Warriors

How Warriors' center depth can be strength vs. Raptors in NBA Finals

How Warriors' center depth can be strength vs. Raptors in NBA Finals

OAKLAND — Warriors coach Steve Kerr is playing a game of revolving centers, and there is no end in sight. It didn’t matter which teams the Warriors faced this postseason. It won’t matter when they confront the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals.

Such depth and disparate skills bode well for the Warriors.

Kerr and his staff will study numbers and tendencies, and decide which big men to roll out against Toronto’s 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol and his primary backup, 6-10 Serge Ibaka.

Consider: 16 games into the playoffs, the Warriors have started five different centers. It’s the only position for which the starter was not revealed until minutes before tip-off.

DeMarcus Cousins, who started the first two games in the opening round against the Clippers but sustained a calf injury in Game 2, is expected back.

Andrew Bogut, who reunited with the Warriors in time to play the final month of the regular season, has started six playoff games.

Jordan Bell, who spent most of the season completely out of the rotation, started Game 4 — the closeout game, for crying out loud — of the Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Damian Jones opened the season as the starter while Cousins was rehabilitating from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon, but he sustained a torn pectoral muscle on Dec. 1. He returned for the conference finals and, surprisingly, got the start in Game 3 in Portland.

Draymond Green, a power forward under optimum conditions, has made six starts at center.

And, finally, there is Kevon Looney. He is the only designated center without a start. Guess who has played the most minutes at the 5?

Don’t expect to change, even if Gasol is four inches taller and 30 pounds heavier.

“Looney’s a hell of a basketball player,” Kerr said Saturday. “He’s one of our cornerstones now.

“We’re going to rely on him in The Finals and, hopefully, for many years to come.”

Bogut is the best size matchup with Gasol, which is why he could expect some playing time. Not an abundant amount but maybe as many as 10 minutes per game.

Cousins is next on that list. He’s a reasonable physical matchup, similar to Gasol in weight but a couple inches shorter. He’s eager to get back on the court, make his Finals debut and re-start his drive toward a new contract when he becomes a free agent on June 30.

“He played with a little bit [Friday],” Looney said of Cousins' participation in a scrimmage. "He’s getting better each day. He’s getting in better shape each day. He’s excited to try to get out there and play.

“Whenever he’s on the court, he’s capable of going for 20 and 10, or 30 and 10. When he’s out there, he’s always a plus for us.”

Whoa. Cousins still is rounding into game shape and, assuming he receives final clearance, as expected, his minutes will be monitored. A 20-point, 10-rebound game would be astonishing.

Green’s minutes at center come almost strictly in the Hamptons 5 lineup, as was the case against the Rockets in the second round. Any time he spends in the middle will be limited, at least until Kevin Durant is available to play power forward.

There is a wild card, and it’s not Jones, who is unlikely to play significant minutes, if any.

It’s Bell. The guy who was most likely to make a glaring mental or physical error. The guy who was slapped with a one-game suspension for what amounts to incredibly immature conduct.

He doesn’t have a contract beyond this season, and for most of the season, it was reasonable to believe the Warriors would be reluctant to make a qualifying offer. That’s conceivable now.

“Jordan over the last few weeks of the regular season, when he got his opportunities, made the most of them,” Kerr said. “He’s playing at a really high level now, giving us exactly what we need: speed, energy, athleticism, intelligent play offensively, drive and kick, move the ball.

“He’s been fantastic.”

The Warriors might have caught a break insofar as the Raptors don’t have as much overall length as the Milwaukee Bucks. Among their eight-man rotation, only Gasol, Ibaka and 6-9 Pascal Siakam stand taller than 6-8.

With Cousins’ imminent return, the back-to-back defending champs are deeper in size even without Durant.

[RELATED: How Warriors, Raptors stack up ahead of NBA Finals matchup]

“Our motto is Strength in Numbers,” Looney said. “We always play center by committee, so having that extra guy [Cousins] to go out there and change the game a bit will be great.”

Let the rotation games begin.

How Kobe Bryant's presence transcended past NBA games into life itself

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AP

How Kobe Bryant's presence transcended past NBA games into life itself

SAN FRANCISCO -- When the news filtered out that the most vigorous of earthly creatures, a man whose spirit and deeds insinuated that Superman is indeed possible, had died so suddenly in the prime of life, shock hit the NBA and the planet like a sledgehammer to the gut.

Not Kobe.

Can’t be Kobe. His first name alone had become a synonym for imperishable.

