta World Peace?  

And, lastly, what about Kobe Bryant?

The five-time champion that has been the face of the franchise for the last decade. The champion who’s future seems very unknown at this point. I have no doubt Bryant will return to the game of basketball. He’s too competitive to not try to finish his career on his own terms. But what will he look like when he does return? And how will his final chapter read?

It’s probably still too early for doom and gloom in Hollywood. But in a city known for its storytelling, the way this one plays out might affect the story of the Lakers for a few years to come.

Kobe Bryant: The air apparent that is

The Kobe Bryant-Michael Jordan comparison that raged on for years has seemed to die down a bit recently. And even though it might never be a great time to bring the conversation up because every fan has their own very strong opinion on the matter, that’s what I’m here for. 
 
You either assume Michal Jordan is the best basketball player that ever graced the game with his presence, you believe Kobe Bryant is the better of the two or that Kobe is quickly approaching that status. There rarely is any middle ground.
 
But as fans of basketball, why do we even have to have such a comparison? Has sensationalist sports media really forced fans into a corner like this? Can we as fans, players, coaches and practioners of the game of basketball not subjectively appreciate what each has done for the game? Or, is Kobe Bryant actually the closest thing to Michael Jordan we will ever see?
 
Even if Kobe Bryant never reaches the pinnacle of the sport, and he never achieves what many believe is his ultimate goal in being better than Michael Jordan, us as fans must appreciate who he is and what he has done.

It’s astonishing to sit and watch tape of Kobe Bryant side by side with those of Michael Jordan. The footwork is the same. The post moves are the same. The spots on the floor the players choose are the same. The confidence is the same. The clutch gene is the same. The titles and game winning shots are celebrated the same. And even the badgering and belittling of their teammates is the same (it’s no secret that Michael Jordan was one of the harshest leaders to grace the hardwood). It’s eerily ironic how many similarities both players really share. They were both even coached by the same guy: Phil Jackson. It’s almost as if the basketball gods wanted to play a sick joke on the fans and send us a replica version of Michael Jordan.
 
And even with so much in common, according to many fans and media personalities Kobe Bryant has always been the villain for wanting to be Michael. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Kobe Bryant shouldn’t be villainized for his blatant imitations of Michael Jordan; he should be celebrated.
 
Maybe when it’s all said and done Kobe’s story will have a different narrative. Maybe at that point in time the basketball community will appreciate what he did for the game, and who he was as a player.
 
In the here and now Kobe is simply the Michael Jordan want to be. The goat that never was, and the selfish superstar that copy-catted the NBA’s greatest winner.
 
But why is that? I’m sure many of you remember the film “Like Mike,” starring Lil’ Bow Wow. The title speaks for itself. Any young player growing up wanted to be Michael Jordan. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve played basketball with that wore Jordan apparel and even tried to stick their tongues out just like Mike did. Somehow it’s understandable for these players to idolize Michael Jordan in hopes of becoming him, but for Kobe Bryant, it’s villainous.
 
Michael Jordan entered the NBA in 1984, and that would mean that Kobe Bryant (who was born in 1978) would have been around six years old upon Jordan’s arrival. Michael Jordan did not win his first NBA title until 1991, and at that point in time Kobe Bryant was roughly thirteen years of age. And for those of you who at one point were 13-year-old basketball players, you remember how much you idolized star NBA players.
 
For the 13-year-old version of me, I wanted to be Allen Iverson. I bought his shoes, I bought his arm bands and I even tried to make my own signature Allen Iverson sleeve (which has quickly become one of the worst fashion trends in pick-up basketball and beyond). So, on this real time scale it’s easy to see how Kobe Bryant would have grown up idolizing Michael. He grew up watching all of Michael’s titles, and he studied him. He studied him to the core; to the point where Kobe Bryant even barked orders at teammates and assumed himself superior to anyone that ever stepped on the basketball court. Don’t believe me? The proof is in the footage.
 
