1. Sitting Makes No Sense To Kobe
Kobe Bryant knows what people are saying.
He knows what kinds of questions he's going to get every night from the media pests.
He hears it all and, as always, refuses to listen.
"If I can walk, I'm playin'," Bryant said late Wednesday night, hobbling down the hallway at American Airlines Center at a strained post-game speed more commonly associated with his brittle coach.
"You know that."
Even walking is a chore for No. 24 these days, but Bryant had zero trouble convincing Phil Jackson to let him play against the Mavs less than 24 hours after back spasms knocked Kobe out of the previous night's loss at San Antonio.
He's been struggling for weeks with a mangled index finger on his shooting hand and has suddenly been forced to start stealing from Steve Nash's playbook, as seen in Dallas when Bryant spent the entire second quarter laid out on towels near the Lakers' bench. Yet he reacts with Raja Bell-level "I don't know this kid" indignation when someone has the temerity to ask: Why not just take a week or two off to let your body heal for the long run?
"Why would I want to do that?" Bryant says.
Take time off for the long run? Even after he woke up at 5 a.m. to spend several hours getting his back worked on leading up to tipoff in Dallas, Bryant wouldn't take the electric-cart ride offered to take him back to the team bus. He logged 35 labored minutes in L.A.'s best win of the season, which he naturally capped with a clutch elbow jumper and two huge defensive plays in crunch time in spite of his weakened state, then insisted that his history of playing through injuries justifies his right to ignore conventional wisdom after his back seized up in San Antonio.
"You can go right down the line," Bryant said. "I've played through a bruised ulnar nerve on my elbow when my arm went numb. This finger. I had a groin pull my groin was the size of a softball. But I played through that. I had a hamstring pull and I played through that.
"I've had all this stuff and played through it. It just seems simple to me."
To me it seems like the sort of needless risk that only adds to the list of Lakers vulnerabilities detailed by our own John Hollinger earlier this week. The way Ron Artest has been fitting in, serious injury would appear to have supplanted the prospect of clubhouse implosion as the No. 1 threat to the Lakers' status as monstrous favorites to represent the West in a third successive NBA Finals.
But Bryant gets an uncommon amount of latitude from Jackson and longtime Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti, even after he limped through a 28-for-88 shooting stretch in the three games before his back went out against the Spurs.
He hasn't a missed a regular-season game through injury since an ankle sprain ruled him out against Atlanta on Dec. 8, 2006 and has somehow convinced his bosses that he can hurt the Lakers' psyche more by suddenly turning cautious.
It's also easier to scoff at the concerns of panicky outsiders after you've just won a championship doing it your way. Lamar Odom hit me with the same dismissive tone, insisting that Kobe can will himself through his growing assortment of health worries.
"I always tell people that if Kobe was 6-2, he'd be the best point guard in the game," Odom said. "If he was 6-9, he'd be the best power forward. If he was 7-1, best center.
"He'll be all right. This [run of ailments] is just something that's going to pass."
You can't tell the Lakers otherwise.
They've made it through a half-season with Artest largely without incident -- aside from Artest's mysterious fall at home after the Christmas Day loss to Cleveland -- and insist that the Artest skeptics will never understand the sway of the Lakers' culture.
"It can't go wrong here," Odom said of Artest. "It can't go wrong here because of the strong personalities we have in this locker room. Derek [Fisher], Pau, Kobe, myself. [Trouble] won't happen here."
Odom did acknowledge that the Lakers have been just so-so on the road, benefited greatly from a home-heavy schedule in the first six weeks and concedes that L.A. -- with Gasol having missed 17 of the first 39 games and without much consistency from the bench -- hasn't been as dominant as some pundits predicted. However
"I would definitely agree with all that," Odom said, "and we've got the best record in the NBA."
Bryant then proceeded to take issue with the idea that the recent report from the New York Post's Peter Vecsey about a potential Andrew Bynum-for-Chris Bosh swap will send young 'Drew into one of his funks -- "I won't let that happen, either," Kobe says -- before finally finding some humor in a question about his own future.
The 31-year-old vowed recently not to discuss his ongoing talks with the Lakers toward a contract extension because he was determined to "keep my business behind closed doors." So he's not taking questions about a reported stalemate in negotiations on some of the finer contract details such as his payment schedule and his no-trade clause even though the sides have essentially agreed on max money for the longest allowable extension of three more seasons. Or how he feels about Gasol getting an extension first and those 17 games Gasol has missed because of hamstrings.
The volume on Bryant's laughter, when asked as he closed in on the waiting bus if he still expects to retire a Laker, would bring some comfort to his fervent followers in Lakerland if they could have heard it.
"Highly probable," Kobe said, cackling.
