Kobe Bryant

Mavericks Notes: Exum, Doncic, Lively, Kleber, Green

Dante Exum credits pre-draft advice he received from Kobe Bryant for helping him withstand the many challenges of his career, writes Mark Medina of Sportskeeda. Exum’s NBA path was derailed by numerous injuries and he spent two seasons playing in Europe before signing with the Mavericks this summer.

“There will be a lot of distractions off the court,” Exum said Bryant told him. “It’s about how you handle those and focus on the court. That’s what’s going to define my career.”

The Australian guard was projected to be a star when Utah selected him with the fifth pick in the 2014 draft. However, his second season was wiped out completely by a torn ACL, and after appearing in 66 games in his third year, he hasn’t been available for more than 42 in a season since then. He had brief stops in Cleveland and Houston, and it appeared his NBA career might be over when he left the league after the 2020/21 season. But Exum reestablished himself in Spain and Serbia and got another chance with Dallas.

“Definitely through the injuries, I stayed motivated to stay that way,” Exum said, referring to Bryant’s advice. “A lot of days were hard. I didn’t want to be there [for rehab]. I felt like life was unfair. But it’s something I have to go through and something that I have to keep pushing through. It made me mentally strong.”

There’s more on the Mavericks:

  • Luka Doncic admitted to being exhausted after Saturday’s game, and it wasn’t just because he played 46 minutes and put up incredible numbers with 36 points, 15 rebounds and 18 assists, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Doncic became a father for the first time this week and only got four or five hours of sleep before the game. The team considered giving him a night off, but he insisted on playing because Kyrie Irving, Tim Hardaway Jr. and several other rotation players were already out of action. “It was the happiest day of my life with the baby, but then today’s game was a big roller coaster too,” said Doncic, who led a comeback that included a 30-0 run but fell short. “I’m so sad we didn’t win this game, but man, we gave a big, big effort.”
  • Rookie center Dereck Lively II has been a major reason for the Mavericks’ early-season success, notes John Hollinger of The Athletic. Coaches have been urging Lively to take a larger role in the offense, Hollinger adds, and he responded by making all nine of his shots from the field Saturday, scoring 20 points to go with 16 rebounds and seven blocks.
  • Maxi Kleber‘s absence with a dislocated toe appears as though it will last for a while longer, as coach Jason Kidd tells Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News that Kleber still hasn’t been cleared to start running (Twitter link). Kidd also expressed concern that Josh Green‘s elbow injury could be a long-term concern.

Pacific Notes: Ayton, Curry, Paul, Kobe, Clippers

Suns center Deandre Ayton was the subject of trade rumors earlier this offseason and has faced criticism for his inconsistent play. He spoke last month about wanting to “change the narrative of what people think about me.”

Helping the Bahamas win a pre-qualifying tournament for the 2024 Olympics was a good start, and the former No. 1 overall pick seems to have rediscovered his joy for basketball while representing his home country, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic (subscriber link).

The best teammates I’ve ever been around on and off the court,” Ayton said last weekend after defeating Argentina in the final. “Just understanding how it feels to fight for your country and everybody on the same mission. It was a phenomenal feeling.”

Here’s more from the Pacific:

  • Mark Medina of Sportskeeda recently spoke to Stephen Curry‘s trainer, Brandon Payne, about a number of topics, including Curry’s offseason work with new Warriors addition Chris Paul. “It was great,” Payne said. “They are two guys that have the same mindset: ‘We’re here to win, so let’s do it.’ I was very impressed with the instant chemistry those guys had. It was fun to watch. There was so much ball movement. For a pick-up basketball game, that was some of the most impressive ball movement I’ve ever seen.”
  • The Lakers will unveil a statue of the late Kobe Bryant outside Crypto.com Arena on February 8, 2024, tweets Khobi Price of The Southern California News Group. “Kobe Bryant was one of the most extraordinary athletes of all time, and one of the most iconic individuals in the history of Los Angeles,” said Lakers governor Jeanie Buss. “There is no better place for Kobe to honored with a statue than here, at the center of our city, where everyone can celebrate him and be inspired by his incredible achievements.” The Hall-of-Fame shooting guard spent all 20 of his NBA seasons with the Lakers, making 15 All-NBA appearances and winning five championships.
  • With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George possibly entering the final year of their respective contracts (both have player options for 2024/25), Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports wonders if the Clippers‘ title window has already closed. As Goodwill writes, Leonard and George have dealt with numerous injuries during their four years in L.A., so it’s hard to envision the Clippers being open to lucrative long-term extensions with the star wings.

