Column: Kobe Bryant doesn't doubt the Zen Master


Column: Kobe Bryant doesn't doubt the Zen Master

Nobody knows what might have happened had the Los Angeles Lakers been a bit more patient and allowed Kobe Bryant and his teammates some time to adjust to Mike Brown's new Princeton offense, no matter how ill-suited it seemed for their talents.

Not that it really matters, as long as Phil Jackson is ready and willing to bring his courtside throne out of retirement.

Kobe Bryant made that clear when asked whether the Lakers could switch gears and win quickly if Jackson returned with the triangle offense that made him arguably the greatest coach in NBA history.

``Are you doubting the Zen Master?'' Bryant said.

No, and no one else should, either. Eleven NBA titles outstrips any misgivings about bringing the 67-year-old Jackson back, no matter how ignominious his ending with the Lakers was last time he was on the bench with them.

It still bothers Bryant that Jackson retired after the Lakers suffered an embarrassing meltdown in being swept out of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks two seasons ago.

``He's too great of a coach to go out that way,'' Bryant said. ``That's kind of my personal sentiment.''

Around Staples Center, Bryant's personal sentiment goes a long way. Despite his protestations to the contrary, he clearly wasn't happy with Brown or his offense, as evidenced by the angry stare he gave the coach as the Lakers lost to the Utah Jazz last week.

Time is running out for Bryant to get the sixth ring that will forever cement his place next to Michael Jordan when talk turns to the best players ever. He knows his best chance to get that ring and maybe even more is with the coach who was with him for the first five.

Jerry Buss believes that, too, which is why he and team management wasted no time in dumping Brown, despite having to eat about $10 million in severance pay. It's a small price to pay when the Lakers are flush with new TV money and in desperate need of a contending team if Time Warner Cable is to be successful in getting DirecTV and others to pay up and carry the new channel built around the franchise.

Indeed, Brown was given the hook so quickly it's fair to speculate that perhaps there was some corporate pressure coming from the company that paid some $3 billion for a 20-year deal to broadcast the Lakers. The firing came hours before the Lakers were going to play the hapless Golden State Warriors, giving them an easy win to get the post-Brown era off to a good start.

That both the Lakers and their star player want that era to be led by Jackson became clear immediately after Brown was fired. Laker fans didn't take much longer to get on the bandwagon, bringing signs supporting Jackson to Friday night's blowout of the Warriors, and chanting ``We Want Phil'' in the second half.

``I can understand why,'' interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. ``The guy's got the rings.''

Jackson appears to want to be back with the Lakers just as much. Multiple reports on Saturday were that he was contacting coaches to be his assistants, and that only contract details stood in the way of his rehiring.

As for Brown, well, that's what happens sometimes when you work on the big stage. Brown's biggest problem may have been that Bryant never warmed up to him, but his strange decision to implement an offense suited more for a team of journeymen than superstars undoubtedly helped speed up his demise.

A Princeton offense in a Showtime town? Not with Jack Nicholson and the rest of Hollywood's elite sitting courtside, you don't. Not when there are huge television deals, huge contracts, and huge luxury tax payments on the horizon.

This was a team built to win now, a team with aging stars in Bryant and Steve Nash that couldn't afford to wait to gel. Yes, Dwight Howard is still playing at about 50 percent of his ability as he works himself back into shape after back surgery, but the sum of this team was still far less than its parts.

Bryant went on Facebook to claim he had a good relationship with Brown and to wish him his best. But his biggest statement may have come on the court against the Warriors, where he dominated as if to declare the Brown era was over and a new one was beginning.

The Lakers can only hope this coaching change turns out as well as another early season firing did for the team 31 years ago. Paul Westhead was the coach then, but Magic Johnson was unhappy with his offensive system and asked to be traded early in the season, and Westhead was fired with the Lakers just 7-4 on the year.

His replacement was an assistant named Pat Riley, who took the team to the NBA title that year and ended up coaching three more championships in LA.

A content Kobe playing for the coach he admires most isn't going to make that happen by himself. He can still take over individual games, but for the season-long grind he'll need Nash to return from injury, Howard to keep improving, and Pau Gasol to play as hard as Bryant likes him to.

The Lakers will also need to figure out a way to play defense, something they refused to do much of under Brown, who built his reputation as a defensive coach.

It won't be an easy task, even if they get Jackson. There are no guarantees, especially when the road to any title goes through LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

But if Bryant doesn't doubt the Zen Master, Laker fans shouldn't either.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at) or

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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game


Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

You thought the Caps had a goalie rotation before, but now they have added a third netminder in the mix.

Pheonix Copley has been recalled from the Hershey Bears and will backup Philipp Grubauer for Washington's game in Detroit, the team announced Thursday.

The move comes in response to an injury concern for Braden Holtby.


Dallas Stars forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby midway through the third period on Tuesday as Holtby was extending to make a save. Holtby reacted awkwardly to the collision and could be seen skating and flexing his leg during the next stoppage.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Holtby's injury is a major concern. Given his recent struggles, the final few weeks of the season offered a chance for Holtby to get his game back to form. Just where his game will be when he is 100-percent healthy again is certainly a storyline to watch.


The good news for Washington, however, is that Grubauer is perhaps more ready this season to lead the team than he ever has been and confidence in him around the team should be high.

Since Thanksgiving, Grubauer has played in 22 games with a 17-11-4 record, a .939 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. No goalie who has played in 20 games or more has registered a better save percentage or GAA. He will certainly be looked upon to carry the load until Holtby returns. Whether this means he now has the inside track on starting in the playoffs, however, remains to be seen. That will depend largely on just when Holtby is ready to return and how Grubauer plays down the stretch.

Copley, 26, has gone 14-16-6 with two shutouts, a .898 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in 38 games in Hershey this season. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 2014. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the package that netted the Caps T.J. Oshie, but was reacquired by Washington in Feb. 2017 in a trade deadline deal that included Kevin Shattenkirk.

At the time, it was believed Copley would be the team's backup for the 2017-18 season with Grubauer likely headed to Vegas in the expansion draft. Vegas, however, took Nate Schmidt instead which led to Copley spending the season in Hershey. The Caps now will be happy for the extra goalie depth for as long as Holtby's health remains a concern.

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Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Washington Wizards

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


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