The In-Jury’s Out: Kobe Bryant & Derrick Rose

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Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose are two of the most exciting players the NBA has to offer. Kobe has been the face of the NBA for years, especially  after  Michael Jordan retired. Rose is a rising star in the place where Jordan made basketball relevant,  Chicago. However, these stars have been dealt tough obstacles to overcome in their careers with brutal injuries. Kobe, on the back end of his career, suffered a torn  Achilles injury at the end of last season. Rose, whose career is blossoming, tore his ACL in a playoff game two seasons ago and had to miss the entire 2012-13 season. Without these superstars, their teams are helpless and irrelevant. Without these superstars, the NBA is without two key franchises to its growing brand.

Two seasons ago Rose and the Bulls were positioned to challenge the Miami Heat when Rose injured himself in the first round of the playoffs against the 76ers. Last year, to the dismay of all NBA and Bulls fans, Rose sat out the entire year including the playoffs. The team still had Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, but no one ever could take it  seriously as a contender. The Bulls  even matched up against the Heat in the playoffs and stole Game 1 in Miami, before they proceeded to be eliminated. You know you have come to desperate measures when the most exciting guy on your team is 5 foot 7 and that’s being generous. Nate Robinson provided a spark for the Bulls, but a spark that size is not a good recipe for success.

With Rose returning this year, the excitement and expectations are back in Chicago. Through ten games, they are 6-4 and have handed the Pacers their only loss of the season. However, Rose has struggled a bit and seems rusty. This is nothing surprising, given the injury he endured, and he should become stronger as the season progresses along. Rose wasn’t built in a day. He has hit a game winning shot against the Knicks and made some explosive plays that would make Wyle E. Coyote say, “Wow! That’s explosive.” His athleticism is unprecedented for a point guard and his ability to attack the hoop is a spectacle to watch. The Heat and Pacers should take notice.rose2

Bryant tore his Achilles tendon last year, and then tore all hope from every Laker fan. Since the Kobe-Shaq era ended, there has arguably been no player more important to his team’s success then Bryant. He is the brains, heart and courage of the team as he leads his players down the purple and yellow brick road. Just like the Bulls last year, the Lakers — barely — made the playoffs, but no one could even consider picking them to advance without the Black Mamba. The San Antonio Spurs swept the Lakers like a pushbroom after a garage sale.  Dwight Howard is no Kobe, not even close.

Even with Dwight, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, the Lakers looked like a lottery team without Kobe. We all know how determined Kobe is to return quickly this year. He has been able to overcome injuries throughout his career like he was a Terminator Machine. Entering his 18th season, Kobe faces his most serious injury ever, and many experts out there are saying he is done and will never be the same. Maybe this is a reality Laker fans must face. Maybe not. The Laker organization has money saved up to rake in some top free agents next season.  Names like LeBron and Carmelo Anthony come to mind. Before this bridge gets crossed, it must be seen how Kobe plays when he returns. And his team desperately needs him.

The Lakers version of Robinson this year has been Steve Blake. Or as they call him, the “White Mamba.” The White Mamba has hit a game-winning three pointer on the road against theRockets this year, but more often than not, the Lakers have been mediocre and inconsistent. They have indeed shown glimpses of greatness from a bunch of young talent, but they seem to only play like this against lowly teams. Their leading scorer is averaging 13 points a game. Kobe can put that up in a quarter, maybe half a quarter.

The Los Angeles Lakers are very important to the NBA. Having won 16 titles, the NBA does well when the Lakers are doing well. The Lakers cannot do well without Kobe. It’s like watching the Dark Knight without seeing Batman in any of the movie. It is like trying to win in chess without your queen. Having a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich is not the same without the Peanut Butter. And the Lakers as just a jelly sandwich are going nowhere. Soggy. Kobe’s team needs him, and he needs his team. The Lakers and the NBA anxiously anticipate the Mamba’s return, and hope he can overcome the toughest injury out there to flourish again on the court.