And-Ones: Molinar, All-Defense, Most Influential Players, Collison

Mississippi State guard Iverson Molinar announced on Twitter today that he is declaring for the 2022 NBA draft while maintaining his NCAA eligibility.

Molinar, who recently completed his junior season with the Bulldogs, led the team in both points (17.5) and assists (3.6) per game in 2021/22. He also chipped in 3.1 RPG and 1.2 SPG in 34 appearances (34.1 MPG).

Although he showed the ability to hit outside shots during his first two college seasons (.419 3PT%), Molinar’s three-point percentage dropped to just 25.2% this season. Still, ESPN ranks him at the No. 64 player on its big board for 2022, so he has a chance to be a second-rounder if he keeps his name in the draft.

Here are a few more odds and ends from across the basketball world:

  • Using a series of new advanced metrics, Kirk Goldsberry of ESPN.com (Insider link) identifies the top candidates for the NBA’s All-Defensive teams for 2021/22. Goldsberry’s list includes a pair of Celtics (Marcus Smart and Robert Williams), two recent Defensive Players of the Year (Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo), and a rookie (Herb Jones), among others.
  • Michael Scotto of HoopsHype polled 52 current and former NBA players, asking them to name the five most influential players in league history. Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, and Magic Johnson were the leading vote-getters, according to Scotto, who also shared the rest of the top 10 and outlined which other players received votes.
  • As expected, the South Bay Lakers have officially added veteran guard Darren Collison to their roster (Twitter link). A report earlier this week indicated that Collison was joining Los Angeles’ G League affiliate.

Latest On Lakers: Jackson, Buss, Pelinka, James, Bryant, Westbrook, Vogel

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson has been in frequent contact with owner Jeanie Buss regarding team matters all season long, according to The Athletic’s Bill Oram and Sam Amick.

It’s uncertain if Jackson, Buss’ ex-fiance, will eventually take a formal role in the future. However, she has relied upon trusted members of her inner circle throughout the team’s tumultuous season and will continue to lean on them to map out the franchise’s offseason approach. Jackson has taken a particular interest in the what The Athletic duo describes as the often uncomfortable dynamics surrounding the Russell Westbrook situation.

It’s unlikely that there will be a change at the top of the team’s front office structure, according to Oram and Amick. GM Rob Pelinka still has Buss’ full support and trust. Kurt Rambis, who works alongside Pelinka as a senior basketball advisor, also remains a strong and trusted voice with the organization.

The story also delves into several other hot topics regarding the Lakers:

  • Among LeBron James‘ inner circle, there are already discussions about the roster and what can be done to fix it for next season. Buss is eager to maintain the trust of James and wants to keep her biggest star happy. The post-All-Star break meeting with James’ representative, super-agent Rich Paul, was aimed at keeping both sides on good terms and quelling any controversies regarding James’ future. Sources close to James insist he does not have issues with the team’s power structure, per Oram and Amick.
  • Kobe Bryant, who was represented by Pelinka, would have been offered a hands-on role in the front office by Buss if not for his untimely death.
  • Coach Frank Vogel will likely be fired unless the team makes a surprising postseason run, per Oram and Amick. However, no final decision has been made.
  • The coaching staff made an unsuccessful push for Westbrook to be traded, according to The Athletic’s duo, who also confirm reports that there’s a growing disconnect between the point guard and the staff, even though Vogel has kept him in the starting lineup.

