Lakers’ Byron Scott agrees with Mark Cuban’s call for conference realignment

"Laker coach Byron Scott applauds his players in the fourth quarter. The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Sacramento Kings 98-95 in Los Angeles, CA. December 9, 2014. (Photo by John McCoy Daily News)"

“Laker coach Byron Scott applauds his players in the fourth quarter. The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Sacramento Kings 98-95 in Los Angeles, CA. December 9, 2014. (Photo by John McCoy Daily News)”

It rarely happens, if ever. But the Lakers and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban actually agree about something.

Lakers coach Byron Scott likes Cuban’s recent proposal that the NBA should realign their conferences considering the disparity between the Eastern and Western Conference. Case in point, the Miami Heat (12-14) and Brooklyn Nets (10-14) are slated to make the playoffs as the seventh and eight seed, respectively, despite having records below .500. Meanwhile, Scott described the Western Conference as a “monster,” featuring the Golden State Warriors (22-3), Memphis Grizzlies (21-4), Portland Trail Blazers (20-6) and Houston Rockets (19-6).

“It doesn’t make sense geographically. But other than that, he has a good point,” Scott said. “There’s a few teams, us included, that would love to be in the Eastern Conference right now.”

That’s because the Lakers (8-17) currently are five games behind the New Orleans Pelicans (13-12) for the Western Conference’s eighth playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Lakers are only 2 1/2 games behind Brooklyn for what would be the Eastern Conference’s last postseason seed.

Still, Cuban told reporters earlier this season that his conference realignment proposal would entail the Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans moving to the Eastern Conference. The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks would move to the West.

The Western Conference already became more difficult after the Mavericks acquired star guard Rajon Rondo from the Boston Celtics for Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson and draft picks.

“Rondo is one of the better point guards in this league, there’s no doubt about that,” Scott said. “From that standpoint, it makes Dallas a better team. Offensively, because of the way he can distribute that basketball and find guys and rebound the ball at that position. He’s an asset, no doubt about that. The one thing in this Western conference is that most of these point guards can score. That’s going to put pressure on him to guard. He’s been a pro for a long time and has a ring on his finger. I think he’ll be fine.”

Scott saw the move as a sign “Dallas wants to win right now,” but wondered aloud about Rondo’s future after this season. A Lakers official downplayed reports the team offered Steve Nash’s expiring $9.8 million contract and a first-round pick to Houston for Rondo. The Lakers would have enough cap space to sign him this offseason.

“At the end of the year is he still a free agent?” Scott asked, rhetorically. “It’s going to be interesting.”

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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Will Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant play tonight vs. Lakers?

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant will become a free agent in 2016. (Photo by Ann Heisenfelt — The Associated Press)

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant will become a free agent in 2016. (Photo by Ann Heisenfelt — The Associated Press)

Lakers coach Byron Scott said he loves Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant as a person, raving about his leadership, humble demeanor and eagerness to learn. Scott loves Durant as a player, predicting he will eventually score 30,000 career points and calling his 30-minute performance in 18 minutes of the Thunder’s win over Golden State on Thursday “MVPish.”

But Scott believes Durant should take his time recovering from a right ankle sprain that kept him sidelined for the second half against the Warriors. The reasons have nothing to do with Durant’s long-term health and everything to do with the Lakers (8-17) hosting the Thunder (12-13) on Friday at Staples Center.

“I felt bad for him,” Scott said. “But I’m hoping it swelled up on him just a tad last night and he can’t go tonight and he’ll be well by Sunday.”

The Thunder has listed Durant as day-to-day after x-rays in his right ankle turned out negative. Durant missed the first 17 games with after having surgery to treat a fracture on his right foot. But the Thunder have gone 7-1 both since Durant and former UCLA guard Russell Westbrook have returned to the lineup. Westbrook missed nearly a month because of a broken right hand.

“They’re both competitive. Russell’s competitive nature comes out a lot more. Kevin is just as competitive as anybody in this league. I think they’ve made it work,” Scott said. “Both have given a little bit of themselves. You have to if you want to be successful and want to win and you have two guys like that. Somebody has to be, both guys have to get to a point where it can’t be about me. It’s all about the team. They got to sacrifice a little bit of themselves. Both guys have done that. At times you have seen the Russell that he’s such an explosive basketball player and emotional basketball player, that sometimes I think the emotions gets the best of him at times. But I’ve told people all the time I would love to have a player like that that you try to calm down instead of pick up for every single game. He’s a guy in a game that you know will bring it every game.”

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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Lakers’ Jordan Hill expected to start vs. Oklahoma City

"Los Angeles Lakers' Jordan Hill smiles before the Lakers' NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)"

“Los Angeles Lakers’ Jordan Hill smiles before the Lakers’ NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)”

Despite nursing flu symptoms for the past two days, Lakers forward Jordan Hill is expected to play in Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder (12-13) at Staples Center.

