When it comes to recognizing budding basketball dynasties, hardly anyone is more qualified than Pat Riley.
Riley coached the Showtime-era Lakers to five NBA titles during the 1980s, then hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy three more times as coach and president of the Heat.
As a player, Riley was a member of the 1971-72 Lakers team that won 33 consecutive regular-season games before cruising to the NBA title.
That’s nine championship rings.
So when a guy who has witnessed that much basketball excellence says the Warriors are just starting their run of greatness, it’s worth a listen.
They are in the beginning of something that can be dynastic.
Heat president Pat Riley, on the 15-0 Warriors
“They are in the beginning of something that can be dynastic,” Riley told the Associated Press. “They’re in the beginning stages of it and that’s the scary part, vs. somebody that catches lightning in a bottle one time.
“They’re at the beginning because all of their key players, all of them, are young and they’re talented.”
It has been a long time – probably since Michael Jordan’s return to the Bulls – since the NBA produced an early-season story line as captivating as these Warriors, who Tuesday night have a chance to become the first team to start 16-0.
Because they’re playing the Lakers, chances are extremely good.
Last season, for the first time since both franchises relocated to California during the early 1960s, the Warriors won the Pacific Division in the same season that the Lakers finished last.
Now take a look at the current NBA standings. It’s happening again.
Since the Lakers’ last playoff appearance in 2012-13 (coincidentally the year the Warriors began their rise), they’ve gone 27-55 and 21-61.
This season’s 2-11 start portends even more putridity.
While the Warriors have a roster stacked with young and talented players, starting with 27-year-old MVP Stephen Curry, the Lakers are a repository of has-beens and cast-offs.
Guess into which category Kobe Bryant falls?
While the Warriors have a roster stacked with young and talented players, the Lakers are a repository of has-beens and cast-offs. Guess which into category Kobe Bryant falls?
There’s no joy derived in describing Bryant in those terms. In his heyday, Bryant was a magnificent player, arguably one of the 10 greatest in league history, and a five-time NBA champion.
Those days have long passed, and yet Bryant still gets the superstar treatment he no longer deserves.
It’s one thing to pay Bryant a salary cap-crippling $25 million for services rendered. Quite another for coach Byron Scott to allow someone who’s shooting 33.1 percent to hoist up lousy shot after lousy shot.
Even stranger, Scott doesn’t believe Bryant’s ball-hogging is a problem.
“He’s had 20 years of experience in this league,” Scott told reporters Monday. “We might not have six players that have 20 years in this league combined. He has that privilege basically. From a coaching standpoint, I want Kobe to be Kobe.”
Scott is essentially saying Bryant has earned the right to take all the bad shots he wants, and I’m not sure an NBA coach has uttered a dumber statement.
Besides being anathema to team basketball (the kind of basketball the Warriors are playing), the 2015 Kobe has way too many miles on the odometer and too lengthy an injury history to be driven this hard.
Yet who leads the Lakers in minutes? Bryant at 31.1 per game. Who leads them in shot attempts? You guessed it.
He has that privilege basically.
Lakers coach Byron Scott, on Kobe Bryant taking bad shots
Bryant’s stat line from Sunday’s 107-93 drubbing by the Trail Blazers was typical: 18 points on 6-of-22 shooting. He went 0 for 5 from three-point range and is now shooting 20 percent (14 of 70) from beyond the arc.
“I’m just trying to help the young guys, honestly,” Bryant said following a recent loss, evidently with a straight face.
Bryant probably won’t be the Lakers’ problem after this season. The onerous contract is up, and he’s hinted at retirement.
Then they’ll have to face the consequences of drafting D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 overall pick.
I’m not calling Russell a bust. It’s way, way too soon for that. But despite better results in recent games, the rookie from Ohio State has struggled while a couple of players drafted after him have flourished.
Jahlil Okafor, taken with the No. 3 pick, is averaging nearly 18 points and eight rebounds for a 76ers squad that’s even worse than the Lakers. And No. 4 pick Kristaps Porzingis, averaging 13 points and nearly nine rebounds for the Knicks, has become the toast of New York.
There were multiple reports the Lakers worked out the freakishly skilled 7-foot-3, 240-pound Kristaps Porzingis at the team’s facility before the draft. What on earth couldn’t they see?
There were multiple reports the Lakers worked out the freakishly skilled 7-foot-3, 240-pound Porzingis at the team’s facility before the draft.
What on earth couldn’t they see?
If the Lakers were set on drafting a point guard to team with an aging Bryant (and if they were, how stupid is that?), even Emmanuel Mudiay (No. 7 by the Nuggets) has outperformed Russell.
It’s a decision that could end up haunting the Lakers for a decade.
Meanwhile, right up the coast sits a Warriors team just beginning its championship run. A team whose best player celebrates the contributions of the 12th man. Whose front office always seems to draft the right guy.
Which has to make Lakers fans purple with envy.