Lakers Notes: LeBron, Caruso, Vogel, Magic, Augustin, Gabriel

LeBron James dropped 56 points on the Warriors Saturday night, leading the Lakers to a 124-116 win and ending a four-game losing streak, writes Jovan Buha of The Athletic. James shot 19-of-31 from the field, 6-of-11 from three, and 12-of-13 from the line while adding 10 rebounds and three assists in nearly 39 minutes of action.

The 56-point effort tied Trae Young‘s NBA season-high and is the most points LeBron has scored in a game for Los Angeles, Buha notes. James said he was just happy to get a win.

It’s funny, our guys were following me off the floor tonight going into the locker room and they asked me, ‘How does it feel to score 56?’” James said. “I said, ‘Right now, I don’t give a damn about the 56. I’m just happy we got a win.’ That’s just literally the first thing that came to my mind.”

James’ spectacular performance was historic for a couple other reasons, Buha writes. He passed Karl Malone for the most combined regular season and postseason minutes, and became just the fourth player to record 50-plus points in a game at age 37 or older, joining Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Jamal Crawford.

There’s really no words for it,” coach Frank Vogel said of James’ 56-point game. “An incredible performance by the best to ever do it, in my opinion, and as I’ve said.”

The Lakers have had an undeniably disappointing season, barely clinging to the No. 9 seed in the West with a 28-35 record, but James has been consistently great on offense. He’s now tied with Giannis Antetokounmpo for second in the league in scoring with 29.4 points per game, just a tenth of a point behind Joel Embiid‘s league-leading 29.5. It’s James’ highest scoring average since 2009/10.

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • A source tells Marc Stein of Substack that James was a leading supporter of Alex Caruso and badly wanted the Lakers to re-sign him, but the team declined to offer Caruso a contract comparable to the four-year, $37MM deal he received from the Bulls last summer due to luxury tax concerns. Caruso was having a strong season for Chicago, but has played just 28 games to this point and is currently sidelined with a fractured right wrist.
  • Appearing on NBA Today, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports (video link) that the Lakers haven’t moved on from Vogel due to long-term injuries to Anthony Davis and Kendrick Nunn, and more importantly the front office doesn’t think that replacing Vogel would make a difference in the team’s performance. “(The Lakers) would like to get through the rest of this season with Frank Vogel,” Wojnarowski said.
  • Prior to Saturday’s game, in an appearance on NBA Countdown (video link), Magic Johnson said the trade for Westbrook “could go down as the worst trade in Laker history” if L.A. is unable to advance past the play-in tournament.
  • D.J. Augustin and Wenyen Gabriel are eager to make an impact with their new club, according to Kyle Goon of The Southern California News Group. “I know they haven’t been playing up to everybody’s expectations, I would say,” Augustin said of the Lakers. “But it’s the NBA, and things happen. But we’re still in a good position where we can still have a chance. And that’s all you need in this league, is a chance.”

Nuggets Notes: Cousins, Malone, Barton, Gordon, Jokic

DeMarcus Cousins had a stellar game on Friday night for the Nuggets, putting up a season-high 31 points on 14 shots in just 24 minutes of action. Cousins also contributed nine rebounds, four assists and three steals in the team’s 116-101 win over the Rockets. Cousins started in place of reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, who was out with a non-COVID illness, as Mike Singer of The Denver Post relays.

Cousins said he was released by the Bucks earlier in the season due to a calf strain, giving Denver the opportunity to pick him up. Coach Michael Malone says he’s never lost faith in Cousins, even if others have. “Most people had given up on him,” Malone said after Friday’s game. “All you need is somebody to believe in you.”

Malone said Cousins lost eight-to-10 pounds after arriving in Denver, per Singer. Malone also said Cousins’ strong recent play could help lessen the load on Jokic, who’s having another MVP-caliber season. “He keeps on playing like this … you don’t have to run Nikola into the ground,” said Malone, who suggested the Nuggets might have the best center tandem in the NBA.