And please, no, one of his daughters, 13-year-old Gianna, too?

A helicopter crash Sunday morning, in foggy conditions near Calabasas, 45 minutes northwest of Los Angeles. There were no survivors.

Kobe Bryant was 41 years old. He was four years removed from the NBA -- and about one year into a post-career that was defrosting millions of hearts outside the cocoon that is Laker Nation, where he always was and forever will exceed mere legend.

Those of us outside Laker Nation, beyond this generation of greater LA, can’t comprehend that region’s fixation with Kobe. He was, to them, all things. The one-word summation to end to all arguments about basketball and, well, life. He was the greatest of the greats that have passed through the franchise -- and infinitely superior to the great currently and wearing the colors.

LeBron never will come close to the space occupied by Kobe.

“Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court -- and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved,” Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.

“He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes.”

The NBA, as a league and a business, was knocked off its feet. The Warriors were practicing at Chase Center when they were informed, and coach Steve Kerr immediately halted the workout.

“We were incredibly saddened and shocked to learn about the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, earlier today in the Los Angeles area,” a Warriors statement issued in the afternoon. “Kobe was one of the iconic players in the history of the NBA and touched fans in every market, including the Bay Area, for 20 years. His unquenchable desire and drive to be the best elevated him to a level that few have ever reached and enabled him to leave a legacy that will be celebrated for generations. "We extend our thoughts and prayers to his family, the entire Lakers organization and his legion of fans around the world.”

The San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors opened their game with each team taking a 24-second violation -- Kobe wore No. 24 for the second half of his career. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, eyes red and rolling in moisture, struggled to address the media before facing the Magic in Orlando.

There was Kobe the basketball player, an indomitable force whose ferocity was his signature. He embraced the idea of destroying opponents. He gave himself the nickname, The Black Mamba, after the ultra-poisonous snake in the movie “Kill Bill,” in which the name was code for assassin. That’s the on-court mentality Kobe possessed.

In the final game of his 20-year career, Kobe scored 60 points. That he took 50 shots was beside the point on a Lakers team that finished 17-65. It was a relentless and conclusive attack that would leave an indelible, and appropriate, memory.

Kobe entered the NBA as an 18-year-old and over the course of his career also had an 81-point game on 46 shots, a 65-point game on 39 shots, a 62-point game on 31 shots, a 61-point game on 31 shots and a 55-point game on 29 shots.

There were five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP awards, 18 consecutive All-Star Games, 15 All-NBA Team selections, 12 All-Defensive Team selections and, surprisingly, only one MVP award.

Yet the numbers and accolades barely graze the persona. Kobe exemplified relentless drive and irrational confidence, and a competitive nature that never rested. Though he holds a few NBA records, the one that best explores his psyche was set in, of all games, the 2011 All-Star Game.

The game was at Staples Center in Los Angeles, which by then was Kobe’s backyard. He scored 37 points, on 26 shots, in 29 minutes. The record he set, as a 6-6 guard mind you, was most offensive rebounds in an All-Star Game. He had 10.

[RELATED: Draymond, others Warriors players react to Kobe's death]

Raiding the offensive glass is the ultimate act of aggression, and Kobe didn’t care that it was an exhibition game. The thought of his death at such a young age, his internal drive still at full flame, is devastating.

This hurts now and will ache forever.

How Lakers legend Kobe Bryant's life influenced Logan Murdock's career

How Lakers legend Kobe Bryant's life influenced Logan Murdock's career

Sixteen years ago, I sat in my mother's house in Sacramento armed with a fandom and no clear direction for my life's path. 

Eleven miles away, my mother, a journalist on assignment at Arco Arena, was covering a matchup between the Kings and Lakers, who employed my favorite player: Kobe Bean Bryant. 

The game was a drag. Kobe took just one shot in the first half, in protest of his coach Phil Jackson's previous criticism of him shooting too much. By the end of the night, the Super Lakers lost handily to the Kings, putting their hopes for a division title in peril. But the highlight of the night came shortly after the game, when mom called equipped with a message: "Just listen." 

At Metro Networks, my mom's primary postgame responsibility was to gather sound from the opposing locker room. Knowing my favorite player occupied the space, she decided to take me along her latest journey via her headset. 

