Kobe Bryant and I are the same age (he also, coincidentally, shares a birthday with my older brother). Some 19 years ago when Kobe stood at a podium with his Oakley sunglasses propped up on his forehead to announce that he was taking his talents to the NBA, I too was transitioning to that next phase in my life and preparing to go away to college. After it was announced that this high school kid would be a Laker, I, naturally, took a great interest in his career.

In the nearly 19 years that Kobe has worn a Lakers’ jersey so much has occurred it’s nearly impossible to recount it all. Airballs in Utah, ridiculous shots in Portland on the last day of a season, a championship celebration in Orlando, a fractured hand, a hurt shoulder, a ruptured achilles…it all blends together like a desert landscape viewed through the window on a long car ride. I’d pick out one moment, but I don’t have a favorite uncle; my family is my family.

The new moments, though, act as a reminder. They jog the memory and turn history into today’s celebration, recreating the feeling from many years ago by rekindling the flames of past accomplishments. Especially when today’s acts truly are a culmination of what is, essentially, a life’s work.

We’ve known this moment was coming for some time. But actually watching it happen, for me at least, was still a tremendous moment. The combination of longevity and production needed to reach such heights astounds me. The fact that the guy who did it is that same guy who, as a kid, had those Oakley’s sitting on his forehead makes it that much more special.

Kobe will never quite be the player many want him to be. As his efficiency wanes, his personality shows more hard edges, and his team suffers more losses than wins another type of validation will come for that sect. And as the complexities of his game, leadership, and overall status as a player are pushed to the middle of the spotlight both sides of the argument will meet with loud voices and even louder arguments trying to get to the bottom of what it all means.

For me, though, there will be none of that. And there especially won’t be some long discussion about Michael Jordan, measuring sticks, and how achievements do or don’t stack up. Kobe is one of the greatest players I ever saw grace a basketball court. Where he falls in that discussion matters less to me than the fact that he is part of that conversation. Far from perfect, but a provider of more moments worth celebrating than not. And, really, what more could you ask for?

The man harnessed his skill through immeasurable work to achieve at a level I never would have expected. He did it his way, for better or for worse, and nearly two decades later is still out there giving it his all. And while many would have hoped for a different route, it’s hard to argue with the path traveled considering there really wasn’t a road map to follow.

This Lakers’ season represents the battle between two distinct lines of thought. The first is that the Lakers are a team, whether they admit it or not, in need of a rebuild. Rebuilding teams need young assets. Young assets are acquired through the draft. The Lakers owe a draft pick to the Suns and will give that pick this season if it falls outside the top 5 in the upcoming draft. This leads to a strong contingent of Lakers fans — even Magic Johnson — to say that the Lakers should lose as many games as they can in order to try and keep that pick to draft another young player who can be an asset towards the rebuild.

The second is that the Lakers have never really rebuilt before, typically foregoing building through the draft in favor of winning as many games as possible and either flipping assets for better players or signing key players in free agency who help propel the roster. The way you make assets desirable in trades or make the team seem ready for impact free agents to jump on and help the roster is to be a team that is not awful. The Lakers, then, might prefer to be as good as they can, winning as many games as they can, to promote an image to other teams and free agents that they are close to winning.

Neither of these lines of thought is wrong. And both are wrought with assumptions and difficulties that will be highly influenced by individuals making choices, some luck, and the growth and development of players striving to reach their potential. If rebuilding were easy, there would be much more parity in this league and there wouldn’t be teams that historically produce poor results year after year.

I bring all this up because the Lakers, after winning two consecutive games and with another winnable game on the docket tonight against the T’Wolves are slowly moving away from a record that would keep them in the top 5 picks in the draft and, thus, making the first path described above harder to venture down. All the while this team is still very unlikely to be able to travel down path number two very easily without a bigger influx of talent that is ready to win now. All of this will make for a very interesting run up to the trade deadline, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Back to today, then, the Lakers face a Wolves team who they already lost to earlier this year at Staples Center. And while there will be some focus on revenge and trying to get a third consecutive win for the first time this year, the fact is that the biggest story heading into tonight has nothing to do with any of those things. No, tonight is about Kobe Byrant and his bid to pass Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. With 9 points, Kobe will pass MJ for 3rd in career points. As I’ve said earlier this will be a major accomplishment and something that is worth tuning in for even if you’re not a Kobe or a Lakers’ fan. This is rarified air (no pun intended) and Kobe will further cement his name in the history books with this accomplishment.

In any event, tonight will likely provide a few different moments to ponder. Kobe’s pursuit of individual records are a reminder that even though this is a team game, the all-time greats are what this sport is built on. From Mikan to Wilt to the Big O to the Doctor to Magic and Bird to Jordan to Shaq and Duncan and Kobe and LeBron this game has always been about the titans of the sport. On the other hand, the Lakers, as a team are in the middle of a transition and, in a way, are riding out these final moments of Kobe’s career until the next great one will anchor their franchise. The path they take to get their will inspire much debate, but as long as they get there none of us will really care.

Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

I fire up the old computer to write about the Lakers and their opponents and, to be honest, I find myself staring at a blank screen for longer than I’d like. I type, erase, type and space down, type, erase, and on it goes until something resembling a post worth your time reveals itself. Some days are easier than others. Today is not one of those days.

