Archives For Kobe

When I went about previewing the 2015-16 Lakers, I wrote mostly about the difficult balancing act the team was trying to accomplish with the roster which was constructed. Here is a sampling:

On a roster with a mix of young prospects who need development and capable veterans who play the same positions, how do they balance playing time? When trying to win as many games as possible, but also needing for young players to be able to play through mistakes to learn — sometimes at the expense of wins — how do they balance the different priorties? On a team with at least seven rotation players who do their best work with the ball in their hands, how do they balance touches?

As the season has transpired, however, a new variable has been thrown into the mix: Kobe Bryant announced he would retire. While it was pretty much assumed this would be Kobe’s last year, him putting it on the record in the manner he did shifted the discussion and caused a recalibration of what this year would be about.

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Twelve games ago Byron Scott decided he wanted to shake up his starting lineup. The move was a controversial one as he demoted Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell — the two players most considered cornerstones of the team’s rebuild and future — from the ranks of the starters to reserves. The young players have said all the right things, but when pressed have expressed a desire to start (at least Russell has – Randle has taken the “control what you can control” approach with the media).

With the change now 12 games deep and exactly three weeks old, now is as good a time as any to take stock and look at some of the numbers and trends which have emerged since the switch. Please note that while Randle has been a reserve for all 12 games, he has missed a contest with a sore ankle and that Russell did start two of the 12 contests while Jordan Clarkson sat out with his own ankle issue.

With that, let’s dig into some numbers:

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I’ve written it before, but I’ve not been the biggest fan of the Lakers playing on Christmas. This is mostly for selfish reasons — I’d much prefer to just relax with family and not have to be the guy who shuns everyone while totally investing in another Lakers’ game. I do that 81 other times a year, one day off — on Christmas no less — isn’t too much to ask for.

This year, though, I don’t have that same feeling. And, again, it’s for selfish reasons. This will be Kobe Bryant’s final game on Christmas and I want to see him perform. If his recent level of play holds up, it should be a good final game too. But even if it doesn’t, I still want to watch him do his thing.

Kobe’s the NBA’s all-time leading scorer on Christmas day with 383 points on his resumé. His filled highlight reels with some amazing moments that are engrained in my memory. You know, ones like these:

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Kobe Bryant has had a recent resurgence. After starting the season as one of the lesser performing players in the entire league, he has strung together two weeks of plus-play, improving his efficiency in every aspect of his game and looking more the part of Kobe Bryant. This was summed up well by a tweet from ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh before Wednesday’s loss to the Thunder:

The depths of his early season play put into question whether a stretch like this was even possible, much less if it would actually come. As the saying goes, sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train and it looked very much like #24 was on the verge of being flattened by a locomotive powered by father time.

This recovery, then, has been a great site to see. And based on what has gone into getting his body to the point where he could play at the level he has been recently, it’s also apropos to use the term recovery.

As detailed in Baxter Holmes’ most recent piece for ESPN, Kobe has enlisted a small army of physical therapists — both under his own employment and from the Lakers’ staff — to work on every part of his body to ensure he is ready to play each day. The entire article is great and well worth your time, but below are a few passages which stood out to me.

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With this being Kobe Bryant’s 20th and final season with the Lakers, the organization has been running a pretty cool feature all season called “This Day in Kobe History” (#TDIKH) where they chronicle great games or key events throughout Kobe’s career. Today, December 20th, just so happens to be one of my favorite Kobe games ever:

This game is often overshadowed by Kobe’s 81 point performance against the Raptors which came a month later (January 22, 2006). But, for my money, Kobe’s outburst 10 years ago was actually more impressive.

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Earlier in the week we talked about recent improved play from Kobe and him embracing the type of player he did not envision he would hold on to become late in his career. The last couple of games, however, Kobe has even exceeded that level of play.

It may be too early to say that this is the new norm, but we’re approaching the point where those who buried him as being “done” might do well to re-evaluate those firm statements and call them premature. Again, the sample needs to get bigger, but the fact that there’s a sample at all is encouraging.

The latest evidence of a revival came on Thursday night, where Kobe seemed intent to give us a game version of the #throwbackthursday hashtag:

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Back in February of 2012, the Lakers were a team looking to find its way. Coming out of the NBA lockout, Mike Brown was tasked with coaching the team Phil Jackson departed, trying to pick up the pieces and re-form a group fractured by the attempted trade of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom for Chris Paul.

Looking back, it was not an easy time at all. Not the lows the team is facing now, but a different sort of struggle where expectations to contend were still high, but coming in a condensed season with a group possessing insane numbers of miles on their legs, looking to achieve what was, in hindsight, well beyond their grasp.

That was the backdrop for comments that Kobe Bryant made to Stephen A. Smith about what his future might hold. Yes, those questions were popping up nearly 4 years ago, before the ruptured achilles, before the team’s plunge into the high lottery. Stephen A. wanted to know if Kobe might one day leave the Lakers to join a better team – a team which might net him that elusive sixth NBA Championship. Kobe shot that down pretty quickly:

“Why would I want to go somewhere else, that ship sailed in (2007),” Bryant said. “If there was ever a time I was going to move to go play someplace else, that was it. I’m not going to jump ship to chase a sixth ring, it’s just not going to happen. It’s going to happen here or it’s not going to happen.”

After Kobe said that, he also had this quote about how long he might play:

“You think I’d hang around and average 18 points, 19 points… hell no.”

We all know what is happening this season. I do not want to pile on Kobe, but his season has been poor. The numbers speak for themselves. I don’t need to paint them in vibrant colors or put them into historical context to sensationalize them. We watch the games, we know he’s not done well. He knows he’s not done well.

This is where that last quote comes into play. Kobe never thought he’d be this guy. He’s a career 25, 5, and 5 guy. The thought of him becoming a guy who would only be getting 18? No chance.

But, Kobe was wrong. And that’s perfectly okay.

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Before the Lakers played the Wizards last week, I answered a few questions for Wizards’ site Truth About It in the lead up to that game. It was mostly about the young players and my feelings in the aftermath of Kobe’s retirement announcement. One question, though, was about my three favorite Kobe “moments” from his career. I thought long and hard on that question and ultimately offered up this answer:

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