The Mamba is back. The king has returned to his throne in Los Angeles, and not a moment too soon in one of the tightest Western Conference races we have ever seen. In the first-ever real battle for the city’s heart, Kobe has staked the claim that the Clippers “will be the Los Angeles team when I’m dead and gone.” Even with his legendarily freakish, near-sociopathic work ethic, questions linger about his effectiveness returning from a serious injury at 35 years old. Meanwhile, in the dreadful Eastern Conference, major Internet forces are making light of Jason Kidd’s coaching style. Also, Carmelo Anthony is not an effective LeBron-style point-forward, so who can run an offense with him in it?
1. KOBE IS BACK. KOBE. KOBE. …Kobe?: In one of the most highly-anticipated returns from injury ever (even eliciting an entire Grantland post on how to handle it), Kobe Bean Bryant played in his first game on Sunday night against the Toronto Raptors since suffering an Achilles injury in April. He notched nine points on 2-9 shooting with eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and eight (!) turnovers in a Lakers loss. He airballed his first shot and didn’t dunk until his second game back against the Suns, in which he looked more like the Mamba we know and love (or hate). Again, the Lakers lost, but Kobe scored 20 points and was a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line. Now, however, his role is going to change considerably just as he was getting comfortable again. Point guards Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar and, most recently, Steve Blake are all out with injuries, saddling Kobe with running the Laker offense. Not that he doesn’t do that anyway, but now it will be more direct, and he will have to guard some of the best athletes in the league while still rehabilitating his injury, starting with Russell Westbrook on Friday night. If anyone is up to the task, however, it is Kobe.
2. Who can pass to Carmelo Anthony?: As the point-forward of the pre-Linsanity Mike D’Antoni Knicks, Carmelo Anthony struggled and brought his team with him. With Lin and without Anthony, the Knicks were memorably great and exciting to watch. Even with Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton last season, the Knicks were better off, as ball movement facilitated the cannonading 3-point barrages which led to a 54-win regular season. This year, however, with Kidd gone, Prigioni’s minutes down and Felton mostly ineffective (and now, injured), the Knicks are severely struggling to get away from iso-ball and open up space on the perimeter. When Felton hit the injury report, the whispers of point guard prospects became considerably louder, with the Knicks reportedly exploring trade possibilities for the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry. Melo himself has apparently been attempting to recruit Rajon Rondo to New York at some point in the future, even as both have denied that happening. Yet, the biggest question lingers: what type of point guard, if any, can bring the best out of Carmelo Anthony? Andre Miller was probably the best and most equipped to deal with Melo, but even the Melo-Miller Nuggets never advanced past the first round of the playoffs. With every point guard that comes up in a potential move to New York, there are seemingly millions of people who say that he cannot coexist with Anthony. The Knicks (read: James Dolan) have banked on Anthony as the cornerstone of their franchise, but with Melo opting out to explore free agency next summer, perhaps it would be mutually beneficial to start over, again, with all the young talent the Knicks can acquire via drafts. Right?
Here is a sadly excellent and all-too-real portrait of how the Knicks have dealt with, and just dealt, draft picks in the Dolan era, courtesy of SB Nation:
3. Despite Google’s dominance as a search engine, Yahoo still has some really clever people:
And-1: This Knicks fan ranting video challenges Chad Dukes for the most hilarious and depressing assessment of his franchise’s current state and its management: