Coming off Sunday’s loss to the Kings, Kobe Bryant has become the key focus of most pundits’ thoughts on the Lakers. The typically great Zach Lowe summed it up thusly in his latest column:
The league’s vaudeville freak show rolls on, with Kobe Bryant upchucking one of the very worst games you’ll ever see from a high-volume scorer Sunday against the Kings — an 8-of-30 festival of contested 22-footers, with nine Kobe turnovers tossed in as a free sideshow.
Opponents have outscored the Lakers by 13.3 points per 100 possessions with Bryant on the floor, per NBA.com. The Lakers have flipped that figure almost on its head when Kobe sits, destroying teams by about 11 points per 100 possessions. The sample size is small, and Bryant is going up against top opposing units as a starter for a terrible team; Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson, the Lakers’ other full-time starters, also have ugly splits by this metric.
But they’re not as ugly as Kobe’s, and the Lakers’ positive scoring margin without him is massive — about equivalent to Golden State’s league-best mark. Bryant leads the league in shot attempts and usage rate. He is shooting 37 percent. No one in NBA history has faced so little accountability. It is absurd on its face. Bryant has hijacked the entire organization.
Some Lakers’ fans might take umbrage with the tone of Lowe’s writing, but the key is the information provided. Kobe had one of the worst games I’ve seen him play…well, ever. The lack of crispness to his game and the lack of adjustments made throughout was a sight to see, especially from a player who has typically found ways to impact the game positively even if he is not at his best. And, sadly, this has been a too frequent occurrence this season (as his on/off court numbers speak to).
For me, however, my frustrations with this situation not only lie with Kobe, but with those empowering and enabling him to work in the manner he is. Kobe is still a player and part of a team and an organization. While Lowe says that Kobe has “highjacked” the organization, I am more of the mind that some of the blame must lie at the feet of his coach and the front office for not sitting the player down and re-engaging him in discussions on expectations and what needs to be happening on the floor.
As much influence as Kobe has, he is part of the group and has a coach who he is very close to. He also has a front office that has been a part of his life, in some capacity, since he joined the organization. For me, where are they now, when they need to b to reduce his minutes, talk to him about playing style and how he can best help the team, and to have an impact on these last seasons of his career? Where are they to have the difficult conversations with him the way that a “family” is supposed to? None of this is easy and with someone as headstrong and strong willed as Kobe, it will be even harder. But isn’t this why you hired this coach? And when, if not at the time when the player is not playing anywhere near the standard anyone (including him) would want, will a change in approach occur to have these conversations and try to move in a direction where more positive play can be produced?
Now is the time to stop enabling a player to fail and start putting him in better positions to succeed. This doesn’t have to be done callously or publicly. But it needs to happen. Not only for the player’s sake, but for the rest of the team’s, the coaches, the organization at large, and the fans. No one wants to see this continue like this.
As for tonight’s game, the Lakers play the Warriors. We’ve been through this enough times — this is what, the 100th time these two teams have played since the preseason? — to know what to expect. The Warriors are, currently, the class of the league. Even without Andrew Bogut anchoring the paint on both sides of the floor, the Warriors are a defensive powerhouse and an offensive juggernaut. It takes an extraordinary effort to beat them when you’re a good team. And we know, of course, that the Lakers are not that.
So rather than get into the X’s and O’s of it all, I prefer to shift the focus to hoping for a spirited game with both teams competing hard. I would love to see Kobe take a step back from trying to do as much as he’s been doing while seeing some of the other players raise up their games in an effort to show Kobe (and everyone else) that they are, in fact, capable. Add in some adjustments by the coaches and this group can start to have some small successes even if they do not lead to victories. And in a season like this one, that’s probably all you can hope for.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.