On Kobe Bryant, Playing Hurt, & the Farewell Tour

Darius Soriano —  March 3, 2016

The Lakers played at Denver on Wednesday and lost. This was not hard to predict — we said we expected as much in our game preview. The Nuggets aren’t worlds better than the Lakers (though they are better), but they were playing at home, the Lakers had played the night before in Los Angeles, and that was that.

The Lakers played the game shorthanded, too. They came into the game without Lou Williams (hamstring) and Larry Nance Jr. (rest for a sore knee). They lost Jordan Clarkson during the game to a patella tendon strain (update on the severity of this pending). They also should have been without Kobe Byrant, but he decided to play.

This was Kobe’s last visit to Denver so he gave it a go. He ended up only playing 11 minutes and sat out the entire 2nd half. After the game he said that if it wasn’t his last game in the mile-high city he probably would have sat out, but it was so he didn’t. After the game he also gave an update on how he’s feeling and what that means for the rest of the season. ESPN’s Baxter Holmes has the skinny:

“It’s really, really achy,” Bryant said after the game. “[I’ve] got a little bit of clicking in it and things like that. Just try to stay on top of it right now.”…

“It’s the same as it’s always been,” Bryant said of managing his shoulder. “A lot of patience and trying to stay with it and try to stay on top of it. Not really much you can do.”

Wait, there’s more:

Asked if he would consider shutting himself down for a brief period to heal the shoulder, Bryant said, “I can’t do that. There’s like [20 games] left in the season. As much as I can get out there and play, I’ll get out there and play. At Staples [Center], I’m going to have to start ramping it up a little bit and getting out there and playing. It’s almost a wrap.

“At the same time, I don’t want to do something towards the end and have the shoulder pop out again, and then I’m on the surgery table again or something like that. I don’t want that to happen. So we’ve just got to be smart, but I’ll still appreciate the time that I have left.”

Byron Scott has stated multiple times this season that his main goal for Kobe is to have him walk off the floor on April 13th in the final game of his career and the ovation he deserves. However he needs to manage Kobe to ensure that happens, he will do so. Kobe, seemingly, has that goal too, but it seems to conflict with the fact that he really does seem hurt right now but is unwilling to sit out for a sustained period to rest and heal a bit more.

This is the conflict Kobe has faced since the day he announced this would be his last season while also dealing with what is clearly an ailing shoulder. Every road trip offers the last chance for fans in these cities to see Kobe play and, so, he tries to play. It does not matter if he probably shouldn’t. There is no next year.

What is also interesting is Kobe’s acknowledgement that he will also try to stop missing home games. I noted this on twitter last week, but it seems the majority of the games Kobe has missed have come at home. In looking at his game log, that assumption was correct. The last 8 games he has missed have all been at STAPLES Center and the last game he missed that was not in Los Angeles was on December 19th in OKC (he missed a “road” game against the Clippers on January 29th).

Down the stretch, then, I don’t expect Kobe to miss too many games period. The Lakers only have 20 games left in their season. This really is the home stretch of his career. I have no clue what is going through his mind regarding the finality of it all, but it is clear that getting the floor, be it for the fans or for himself, weighs on him.

All of this is also a reminder that Kobe really is limping to the finish line. He puts on the good face, is great in interviews, and even gave away his game shoes to two kids sitting courtside in Denver. But he is hurting. And his team is bad. I’d be lying if I tried to act as though this didn’t make me sad; sad beyond the normal feelings of a storied career of one of my favorite players coming to an end.

Darius Soriano

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19 responses to On Kobe Bryant, Playing Hurt, & the Farewell Tour

  1. Truly the lion in winter.

  2. Twenty games of Kobe left… With there being absolutely no chance of a meaningful game being in play for Kobe, I appreciate his effort to just go out there and give fans their money’s worth, a last chance to watch a legend play.

    I can’t rank Kobe’s greatest games but I think I can offer my nomination for the last great game of his career. April 13th 2013, against the Warriors. The man was fighting for playoff positioning, had already playing hurt, and had hurt his knee earlier in the game. He was in the “we will not lose this game” zone. He scored 34 PTS with 5 REB and 4 AST. He was 9/21 but 4/8 on his 3PTS. Not a particularly stellar game in the statistical measure. In terms of drama, Kobe has played few games that better displayed the Kobe Way. I might even say that this was the most Kobe game I’ve seen.

    Game seven in 2010, against the Lepers might be another version. Whereas in that game, Kobe was forcing his shot, going 6/24, playing into the Celtics’ game plan, his will came through in his rebounding, his team defense (sagging considerably against Rondo) and his will to keep the team playing together. In his game against the Dubs, the man was a laser beam going after the ball, throwing his body around despite being “overused” by MDA. Maybe he was trying to teach Dwight how to win. Maybe he was ratcheting up the intensity of play for the upcoming playoffs. No doubt he was doing everything he could to win and then he blew out his tendon. He knew what had happened. He knew his season was over. Still, he got up, collected himself, walked to the line and drained two free throws on one working leg and a second leg that was fully hypnotized by the Mamba’s will. I had watched so many of his games from age 17 to that day and I was never more impressed by him then I was in the wake of that performance.

    I think Kobe is doing some version of the same performance. He is giving everything he can to the game. At this point, winning is not what he can shoot for. What he can shoot for is giving as many chances as possible for the fans to say goodbye to one of the all-time great ballers. That too is the Kobe Way. I freakin love that guy.

  3. – Completely agree. Only 20 games left and it would be good to see Kobe play in each one. The logical thing to do is limit his minutes (20 max) over the 1st three quarters. If the agenda is to have Kobe play as many games as he can, and be at his best each time, while still developing the young core, this seems to be the way to go.

  4. I agree with sid on this one…

  5. Snarky George March 3, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Lakers bits from Kevin Pelton’s 2/26 chat:

    El Jefe: Any chance in hell Lakers let the Suns (who will likely lose the balance of their games) out-tank them?

    Kevin Pelton: At this point I’d have the Suns as the favorites for the second spot in the lottery. Don’t appear to be a lot of wins left on their schedule.
    ____

    Travis: Is Jordan Clarkson a real asset for the Lakers? Could they flip him for a better wing? Or does the league view him as a looter in a riot?

    Kevin Pelton: Given his contract, I don’t see a scenario where trading him makes much sense. He’s far more valuable to the Lakers if they can get him on an Arenas Rule deal that pays him the midlevel the next two years and then escalates thereafter, which allows them to maximize their cap space the next two summers. I don’t think Clarkson’s a full-time point guard but his development into a plus 3-point shooter this season means he doesn’t need to have the ball in his hands to succeed.
    ____

    James: Any thoughts on Hassan Whiteside being a Lakers target? He has a high WARP and seems to fit what they need even more than a 3 and D small forward

    Kevin Pelton: Outside of Durant, I don’t see anyone else who makes more sense for them this summer. The question is only whether they’d want to roll over their cap space for the superior 2017 crop rather than settling for a sub-elite player.
    ____

    Travis: Have you seen enough of D’Angelo Russell to think he could be a starting point guard in the league? He seems to have one of the best young post up games of all the rookies

    Kevin Pelton: Sure. To even hold your own as a rookie point guard at age 19 is impressive.

  6. Clay Bertrand March 3, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    Honestly, no disrespect to Kobe or his legacy of success but REALLY he should be playing ZERO minutes. He isn’t fit to play basketball anymore. He doesn’t practice at all and I doubt he is weight training or anything. He receives THERAPY if anything. A 20 minute limit is a GREAT idea….IF THIS WERE NOVEMBER!!!!!!!

    Byron overplayed him AGAIN!!!! He should have been making 10 minute cameos all year but now he’s broken and he isn’t intending to fix himself this time. No one at his age can play every game with an injured, surgically repaired shoulder and just hope it gets healthy along the way. He needs rest and if its REST vs. PLAYING WHILE HURT, he is choosing the latter for the fans sake and is essentially making APPEARANCES in uniform at this point.

