There’s a simplistic laziness that hovers over the media coverage of the National Basketball Association. Of course there are plenty of thoughtful journalists that write about the game, its just that narratives of certain players, teams, and coaches take root and are nearly impossible to change, no matter what the facts say.
In the 80’s it was that it was the league’s best era. In the 90’s, it was that the game had gotten too physical, too bogged down by defense. In the 00’s it was that Kobe had broken up the Lakers dynasty, that he was a selfish player and not well liked. All of these claims were easily debatable if not disproved outright, but NBA story lines typically remain etched in stone.
The current theory floating around the league is that the Lakers are no longer a top destination, that other stars don’t want to play with Kobe, and that the front office is a bumbling shell of itself from previous seasons.
We forget that just 3 years ago Chris Paul sought legal counsel when his trade to the Lakers was blocked. We forget how Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom nearly fell apart emotionally,seemingly just from being traded from the Lakers. Its lazy and untrue to surmise that the Lakers are no longer a top flight destination for free agents.
The Dwight Howard situation was as much an indictment of Howard’s reluctance to step into Shaquille O’Neal’s large shadow as it was his inability to co-exist with Kobe Bryant. With a year of hindsight, we saw in Houston, much of the sulking from Howard that he exhibited in Los Angeles.
Lebron James has laid the framework to opt out of his contract, and in somewhat of a panic move, the Miami Heat organization has floated out the idea that all of its Big Three would opt out to create flexibility for the organization. Heat President Pat Riley said in a thinly veiled shot at James that “”You’ve got to stay together, if you’ve got the guts” and ”You don’t find the first door and run out of it if you have an opportunity.” It doesn’t sound like a confident statement from one of the league’s most self assured personas.
It sounds like Riley thinks James could leave.
On its face, it is laughable that star players that have performed up to their contract would then take an ever deeper pay cut in order for their team to not have to suffer a large luxury tax penalty or so that they can sign a marquee free agent who is also expected to leave money on the table. Kobe Bryant continues to get criticized for accepting a 7 million dollar pay cut, even while remaining the league’s 2nd most marketable star.The Lakers’ massive television contract makes Bryant’s 23.5 million salary a relatively small number and doesn’t prohibit the team from building a contender immediately.The NBA is not the NFL, no matter how much the punditry tries to demonize player salaries.
There is no legitimate reason for Lebron James to take a further pay cut except to get to a larger market where his business or endorsement opportunities would grow exponentially. Lebron James coming to the Lakers would be the best thing for his business portfolio, but it would also be a great benefit to his basketball career.
A Kobe – Lebron partnership in Los Angeles would dwarf the wattage of his move to Miami. Financially, he would assume the mantle of standard bearer of a true global brand and the spoils that come with it. On the court, he would find in Bryant the one player uniquely suited to play off him.
Bryant is an aging basketball genius, but a genius nonetheless. He can be a spot up shooter, a post scorer, a slasher/cutter, a clutch shot maker, or a deadly passer. There is variety to his game that Dwyane Wade never possessed. The other aspect of such a partnership is that Kobe would not cede the mantle of leadership. For James, who has often been burdened by the crown of expectation, this would be a relief. James never had a veteran star to learn from, Wade was always his peer never a true elder.
The potential friction the two would possibly create in tough times could be the type of competitive tension that was noticeably missing in the meek ousters of the Heat’s 2011 and 2014 teams, and could produce a different, winning result.
There is only one place where Lebron can become an even bigger star than he is, an even greater champion than he is. Its with the Lakers. There is only one player in the league who can look Lebron in the eyes and challenge him when he is faltering. His last name is Bryant.
Nobody outside the west coast wants to see the pairing because they know what it would mean – a true dynasty, Kobe’s 6th title and beyond, and Bryant as the possible All time scorer. For James, playing for the Lakers would be the culmination of his push to be a billionaire, not to mention a few more championships to cement his legacy. You say its implausible, but Pat Riley just let the world know that he was “pissed”.
It can be done.