Kobe Suspended One Game, Lakers Routed by MilwaukeeOn Wednesday, Kobe Bryant received his second one game suspension of the season. Bryant's first suspension happened in January after he elbowed Manu Ginobili in the face during the follow through from a jump shot; this time, Bryant's offense took place on a very similar play, with Minnesota's Marko Jaric on the receiving end of Bryant's elbow. The Lakers lost to the Knicks the first time that Bryant was suspended and, not surprisingly, the Milwaukee Bucks blew them out 110-90 this time. Yes, the Lakers are missing several other key players but don't forget that with Bryant on the court they only lost to Phoenix by five and took the Timberwolves to double overtime. Without Bryant, a competitive Laker team instantly becomes a doormat.
What is the deal with Bryant's errant elbows? After the first incident, I wrote , "I've seen the replay several times now and I'm still not sure what to think; looking at the play in slow motion, Kobe's movement does seem a bit "unnatural," to use Stu Jackson's word, but I don't think that it warranted a game suspension--unless the NBA will now suspend players for two games or more every time they deliberately throw a punch." I don't think that Bryant's action in either case is nearly as bad as what Gerald Henderson did to Tyler Hansbrough recently in the North Carolina-Duke game. Trying to block a shot with one's elbow is 100% "unnatural" and dirty and Henderson should have received a lot more than a one game suspension. As for Bryant, I am less disappointed about this suspension than I was about the first one. The first time set a precedent, in my opinion; I cannot recall an NBA player being disciplined so harshly for an apparently inadvertent act but, as Stu Jackson explained, the NBA deemed Bryant's action to be an excessively violent blow to the head, did not believe it to be accidental and is determined to get rid of such plays. NBA Director of Officials Ronnie Nunn reiterated those points on his excellent NBA TV show, "Making the Call with Ronnie Nunn." I think that the NBA should have fined Bryant for the first infraction and said that future such actions would lead to a suspension but so be it--whether Bryant, Phil Jackson or anyone else agreed with Jackson and Nunn, the rules of the game have been clearly stated. No one should be surprised that Bryant was suspended for elbowing Jaric in the wake of the NBA's swift action after the Bryant-Ginobili play. As long as the NBA remains consistent with its rules interpretation and enforcement it is up to the players to adjust their actions accordingly.
Watching Bryant's elbow strike Jaric, I got the impression that it was not 100% on purpose but that it was not 100% accidental, either. I don't believe that he intentionally hit Jaric in the face, but I do think that he can exercise a little more control of where his arm goes; I also think that Ginobili fouled Bryant first before Bryant elbowed him and, although it is hard to tell from the available camera angles, it looks like Jaric may have fouled Bryant first as well. I point that out not to "justify" Bryant's flailing arm but to suggest the possibility that whatever flailing Bryant normally does may have been accentuated by him being hit at the same time. If you shoot the ball and are hit in the head or shoulder while you are flailing you arm then your arm may flail a bit more erratically. I'm not sure that this is what happened--and Stu Jackson clearly does not go along with this view.
Interestingly, Jaric told ESPN's Chris Sheridan that does not think that Bryant hit him on purpose: "I haven't seen the replay, but if you ask me what I thought about the play when it happened, I don't think he did it intentionally, and I don't think players should be suspended for things that happen unintentionally. I think he was trying to draw a foul, and he swung his hand out to make it look dramatic, and he hit me by accident. He apologized right after."
Great offensive players are aggressive and they use their shoulders, elbows and hands to clear space. Bryant tends to flail when he shoots and I think that he does this for two reasons: (1) he may be able to draw a foul; (2) the possibility that he may strike a defender could cause that defender to give a little ground. Now that the NBA has made it crystal clear that this kind of flailing will not be tolerated I trust that Bryant will find a way to create space without elbowing people in the head. If he doesn't, he runs the risk that the next time he pops someone the NBA will suspend him for more than one game. Stu Jackson told Sheridan that he considered suspending Bryant for more than one game after the Jaric hit. Whatever advantage Bryant may be deriving from this maneuver is not worth the risk of being suspended again.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:02 AM