“If he can play, he’ll start tonight,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said following morning shootaround. “I don’t know how much he’s got. He’s at home right now in the bed. We’ll see how he looks when he gets there.”

Hill sat out for practices both on Wednesday and Thursday, and has taken antibiotics. Hill also skipped morning shootaround on Friday after visiting with Lakers’ head athletic trainer Gary Vitti. Hill has averaged 12.8 points on 48.9 percent shooting and 8.6 rebounds in 30.1 minutes per game.

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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TWC SportsNet panel analyzes Kobe Bryant’s play in 2014-15 season

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) holds up the game ball and acknowledges the crowd during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves after passing Michael Jordan on the NBA all-time scoring list in Minneapolis, Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) holds up the game ball and acknowledges the crowd during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves after passing Michael Jordan on the NBA all-time scoring list in Minneapolis, Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

If you talk about the Lakers, it’s inevitable you talk about Kobe Bryant.

And when it pertains to the Lakers’ star, there’s plenty to discuss. I went on Time Warner Cable’s Access SportsNet on Thursday evening with host Chris McGee and analyst Dave Miller to talk about everything Kobe Bryant. We analyzed his productive play in the 2014-15 season. We looked at Bryant’s fight against Father Time. We dissected Bryant’s relationship with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. We wondered if Bryant will play beyond his contract that expires after the 2015-16 season.

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant says he hasn’t made free agency pitch to Kevin Durant….yet

In this file photo, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) talks during a foul shot in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Oklahoma City won 122-105. (Sue Ogrocki/The Associated Press)

In this file photo, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) talks during a foul shot in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Oklahoma City won 122-105. (Sue Ogrocki/The Associated Press)

Plenty of time awaits before the 2016 offseason strikes. Plenty of circumstances could determine how the free agency sweepstakes play out.

But with Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant becoming a free agent in 2016, consider him as the Lakers’ top player they will pursue.

“That’s safe to say,” said a league source familiar with the Lakers’ thought process.

So with the Lakers having their sights on Durant in 2016, has Kobe Bryant made an early free agency pitch?

“No, I think we know each other pretty well,” Bryant said on Thursday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “I don’t think it’s a discussion that you have in terms of coming here. But I think it’s more of an understanding how to play with each other.”
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Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak would consider prolonging Kobe Bryant’s contract depending on circumstances

"MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 14: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers waves to the crowd after passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list with a free throw in the second quarter of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on December 14, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)"

“MINNEAPOLIS, MN – DECEMBER 14: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers waves to the crowd after passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list with a free throw in the second quarter of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on December 14, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)”

It was a little more than a week ago when Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak offered a pretty clear signal on anyone planning to watch Kobe Bryant play in person.

“If you’re looking to buy tickets three years from now, I would buy tickets now.”
Kupchak told the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Kupchak has repeated different variations of that quote in subsequent interviews, including appearances on Monday with both ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd and SiriusXM NBA Radio with Justin Termine and former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr. But even if Kupchak maintained his belief that Bryant will retire once his $48.5 million contract ends following the 2015-16 season, Kupchak said he would consider seeing if Bryant wanted to extend his career under specific circumstances.

“If he’s playing at a high level and we were able to put our team together with some vision, in other words, have cap space to acquire players that help us going forward and help us win right away, I don’t know why we would not consider bringing Kobe back,” Kupchak told Cowherd. “I don’t think in two years, if he looks at our roster and says I can’t win with this roster, I don’t think he’s going to want to play and lose 40-50 games. If the roster is attractive and we’ve got some young players or some veteran players that he feels will allow him to wake up in the morning and say listen, I wan to go to practice and I want to play tonight, then I think that’s something he would consider.”
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Lakers’ Julius Randle off crutches as 2014 draft class suffers injury bug

Lakers forward Julius Randle recently has walked without crutches after fracturing his right leg a little less than two months ago in a season-ending injury. (Micah Escamilla/Staff Photographer)

Lakers forward Julius Randle recently has walked without crutches after fracturing his right leg a little less than two months ago in a season-ending injury. (Micah Escamilla/Staff Photographer)

It appeared like a normal exercise as Lakers rookie forward Julius Randle performed a leg press during Wednesday’s practice. But in Randle’s case, it marked one of many progressions he has made since suffering a season-ending injury to his right leg in the Lakers’ season opener just under two months ago.

Since then, Randle has healed enough to get around without any crutches in the past week.

“Honestly I’m not supposed to be off crutches,” Randle said, with a chuckle. “The doctor said to go at your own pace. My pace was to get rid of them immediately.”

Randle still has a long way to go. He has started the physical therapy portion of his season-long rehab that currently entails walking on a weight-bearing treadmill. That hardly matches what the Lakers envisioned with they drafted him seventh overall out of the University of Kentucky. That hardly matches what Randle envisioned when he showed potential during exhibition play as a versatile forward that could play physical, hit a mid-range jumper and even assume ball-handling duties.