It’s very satisfying,” said Cousins when asked what it’s meant to him to take advantage of his latest stop. “It’s even a better feeling to have a coach that believes in you, an organization that believes in you.”

Here’s more from Denver:

  • Advice from his basketball idol Kobe Bryant helped Will Barton become the Nuggets’ all-time leader in three-point field goals, according to Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports. “Kobe told me, ‘If you get a jump shot, you’re going to be deadly,'” Barton said. “Once he told me I had talent and all I had to do was work on my jumper, it further solidified what I already thought about myself.” The former second-round pick struggled with his shot early in his career, but transformed himself into a solid marksman over the past eight seasons with Denver, making 36% of his 3-pointers. Barton set the franchise mark with his 769th trey in the team’s win over the Rockets on Friday, breaking a record held by J.R. Smith.
  • Aaron Gordon has developed impressive chemistry with Jokic, writes Singer in a separate article for The Denver Post. “Jok’s IQ is through the roof,” Gordon said. “He’s a basketball savant. Just genius. It’s great talking to him, understanding how he sees the game. How we can make it easier for him and where he needs us to be.” Gordon is taking advantage of Jokic’s elite passing by making smart cuts to the basket, leading to a career-best 51.7% from the field, including 60.6% on two-pointers. Gordon told Singer that he’s “seeing the game differently.” “Just angles,” he said. “Attacking angles. Making reads. I finally feel like I’m making better reads.”
  • Jokic gave a typically self-effacing reply regarding his conversations with Gordon, Singer relays in the same piece. “I don’t know the right answer,” said Jokic. “I’m just trying to help him. … I’m just telling him what I know. If that helps him, or not, I don’t know. I’m just trying to tell him what I see.” Singer notes that a quarter of Jokic’s assists this season have gone to Gordon, the highest mark on the team.

Lakers Notes: James, Davis, Pelinka, Identity

LeBron James needs to offer the Lakers a commitment before they decide what to do with him and the roster in general this offseason, according to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. James is eligible for a two-year extension after the season but otherwise would become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2023. If James is intent on returning to Cleveland, their trade options would be limited, similar to what happened in Brooklyn when James Harden expressed his desire to play in Philadelphia.

We have more on the Lakers:

  • Trading James is the Lakers’ only viable path to success in the coming years, according to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, who contends that LeBron’s trade value offers the greatest rewards for the lowest risk, since no team wants Russell Westbrook‘s contract and declining production while Anthony Davis presents major injury concerns for would-be suitors. James could be a worthwhile one-year rental for a top contender and the Lakers could acquire some badly needed young talent.
  • James has wielded more power within the Lakers than Kobe Bryant ever did, sources inside the organization told Bill Oram of The Athletic. James and agent Rich Paul are putting the squeeze on GM Rob Pelinka and the front office with tensions at an all-time high. The Lakers’ front office doesn’t want to squabble with James, Oram adds, and Pelinka has insisted internally that there are no hard feelings between the two sides.
  • The season has gone too far along and there’s too many deficiencies for the Lakers to establish a positive identity the rest of the way, scouts told Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.

Kyrie Irving Pushes For Kobe Bryant To Be NBA Logo

After advocating for the change on Instagram, Nets guard Kyrie Irving doubled down on his belief that legend Kobe Bryant should be depicted on the NBA logo.

“We want to set a standard and precedent, like this is excellence,” Irving told reporters, including ESPN’s Malika Andrews after a win over the Kings on Thursday. “Kobe Bryant. Logo. Yes. Needs to happen. I don’t care what anyone says.”

Ever since Bryant tragically perished in a helicopter crash in Jan. 2020 with his daughter Gianna and seven others, there has been a movement to put the Hall-of-Famer on the NBA logo.