    Its not basketball. Its a memorial tour and for those of us who have been watching the guy for 20 years, seeing these honorary appearances in pro basketball games when he isn’t capable of playing feels kinda empty. I’ve been to 4 games this season and he’s played in ONE of them. I’d rather have him just address the crowd pregame and not play than to see him “PLAY” for 11 minutes and sit the rest of the game injured with an iced shoulder. That isn’t rewarding him, his team OR the fans!

    He doesn’t have to be honored IN GAME to have it be a respectful send off is my point. None of us are saving this season’s box scores or holding our breath to see Kobe be an exhibition-like shell of his former greatness. If he can’t play he can’t play. Putting a uniform on him and starting him doesn’t make him able to play. I don’t think NOT playing takes away ANYTHING from his legacy at all. But wheelin him out basically to make FINAL IN GAME APPEARANCEs goes against everything Kobe has always been about.

    Blasphemous to say but its really kinda lame IMO.

  7. Clay Bertrand March 3, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Further blasphemy——Kobe playing every game is our best chance to tank. Hope he gets HEAVY MINUTES against PHX!!!!!!!!

  8. Clay
    Yes and no.

    For basketball reasons you are correct. Just look at his FG% and 3 point%.

    The no is its not about winning. Its only about ratings and seats. TW ratings would be zip and season ticket holders would be given seats away.

    Dr. Buss was all about winning.

    His kids about the $$$$$.

    Pro sports is a business and maybe we are the fools to support a unprecedented year long Kobe tour while team sets all time loss record. And makes a net profit of $100 million!

  9. Clay Bertrand March 3, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    I hear ya KO. I don’t disagree at all……

    Its an interesting riddle with pro sports & business…….USUALLY Winning is what makes for a better bottom line. But in this BIZARRO season, I agree that WE ARE THE FOOLS who are making a profitable year out of an exhibition of our once great star even as we gnash our teeth over Byron Scott and all the losing.

    I hope this is really a LEAP YEAR for us and that from these doldrums we look surprisingly better than expected next year. With Kobe riding off into the Sunset in Crystal Cove to make movies etc., we will soon see if his farewell has been a non basketball required hindrance to our rebuild. I think the young guys could have been doing what they are doing now 2 months ago and they’d be more advanced at this point.

    Alas this Farewell Tour that has us in a complicated LIMBO will soon be over. The focus will be back on THE TEAM and THE LAKERS where it should be next year. Hopefully we can root for WINS then!!!!!

  10. According to the LA Times, both Kobe and Clarkson are listed as questionable for tomorrow night’s game against Atlanta.

  11. Listing him as questionable and having him play will be fitting considering what his legacy (or at least a large part of it) will be.

    I’m all for him trying to play as many games as possible. “Play” may be an overstatement, but considering the rest of our roster, I think what he provides still qualifies as playing.

  12. At this point, I am hoping that KB can suit up and have a few nice moments in Game 82.

  13. I say for the home stretch of the Kobe tour, we shut down Clarkson and Nance, move Kobe to SG, and bring in Metta to start at SF so he can finish out as well.

  14. Free METTA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    If my boy GOUDELOCK starts tearin up the league Steph Curry style droppin treys from 30 ft ima be pissed!!!!!!!!!!!! His game is tailor made for today’s CHUCK EM FROM DEEP NBA!!!!!!!!!!!!! He may not be able to pronounce the word DE-FENSE but he’s a true long ranger!!!

  15. TempleOfJamesWorthy March 4, 2016 at 10:40 am

    Some ESPN talking heads (I think it was an NBA Lockdown podcast) offered a interesting framework which I think applies to the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour and 3-Point Chucking Exhibition.

    They were discussing how Beno Udrih agreed to buyout terms with the Miami Heat where Udrih gave up enough money so the Heat got out of the luxury tax. Udrih had NO expliticit incentive to do so (he’s injured, won’t play again this year, and his NBA career may be over). But he did, and there is likely an implicit understanding that the Heat will make up the lost money (an explicit promise violates league salary cap rules).