In the above video Kobe Bryant is getting ready for his first All-Star game, and an All-Star starter at that. He is 19 years old, and even more noteworthy is the fact that Kobe wasn’t even a starter for the Los Angeles Lakers at this point. Kobe received a lot of media scrutiny, and even scrutiny from players around the league for being an all-star starter. So amidst all the pressure, the spotlight and all the scrutiny Kobe Bryant is facing; what does he say when he’s asked about Michael Jordan sending him a message in the All-Star Game?
 
“Maybe, but I want to send him a message that I don’t back down from anybody,” he said at the time.
 
Remember, this was the 1998 season; the same season Michael won his sixth title. At this point Michael was tied with Magic Johnson for NBA titles, and was essentially the great Michael Jordan we know him as now. And this 19-year-old kid, who’s not even old enough to legally buy a beer, and isn’t even a starter for his own team seriously has the audacity to challenge Michael Jordan?
 
You can’t hear the quotes and look at Kobe’s attitude and tell me he didn’t learn that from studying Michael. Kobe not only studied his style of play, but he even adopted Michael’s competitiveness. And then Kobe challenged him.
 
If I’m allowed to tie up my laces and dream of being “Like Mike,” then why can’t Kobe? And why is Kobe villanized for such when the rest of the nation that wishes the same isn’t?
 
Maybe it’s because he played for the Lakers, one of America’s favorite teams to hate. Maybe it’s because the basketball world beloved Michael so much that they couldn’t stand that anyone would attempt to step on the foundation he built. I mean, how dare any competitive, professional basketball player challenge Michael, right? Or maybe Kobe is just misunderstood.

Not only has Bryant allowed another generation to see the closest form to Michael Jordan there has ever been, but he has spent countless hours studying, and mimicking his game to resemble the idol he grew up watching. Regardless of how much you hate the guy, or hate his team, it does astonish me how many people don’t respect him. How many players in the league study the game of basketball to the extent that Kobe has?
 
Fast forward to the year 2013, and Kobe Bryant is on the verge of the end of his career, and his Lakers can’t seem to catch a break. Their season has been plagued with injury, and now Dwight Howard is firing jabs at Bryant, and rumors of Howard’s departure from LA are starting to emerge. Kobe Bryant may not win that sixth title, and he will never be Michael Jordan, but as fans of basketball he deserves to be appreciated for what he has done. And hopefully fans realize that before they turn on their television and the closest thing to Michael Jordan is gone.
 
Remember: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Top 10 NBA MVP candidates

1. LeBron James – Winner of three out of the last four MVP awards, LeBron has dominated the game of basketball like few have ever done before. It is already evident that Lebron will be among the greatest players ever by the time his career is finished. There really isn’t much James isn’t capable of accomplishing on the court. To top that off, he is only getting better. Every offseason James makes it a goal of his to improve an aspect of his game. Last offseason it was a deadly post-up game; this upcoming season he promises a lethal hook shot. But the real phenomenon worth noting is the profound mental resilience he has gained this past year. In the playoff series against the Indiana Pacers and the Boston Celtics, James illustrated a new side of his basketball character. He demonstrated to the world that he is no longer the man who had a complete meltdown in crucial playoff games against the Boston Celtics in 2010 and the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. No, this was a new James who wouldn’t back down in the most important moments. The 45-point, 15-rebound and five-assist performance, facing an elimination game against the Celtics, really sums up this mental growth and his newly acquired killer instinct. Watch out, ladies and gentlemen, because you will be awe-inspired by this phenomenal player who finally has both the physical and mental tools to become the greatest ever.

2. Kevin Durant – Since 1980 only two players have won three or more NBA scoring champion awards in a row: Kevin Durant and Michael Jordan. That is some exclusive company. It goes without saying that Kevin Durant is one of the most gifted scorers this game has ever seen. However, the improving aspects of Kevin Durant’s game are grossly underrated. Last year, Durant had career highs in rebounds, assists and blocks. Not only is this 24-year-old already the leader of a championship contender, but he is also very humble and willing to improve his game. Just this past offseason after the most success he has seen in his NBA career, Durant added approximately 15 pounds of muscle to his lanky frame in order to better play the power forward position for the Oklahoma City Thunder and also become a stronger defender. This guy is a workhorse. We have definitely not seen the best of Durant yet.