2. Next Stop, Magic Kingdom?
It's widely assumed that Gilbert Arenas will never play another game for the Washington Wizards, even if no one seems quite sure yet how soon or by what means Arenas and the Wiz will ultimately part ways.
So it's also natural to start wondering which teams out there might be interested in Arenas when the 28-year-old is finished meeting all the sentencing requirements stemming from his felony gun-possession charge and receives his eventual clearance to return to work from NBA commissioner David Stern.
Will Arenas manage to avoid jail time when he's sentenced March 26? Are the growing whispers true about the Wiz -- fearing they don't have a strong enough case -- backing off the idea of trying to void Arenas' contract? How much longer will Arenas remain suspended by the league? Can Washington realistically find a trade partner or negotiate a buyout of Arenas' contract when it still owes him $80.2 million over the four seasons after this season?
For all the above unknowns in circulation, here's something definitive I've heard from three separate folks close to the situation: Arenas would love to land with the Orlando Magic when this ordeal is over.
I've also been led to believe that Orlando will give the matter strong consideration whenever Arenas becomes available, whether or not that happens before next season.
Sources told ESPN.com that Magic general manager Otis Smith, who was part of Golden State's brain trust when the Warriors drafted Arenas as a second-rounder in 2001, continues to be one of Arenas' closest confidantes in the league.
• For the Stein blog entry, click here.
3. Boozer News
Using Drew Gooden's partially guaranteed contract and the two players Dallas wound up trading to the New Jersey Nets days later -- Kris Humphries and Shawne Williams -- the Mavs could have assembled a package of contracts high enough to reach the salary range of Carlos Boozer's $12.3 million expiring contract to make the math work in a Boozer trade but low enough to net an initial savings of $2.5 million for the Jazz.
Waiving Gooden by Jan. 6 -- which was the last day he could be released and still clear waivers -- would have then sliced another $2.6 million from Utah's payroll to essentially take the Jazz out of tax territory. It's believed that the Mavericks also would have been prepared to throw in some cash to help offset the $3.2 million due to Humphries next season.
The Jazz, though, have been telling teams for months that they won't give Boozer away. A recent slump that dragged their record to 19-17 before last Saturday's thumping win over the Mavs in Dallas apparently hasn't changed that stance.
As noted in this cyberspace when the Jazz dealt Eric Maynor and retirement-bound Matt Harpring to the Thunder in December -- which sliced Utah's luxury-tax bill this season from $12.6 million to a much more manageable $4.8 million -- Utah set itself up to be much choosier when such attempts to steal Boozer inevitably rolled in.
Since the summer we've heard repeatedly that the Jazz want at least one keeper in return (in addition to payroll relief) if they're going to consent to a Boozer deal. And that was when their luxury-tax bill was going to approach $13 million.
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported Monday night that Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is hoping any decision about Boozer's future is put off until free agency starts July 1.
Sloan's superiors might ultimately decide they want to move Boozer before the Feb. 18 trading deadline, but they certainly don't have to. Instead they might deem a tax payment in July in the $5 million range -- even though that's way more tax than the Jazz want to pay -- to be a one-season hit they can absorb to let the current group finish the season.
• For the Stein blog entry, click here.
4. Blake By The Numbers
With an assist to our man Pete Newmann in ESPN Research, we try to put Blake Griffin's forthcoming season-ending knee surgery into some numerical/historical perspective:
1: Since 1976, only one player drafted by the Clippers' franchise -- starting with the final three drafts conducted by my beloved Buffalo Braves before the franchise relocated to San Diego -- has made it to the All-Star Game as a Clipper. That would be Danny Manning, who earned All-Star status with the Clips in 1993 and 1994.
4: Griffin is just the fourth player in the common draft era (since 1966) to miss his entire first season in the NBA after being drafted. The only others are Greg Oden (who sat out the 2007-08 season with a knee injury), David Robinson (who missed the 1987-88 season because of his naval commitment) and David Thompson (who went directly to the ABA in 1975-76).
3: Griffin is the third player selected No. 1 overall by the Clippers, following Michael Olowokandi (1998) and Manning (1988).
2: The Clippers have had two winning seasons in the last 30 years (2005-06 and 1991-92).
1: They've won one playoff series since 1976, ousting Denver in the first round in 2006 before losing a second-round series to Phoenix in seven games.
29: The Clips have made 29 first-round picks since 1980.
26: Manning played only 26 games as a rookie in 1988-89 because of a knee injury.
8.3: Olowokandi's career scoring average of 8.3 points per game is the third-lowest ever for any No. 1 overall pick.
1: Griffin is the first No. 1 overall selection out of Oklahoma in school history. The late Wayman Tisdale was drafted No. 2 overall in 1985; Eduardo Najera (2000 draft) was the last Sooner drafted before Griffin.
"I try not to. I try not to. It'll probably be over before I want it to be."