“You miss the competitive atmosphere and going to war with your teammates,” Randle said. “It’s tough. It’s a brotherhood out there and its tough to sit back and watch. But I’m learning a lot throughout all this.”
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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant increasing practice work

"MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 14: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers waves to the crowd after passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list with a free throw in the second quarter of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on December 14, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)"

“MINNEAPOLIS, MN – DECEMBER 14: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers waves to the crowd after passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list with a free throw in the second quarter of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on December 14, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)”

It might seem hard to imagine. But Kobe Bryant’s workload has gotten bigger.

The Lakers’ star participated in what coach Byron Scott described as a “light practice” on Wednesday that entailed five-on-four and five-on-five half-court drills. Bryant also plans to practice on Thursday in preparation for when the Lakers (8-17) host the Oklahoma City Thunder (12-13) on Friday at Staples Center.

Bryant had also practiced last Thursday in what became memorable for his profanity laced tirade during portions of a five-on-five scrimmage open to the media. But for the previous two weeks, Scott had sat Bryant out of both practice and shootarounds after believing his fatigue contributed to poor shooting performances.

“He seems to have more pep in his step for whatever reason. Maybe he’s getting his second wind,” Scott said of the 36-year-old Bryant, who played only six games last season with injuries to his left Achilles tendon and left knee. “We still all tend to forget he hasn’t played a year and a half of basketball since he was out. He probably still has some rust on him. But right now he’s getting that second wind.”

Scott had indicated last week he hoped to practice Bryant when the Lakers had multiple days in between games. The Lakers had off on Tuesday following Monday’s loss in Indiana that concluded a 2-1 trip. Bryant has averaged 23 points albeit on only 34.5 percent shooting in his past five games.

Meanwhile, Lakers forward Jordan Hill sat out of Wednesday’s practice because of an upper respiratory infection. But Scott believes Hill will “be all right.”

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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant finds it ‘very challenging’ to balance workload, recovery

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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Rick Fox, Jalen Rose, George Karl offer perspective on Kobe Bryant-Michael Jordan

"MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 14: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers waves to the crowd after passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list with a free throw in the second quarter of the game on December 14, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)"

“MINNEAPOLIS, MN – DECEMBER 14: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers waves to the crowd after passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list with a free throw in the second quarter of the game on December 14, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)”

The debate never dies. Who is better, Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant? The conversation emerged again amid Bryant surpassing Jordan for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. But there is also appreciation for Bryant’s legacy itself with five NBA championships in 19 NBA seasons regardless of how it matches up with Jordan’s six NBA titles in a 15-year career.

Former NBA coach and ESPN analyst George Karl, former NBA player and ESPN analyst Jalen Rose and former Lakers forward and NBA TV analyst Rick Fox offered some perspective on both Bryant and Jordan below.


What are the similarities between Kobe and Michael?

Karl: “The common thread for me is they’ve always been great competitors. They all have off the charts focus and they see and play a game probably with more intensity and mental focus than most players that ever played the game. Then you top that off with the fact that they are great athletes. Kobe is long and lean. But Michael was kind of powerful and could beat you with a rebound, could beat you with a defense, could beat you with a shot and could beat you with a pass in almost every way.”

Rose: “I like how they say the game of basketball in their interviews. It’s almost like Kobe got that from MJ. It’s their fundamentals. Somebody that has coached basketball, analyzed basketball and played basketball, there are certain things I watch for in players. They have one trait that shooting guards that has really been lost by that position. You have to dominate the boxes and the elbows and be able to catch the ball with a live dribble still available. A lot of young players catch the ball and just dribble the ball for no reason. Both of those guys get the ball, face up, jab step and triple threat and assess the situation. If you fall asleep, they’ll just jab and go to the right or go baseline and just dunk the ball without even any thought.”
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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant sets franchise record for most fouls

The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant thanks his high school English teacher for encouraging him to write. He recently penned an essay on passing Michael Jordan on the all-time NBA scoring list. (Photo by Eric Gay/Associated Press)

The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant thanks his high school English teacher for encouraging him to write. He recently penned an essay on passing Michael Jordan on the all-time NBA scoring list. (Photo by Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Kobe Bryant set another milestone, but this one did prompt a video tribute, a game-ball presentation at halfcourt and a celebration on the team plane.

Bryant committed four fouls in Monday’s loss to Indiana, setting a Lakers’ record of 3,226 career fouls. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 3,224 fouls with the Lakers.

“I don’t think we’ll all look back at that and say, ‘Man, Kobe was a hacker,’” Lakers coach Byron Scott said with a chuckle. “When you play 19 years, you’re going to accumulate some fouls.”

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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