For the next 30 minutes, I heard Shaquille O'Neal complain about the refs and coach Phil Jackson try to ease the tension with Kobe, all the while waiting for my mom to finally interview her 10-year old's hero. Kobe appeared last, blurted out cliché responses, denying any rift with his coach and teammates. Bryant's greatest quote came following the session when my mom broke journalistic code, revealing her baby boy was on the other end of the line and was a huge fan. The man responded, "If he can hear me, tell him I said wassup." 

Floored, I dropped the phone, ran around the house, in disbelief that someone so famous would acknowledge my existence. By the end of the evening, it was clear I wanted to get into my mother's profession and that Bryant's words made the newfound dream tangible. 

However, the events surrounding Kobe in 2004 began the lifelong complication with his on-court greatness. Nine months before Bryant's message, he was accused of raping a woman in Colorado, putting his career in peril. Five months after my afternoon house sprint, he settled with the alleged victim, saying that the two sides didn't see the event in the same light. Now, after his sudden death in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., I'm forced to reconcile the kinship to a man with a complicated legacy. 

As a youth, Kobe's on-court mentality provided a baseline for how I approached life. Like Bryant, I was a loner, often finding common ground with kids I wouldn't otherwise talk to through sports. Going to predominantly white schools in the Bay Area, I felt a disposition going to a school in Alameda, waiting for the chance to head back to Oakland, pick up my football pads and practice at Brookfield Park with kids that looked like me. All the while, with my mom in Sacramento and my dad working late nights in Oakland, Kobe's basketball examples made me believe I could get out of my circumstance. 

In elementary school, I mimicked his moves on the blacktop, often missing as I attempted his fadeaway jumper. At Berkeley High, I vigorously defended his basketball legacy against LeBron James. My arguments disappointed most of my peers, who argued Kobe was washed and James held the crown of basketball's best player in every conceivable way. Four months into college, his example of work pushed me to drive 90 miles from Oakland to Sacramento for an unpaid internship to attend Kings games. 

One of my first assignments was to drive to Sacramento to attend Lakers shootaround and ask questions to exceptional athletes. At the time, the Kings were putting a promotion called "Blackout" in which the team and its fans wore all black to intimidate the opposition. With that in mind, I planned to ask Lakers staff and presumably Kobe about the crowd noise. When Kobe walked into the scrum, I blurted my question with curious execution. 

"Hey Kobe, there's a blackout in Sacramento, how are you going to handle that?" I asked. 

"Huh?" Kobe asked the 18-year old in front of him, presumably wondering how he got in the building. 

"Yeah, everyone's wearing black, how will you deal with that?" I responded. 

Confused, Kobe followed up with a stock answer about how he and his team were battle-tested and it shouldn't be a problem. Embarrassed, I said thank you, proud of myself for following Kobe's mantra of 'Just shoot,' while acknowledging I had a lot of work ahead of me to be a respectable sports writer. 

Along the way, through the internships and odd freelance jobs, my mythology of Kobe began to wane as I began to read up on the man's biggest alleged transgression. Following the 2002-03 season, a 19-year-old hotel employee accused Bryant of rape at a Colorado resort.

Bryant immediately proclaimed his innocence, saying the encounter was consensual and the only crime he committed was of adultery to his wife. Following pre-trial hearings, the case was dropped after the victim refused to testify on the stand. Bryant's ensuing statement brought more confusion.

"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did," the statement read. "After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."

Reading the words brought disappointment and confusion. Bryant admitted that the woman didn't give consent, yet still went through with his actions. The declaration hurt to the core. A player I loved seemed to admit to these serious transgressions. Nonetheless, the league I began to cover continued to celebrate the man. He won Academy Awards and became one of the allied faces of the WNBA, often bringing his daughter Gianna, who also died Sunday, courtside to games.

[RELATED: Draymond, Warriors react to Kobe's death]

All the while, Bryant influenced a generation of basketball players. Warriors cornerstones Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, along with their coach Steve Kerr gushed about his greatness before his final game at Oracle Arena in 2016. The Warriors gave the guard a vacation package to Napa, along with a giant bottle of wine from Amuse Bouche winery.

Twenty months later, the coach and trio, alongside former teammate Kevin Durant stood on the floor at Staples Center as Bryant saw his both his No. 8 and 24 raised to the rafters. I sat on the other side of the gym, watching much of my childhood go up with the garments, trying to the tame the 10-year old from Oakland that adored the man while figuring out where he stood in my current lexicon. 

On Sunday, Jan. 26, I'm left to reconcile Kobe's presence in my life. He was a man whose on-court mentality I tried to mirror, but whose alleged transgressions will forever complicate my celebration of him.