Spurs forward Tim Duncan, when asked if he's given much thought to how much longer he wants to keep playing.
The response was predictably humble, but don't listen to him. Even though he's playing these days with a brace on his left knee that's too big to miss, Duncan has been the one source of dependability for the Spurs, who haven't been able to follow up their splashy offseason with a convincing start to the new season.
Tuesday's victory over the Lakers -- who were without the injured Pau Gasol and finished the evening without Kobe Bryant, too -- was just the Spurs' fifth in 15 games this season against teams with records of .500 or better. Creaky starts to the season for Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, meanwhile, have led to the first audible whispers suggesting Duncan won't be forever flanked by his familiar sidekicks.
Ginobili is in a contract year and has made a hesitant return from offseason ankle surgery amid the uncertainty about his future. Parker has complained of foot soreness and fatigue after another long summer with France's national team and stunningly popped up in trade speculation this week in a reported bid for New Orleans' Chris Paul.
All of the above has apparently made preserving Duncan's health even more of a priority to Gregg Popovich, judging by Pop's decision to force him to skip the second half of a back-to-back in Oklahoma City after the L.A. game. Duncan's coach also revealed that night that he plans to make him sit out portions of back-to-backs more than the Spurs "ever have before" to see if that strategy "pays dividends come playoff time."
After his 25 points against the Lakers, Duncan enters the weekend just 69 points shy of 20,000. He'll soon become the 35th player in league history to get there after Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki did so Wednesday night.
"It means I've been playing a long time," Duncan told San Antonio reporters when asked about the milestone. "It means I'm old. It means I'm closer to the end than to the beginning. It means a lot of things that are negative more than positive."
We repeat: Don't listen to him. Duncan is the least of the Spurs' concerns.
Blake Griffin won't be seen with a ball in his hands for four to six months thanks to season-ending knee surgery. (See Box 4.)
7.Decisions, Decisions In Cambyland
What to do with Marcus Camby?
The Clippers have maintained internally that Camby's $9.2 million expiring contract is the most attractive expiring contract in the league because the 35-year-old is still so effective and because so many contending teams -- such as Dallas, San Antonio, Denver and Portland -- have either chased him hard in the past or want another big man for the postseason.
The Clips, though, have resisted all trade interest in Camby to date -- most recently from Washington and a potential Caron Butler-for-Camby swap -- in part because they wanted to get a firm read on the timetable for Griffin's comeback as well a look at Griffin and Camby playing together before making such a big decision. So much for the latter luxury.
One source with knowledge of the Clippers' thinking asserted Wednesday that knowing now that Griffin is not coming back this season makes it more likely that L.A. keeps Camby for the rest of the season to continue his frontcourt partnership with Chris Kaman and rely on Camby to fill the Griffin void.
Yet you can be sure that teams will keep calling the Clips to test their determination to keep Camby . . . just like last season. It emerged after the deadline passed last February that both Portland and San Antonio engaged in serious Camby talks with the Clips on deadline day before L.A. ultimately walked away from both offers.
To read the complete TrueHoop entry, click here.
8.Hittin' The Skids
The good news: Deeee-troit finally found a way to win a bas-ket-ball game this week by pulling out a 99-90 win in Washington over the unraveling Wizards to halt a run of 13 consecutive defeats.
The bad news: Besides its ongoing need for a big man who can score and a dependable set-up man to complement its array of scoring guards, Detroit still managed to make some history with its skid even though it was not the longest losing streak in franchise history.
The Pistons actually lost 14 games in a row in both the 1979-80 and 1993-94 seasons, but this streak will be remembered because it is the NBA's fifth this season spanning at least 10 games.
Which makes 2009-10 only the second season in league annals to produce five separate double-digit losing streaks by this point in January, according to our colleagues from the Elias Sports Bureau. There were five such losing streaks by Jan. 9 in 1997-98.
Double-Digit Losing Streaks This Season
|18||Nets||Oct. 28-Dec. 2|
|15||Wolves||Oct. 30-Nov. 27|
|13||Pistons||Dec. 15-Jan. 11|
|12||76ers||Nov. 20-Dec. 11|
|10||Nets||Dec. 9-Dec. 28|
9. Chatter Box
Marc Stein, NBA
In his weekly visit with the NBA on ESPN Radio crew, Marc Stein and host Marc Kestecher discuss the latest with Gilbert Arenas, Washington's trade intentions with Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison and the health concerns in Los Angeles facing both the Clippers (Blake Griffin) and Lakers (Kobe Bryant).
10. Alternative Listening
Even though Kobe Bryant himself admitted to NBA.com this week that he couldn't nominate anyone other than Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki as the best international player in league history -- not even Lakers teammate Pau Gasol -- Lakers alumnus and ESPN Radio 710 AM host Mychal Thompson insisted on arguing the point in this chat with ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
To hear the interview, click here.