3. Chris Paul – With a continually developing frontcourt in DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, Chris Paul’s game will only get better. Griffin and Jordan will make Paul look better by the year because of their expanded offensive arsenals. With the absence of Derrick Rose for the majority of the year, the light will shine ever so gloriously on the incredible play-making abilities of the best point guard in the league. However, in order for Paul’s rank to be this high, his individual play is not sufficient. He must also be able to will the Clippers into the championship contender they are capable of becoming.

4. Kobe Bryant – As the greatest player of this generation, Kobe Bryant will have a lot to leave on the court in his last two years in the NBA. Very recently, Bryant chuckled when Ken Berger of CBS Sports questioned him about his willingness to play second fiddle or as a role player, reportedly saying, “That’s not gonna happen. That’s just not me.” Even as a spectator of the sport, it should become painfully obvious that Bryant will not want to leave the league without a final championship stamp on his first ballot Hall of Fame resume. With recent additions Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, Bryant’s offensive load will certainly lessen, allowing him to be the most efficient player he can be.

5. Deron Williams – Deron Williams had gone into the shadows for MVP discussions these past two years. However, there is good rationale to explain that. No player since the 1982-1983 season has won the MVP award while playing for a team with a winning percentage lower than .610. It is fairly reasonable to say that the Nets weren’t close to achieving that standard those past few years. After nearly three or four seasons of pointless basketball, Deron Williams finally has a team that will motivate him to reach his full potential. The addition of Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace will solidify the Nets as a second-round playoff team and give Williams all the motivation in the world. Watch out for Williams to have a statement year for the rising Brooklyn Nets.

6. Rajon Rondo – After his meteoric rise in the 2009 NBA playoffs, when he nearly averaged a triple double, Rondo has not failed to deliver in each of the following seasons. Since 2008, Rondo has made four NBA All-Defensive teams, led the league in assists and steals and dominated ball game after ball game without scoring a single point. Not much will change this year. Expect Rondo to grow as a leader and continue dominating games in ways very few can match.

7. Kevin Love – Is it safe to say Kevin Love is the best power forward in the league right now? After averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds last year, Love is poised to maintain that status (unless Dirk Nowitzki’s knee concerns dissipate). The addition of a resurgent Brandon Roy, the recovery of Ricky Rubio and the growth of Derrick Williams should finally provide Love with all the tools he needs to forge a playoff contender, almost a necessity for an MVP. The 24-year-old’s best days are still ahead of him.

8. Russell Westbrook – Kevin Love’s teammate at UCLA, Russell Westbrook, is not doing so bad himself. Although he plays second fiddle to Kevin Durant, Westbrook’s tremendous athletic ability and growing maturity make it impossible to leave him off this list. To me, Westbrook is the next Dwayne Wade of basketball, able to assassinate as he wishes through sheer athleticism. However, the next step in Westbrook’s development as a player has nothing to do with his athleticism. Rather, it has to do with the refining of his decision-making process and his leadership abilities.

9. Dirk Nowitzki – If not for the knee problems and potential arthroscopic injury, Nowitzki could beat out Love as the best power forward in the league. The ability of Nowitzki to instantaneously take over a game whenever he chooses to makes him a phenomenal player on the dark horse contender that is Dallas. At this point of his career, his offensive output might not match Durant’s or Lebron’s, but this guy can score at will. Because Nowitzki’s game doesn’t require tremendous athleticism, expect his game to age very gracefully. His fadeaway matches Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s sky hook as the most unguardable shot in the history of the NBA. So age should be no deterrent for Nowitzki this season.

10. Dwight Howard – In the ongoing debate surrounding the best center in the league, neither Dwight Howard nor Andrew Bynum seems to be a promising selection. Howard is coming off major back surgery and Bynum’s longtime best friends — knee injuries — are back in full force. However, Howard tops Bynum because he can impact the game so effectively in a multidimensional manner. Without even scoring, Howard’s dominant defense and rebounding abilities can create the largest imprint on a given basketball game. Although Bynum can finally be that No. 1 guy, the franchise player, he has to prove himself as a mature leader before he surpasses Howard.