As Andrews notes, a Change.org petition to make the Lakers legend the NBA logo, started after Bryant’s untimely death, has garnered over 3.2 million signatures. However, it remains unlikely that the logo, currently depicting basketball legend Jerry West, is changed anytime soon. There are several other high-profile names that would likely get consideration if the logo were to be changed.

For Irving, however, a change involving Bryant would be the ultimate honor of his legacy.

“He was the standard for our generation and he will continue on,” Irving said. “And I want that to be something in history that is changed forever. That our generation was part of that change. And, you know, if that means that I have to lead that forward and get the conversation going, then great. But I think he deserves it, I think his family deserves it, I think we deserve it as seeing greatness personified, as Mamba. And anyone that’s coming into the league should know that that’s the example that was set.”

2020 Hall Of Fame Ceremony To Be Delayed Until 2021

The 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony won’t take place this August, as initially planned. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ceremony will tentatively be pushed back to the spring of 2021, according to the chairman of the Hall’s board of governors, Jerry Colangelo (story via Jackie MacMullan of ESPN).

This year’s star-studded class of Hall of Fame inductees is headed by Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and the late Kobe Bryant. Former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, former college coach Eddie Sutton, longtime WNBA star Tamika Catchings, former FIBA and IOC executive Patrick Baumann, and veteran women’s basketball coaches Kim Mulkey and Barbara Stevens are also part of the 2020 class.

The induction ceremony for the nine new members of the Hall had been scheduled for the weekend of August 28-30, with proposed alternate dates of October 10-12. However, Colangelo tells MacMullan that those dates are “just not feasible” due to COVID-19’s impact on large gatherings.

“We’re definitely canceling,” Colangelo said to ESPN. “It’s going to have to be the first quarter of next year. We’ll meet in a couple of weeks and look at the options of how and when and where.”

Despite the delay, Colangelo made it clear that the Basketball Hall of Fame doesn’t intend to eventually merge the 2020 class with its 2021 class, which figures to be announced next spring — the plan is still to hold two separate ceremonies.

“We won’t be combining them,” Colangelo said. “The Class of 2020 is a very special class and deserves its own celebration.”

And-Ones: Game Ball, Mo Williams, Zion, Kobe

The NBA will be making a change to its on-court product starting in 2021/22 that figures to be felt by players — even if it’s hardly noticed by fans. According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the NBA’s long-standing relationship with Spalding is coming to an end, as the two sides have mutually agreed to part ways. The league has reached a deal with Wilson to produce the NBA’s official game ball, starting in ’21/22.

As Haynes details, the NBA has been using Spalding balls since 1983, though Wilson manufactured the league’s game balls before that. Wilson, which will also begin producing balls for the WNBA and G League, is already the official game ball of the NCAA tournament.

According to Haynes, the NBA and NBPA will have a significant amount of input on the new game ball, and the leather and product specifications will remain unchanged, which should go a long way toward creating a smooth transition from Spalding to Wilson.

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

  • Former NBA guard Mo Williams has been hired by Alabama State as the school’s new men’s basketball head coach, according to a press release from the program. Williams, who had previously been an assistant coach at California State University at Northridge (CSUN), had a 13-year NBA career, earning an All-Star spot in 2009 and a championship in 2016, his final season.
  • The legal battle between Pelicans forward Zion Williamson and his former marketing representative – Prime Sports Marketing president Gina Ford – took another interesting step forward this week, as Ford’s attorneys are pushing to get Williamson to admit he accepted unauthorized benefits at Duke. Dana O’Neil and Diamond Leung of The Athletic and Michael McCann of SI.com have shared informative breakdowns explaining what to make of the latest developments in the case.
  • The facility previously known as the Mamba Sports Academy is dropping the “Mamba” moniker, announcing that it will retire that part of the name and “raise it to the rafters” in honor of the late Kobe Bryant. After initially stating that the decision was made out of respect for Kobe’s legacy, Sports Academy later clarified that “it was a mutual agreement made in accordance with the wishes of (Bryant’s) estate.”