LeBron James

LeBron James, Others React To Kobe Bryant’s Death

LeBron James issued his first comments since the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, which were posted on the Yahoo Sports Twitter feed and by other news organizations. James spoke with Bryant – who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning – on Saturday evening after passing him on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

“Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have,” James wrote. James also vowed to carry on Bryant’s legacy. “It’s my responsibility to put this (bleep) on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me!”

We have more reaction from around the league on the loss of the Lakers legend:

  • The Lakers brought in grief counselors to the team’s offices on Monday to help not only players and staff members cope with Bryant’s tragic death but also employees throughout the organization, Dave McMenamin of ESPN tweets. Bryant had many relationships with other Laker employees during his 20-year playing career, McMenamin notes. The counselors provided comfort and guidance in both group and one-on-one sessions, McMenamin adds. The league decided on Monday afternoon to postpone the team’s scheduled game with the Clippers on Tuesday out of respect for the Lakers organization.
  • The organization thanked fans and well-wishers from around the world for the overwhelming support it has received since the tragedy. It issued a statement via the team’s PR department (Twitter link) which read, “The Los Angeles Lakers would like to thank all of you for the tremendous outpouring of support and condolences. This is a very difficult time for all of us. We continue to support the Bryant family and will share more information as it is available.”
  • Kings coach and ex-teammate Luke Walton said the loss has not only deeply affected him but everyone around his team, as he told Chad Graff of The Athletic and other media members. “We talked about it. Life is hard. There are moments that challenge us,” Walton said. “What I’ve found is together we can get through that easier and more efficiently than we can alone. Guys here are hurting whether you knew him or not. He was that type of guy, and he had that type of impact on the NBA world that everybody is hurting.”
  • Pop music icon Michael Jackson fueled Bryant’s passion for excellence, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recalls in a November 2010 interview he did with Bryant. “He would teach me what he did: how to make a ‘Thriller’ album, a ‘Bad’ album, all the details that went into it,” Bryant told Wojnarowski. “It was all the validation that I needed — to know that I had to focus on my craft and never waver. Because what he did — and how he did it — was psychotic. He helped me get to a level where I was able to win three titles playing with Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) because of my preparation, my study. And it’s only all grown.”
  • The fact that three teenagers, including Bryant’s daughter Gianna, perished in the helicopter crash was especially heartbreaking for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, as Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel relays. “Obviously this has been a horrible 24 hours,” he said. “And, as a parent, it absolutely crushes your heart to think about this. When something like this happens it can be so wrong and so arbitrary.”
  • Bryant played the game with ferocity but he wasn’t fearless, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN writes. However, Bryant’s determination allowed him to overcome his fears. “To a certain extent, every day I was vulnerable,” he told Shelburne. “You’re always dealing with fear, with something in your imagination. Something that you think can happen. But you just say, ‘I don’t know if I can do that. But I’ll give it a try.'”

Lakers Notes: Kuzma, LeBron, Howard, KCP

It’s too early to declare that Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma can’t be effective alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, writes Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. He notes that Kuzma missed training camp because of a foot injury he suffered with Team USA and didn’t get a chance to develop chemistry with his All-Star teammates. Kuzma has been mentioned as a possible trade option, but coach Frank Vogel says his value to the team is increasing.

“His rhythm is growing, with our offense, with his new teammates, with the defensive schemes,” Vogel said. “All those things when they change frequently for a young player, it can be a challenge. But I think he is coming around … he has got to make the right plays. Sometimes that means you don’t take as many shots because the defense is rotating to you or double teaming you. That’s something we preach to the whole team … it’s not different with Kyle. Some nights he is going to facilitate more, some nights he is going to be the recipient more.”

Mannix believes the Lakers will decide to keep Kuzma and hope he becomes a consistent third scoring option. He points out that Kuzma is only 24 and is trying to find his role on a team that has undergone considerable changes in the last two offseasons.

