Kobe Bryant

Lakers Notes: Kobe’s Memorial, Waiters, Roster

Nearly a month after Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna were killed in a tragic helicopter crash, a memorial service was held today at the Staples Center to honor their memory. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, Hornets owner Michael Jordan, and Kobe’s widow Vanessa Bryant were among those who spoke at the emotional event, as an ESPN story outlines.

In addition to publicly mourning her late husband on Monday, Vanessa Bryant has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters Inc. and the “representative or successor” of pilot Ara Zobayan, per an ESPN and Associated Press report. The lawsuit claims that Zobayan was careless and negligent by flying in poor weather conditions rather than aborting the flight.

Here’s more on the Lakers and their late superstar:

  • Dave McMenamin of ESPN has an in-depth look at how Lakers players and staffers found out about Bryant’s death on January 26. The team was flying from Philadelphia to Los Angeles following a five-game road trip when the news broke, making for a somber, miserable cross-country flight.
  • On his latest Hoop Collective podcast, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst confirms that the Lakers met with Dion Waiters last week, as was expected. According to Windhorst (hat tip to RealGM), the team is “mulling” the idea of signing him, since it could use “perimeter player who can score a little bit.” However, L.A. will want to see what sort of condition the veteran guard is in. An earlier report suggested the Lakers may have to be won over by Waiters in the same way they were by Dwight Howard last summer.
  • In case you missed it, the Lakers officially signed Markieff Morris on Sunday, waiving DeMarcus Cousins to make room on the roster. As we relayed earlier today, Cousins and the Lakers are said to have mutual interest in a new deal in the offseason.

Pacific Notes: Giles, Len, Lakers, Clippers, Bazemore

Kings big man Harry Giles III recorded his first double-double on Saturday, helping his team pull off an improbable 112-103 victory over the Clippers at Staples Center.

Giles posted 14 points and 12 rebounds in 31 minutes, proving his worth on both ends of the floor as starting center. He started the 2019/20 season with very limited playing time, but his recent surge has caught the attention of Sacramento’s coaches.

“He’s moving much better now,” head coach Luke Walton said, as relayed by Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee. “He’s out there calling coverages. He’s out there at the level, backing up, rebounding the ball. He’s doing all the things that we love about Harry. He looks like, physically, he’s in the best place I’ve seen him since I’ve been the coach here, and his skill set, as far as his passing and rebounding and toughness, that’s something we need.”

Giles has an injury-riddled history, particularly with his knees, but it hasn’t stopped the 21-year-old from continuing to persevere and improve. Instead, it’s motivated him to play better.

“I think with time and reps I’m going to get better,” Giles said. “I’m going to keep getting better. You know how the fouls go. It varies depending on how you’re going to play and depending on how the refs are going to let you play, too, so I’m going to keep getting better at that and just playing hard.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Luke Walton also spoke highly of Alex Len, who made his debut with the Kings on Saturday and recorded eight rebounds in 16 minutes. “It was nice to have a big body out there like that,” Walton said, according to Jason Jones of The Athletic (Twitter link). “He did a good job of clogging up that paint. We’ve got to get him a little more familiar with what we’re doing so we can open up the playbook, but he knows some of the basic sets and he helped us win.”
  • The Lakers and Clippers are set to play their rescheduled game on April 9 at Staples Center, forcing the Lakers to play three consecutive home games from April 7-9, Dave McMenamin of ESPN writes. The game was originally scheduled to be played on January 28 but was later postponed due to the tragic death of Kobe Bryant.
  • The union of Kent Bazemore and the Kings has been a perfect fit for both sides, Jason Jones writes in a different story for The Athletic. Sacramento traded for Bazemore last month, acquiring a proven two-way player at the wing position.“Sometimes fresh blood does help,” Bazemore said. “I hadn’t been having the best year, so it was kind of a match made in heaven. A guy coming over desperate and team in a desperate situation. We’re kind of making it work right now.”

Latest On The Dunk Contest Controversy

The judges at Saturday’s dunk contest intended for the event to end in a tie, but their plan failed when three of them awarded nines on Aaron Gordon‘s final jam, according to Malika Andrews and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

After Derrick Jones Jr. and Gordon both received 50s on their first dunks in the dunk-off, Jones finished his night with a running slam from just inside the foul line that received a 48. Gordon sought to clinch the trophy in dramatic fashion by jumping over 7’5″ Celtics rookie Tacko Fall, but after a long wait the judges awarded him three nines and two 10s for a final score of 47.

“We thought it was going to be tied. We were like, ‘This is a tie!'” said hip-hop artist Common, who served as one of the judges. “But somebody didn’t do it right. I don’t know who it is.”

