The Los Angeles Lakers have a long offseason ahead of them. The questions surrounding the team are plenty, and it seems as if any player on the roster last season is not guaranteed to show up in November donning Purple and Gold next season.
Except one: Kobe Bryant, perhaps the most beloved Laker in the past twenty years, and arguably the greatest Laker of all-time.
His indispensability? It’s a problem. A big problem. A franchise-setback problem, and one that could cripple the Lakers long-term.
You’re pissed right now, because why would anyone lack any sort of emotional tie to Kobe Bryant if they’re a Lakers fan? Why would anyone who claims to love this team have a desire to part ways with Kobe?
You answered your own question: I love this team.
I’m not some ass-wagon who gets paid money to sit in some chair all day and write something controversial to drive web traffic and create a buzz while riling up a fan-base. I don’t intentionally want to make you hit your monitor by being a contrarian. People get paid money to make themselves look like an idiot. I’m not one of them.
But I’m not the narrow-minded jack-off who hits you up on Twitter and tells you “COUNT THE RINGZ” to defend any and all arguments regarding Kobe Bryant, as if I’m your annoying 7-year old brother who is a passionate basketball fan, but has yet to develop a brain to properly watch the sport at a deeper level.
This is me, being a Laker fan, and telling you that I would like to see Kobe Bryant’s ass shipped out of Los Angeles.
I’m not the only Laker fan who thinks this, either. It seems, though, that the idea of trading a player who has worldwide popularity but is on his way towards a serious decline, all while eating up 33% of the Lakers’ payroll annually is something that no one wants to say explicitly.
Kobe’s an icon, here in L.A. If you’re up at a gym or a park with a hoop or, hell, in your office with a wastebasket, and someone hoists a shot, you’re bound to hear the “KOBE!” tribal yell, as if fading away off one leg from 30 feet out is the coolest-ass thing you can do. And it is, because Kobe made it that way. If there’s a player that has defined the era of basketball watched by people born in the late-80s and early-90s, it’s Kobe Bryant.
But the model of keeping a good team around Bryant versus a good team including Bryant? It’s a flawed model, and one that Laker fans — not Kobe fans — need to realize is horribly stupid.
But even further, the notion that the Lakers need to build for a post-Kobe era is difficult as hell when the player whose departure you’re preparing for is crippling you financially. If you have a player whose shot selection is consistently suspect while not caring that it is, and one that talks a lot about winning another championship but refuses to adjust his game to do so, all while “earning” $28 million a year and forcing out All-Stars left and right? Is it really worth holding off on getting started on rebuilding immediately, and screwing around for the two years left on Kobe Bryant’s contract while we consistently get knocked out of the second round to superior teams because said superstar can’t rein in his ego enough to make a friggin’ entry pass to a player who is likely better than he is (in spurts, admittedly) late in games, in Andrew Bynum? Hell no it isn’t.
Because Kobe has become frustrating to watch. Stupid shots and “I don’t play for your approval” (although he plays for our entertainment) mentality makes it blood-boiling to know this guy is dressing in Purple and Gold. His ego has gotten to the point where him making a single, ridiculous shot has led to a flurry of more ridiculous shots that should never go in (and, following the initial success, rarely do anymore). The idea that he can “take over games” is a tired one, and one that has led to him taking those games in the wrong direction.
And this season, statistically, backs up all this rambling. This season, Kobe hoisted up more shots than any point in his career, save for his first season in the playoffs without Shaq (2005-06), and that was when Kobe really had marginal talent surrounding him, with the only worthwhile player of that mini-era being Lamar Odom. And at 23 shots a game, Kobe shot at a 43 percent clip, the lowest since he was 19 years old (he’s 33 now), all while maintaining the highest usage rate of his career at 35.7 percent (again, aside from the ’05-06 season). To add to that, he’s stood pat in the Assist Ratio category too (although this year’s number is insignificantly his worst since 2000-01) In essence, he’s eating up more possessions and wasting them, at the same time.
All while walking around El Segundo as if there is no reason for him to step back and let others dominate, refusing to be relegated to the second option on the team, where he’ll fit gorgeously at this point in his career.
And this is the dilemma we’re facing with Kobe Bryant, because any other player that wants to come here must become the second option. And though most won’t have an issue with this, it’s bad for the basketball in Downtown LA, because it’ll be the same trash we saw in the playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, where Kobe plays absolute hero ball while ignoring his new-found second option.
This worked in 2010, but it barely worked. Save for the Lakers’ demolishment of the Utah Jazz, L.A.’s model of living and dying by Kobe failed, and it was up to his teammates to bail his ass out (ironic how fast things change, don’t they?). From a late-game Pau Gasol tip-in against OKC, to a last-second recovery by Ron Artest, to a godawful 6-for-24 performance in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, the idea that Kobe Bryant can take over games by himself is an irresponsible one.
Of course, rabid “Laker fans” (let’s call them “Kobe fans” since that’s a more accurate description) will interpret it like an immature child and say, “YEAH, WELL WE DON’T WIN THOSE CHAMPIONSHIPS WITHOUT KOBE” as if I’ve somehow meant that Kobe should’ve been traded in 1999 or some crap like that.
Well, no kidding, we wouldn’t have won those titles without Kobe. The point, though, was that the reliance on Kobe (or, the idea that Kobe has in his head that his team’s success is entirely dependent upon his) needs to stop. As a second option, Kobe gets his sixth ring, or at least as a first option that has no problem playing second fiddle when someone else is having a better night, instead of completely going away from what works late in the fourth quarter to get your name in lights as the team’s savior.
Because this thinking might start impeding the Lakers’ ability to land true No. 1 options (as was the case with Dwight Howard, recently), and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no way in hell Kobe stops with this thinking.
The reality is that Kobe Bryant is not tradable, in any sense of the word. His no-trade clause and the aforementioned $28 million/year contract ensures he’s going to be stay a Laker forever unless this team amnesties him, at which point they get nothing in return except cap space. And though Kobe’s attitude and piss-poor play (considering he’s devouring 1/3 of the Lakers’ payroll) is to the point where he should be traded if he could be, it’s not to the point where he can’t be cashed in for more valuable assets. (We’ll wait until he somehow forces out Mitch Kupchak, which probably won’t ever happen, but may because these are the Lakers, after all.)
But Kobe Bryant’s narcissism won’t allow him to take a step back, the way guys like Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and, hell, Dwyane Wade have, in order to facilitate another players’ dominance, and thereby enhance the team’s shot at success.
Kobe wants to win, but only if he’s the one who’s the causal factor, and if you don’t like it, f*** you. This attitude wouldn’t fly if he wasn’t Kobe Bryant, and since his play isn’t backing up his smack, why should Laker fans give him a pass and ask for the trading of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and the dismissal of Mike Brown, instead of deservedly criticizing Kobe? If the goal is to win championships every freaking year, then why should Kobe’s past five titles stop fellow Laker fans from growing a pair and voicing their displeasure at Kobe Bryant?
It’s a frustrating saga, to be sure, and it’s one that we can’t get out of. But perhaps, and this is wishful thinking, making negative attitudes towards Kobe Bryant from his own fan-base salient might make Kobe reconsider his stance, since we’re stuck with him.
Or Kobe will just continue to be Kobe, but at 33-years old and inefficient as hell.
If that’s how it’s going to go down, we’re screwed.