There’s more Lakers news to pass along:

  • After James passed Kobe Bryant last night to move into third place on the career scoring list, the all-time record now seems attainable, states Ben Golliver of The Washington Post. James remains at the top of his game at age 35 and is averaging more than 25 PPG for the 16th straight season. He needs 4,733 points to catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which would mean averaging about 20 PPG for three more years.
  • Sean Deveney of Heavy examines whether the Lakers are willing to pay Dwight Howard enough to keep him when he becomes a free agent this summer. A rival executive tells Deveney that Howard should be able to demand “a good part” of L.A.’s $9.7MM mid-level exception. “I am very happy here,” Howard said of L.A. “I like being here, I am having fun being here. I don’t know what is going to happen in the future, but I know I can’t think about that or focus on it. I am just focused on being here.”
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has overcome a rough start to become an important contributor, writes Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register. He has also quieted the boos at Staples Center that were frequent when his shot was misfiring early in the season. “He trusts his talent,” assistant coach Jason Kidd said. “He’s done what we’ve asked him to do, from coming off the bench to starting, to coming off again. That’s a true pro.”

Pacific Notes: Kings, Lakers, Saric, Suns

Appearing in their first game as members of the Kings on Wednesday, Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver were part of the team’s sixth consecutive loss and 15th in the last 18 games. While Sacramento’s playoff chances appear to be slipping away, the two newcomers remain optimistic that they can help turn things around.

“Me and Kent both feel exactly the same way — it’s not unfixable,” Tolliver said this week upon joining the Kings, according to Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. “It’s not something where we feel, ‘Aw, crap, we’re just gonna have to ride it out.’ We really feel we have an opportunity to do something with the guys we have.”

The Kings are now 5.5 games back of the No. 8 seed in the West, but Bazemore isn’t convinced that deficit is insurmountable, as Anderson relays: “You win two or three games in a row, you finish strong going into the (All-Star) break and you have plenty of time to make up that slack. This league is about getting hot at the right time.”

Despite the disappointing stretch, the Kings have no changes planned for their coaching staff or management group, according to James Ham of NBC Sports California, who tweets that the club will need to work things out with the current group in place.

Let’s round up a few more items from around the Pacific…

  • Asked by ESPN’s Dave McMenamin (Twitter link) if the Lakers need one more piece to cement their place as a championship contender, LeBron James declined to lobby for an upgrade. We have enough right now,” he replied.
  • As a result of starting 41 games this season for the Suns, Dario Saric has met the starter criteria and will be eligible a slightly higher qualifying offer if the team makes him a restricted free agent this summer, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. A former 12th overall pick, Saric would have been in line for a $4.79MM QO, but it’ll now be worth $5.09MM, the equivalent of a QO for the ninth overall pick.
  • Suns head coach Monty Williams and star Devin Booker expressed enthusiasm about NFL receiver Larry Fitzgerald joining the club’s ownership group, as Brendon Kleen of Forbes.com writes. “The level of credibility of our franchise continues to go up,” Williams said. “When someone like Larry partners and pours his money into it, it says a lot about who we are and who we’re trying to be.”

Pacific Notes: Warriors, Kawhi, LeBron, Lakers

Despite injuries draining the Warriors’ chances of competing for a title this season, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have done their best to maintain the uplifting atmosphere the franchise has generated in recent years, writes Mark Medina of USA Today.

Curry last played on October 30 and is expected to miss several more weeks due to a broken left hand, with Thompson still likely to miss the rest of season rehabbing from a torn ACL. Both players have been seen on the sidelines giving advice and firing up teammates despite their injuries.

“They’re just supportive with their antics and are goofy,” teammate Omari Spellman said, as relayed by Medina. “They’re trying to keep it uplifting and loose instead of it being so hectic and chaotic. It’s definitely appreciated that the older guys are taking the time to talk to us younger guys.”

The Warriors have also missed D’Angelo Russell, Draymond Green, Willie Cauley-Stein and others periodically this season, owning the league’s second-worst record at 9-31. Nonetheless, Golden State still sports one of the league’s most formidable cores when healthy, especially when coupled with the positive atmosphere that comes with it.

