We all knew this day was coming. From the minute Kobe started talking about basketball as work rather than the steps along the way to being great, I knew we were closer than he was letting on. As soon as he started to talk about “if my mind changes“, I knew we were closer still. And so, on a Sunday afternoon a few hours before an early evening match up¬†against the Pacers, Kobe made clear what we all were seeing through the previously murky messages.

His body could give no more; this season would be his last.

While the emotions swirled in me, to be honest, I smiled a little.

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Hours before the game started, Kobe Bryant announced he would not play beyond this season. We’ll get to that another time, but that was the backdrop to this game. The farewell tour would begin in earnest at home, two days before the team will play in Kobe’s hometown of Philly.

The crowd was ready, but the players were not. Both teams started out poorly, missing countless shots they would normally make. By the end of the 1st period, only the Pacers would have found their stride, taking a 16 point lead to the break that they would never relinquish. As I have written several times before, a game can just as easily be lost in the first 12 minutes as it can in the last 5 and tonight was a prime example of that. The Lakers would miss their first 11 shots and that was that.

Only, it wasn’t. Kinda. Sorta.

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Through 15 games, the Lakers only have two wins. This, in a vacuum, is concerning. In an ideal world — a world where the Lakers would have the inside track at a top free agent — winning a few more games with the young players showing a readiness to contribute to those wins would be occurring. In that alternate universe, the Lakers wouldn’t be .500 (or even close to it), but a 5-10 record with some eye popping numbers from any of the younger players in those wins would have happened.

Of course, this has not happened. In the teams two wins, one was predicated on Kobe handling the ball a lot and being a key facilitator of the team’s offense (vs. the Pistons) and in the other one the win came against a team arguably worse than the Lakers (vs. the Nets). The young players have shown some promise, but like most young players they have also been inconsistent, mostly subpar defensively, and still sorting out what they are good at in the NBA.

Through 15 games, then, it’s hard to feel too good about where this team is. We might feel differently if the team were 2-13 with the young players getting the bulk of the minutes while playing a style which seemed more in tune with the rest of the league, but this team is still heavily invested in Kobe Bryant as a centerpiece player and coached by Byron Scott. These variables impact the approach to any given game and the underlying schemes the team employs, leaving us to watch exactly what we are watching.

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The Lakers have been off since Tuesday, a terrible loss to the Warriors on national television which brought, front and center, all that is wrong with this team. Losing to the best team in the league — one motivated to break an all-time record on their home court — isn’t in itself embarrassing. Losing by playing as bad as the team did with Kobe floundering to a 1-14 shooting effort is not the same as going down admirably.

As the team’s play continues to suffer, it gets harder to insulate themselves from the criticism and critiques that stem from it. After the games, the beat reporters look for explanations from the players and the coaches. The onus is on those in the locker room to provide insight and context to what is happening on the floor. Speaking to why you are bad or why something isn’t working can get exhausting. Add in what’s going on with Kobe and things can turn uncomfortable.

This is the backdrop for the team right now. They are 2-12 and, after a back to back Saturday and Sunday, the Lakers head out on the road for an eastern road trip. It is not so much whether the losses ensue, but how they play in accumulating those losses. Good play from the young players, a solid Kobe game or two, more strategic game plans from the coaches will go a long way in pacifying some of the critics even if the losses don’t stop. Is this team up for that, at least?

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With the way Kobe Byrant has played to start the season, there has been a lot of eulogizing his career. You do not have to look far to find the next read on how bad he currently his, how he should retire, and how much of a drag he is on the court in what will likely be his final season.

But this version of Kobe is not how I will remember Kobe. The Kobe I will remember is the one who dominated for a decade and a half, the Kobe who struck fear into opponents simply by walking onto the court.

This is the guy I am talking about:

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After a strong few games to start to the season, Julius Randle’s effectiveness has been as up and down as you might expect from a 20 year old player who, while technically in his 2nd season, is essentially a rookie. Players at his age rarely come into the league and dominate, instead they rely on the best parts of their game to try to work their way through and hope it is enough to remain effective against an unforgiving league that feasts on players’ weaknesses.

Randle is no different, using his quick first step and off the dribble work to get into the paint where he can finish over, around, and through opponents. Some nights, this works wonderfully. Other nights, especially when facing disciplined defenders with length, not as much. Based on this early trend, the obvious next steps to improving his chances against defenses loading up on his drives is to develop a reliable enough jumpshot to make defenders think twice about sagging off him to wall off the paint.

To Randle’s and the Lakers’ credit, they understand this quite well and are formulating a plan to do just that. From the OC Register’s Bill Oram:

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I just want to take a moment to offer all of you and yours a happy Thanksgiving from FB&G. The Lakers may not be a very good team right now, but those of you who follow the site and are part of the community, who make this site what it is continue to make the season more enjoyable than it otherwise would be. For that, I am thankful.

Today is a day for family and, it should be noted, that to many of us the Lakers occupy a space in our lives very similar to our actual kin. We invite them into our lives daily, be it through watching the games, following them online, or reading them in print. And while we might not always like how things go, we keep following because we want to see them do well and hope what comes next will be better than what came before it.

This season has not offered much of that, but I am still thankful for it all. And, again, I am thankful for all of you who continue to support me, the site, and the team we all root for. We may not always agree, but we do this together. So, happy Thanksgiving to you all and have a safe and fruitful holiday.

It used to be you could put Kobe Bryant in any scheme and he would excel. Triangle offense? Sure. Spread pick and roll? You got it. Flex? Princeton? Whatever Del Harris or Rudy T ran? He’d still get his because, well, when you are that good at scoring the basketball, it does not matter.

At its most simplest level, Kobe would have the ball, the guy in front of him (and the guy behind that guy) would have to try and stop him from scoring, and they couldn’t.¬†Check-mate.

Those days are gone. And if you didn’t know they were gone from simply watching Kobe play in his 20th season, you should know now that he’s telling you himself.

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