*Before chaos ensues, there is a reasonable explanation for leaving out Dwyane Wade. His athleticism-based skill set does not age gracefully (ask Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady). Also, the addition of Ray Allen at shooting guard and Wade’s open willingness to defer to LeBron will slightly diminish his role on the Heat this upcoming season.

Catching up with Jordan Hamilton

Hamilton averaged 18.6 points per game as a sophomore in 2010-11.
Hamilton averaged 18.6 points per game as a sophomore in 2010-11.

 

A few days ago, I caught up with Jordan Hamilton, a former Longhorn (2009-10) now with the Denver Nuggets. We'll have a story in next week's Texan, but for now here's a few clips from our phone interview.


Daily Texan: How is this summer different than last, when you were entering your rookie season and locked out from organized team basketball activities?


Hamilton: I get hands-on treatment with the coaching staff now, and I get to work out here in Denver, Monday through Friday. I go home to Los Angeles every other weekend or so, but I'm here in the gym every day, shaping my body and trying to lose some weight -- I've gone from 238 to 220 and I'm trying to get to 215. And then basketball-related, just working on all aspects of my game.


DT: What was the hardest part about last season? [Note: Hamilton played in 26 of a possible 66 games, with two starts, averaging 4.4 points per game -- or 21.6 per 48 minutes].


Hamilton: It was a learning experience being around guys like Al Harrington and Andre Miller, and also the mid-level veterans who have been in the league four to five years. Coach [George Karl] played the guys who he believed in in the shortened season; played the guys he knew.


There was no training camp, we just got right into it, so [the rookies] didn't have much preparation time to show the coaching staff what we could do. The coaches knew who I was, obviously, but they weren't familiar with my game as well as they would have been if I was able to be there last summer.


DT: What was your welcome-to-the-NBA moment?


Hamilton: We're all playing pickup at Loyola Marymount [in California] and Kobe Bryant walks in. Kobe joins in -- and he was real good. I was guarding him some. You can play great defense on him and he'll still make shots over you.


DT: You left school after your sophomore season. Was it hard to watch the Longhorns?


Hamilton: There were times when I wished I could have helped them, times where I was like, 'Man, I miss Texas.' But once the season started, I kind of stopped watching college basketball because you're so busy -- either playing games or on a flight.


DT: Speaking of that season, there was a point where the lockout was still in effect but college basketball season had started. At any point did you think you made a mistake, or any point of regret?


Hamilton: Regrets, no, because I ended up with a great situation in Denver with the coaching staff and my teammates.

 

DT: Thoughts on J'Covan Brown leaving early and then going undrafted?


Hamilton: I didn't really get a chance to talk to him after the Draft, but I talked to him a few times once he declared. I know he went undrafted, but I think he has a great chance to make it. A team will see that he can play. We all know he can score and get to the rim, and shoot, but he's an underrated athlete.


DT: Do you think J'Covan projects as a point guard or a shooting guard?


Hamilton: I'd say point, just because of his size [6'1"]. I remember my freshman year, we were playing a closed scrimmage against Gonzaga. Coach [Rick Barnes] had him playing point and he made some really good plays, distributed the ball well. That was one of the first times I had seen him play and I was like, 'Okay, he's a good point guard, he'll get some playing time there.' But he never played too much of it in college.


DT: From briefly watching them play last year [20-14], what do you think the Longhorns need to better compete?


Hamilton: All the freshmen they had, now that those guys have got a year under their belts, they'll have a great shot at making some noise and fighting for a Big 12 title. They've got Myck Kabongo coming back, he's good. I really like Sheldon McClellan's game, too. He can shoot.


DT: You know, Sheldon keeps drawing comparisons to you.


Hamilton: [Laughs] Yeah, I think he'll have a really good shot to play in the NBA.