“That’s what our team has been in the last five years, in terms of taking a lot of joy out of a game and joy in each other’s accomplishments,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “When you see Steph jumping around on the sidelines when one of these young guys is doing something well, it’s a reminder that the foundation has been built.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division tonight:

  • Clippers coach Doc Rivers believes Kawhi Leonard‘s health is trending upwards, and the 2019 NBA Finals MVP agrees, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN writes. “You know, he’s been doing it a lot lately,” Rivers said. “I think he is in a far better place now than he was in Game 1 [of the regular season], let’s just put it like that. You can see it with him, you can see it in the practices, it’s just going up. You can feel it, you can see it, he has a better thrust now. And it’s good, it has been really good to see.”
  • Lakers star LeBron James passed Michael Jordan for fourth in career field goals made, converting a layup in the first quarter of Friday’s game to reach 12,192 total makes, Dave McMenamin of ESPN details. James passed Jordan in makes on 324 fewer attempts, McMenamin notes. “Any time you’re in a marathon and you’re able to have feats throughout that marathon, I think it’s just pretty cool to be linked with the greats,” James said postgame. “You said the name Michael Jordan; it just means so much to me. Any time I’m linked with his name, with his greatness and what he was able to do with the game. Hopefully, I continue to make him and all the other greats proud. Any time I’m linked with them. Hopefully, I can continue to make my family and my fans proud, as well.”
  • The Lakers are willing to trade virtually anyone to construct a championship-caliber roster this season, Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times writes. With an emphasis on “willing,” Los Angeles is unlikely to make any earth-shattering trades before the Feb. 6 trade deadline, as the team has started the season with an impressive 32-7 record.

Pacific Notes: Baynes, Ayton, LeBron, Poole, Holmes

The Suns started both Deandre Ayton and Aron Baynes together for the first time when the team hosted New York on Friday, testing a larger lineup which resulted in a 120-112 win, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic writes.

Suns general manager James Jones and head coach Monty Williams discussed the possibility on Thursday, Rankin notes, with the team sporting the same frontcourt against Memphis on Sunday.

“We’ve been having discussions about it,” Williams said. “James and I had a long talk (Thursday). I had been thinking about it, but James kind of pushed me in the corner on the phone and started talking about DA (Ayton) and his ability to not just dive, but pick-and-pop and do some things a lot of fours can do.”

Baynes finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and two assists in 29 minutes of work against the Knicks, with Ayton recording 15 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in 37 minutes. The coaching adjustment has drawn praise from many within the organization, including other players.

“I love it,” Suns wing Kelly Oubre Jr. said. “A lot of size. A lot of length, athleticism. You got athletes. You got strong, physical specimens like Aron Baynes. It’s just amazing we can switch up the lineups and still play the right way.”

After hosting Memphis on Sunday, Phoenix (14-21) will wrap up its five-game homestand with games against Sacramento on Tuesday, Orlando on Friday and Charlotte the following Sunday.

There’s more from the Pacific Division tonight:

  • LeBron James has remained at the center of the Lakers‘ revamped roster this season, Rod Beard of The Detroit News writes. The Lakers overhauled its roster by upgrading James’ supporting cast, pairing him with All-Star forward Anthony Davis and adding veterans such as Danny Green and Dwight Howard. “First and foremost, you have to be able to control the game from the mental aspect,” coach Frank Vogel said of James. “He was always able to do that as a young player — and particularly in his prime — but I think that’s boding well for him later in his career. Also, it’s the around-the-clock attention that he gives to his body just to make sure that he’s doing everything the right way to put his body in the best position to have success.”
  • Warriors rookie Jordan Poole rediscovered his shot during a recent stretch in the NBA G League, Marcus White of NBC Sports writes. Poole scored 24 points to help lead Santa Cruz to a 110-106 win over Salt Lake City on Friday, getting recalled by the team the following day. Poole has averaged seven points per game in 30 contests with Golden State this season, shooting just 26% from the floor and 24% from 3-point range.
  • Kings big man Richaun Holmes has acted as a much-needed anchor for the team this year, head coach Luke Walton said, as relayed by Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee. “He plays with that passion and fire that I think the Sacramento fan base really gets behind because he just leaves it all out there every time he plays,” Walton said, praising the 26-year-old. “He’s made a lot of winning plays for us. He’s having a heck of a year so far.” Holmes has averaged a career-high 13.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 29.6 minutes per game on the season.