I don’t write this for your sympathy or your pity. This is the process. And, in a way, this brings me closer to understanding what it might be like to play for the Lakers right now.

At 6-16, the Lakers have a record fully reflecting their ability to compete in the NBA on a nightly basis. They have some talent, but not a lot. They have a coach who sees the game a certain way and is working within his paradigm to best produce good results. They have an aged icon doing the same. And they’ve had some bad luck with injuries. The results have been what they’ve been, but we’ve said that already.

Every day, then, this team wakes up and goes to work trying to sort out a way to win a basketball game. Current experience says that what they try will not be successful, but they try anyway. In a game like Tuesday’s against the Kings they came out on top. Tonight, in San Antonio, they hope the same will occur. The likelihood of that happening is low, however.

Because that team, the Spurs, are the opposite of the Lakers. The Spurs are the league’s reigning champion and one of the best outfits in the association. When at full strength they are a bear that will maul you through technical expertise and master level execution. When not at full strength they will simply wear you down using similar technique and execution, only from lesser players who seem to raise their game at the most opportune times because they have been drilled repeatedly to do so. This team is a machine that inspires equal amounts of envy and awe (and, for opponents, frustration and dislike) in how they methodically do the thing they are told to do with a level of discipline befitting a team coached by a military man.

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It was the end of the game and Kobe was talking to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com and TWC Sportsnet. He was describing the team’s win, but also how sore his body was after games and some of what he would do to recover to play the next game.

Kobe had played nearly 36 minutes and led the Lakers down the stretch, scoring nine of his game high 32 points in the final period including two big free throws that pushed the lead to three in the closing seconds. Further, over the final six minutes of the game, Kobe had a hand in every point the Lakers scored tallying three assists on the only points not scored by him over that stretch.

Nights like this have been rare for Kobe. Not necessarily the numbers part, the winning part. The W’s have been few and far between, but the numbers have been there almost nightly. The good and the bad.

A simple scan of his season stats tells you a couple of things. First, Kobe is still a guy giving the Lakers his 25, 5 and 5. These are the numbers that will be engraved on his tombstone, a testament to the all around game that made him one of the league’s best for the better part of two decades. The second, however, is that those numbers are coming at the worst efficiency of his career. Kobe’s not even shooting 40% from the field, not even 30% from behind the arc, and has a True Shooting Percentage below 50%. And all of this on over 22 shots a game and a usage rate that is leading the league and the 2nd highest of his career. It all adds up to some troubling statistics that, when added up, tell a story of Kobe doing more harm than good when he’s on the floor.

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The Lakers’ season has fallen into a fairly consistent pattern through 21 games. They will lose four to five games in a row, then win one or two straight. This cycle has repeated itself three times already this year and is in the middle of the fourth. This is how you get to be 5-16 on the year and looking as if wining one of every four games you play is the standard you can realistically achieve.

Maybe this is what this season was always going to be. The talent is what it is; the coaching hire is what it is; the strength of the rest of the league — especially the West — is what it is. The Lakers are on the outside looking in at teams who can be classified as even mediocre and that really doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. Not even with Byron Scott’s shifting of his starting lineup or the dumbing-down (my words, not his) of his defensive scheme. For what it’s worth, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. At least if you ask Magic Johnson.

Tonight, then, the Lakers continue down this path hosting the Sacramento Kings. Or should I say, the much improved Sacramento Kings. Before the season started, the Kings were one team thought to challenge the Lakers for one of the lesser records in the Western Conference. Instead the Kings have taken a nice step forward this year, mostly due to DeMarcus Cousins’ ascension as one of the best big men in the league, some personnel changes, and some subtle improvements from some of the other players on the roster.

While this development is somewhat surprising, the Kings’ improvement isn’t so different from what we have seen from other teams recently. The question with Cousins was never his talent, but whether it could be harnessed on a nightly basis to maximize. With Rudy Gay it wasn’t so much about how good a player he could be, but whether he would make the adjustments to his game needed to remove the elements that had past teams looking to dump him for more efficient options. Add in bounce back seasons by veterans Omri Casspi and Darren Collison, the return of Carl Landry from an injury plagued season, and young players Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams, and Nik Stauskas finding ways to contribute and the Kings have a nice mix of players who seem to be taking to the coaching of Michael Malone.

For the Lakers dealing with this group will be a challenge, though it will be somewhat lessened by the fact that Cousins will be out with a viral infection (meningitis). Missing their anchor will put more pressure on Gay, Collison, Landry, and McLemore to produce offensively to counter the points that the Lakers should be able to produce — at least that’s the hope from the Lakers’ end. If the Lakers can force Gay into an inefficient night (which may be difficult considering their defensive options) and bottle up Collison, it will go a long way towards getting this win.

Offensively, look for a heavy dose of Kobe to start the game but with Lin and the second unit being able to do some damage. Lin’s move to the bench paid some dividends in that units’ productivity, even if his individual numbers did not stand out. If Lin can continue to distribute while adding some points of his own, it will allow that unit to fully flourish and, potentially, put the Kings on their heels.

Add it all up — Cousins missing, Kobe finding a groove, and the 2nd unit getting buckets — and there is a template for a win tonight. Whether the Lakers get it…well, that depends on if they can break the cycle that’s been their norm this year.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and NBA TV. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.