A second judge, Candace Parker, confirmed Common’s comments, saying the intent was for the dunk-off to end in a tie, which would have meant a poll of the judges to determine a winner.

“I really felt it was an even battle, and we, as judges, felt the scores should be even and they should just have a judge-off,” Common said after a breath-taking series of dunks from both competitors. “We had the cards. Put your card up for who had the best dunks.”

Gordon started the event with perfect scores on his first five dunks. He expected a sixth after dunking over Fall, and he and the crowd at the United Center in Chicago were visibly dismayed when the final results left him a point behind Jones. It was a familiar experience for Gordon, who also lost the 2016 dunk contest to Zach LaVine in a controversial decision.

“We’re here to do four dunks,” Gordon told reporters afterward. “It should be the best of four dunks. I did four straight 50s — five straight 50s. That’s over. It’s a wrap. Let’s go home. Four 50s in a row in an NBA dunk contest, it’s over. But I don’t know. Who’s running the show?”

There’s more on the wild finish to All-Star Saturday Night:

  • Despite the controversy, Jones believes he was the rightful winner and was unhappy with the score he received on his final dunk, relays Andre Fernandez of The Athletic“When I got that 48, it was tough because that was a dunk that I was doing since high school,” Jones said. “I know that’s 50-worthy. There’s no way I should have gotten a 48.”
  • Jones also said he could have kept dunking as long as the contest remained tied (video link from Ben Golliver of The Washington Post). “I just turned 23,” said Jones, who had a birthday cake wheeled onto the court before his first dunk. “I’ve got legs for days, bro.”
  • Fall tells Shelburne that his role in Gordon’s final dunk wasn’t pre-arranged (Twitter link). After a night that saw several dunks over other people, Gordon picked out the tallest man in the building. “I was scared for my life,” Fall admitted.
  • Dwyane Wade, one of the three judges who gave Gordon a nine on his final attempt, denied that the score was a favor to Jones, his former Heat teammate. “I wasn’t the only one who gave him a 9, let’s talk about that!” Wade said in a video tweeted by Complex Sports.
  • Several commentators suggested that the controversy may affect the league’s ability to get elite dunkers in future competitions. After watching the event, Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant, who many wanted to see participate this year, tweeted, “Y’all just made my decision easier,” then later sent out a video of American Idol judge Randy Jackson saying, “Yeah, it’s a no from me dawg.”
  • Dwight Howard offered a tribute to Kobe Bryant with his second dunk, taking off his shirt to reveal a Superman jersey underneath, then taking away the S logo to to show a number 24. He told Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times that Bryant had agreed to be part of the dunk before his tragic death last month (Twitter link).

Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP Trophy Unveiled

Commissioner Adam Silver announced that the NBA will rename its All-Star Game MVP Award in honor of Kobe Bryant, tweets K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

“Kobe Bryant is synonymous with NBA All-Star and embodies the spirit of this global celebration of our game,” Silver said. “He always relished the opportunity to compete with the best of the best and perform at the highest level for millions of fans around the world.”

Bryant was an 18-time All-Star selection and played in 15 of the games. He was named All-Star MVP four times, a record he shares with Bob Pettit (Twitter link from Ben Golliver of The Washington Post).

The league is still in shock over the death of Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash on January 26, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people.

Silver explained that the NBA decided not to cancel its games on that day because fans were already at several arenas and the league wasn’t able to confirm Bryant’s death in time to call off the games. He adds that the decision to play was made after discussion with the Players Association (Twitter link via Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune).

Silver addressed a few other topics in his annual All-Star Weekend press conference:

  • He expects a “return to normalcy” soon in the league’s relationship with China, but can’t predict when that will happen, tweets Mark Medina of USA Today. Silver adds that NBA games still aren’t being shown on CCTV and said that decision is “outside of our control.” The league won’t press China to begin showing them again (Twitter link). Silver added that the loss of business from China is only partially tied to the league’s revenue decline and expressed hope that the nation might host pre-Olympic games this summer or NBA preseason games in the fall (Twitter link from Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle). Silver expects the loss of revenue from China to be “substantial,” estimating it will be “less than $400MM.” (Twitter link“We accept the consequences of our system and our values,” he added (Twitter link).
  • Silver is still optimistic that the NBA’s Board of Governors will eventually approve a mid-season tournament, but nothing is currently imminent (Twitter link). He said discussions are being held with players and media partners about that tournament and a play-in tourney for the final playoff spots in each conference (Twitter link).
  • The commissioner also discussed a Comcast/Altitude dispute that is preventing many Nuggets games from being shown in Denver. Silver said owners are examining the best methods for distributing their games (Twitter link).