Western Notes: Kuzma, LeBron, Gay, Spurs

A rejuvenated Kyle Kuzma helped the Lakers defeat the Blazers 128-120 on Saturday, with the 24-year-old finally healthy and back to leading the team’s bench unit, Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com writes.

Kuzma missed five straight games this month due to a lingering left ankle injury, officially returning to the lineup one week ago in Denver.

“I’m just healthy now,” Kuzma said, as relayed by McMenamin. “I’m confident in my body. I took a little bit of time off, sitting out for five games and really just self-collected what I needed to do and got it done.”

Kuzma scored 20 first-half points against Portland and finished with 24 on the night, proving his worth on 9-for-17 shooting off the bench. He’ll likely be viewed as Los Angeles’ third-leading scorer going forward, naturally behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“I’m just being in attack mode at all times,” Kuzma said. “Being the third option, you don’t have the luxury of taking it easy sometimes, so just being in attack mode.”

The Lakers broke a four-game losing streak by beating Portland, bringing their record to 25-7 on the season. They’ll begin a five-game homestand by hosting Dallas on Sunday, followed by Phoenix, New Orleans, Detroit and New York.

Here are some other notes from the Western Conference:

  • Lakers star LeBron James has received the honor of being named The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Decade, joining a list that already includes Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky and Arnold Palmer, as relayed by ESPN.com. “You add another 10 years of learning and adversity, pitfalls, good, great, bad, and any smart person who wants to grow will learn from all those experiences,” James told the AP. “A decade ago, I just turned 25. I’m about to be 35 [on Monday], and I’m just in a better [place] in my life and have a better understanding of what I want to get out of life.”
  • Spurs forward Rudy Gay plans to continue firing away from three-point territory, doing whatever it takes to help the team win this season, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News writes. “We are just trying to figure out how we can help the team and right now it is with three-point shooting,” Gay said of himself and teammate LaMarcus Aldridge. Gay tallied 16 points in 20 minutes against Detroit on Saturday, connecting on 4-of-7 attempts from deep.
  • The Spurs are ready for a “new season” in 2020, wiping the slate clean and shifting their focus to obtaining a playoff seed this spring, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News writes. San Antonio has the ninth-best record in the Western Conference at 13-18, winning six of its last 10 games.

Kyle Kuzma Distances Himself From Anti-LeBron Comments

In the words of Omar Little: “If you come at the king, you best not miss.” Likely omitted from the famous The Wire quote is if someone associated with you comes at the king, you best distance yourself from said person, which is what Kyle Kuzma is currently doing.

Earlier this week, Kuzma’s personal trainer posted an Instagram story criticizing LeBron James. Some may have assumed that Kuzma shared those sentiments, but that is not the case, as Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times relays.

“I just told him that I can’t control what another man says,” Kuzma said. “Obviously I don’t feel that way. Everybody knows that me and LeBron have a great relationship, and left it at that. Can’t control another man’s mouth and what they say, so we left it at that.”

Kuzma’s trainer raved about Kawhi Leonard‘s skillset in comparison to LeBron’s after the Clippers took down the Lakers on Christmas day. Kuzma had then tweeted “call a spade a spade,” and if you thought that now-deleted tweet was related to his trainer’s comment, then the 24-year-old power forward would like to clarify.

“No correlation,” Kuzma said. “I didn’t even see what he said at first. Obviously you guys see, I tweet things all the time. So definitely not about that.”

