Los Angeles Lakers - News Update: Time for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to Part Ways?
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In twelve-step programs aimed at curing alcoholism, drug addiction, or other behavioral problems, acceptance is often the first step towards recovery. A small step, sure, but a vulnerable one. One that admits to denial, or concedes weaknesses exists when a person puts up a strong front.
Up until now, Kobe Bryant's been in denial of his age. He's obstinately shooting at a 37.2 clip from the field while averaging 22 shots per game. Despite ranking fourth in the league in scoring, Bryant's missed more shots than all but 22 other players have attempted. Only 10 players in NBA history have taken as many three-pointers per game while making 30 percent.
And that's not even head coach Byron Scott's biggest problem. Bryant didn't think anything was wrong with his abysmal shooting. Not when he's coming off two major surgeries, and not when he carries a league-high 36.4 usage rating. At 36-years-old, Bryant averages 35.6 minutes per game, including a forgettable 38-minute effort against Sacramento last Sunday where he committed nine turnovers and made just 8-of-30 shots.
Bryant often talks about feeling fatigued, but it wasn't until Monday that he openly considered taking time off.
"I don't have much of a choice if the body is feeling the way it's feeling right now," Bryant told Yahoo Sports. "With the amount of work that I do and put into my body and to get my body ready, for it to be sore as it is right now, sometimes you do have to consider sitting down."
Kobe finally admitted that he's old. That a night off here and there wouldn't be so bad. But if Bryant expects Scott to wait for him to regain his youthful prowess, if he anticipates a Derek Jeter-esque au revoir in Los Angeles where a starting shooting guard role is eternally his, he's not ready to make the Lakers better.
Nick Young believes he's ready to replaces Bryant's scoring, recently stating "Just give me the ball. I'm always ready to carry the load." Jeremy Lin, who often praises Bryant hard-nose demeanor, said "I like hitting game winners too. I would love to shoot some. But I get it," following a 104-103 loss to Oklahoma City last Friday where Bryant's game-winning jumper clanged off the rim.
Lin added, "That guy is kind of the king of game winners. He's going to hit that shot. He'll figure it out. That's why he is who he is."
And that's the kind of players Michael Jordan and Karl Malone were, but each found themselves outside of Chicago and Utah, respectively, in the twilight of their careers. Even Akeem Olajuwon found a reprieve after leaving Houston, landing in Toronto for a season.
Because he's been in Lakeland since his inception doesn't mean Bryant makes the Lakers better. Or that a split would be mutually beneficial.
The Lakers' net rating through 27 games with Bryant was minus-13.3 points per possession. Without him it leaps to plus-11.1 points. Without the Black Mamba, the Lakers hold a 109.4 offensive rating. Their defensive rating? 98.3, which would be good enough for third in the league.
That's not to say Bryant's ineffective. He didn't surpass Jordan on the All-Time scoring list without developing into a clutch player. Kobe's taken on the persona of the entire offense, and it's backfired tremendously.
If the Lakers don't finish with a top-five draft pick, their first-round selection is forfeit to Phoenix. That would be the sole reason to keep Bryant around, aside from the mega-cable deal and outlandish ticket prices that keep the team profitable. But what to do when he retires following the 2016 season?
Earlier in the season, NBA.com's Sam Smith speculated moving Bryant to our nation's capital. "But as much as Lakers' fans believe it's about Kobe, Lakers' management would have to jump at a chance for a young star to accelerate their rebuilding. Which is why Kobe to the Wizards may be the one."
"The Wizards have a young, potential star shooting guard in Bradley Beal. You can build with a player like him. Then you give the Lakers Nene and another player since the Wizards have plenty of guys they're not much using to include in trade. For the Wizards, it's the chance to take a shot, which they really don't have now."
The sticking point in any move, whether it is to Washington, Chicago, or New York, would be the $48.5 million owed for this season and next. The Lakers would presumably eat a chunk of that, but only the Knicks have a tradable player capable of offsetting that. Carmelo Anthony has worn out his welcome in the Big Apple.
From a business perspective, it would benefit Anthony rejuvenate his career out west while giving the Lakers a player guaranteed to draw fans. Regardless of emphasis put on his shoot-first mentality, Anthony's numbers are still in line with career marks. The downside, of course, is that Bryant would transition from one bottom-dwelling club to another.
Either way, the Lakers' future remains in jeopardy with Bryant on the roster. At some point, putting up 25 points a night in losing efforts won't be enough for either side to bear.
There was a point in Tuesday night's stunning victory over Golden State where the Lakers actually looked like they were having fun. Seven Lakers scored in double figures, Carlos Boozer contributed 18 off the bench, and the Warriors suffered just their fourth loss of the season. All while Bryant took a night off.
"Some guys just played like 'Django Unchained '- they were free tonight," Young said after the 115-105 upset of league's winningest team.
Even Lin's impartial tone changed. "I just think we learned," Lin said before a brief pause. "I would say it's just another stepping stone."
Playing outside of Los Angeles may taint Bryant's legacy in Lakerland, but his place in NBA history would remain intact.
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