Kobe BryantThe Lakers and Bulls are more than capable of challenging for a championship this year. Most would agree that Bulls roster is more primed for a playoff run, but if Lakers can get healthy, you never know. The West is very much up for grabs. The success of the Bulls and Lakers fortunately and unfortunately is highly dependent on one player. With  Rose, the Bulls have shown this year that they are a force to be reckoned with even a matador would be scared of. Without him, there is no optimism or chance in Chicago. In LA, a new era of mediocrity is moving in quickly, with Kobe  as the last hope to restore some order to Staples Center. The Lakers without Kobe are only a contender for a lottery pick.

It remains to be seen if the Bulls and Rose bloom throughout the year, prepping for a playoff run to challenge the Heat and Pacers. If Rose does not return to form, it will  surely be only a two-team race to the NBA Finals. The Lakers need to hang in there until Kobe gets back. Even at this stage of his career, I am very confident Kobe can resume playing at a high level. How high? This is the most important question of the year. The Lakers, the NBA and this NBA fan are hoping the Black Mamba has some venom left.

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Heat, Lakers & Quarterbacks, Oh My!

Lebron/Melo

Can anyone in the Eastern Conference knock off the almighty Miami Heat?

Sammy: Only one team can. And only one team will. And that is the red-hot New York Carmelos!

Tye: Carmelo’s playing great but he’s not LeBron. Melo can score but he can’t compare to LeBron on the defensive end. And JR Smith is nowhere near D-Wade’s level. The Knicks are like a poor man’s Heat.

LISound: The Heat will not be stopped, especially by a team in the Eastern Conference. LeBron has developed a killer instinct, and will stop at nothing to embarrass all of his critics from the last 10 years. Wade has been playing extremely well this season, but it has been overshadowed by LeBron’s dominance.

Sammy: No question LeBron is not a real human being. But the power inside game of the Knicks — especially the presence of Tyson Chandler — can (and will) cause problems for the driving game of James and Wade. Plus, it could come down to who makes more threes.

Tye: There’s no way in hell I bet against the Heat. LeBron had demonstrated he can do whatever is needed to win this year. The Knicks won 12 in a row. Miami more than doubled that with 27.

Long Island Sound: It will be hard for be Knicks’ inside game to be a problem when they get 5-10 shots a game. I don’t see a heat Eastern Conference playoff series going past six games.

Sammy: I’m more cognizant of the inside PRESENCE of Chandler on the defensive end. If he stays healthy he is a force, he will help with all the driving Lebron and Wade do.

Tye: He’ll help but it’s not going to be enough. If he tries to compete with LeBron and Wade driving, he’s going to pick up fouls early and be a quick out.

Long Island Sound: Gents, these are details that need to go right in a best-of-seven series. They won’t. Heat are going to roll the East.

Kobe

What is next for Kobe and the Lakers?

LISound: Bad time for all sports fans to lose such a star before the playoffs, but a positive of this would be for Dwight Howard to thrive and pave a future in LA.

Sammy: This is simultaneously a time for Laker fans to mourn the loss of a superstar and embrace a new one. Kobe’s injury, as a Laker fan, is incredibly tough to stomach. But can the inside-out approach of a Dwight-led Lakers work?

Tye: I personally like the idea of amnestying Kobe next year. The Lakers save big money and possibly improve the team. Kobe still gets paid and has the year off to recover, and then can come back on a cheap contract with a good roster to go for six.

LISound: No way Kobe will allow the Lakers to do that. What is best for the Lakers now is to start their identity with Dwight Howard. It’s needed for success now and in the future.

Sammy: And if Dwight bombs and the Spurs sweep the Lakers? Is his heart really into being “the man” in LA? Only the off-season will tell, but Kobe could conceivably be back by next season’s start. Is Dwight risking another hellish season? It starts (and ends) with Dwight, or else this is a team starting over.

Tye: If Kobe comes back next season then yes, using the amnesty won’t work. I think the team will be fine going through Dwight though. Diva Dwight gets his touches and the Lakers can still get good assets by trading Pau Gasol if they need more depth.

LISound: This entire Laker team looked good on NBA2K, but in reality their styles, especially with this coach, do not mesh well. As they near towards a first-round show down with the Spurs, not getting swept would be a positive at this point.

Sammy: The Lakers need to find a way to get some good young talent. They never do poorly enough to get a good draft pick and they rely heavily on free agency. It’s eventually going to stop being a good system.