James, who is nursing a groin injury, isn’t overly concerned about the comments, as lions don’t concern themselves with the opinion of sheep.

“I really don’t care for someone’s trainer or whatever the case may be,” James said. “Everyone can have their own opinion. And any time someone wants to get some notoriety they can throw my name in and people are going to pick it up. That’s why you’re asking me about it because my name was in it.

“I’ve never met the guy, I don’t know the guy, I could care less about the guy. Whatever the case may be. I wish him the best.”

Injury Updates: Fox, Bagley, James, Looney, Washington, Winslow

The Kings offered some good news on guard De’Aaron Fox‘s latest ailment, according to a team press release. Fox left Thursday’s game in the first quarter against Minnesota with back spasms. A precautionary MRI revealed no structural damage and he will be listed as day-to-day. Big man Marvin Bagley III, who also made an early departure on Thursday, will have his left foot evaluated by a specialist Saturday.

We have more injury-related news:

  • Lakers star LeBron James thought he’d miss some time after getting injured on Christmas Day but that may not be the case, according to an ESPN report. James has a groin contusion and is listed as questionable to play against Portland on Saturday.
  • Big man Kevon Looney will miss the Warriors’ games this weekend with abdominal soreness, Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area reports. Looney has played just 10 games this season, mainly due to a hamstring issue.
  • Hornets rookie forward PJ Washington is listed as probable to play on Friday, the team’s PR department tweets. Washington suffered a fracture of his fifth finger on his right hand during a game against Chicago on December 13.
  • The injury to Justise Winslow‘s back is now listed as a bone bruise rather than a strain, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel tweets. The Heat’s point forward has not played since December 6.

Lakers Urging LeBron To Sit Out Until Fully Healthy

Lakers star LeBron James has been dealing with a nagging groin injury and he aggravated the ailment during a collision with Patrick Beverley in Wednesday’s contest.

“I felt healthy going into the game,” James said after the game. “I got kneed in the groin taking a charge from Pat Bev, and it kind of set me right back to where I was five days ago.”

James could miss time with the injury and several members of the organization have approached the four-time MVP, urging him to sit out until he is fully recovered, Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com reports. James missed his first game of the season earlier this week as he was nursing the groin injury as well as  a muscle strain in his rib cage.

James has repeatedly rejected the notion of load management, McMenamin writes. The team has an upcoming back-to-back (at Portland; vs. Dallas), and it sounds like James isn’t going to sit out either game if he can help it.

“To be honest, I haven’t even thought about Portland just yet,” said James, who will turn 35 next week. “I’m always around the clock with my body, getting my treatment. If I’m feeling great, I’ll be in the lineup. If I’m feeling well, I’ll be in the lineup…We’ll see what happens.”

Injury Updates: LeBron, AD, Doncic, Hayward, Gordon

A handful of the NBA’s Christmas Day games have lost some of their luster due to injuries, but that shouldn’t be the case for the league’s marquee December 25 matchup. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lakers stars LeBron James (groin) and Anthony Davis (knee) went through an impromptu practice today and are expected to play on Wednesday vs. the Clippers. James and Davis had been listed as questionable.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the league:

  • Mavericks star Luka Doncic was a full participant in practice today, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Doncic’s status for Thursday’s game remains up in the air, but “things are looking better and better,” according to head coach Rick Carlisle.
  • As expected, Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has been listed as probable for the team’s Christmas Day game vs. Toronto. Hayward, who has missed 16 of Boston’s last 19 games, said today that he has been dealing with a nerve issue in his foot, which he believes is related to his ankle injury from two years ago. He has received three cortisone shots and feels “a lot better” after the most recent one, as Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston relays.
  • Rockets guard Eric Gordon, out since November 11 with a knee injury, may be targeting Sunday’s game for his return, says Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Feigen also explores the ripple effect that Gordon’s return will have on Houston’s rotation.
  • Magic guard Michael Carter-Williams has made good progress in his recovery from a shoulder injury and is hopeful he won’t miss much time, writes John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com.