ND: 1) The Lakers are currently in second place in their division. Is there any way, possibly with a trade, that they could conceivably over take the top spot from the Suns?
K: The Lakers are only four games back of Phoenix right now, but the only way the Lakers are going to catch the Suns is if Steve Nash gets injured (and as a fan of quality basketball I don’t want to see that). The best that the Lakers can do with any trade is hope to inject themselves into the title conversation in the West (a conversation the Suns are already in), but even if that happened in the next two days it would be hard to catch the Suns — they are a team built for the regular season. I like the Lakers chances better in a best-of-seven playoff series.
ND: 2) Kobe Bryant so far this season. Your thoughts?
K: Kobe has been, well, Kobe. That is to say, the most talented, driven and (arguably) best player in the NBA night in and night out. His stats this year to last are almost identical. If people thought he would pull a Vince Carter circa Toronto this season, they don’t understand how competitive he is. The other thing, if you read what Brian Cook (now of Orlando) said about team chemistry, his off-season rant humbled Kobe some around the team, but the team has moved on. I hope the fans and others follow suit. Someday.
One other thing. Sometimes I think fans can get too caught up in the soap opera, the strong emotions surrounding Kobe and we look past or forget what an amazing player he is. Watch him tonight. He is fundamentally sound like few in the NBA. He can go left or right with equal authority, shoot the deep three or dunk with authority, and can defend as well as anyone. If you don’t think he can pass (or chooses not to) watch a few games, he does and does it well. And, once or twice a game, he leaves your jaw on the floor with some move or shot. (Iverson does that for me as well.) We need to enjoy these kinds of talents, it’s part of what makes The Association special.
ND: 3) Phil Jackson just signed a two-year extension to continue coaching the Lakers. Do you agree with keeping the "Zen Master" for another two years or would you have liked to see someone else take over the helm?
K: I’m a big believer in having an organizational philosophy, meaning from the owner on down everyone understands what type of team you are building and pulling the same direction on the rope. To do that you need to get a coach that can teach whatever style of ball you want, you have a GM that gets players to fit said system, and so on.
After the Shaq trade, the Lakers were adrift for a season without that kind of structure. Phil’s return changed that. This is a triangle team. It’s taken a couple years to start to get players who fit the system (and not all the pieces are there) but the system is there. I feared that if Jackson did not return the Lakers would bring in another coach with a radically different philosophy, once again the pieces would not fit the puzzle and the Lakers rebuilding would take longer. So, I’m pleased Jackson remains.
ND 4) Sasha Vujacic - I think he came away with an Oscar for the "Choke" performance that resulted in 'Melo getting tossed the last time these two teams played. What was your interpretation of the incident?
Because you live in Denver you are probably out of the industry loop, so let me help out: the Oscar buzz this year is avid Lakers fan Denzel Wahington for American Gangster getting his second Best Actor award, not Vujacic.
Seriously, you thought Sasha was acting? I see so does your coach. Man, you are desperate to believe, aren’t you? First off, Carmelo getting frustrated, flying off the handle and doing something stupid, that’s never happened before, right? Second, the ref standing under the basket and looking right at it made the call instantly, no hesitation, because he saw it cleanly. Finally, if you’ve ever seen Sasha try to flop and draw the fake charge, you’ll know he’s no Manu. His acting just isn’t that good.