Tye: I wouldn’t be surprised if they traded Pau to get a shooting guard and big man. The Lakers are one of the favorite free agent destinations and they’ll always be able sign players.

Quarterbacks

Would you draft a quarterback in the first round this year?

Sammy: This year, there is only one quarterback who I’d draft in the first round: Geno Smith. But only late in the first. Similar to how the Packers handled Mr. Rodgers.

Tye: Geno is worth a first rounder but if it was my team I wouldn’t want them to use it on him. There’s not a ton of separation between QB prospects and I’d be just as happy with a Matt Barkley or EJ Manuel along with using my first rounder for a different team need.

LISound: All the teams that need a QB are in the portion of the draft where it could be too much of a reach to pull the trigger, but if able to trade back; Geno Smith is well worth rolling the dice on. I view him very similar to Donovan McNabb. QB capable of running, but wants to throw.

Sammy: Are we sleeping on Matt Barkley? As a Raiders fan, I know to be wary of USC QBs (See Palmer, Carson and Leinart, Matt). But Barkley was a solid prospect before his injury and performance this year.

Tye: He was the unanimous number 1 pick before this year but he’s been pushed down to the second round by most teams. I watched him since I was a freshman at SC until now and I think that the team who gets him is getting a franchise QB for a steal.

LISound: Jake Locker was a steal too, right? Barkley needs to be drafted into a West Coast system and time to develop. USC QBs come in from college where they had a plethora of talent at that level, and are now looked to succeed throwing to a mix of talent at skill positions and less than 10 bubble screens a game. I’m not sleeping on Barkley, just napping until the third round.

Tye: Locker went eighth overall while Barkley is looking at the second round. A much safer pick for a team to take a risk on. I wouldn’t use my first rounder on him but I think a team in need of a quarterback that uses their first rounder for another need then drafts Barkley in the second could do much worse.

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Long Island Sound, Tye Masters & Sammy Scherr
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Lake Show vs. Lob City

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When you think of basketball in Los Angeles, you think of the purple and gold. The championships. Kareem and Magic. Kobe and Shaq. The glitz and the glamour. Jack Nicholson sitting courtside. Conventional wisdom indicates that there is just one basketball team that dominates the headlines in L.A. If you asked most natives, UCLA would probably be the second-most popular answer if you were playing Family Feud. However, for the first time since, well, ever, L.A. has two sheriffs in town now, with the rise of the L.A. Clippers.

The Los Angeles Clippers have been the laughing stock of the NBA for years, epitomizing how not to run a franchise. Conversely, the Lakers have been a model of excellence. No matter the year the motto is “championship or bust.” However, this year, it has become more and more evident that the tides are turning in Tinseltown.

Let’s first focus on each team’s players. The Lakers have superstars, but all are arguably past their prime. Kobe is still Kobe, but he has racked up more minutes than Andy Rooney with his fantastic career nearing its end. Dwight Howard has brought nothing but drama in his first year with the Lakers and his back injury raises major question marks for the future. Pau Gasol recently suffered a foot injury, which does not bode well for any 7-footer’s career, even if he is well connected to Dr. Scholls. Steve Nash missed the first part of the year with a leg injury, and seems to be a shell of himself in a Laker uniform. The only thing Nash can do to play defense these days is hope that his awful haircut will distract the league’s top point guards. Even with the former Ron Artest on the team, the Lakers season and future can be called anything but peaceful.

As for the Clippers, they have arguably the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul. He not only walks the walk on the court, but off the court he talks the talk. He is a leader, and he makes the players around him better.  Blake Griffin is the co-star for the Clips and he is the most exciting player in basketball. His dunks even make cops jealous. Jamal Crawford is easily the sixth man of the year, a bona-fide stud who brings an element of street ball to the court when he is in the game. Veterans such as Grant Hill, Lamar Odom and Chauncey Billups have chosen to play for this team because they thought it as their best opportunity to win a title. In years past, it would be like someone wanting to move to Seattle to get a better tan. Now the Clippers represent a team on the rise, full of promise for the future and a threat to take over as the new basketball team of Los Angeles.

In years past, the Clippers organization had to call businesses and fans for sponsorship and attendance. They practically had to rely on the league’s best opponents to help put butts in the seats for Clipper home games. These days, fans and sponsors are flocking to the Staples Center to be a part of the Clipper Magic. The Clipper stock is rising and everybody wants to buy a share. The Clippers have a better record, better team chemistry, and a better shot to win the title than the Lakers. However, it remains to be seen if they can win over the fans who look at L.A. as Laker Land.

The Lakers and Clippers play their home games in the same arena similar to two brothers who grow up living together in the same house. The Clippers have always been that younger brother who never gets any attention, while the Lakers have been the pride and joy of the Los Angeles family. The Lakers have all the awards, historic teams and players, and accolades to boot. The Clippers on the other hand don’t really have much to show in their trophy case.  However, it looks like the little brother is finally growing up.

The Lakers beat the Mavericks on Sunday and acted as if they had advanced to the NBA Finals. The Mavericks are under .500 and are in danger of not making the playoffs, much like the Lakers. Sad, but times are changing as well as the standards. The Lakers never used to celebrate moral victories. The Lakers never used to make news when they went on a three-game winning streak. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are making the Clippers a force to be reckoned with and they are not going away anytime soon. Lob City has arrived and they are the closest thing to Showtime since Magic Johnson ran the point. They are a better team and a more viable contender for a championship. Is this a sign for things to come? We will have to see. Whether this becomes true, it still will take a huge effort surpass the Lakers as the pulse of Los Angeles. The fact that this is even a discussion now represents a new era in and of itself.

 

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Paul Culley
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How the West was Won

I’m not a Laker fan nor do I claim to be on the Laker bandwagon. The only time I ever rooted for the Lakers was when my boy Shaquille O’Neal was Kazaaming the streets of LA with his sidekick Kobe Bryant.

Who will ever forget the alley oop that Kobe sent to Shaq  in Game 7 of the 2000 West Finals against the Blazers?! One of the best moments of my young life. Too bad Shaq and Kobe let their egos get in the way because they would still be winning rings (okay maybe not but they would have won plenty more).

Gives you chills doesn’t it?

Although I’m in a serious relationship with football, my first love was basketball but we all know white men can’t jump and my basketball dreams went out the window real quick.

I love the offseason, sometimes more than I love the actual games. Player movement and free agency just gets me so excited; I love the idea of wooing players to join the team or trading pieces to get to the championship. When the rumors of Dwight Howard being traded surfaced I thought he would be a Net. The idea of Howard being traded to the Lakers was near impossible. As the trade rumors began to progress, I figured there was no way other GMs would let this move happen. If it did then Bynum & Gasol MUST be included for competitive balances sake. The Lakers would have to part with their entire squad. Wrong.

KD5 and the rest of the Thunder team have a very bright future but when news broke that the Lakers acquired Nash & Howard, I sent in my ticket to the sports book for the NBA Finals. (Call Kendrick Perkins the Howard stopper if you please. He has only slowed Howard down and has lost about 60 pounds since).

Nothing against any team in the West but a combo of Kobe, Howard, Nash, Gasol plus some solid bench players (Jamison is still a solid player at his old age) sounds unreal, on paper of course.

Nash won’t need to carry the team like he did in Phoenix and should be a very effective player with the Lakers. Nash may not be the best defensive player (to say the least) but he  does has Howard protecting his back. The former two-time MVP will be running the pick ‘n roll for days.

Howard and Gasol give the Lakers one of the biggest front courts in the NBA; Gasol will no longer need to take any pressure off Kobe and can be the effective role player he really is (Gasol may be the worst star in the NBA. He has so much talent but doesn’t know how or when to put it all together).

When Kobe Bryant finally passed Shaquille O’Neal in the ring count, numerous sources reported Kobe was taunting Shaq; he was eying that moment for years. Now that he has surpassed the Diesel, the Black Mamba has his sight on something bigger: passing the almighty Michael Jordan. But can he do it?

Kobe and crew have a dream squad for Laker faithful. The team has one of the best players of all-time, the most dominant big man in the game, one of the smoothest point guards in the past decade, Ron ron defensive skills and a few other pieces to bring a championship home to LA.

We all know that championships aren’t won on paper nor in the offseason but if the Lakers can mesh together, they look poised for another Championship run and a probable meeting with the defending Champion Miami Heat.

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