Basketball Hall Of Fame Selects Eight Finalists

The Basketball Hall of Fame has selected eight finalists for the 2020 class. This year’s Hall-of-Famers will be officially announced in April. Let’s take a look at the candidates:

Kobe Bryant

Bryant, who tragically passed away late last month, helped the Lakers bring home five NBA championships. He took home the Finals MVP on two of those occasions. He was selected to 18 NBA All-Star games during his career in Los Angeles.

Tim Duncan

Duncan, who is currently an assistant coach with the Spurs, brought San Antonio five NBA championships during his time in the league. He won Finals MVP three times and was named to 15 All-Star games.

Kevin Garnett

Garnett won a championship upon arriving in Boston. Over the course of his career, the big man was named to 15 NBA All-Star games and nine All-Defensive First Teams. He played for the Wolves, Celtics, and Nets in his career.

Tamika Catchings

Catchings won a WNBA championship during her time with the Indiana Fever. She was selected to 10 WNBA All-Star games and won four Olympic Gold Medals for Team USA during her playing days.

Rudy Tomjanovich

Tomjanovich is just one of three coaches to win an NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal. He coached the Rockets to two championships in the early 90’s and had a nice career as a player prior to that, as he was selected to five NBA All-Star games.

Kim Mulkey

Mulkey is the first person to win a National Championship as a player, assistant coach, and head coach. She played point guard for Louisiana Tech in the early 80’s and has coached at both Louisiana Tech and Baylor.

Eddie Sutton

Sutton coached in the college ranks for 36 years. He was the coach of the year four times in his career and he took two different teams—Arkansas, Oklahoma State (2x)—to the Final Four.

Barbara Stevens

Stevens is only the fifth coach in NCAA women’s basketball history to achieve over 1,000 career wins. She has led Clark University, UMass, and Bentley throughout her coaching career.

Northwest Notes: Grant, Millsap, Anthony, Conley, Napier

What the Nuggets decide to do with Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap provides an intriguing subplot to the offseason, Mike Singer of the Denver Post writes. Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent and Grant can join him on the market by declining his $9.35MM option.  Grant is undersized at the power forward spot but brings more agility and shot blocking to the four spot. The Nuggets will probably try to re-sign Grant but could also bring back Millsap if he’s willing to meet their price, Singer adds.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony is still too distraught over Kobe Bryant’s passing to take the court, especially at the Staples Center. Anthony will sit out the Portland-Los Angeles Lakers game on Friday, Stadium’s Shams Charania tweets, as he continues to grieve over the loss of his close friend.
  • The Jazz are close to returning point guard Mike Conley to the starting lineup, according to Charania. Conley has come off the bench in six games since he recovered from an aggravated hamstring strain. Utah wants Conley to reestablish chemistry with the other starters, most notably backcourt partner Donovan Mitchell and center Rudy Gobert, Charania adds.
  • The lack of a good plan regarding their point guard rotation has been the Timberwolves’ biggest issue, Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune opines. Jeff Teague wasn’t a good fit prior to being traded to Atlanta because Minnesota needed a floor leader adept at pushing the tempo. Shabazz Napier has been a good pickup but he’s probably best suited for a 15-20 minute backup role while Jordan McLaughlin is more of an emergency backup than a second-unit player, Rand adds.

All-Star Teams To Wear Nos. 2, 24 In Honor Of Gianna, Kobe Bryant

The 2020 All-Star Game will feature Team LeBron (James) wearing No. 2 jerseys and Team Giannis (Antetokounmpo) wearing No. 24 jerseys, according to a press release issued by the NBA in partnership with the players’ union and Nike. No. 2 was the number worn by Kobe Bryant‘s daughter Gianna, while No. 24 was, of course, worn by Kobe during the second half of his career.

Kobe and Gianna were two of the nine people who died in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday. According to the league’s announcement, both All-Star teams will also wear jersey patches which display nine stars, representing those nine people who lost their lives in the crash.

For Friday’s Rising Stars game and Saturday night’s events – including the dunk contest – the participants will wear jersey patches featuring the Nos. 2 and 24 in the center, surrounded by nine stars.

The uniform changes are one of multiple tributes planned to the late NBA superstar for the 2020 All-Star weekend in Chicago. The league announced on Thursday that it’s tweaking the All-Star format to add a target score in the fourth quarter. That target score will be determined by adding 24 to the total number of points scored through three quarters by the leading team.

And-Ones: China, Kobe, Noah, Trade Deadline

As the World Health Organization declares the coronavirus outbreak a “global health emergency,” ESPN’s Jonathan Givony (Twitter thread) took the opportunity to explore the impact it has had on the basketball community in China.

