Archives For Kobe

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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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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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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I want to see Kobe Bryant play well. I want this not as much for me, as a fan with rooting interests in the player and the team he plays for, but for him. As a person and a player.

I want it for him because as one of the best players who I have ever seen play basketball I want him to go out on terms somewhat relatable to the player he has been throughout his career. I want it for him because, after coming back from three season ending injuries and spending an inordinate amount of time simply rehabbing to prepare to play, I want that work to have meant something. I want it for him because, well, on some levels I think he’s earned it.

You can understand my disappointment, then, that I am coming to the conclusion that Kobe will not play well this year. He will not approximate the player he was. He will not depart the game at a status befitting his contributions to it. The hope to avoid the “Willie Mays as a Met/Patrick Ewing on the Magic/Hakeem on the Raptors” comparisons will, very likely, go unfulfilled.

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“Will he or won’t he?” Kobe retirement pieces will be written all season or until he definitively comes out and says for certain either way. Consider this your latest installment. If you don’t want to read it, either skip to the bottom or go read about D’Angelo Russell.

I have long been of the mind that Kobe will retire at the end of the season. My logic is pretty simple and can best be summed up by something I wrote this past August:

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It is pretty easy to be down on the Lakers right now. They possess a 1-5 record. They are in the bottom 10 in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They have lost two very winnable games (opening night vs. the T’Wolves, Sunday against the Knicks) while facing a relatively soft schedule (for example, one of their losses was to the Kings who have only that single win in eight games).

I think some of the major frustrations aren’t necessarily with the losses (though winning more would be nice), but the process in which the losses are occurring. If the Lakers are going to lose anyway, many would like to see D’Angelo Russell in those late game situations where learning can occur. There are questions about the rotations being put together, the schemes the team is using on both sides of the ball, and whether it all combines to put players in the best positions to be successful.

And while it is important to always know that there are things we do not have information on (how practices are going, what’s being discussed in film sessions, specific directions doled out to players), what we see in the games does cause frustrations to mount.

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The Lakers lost their third straight game to open the season, a hat handing by the Dallas Mavericks by the final count of 103-93. Depending on your outlook, the game was either closer or not as close as the final score. I fall more on the latter side.

The Lakers started the game on the wrong side of a 15-0 run — an interesting response to Byron Scott’s criticism that the team was soft and not ready to play after losing to the Kings two days prior. After falling down by so many points early, the Lakers tried to battle back but could never get over the hump. Several times they cut the deficit to 8 points, but never really got closer than that; never really threatened the Mavs in a way to make it seem the outcome was seriously in doubt.

Recapping every detail of the loss is not important. I tell you this not because I’d prefer to avoid typing the words, but more because the reasons for losing are the exact reasons why the team lost the previous two games of  the year. Or at least variations of them.

The team cannot defend well. They have droughts of really poor offense. Rather than getting a key stop, the possession instead ends in a foul or an offensive rebound or a perfectly (poorly) timed mental mistake defensively which surrenders the bucket. Not enough players play well — in this case, Julius Randle needed more help — while too many players didn’t just play average, but very poorly.

The last part of the last sentence there is really me pointing my finger at Kobe Bryant. The 20 year veteran is not playing well. In fact, “not well” is generous. He’s been bad. Very, very bad. Don’t take my word for it, though. Take his. From ESPN’s Baxter Holmes:

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I am not a huge boxing fan, but I have watched enough of the sweet science to know a little bit about the sport. Boxing, in the sports world, is the ultimate mano-a-mano physical endeavor. The sport in which there is no where to hide your failures; no where to escape the punishment when you face someone better than you.

There is maybe no modern superstar whose career has more closely resembled a pugilist than Kobe Bryant. He has turned so many possessions into a one-on-one battle where, like two men confined to the ring, there is no where to run from the onslaught he had prepared for his opponent. Maybe, for me, at least, that’s why his comments last night took on a familiar tone.

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