    Players are willing to make such deals because the Heat have an institutional culture and repetuation of taking care of their own. That culture and reputation matters in the NBA. It’s part of the reason teams like the Spurs and the Heat stay competitive and reload quickly, while teams like the Knicks and Kings flounder in extended periods of mediocrity.

    While I strongly wish the Lakers had told Kobe “Sorry, 34-year-old guards with torn Achilles just don’t recover to be NBA superstars, and we’re not going to pay you like an NBA superstar.”, there IS an agrument to be made that Kobe’s way-over-market contract and the way management has kowtowed to Kobe despite his decline has long-term value. It demonstrates to other players (esp. top-notch free agents) who might want to play for the Lakers that they WILL be taken care of financially and they WILL be allowed to end their time with the Lakers on their own terms. That matters in the NBA, so what the Lakers did with Kobe is ***arguably*** in their better long-term interests than what I would have preferred (Kobe tears Achilles, Lakers accept end of era, Lakers blow team up and start rebuilding).

  16. Temple of BIG GAME James,

    Certainly this can be the Silver Lining to Kobe’s albatross contract. I’m not missing your point which I think does hold some water ( “***arguably***” I agree with this too ; ) ). But I was pissed reading that article about this EXPANSION team that has this reputation as if they are the GOLD STANDARD for player treatment. This “OH THE HEAT ARE A REAL ORGANIZATION AND THEY TAKE CARE OF THEIR PLAYERS SO PLAYERS TRUST THEM……” so Udrih trusted them to pay him back down the line (illegal as you said)

    Who gave Magic a HUGE $14.6 MILLION deal for 94-95 GUARANTEED EVEN IF HE NEVER PLAYED A GAME???? The Lakers under Dr. Buss

    Who gave KOBE a HUGE $48 MILLION deal for the last 2 years GUARANTEED EVEN IF HE NEVER PLAYED A GAME???? The Lakers under Buss Family.

    But OHHHHHH the HEAT, man, they REALLY take care of their players. Its BS!!!!!! First of all, the team is owned by BILLIONAIRES much wealthier than the Buss family (though Anschutz beats both) so their concern over paying the LUXURY tax is laughable. This was about clearing roster spots for released players a la Joe Johnson et. al and they have CLEARLY promised the guy payback and then some down the line somewhere.

    Its a JOE SMITH deal……Its a RODMAN Living in CUBANs Guest House deal……..Doesn’t anyone remember the FIRST TIME the Heat “signed” Juwan Howard???? Riley is a CHEAT. He is CONSTANTLY in dirty waters. Its BS!!!!!! Where is Dan Gilbert??? If this were the NFL there’d already be a hearing scheduled!!!!

    At least the Lakers are taking care of KOBE out of the Salary Cap and the fact that he has been such an influence on the next generations of players PERHAPS this will ring in their ears as a message that the Lakers take care of their players. Frankly though, high caliber players that we would hope would heed this message and come to LA because of it are STILL not going to come here. There is too much guaranteed money all over the place!!!!!!

    STILL, as I said, I agree and HOPE that MAYBE someone will write an article about how the LAKERS take care of theirs and go above and beyond to repay their stars.

    It sucks that we have a questionable reputation for treating our stars disrespectfully when its entirely due to the cancelled Chris Paul deal the resulting distrust between the team and Pau. The Lakers really have been very rewarding of their stars yet are portrayed as some shallow ownership people.

  17. Temple of Worthy:

    Very nice post. This argument has been made here before but your commentary is cogent and a pleasure to read. Thanks.

  18. I would imagine kobe carried the weight on at least half of the wins this year

  19. Clay Bertrand March 4, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    Matt, I would clarify that he was LOADED with the weight or PICKED IT UP HIMSELF because of how he shot with high volume (and LOW %) and how Byron sat the young guys and continuously created crappy rotations of line ups that didn’t mesh.

    Kobe’s POINTS may have carried the load some in this regard. But his penchant for standing there giving the REFs the EYE after missing a shot and thinking he was fouled while the other team streaks for a transition basket against an undermanned defense was just DEAD WEIGHT!!!

    I don’t think Kobe wants (or deserves) credit for ANYTHING that’s happenin THIS season……