According to Givony, the Chinese Basketball Association has postponed games indefinitely, with some CBA teams sending American players home while others prefer to have those players stick around. Although no CBA team plays within 350 miles of the Hubei province (the coronavirus epicenter), there’s talk that the season may not resume until March, if it resumes at all.

As Givony explains, CBA contracts often don’t include the same player-friendly protections that other international contracts do, so some players are nervous about how the league will handle those deals. Late payments or possible voided contracts are among their concerns, Givony adds.

According to Givony (Twitter link), teams in Europe, the G League, and even the NBA are likely keeping an eye on the situation. Many former NBA players are under contract in the CBA and could become free agents if the season is cancelled or their deals are voided.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Despite the idea receiving support from some NBA players and a petition that has received nearly three million signatures, the league doesn’t plan on changing its logo to Kobe Bryant or any other individual player, preferring a “generic” design, says Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports. As Dan Feldman of NBC Sports explains, it’s widely known that the current logo uses Jerry West‘s silhouette, but the NBA has never formally acknowledged that.
  • Veteran center Joakim Noah published an Instagram video of him running, suggesting in the caption that he’d like to return to the NBA. “Four months post-Achilles surgery and I’m back on the track,” Noah wrote. “My goal is to get back out there and compete. I’ve had many surgeries but coming back from this would be very rewarding.” Noah’s health status is a little unclear — if the surgery he referred to was for a torn Achilles, he presumably won’t be ready to play anytime soon, but we don’t know the exact details.
  • A handful of ESPN analysts made their predictions for the trade deadline, identifying which contenders and rebuilding teams most need to make a move. Bobby Marks and Tim Bontemps are among those who expect it to be a quiet deadline.

L.A. Notes: Bryant, Kupchak, George, West

The Lakers returned to practice today for the first time since Kobe Bryant‘s death on Sunday, writes Greg Beacham of The Associated Press. The mood was reserved as players tried to move beyond the tragedy and focus on basketball. Some of them, including Anthony Davis, spent time looking at Bryant’s two retired numbers hanging in the rafters before practice began.

“We want to represent what Kobe was about, more than anything,” said coach Frank Vogel, who was the only person to address the media after the workout. “We’ve always wanted to make him proud, and that’s not going to be any different now.”

The Lakers’ game against the Clippers last night was postponed to give the organization more time to deal with the tragedy. Instead, the team held an afternoon gathering where players and coaches shared stories and memories of Bryant. The meeting was “therapeutic and beneficial,” according to Vogel.

“It’s been something that has touched my family, being the father of daughters, and it’s been very emotional,” he said. “It’s something that brings us together. I’m around the people who were closest to Kobe throughout his time here, and it’s been just a deeply saddening time for all of us.”

There’s more from Los Angeles:

  • The franchise-altering trade that brought Bryant to the Lakers in 1996 nearly didn’t happen, Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak tells Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. Kupchak, who served as assistant GM for the Lakers at the time, said Charlotte had second thoughts about going through with the deal. “I think we always felt that we’d get the deal done,” Kupchak said. “Certainly, history would have been a lot different, at least from a Lakers point-of-view. Kobe would have been great no matter where he was.”
  • Clippers stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard both spent time working out with Bryant at his Mamba Sports Academy and both credit him with helping to mold their careers, relays Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. “He was my Michael Jordan growing up as a SoCal kid,” George said after today’s practice. “He was what every kid wanted to be here. I started playing basketball because of Kobe.” 
  • Current Clippers consultant Jerry West said when Bryant was thinking of leaving the Lakers as a free agent in 2004, he warned him not to go across town and play for former owner Donald Sterling (video link from TNT).

Wizards Notes: Grant, Trades, Hachimura

The Wizards are in position to make some moves at the deadline, and if that happens the team could call up a few of its G League players. Shane Connuck of Wizards Xtra breaks down which players could get an opportunity with Washington, including Jerian Grant, who has been with the Go-Go for most of the season.

Here’s more from Washington:

  • The Wizards have made a trade leading up to trade deadline in each of the past 10 seasons, NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes writes. The team dealt Markieff Morris and Otto Porter Jr. in separate trades a year ago. This is Tommy Sheppard‘s first year as the team’s new head of basketball operations, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s as active at the deadline as Ernie Grunfeld was.
  • Rui Hachimura is getting close to returning to the court, as Hughes relays in another piece. The rookie went through a full practice without any limitations over the weekend.
  • Hachimura spoke about Kobe Bryant‘s impact on him, telling the media that Bryant was his hero (via Mike DePrisco of NBC Sports). “Three years ago, during [the] Final Four, [Bryant gave] a special pair of shoes as a surprise to the team. Not only that, he talked about what Mamba Mentality is and what people should be before basketball players,” Hachimura said. “He was more than just a basketball player.”