Whatever is left of Kobe Bryant will ultimately result in dividing some of his most loyal fans.

The news that a rotator cuff injury will probably prematurely end another season – third straight – for Kobe brings joy to no one. Not the league, not the fans, opponents or those covering basketball.

Bryant is simply too much of a force of nature in terms of personality and talent. Some of the things he’s done on the floor over the course of his career are born out of an impressive imagination coupled with the bravado to attempt them in-game. Kobe’s mental toughness is perhaps unparalleled, and his will has yet to be broken.

The one time Bryant ever displayed any sign of weakness was in the aftermath of an Achilles rupture a few seasons ago. He appeared saddened and distraught, and yet, the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer quickly quipped that he wasn’t done.

“There are far greater issues/challenges in the world than a torn Achilles,” Kobe wrote in a Facebook post. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself, find the silver lining and get to work with the same belief, same drive and same conviction as ever. One day, the beginning of a new career journey will commence. Today is NOT that day.”

Mortal he is not.

As result, the Kobe book cannot be closed…yet. It feels as though he has so much more to offer as evidenced by his transformation this season. Bryant has looked more like a mentor on the floor and less like an assassin. He’s taking teammates under his wing and showing them the way, instead of barreling through defenders to lead them through it.

The five-time champion is still a fierce competitor, and very few can walk along his path as he so eloquently put it, per The Washington Post’s Michael Lee:

“Listen, man. There are not a lot of players in this league that say, ‘Come hell or high water, we’re going to get this [expletive] done.’ People can look around and joke around about winning, saying they want to win. For me, it’s a matter of life or death. It was that important to me. And if it’s that important to me, I’m going to get there.”

Interestingly enough, that gladiator mentality has slowly taken a different form. Kobe appears far more jovial against his opposition, as the end of his career approaches. This was mostly evident when Bryant kept exchanging pleasantries with LeBron James during a home tilt against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Some years ago, both competing for championships, it was a little different,” Bryant said after the loss to Cleveland, according to ESPNLA.com’s Baxter Holmes. “It was a lot more moody. Now it’s a little different. I’ve got a chance to really appreciate the competition and enjoy that interaction. We’ve gotten to know each other really well over the years. It’s good to see him.”

This is a version of Kobe that is foreign to many. I wouldn’t call it a softer side, rather he’s less guarded, and it’s an iteration that I want to observe more with the benefit of additional games.

In the same breath, it’s impossible to look at this future Hall of Famer without openly wondering whether it’s finally time to close the curtain.

Kobe’s bulletproof legacy will not be tarnished by anything that happens the rest of the way, but the feelings of the collective masses might slowly take a different route. The newest memories will never surpass the oldest and most important ones, but they will become the fresher ones nonetheless.

Imagine watching a hobbled Kobe misfiring on multiple contested three-point fadeaway shots and then thinking to yourself “man, those you used to be easy shots for him.” Worse yet, there’s a realistic scenario where Bryant rehabs his most recent injury only to return next season and back up Nick Young.

This might sound ludicrous at first glance, but both are posting similar per-36-minute scoring numbers and shooting percentages this year. Bryant’s been the superior rebounder and playmaker, while Young has been better at avoiding turnovers.

Considering that Kobe will be 37 years old at the start of next season, it’s certainly logical to expect his physical state to deteriorate further. If that’s the case, L.A. could be better off cutting his minutes in favor of Young, who turns 30 in June.

Is there any plausible scenario that exists where Bryant loyalists would accept such a development? I’m not sure whether I or anyone else for that matter is prepared for a world where a healthy but older version of Kobe is no longer the Purple and Gold’s best player.

As terrifying as that scenario sounds, it’s the one Lakers Nation will likely have to face if it truly wants one last chapter, page or verse to be included in the Kobe hardcover. If that sounds like a source of conflict, it certainly is.

As someone with a healthy appreciation for Hall of Fame speeches, I can openly admit that Bryant’s last title (2009-10 season) – the one that broke the tie in ring count between he and Shaquille O’Neal – led me to believe his elocution would surpass Michael Jordan’s jab-heavy Hall of Fame acceptance.

Kobe only becomes eligible for the Hall five years after retirement, which means that calling it quits fairly soon is in order for fans to hear him address all in Springfield as soon as possible.

Therein lies the conundrum with Kobe Bean. One would hope he could make everything happen all at once, but Bryant simply can’t.

Should I stay or should I go?

It’s one or the other, and one would think it will be an agonizing choice.

Kobe’s never done things easy over the course of his career, and it sure looks like his next decision will follow suit. Fans will have a hard time with whatever direction he chooses, but let’s give Kobe a shot to close his career on his own terms.

Until he does, the best thing left to say is…

Thank you for the memories Mr. Bryant.

Luckily for me, I’d say, I did not watch the Lakers/Spurs game live. A review of the film, however, pretty much reinforced what the boxscore told me. The biggest item from that boxscore, of course, was that Jeremy Lin did not play a minute. Lin was hurdled in the rotation by rookie Jordan Clarkson (who enjoyed a fine performance in his first start of his NBA career) with Price serving as his backup. After the game, Lin left his media availability after speaking to one reporter and while Byron Scott was still answering questions of most of the beat reporters. There was some controversy around that, but in reality I don’t make much of it. If Lin didn’t want to speak, I’m okay with it considering he’s typically taken any and all questions all year without any issues.

In any event, we’ll see if Lin’s role changes tonight. One thing we do know for sure, is that the Lakers’ starters will not:

I’d get worked up about this, but honestly, I don’t see much point in doing so. Scott seems to be skewing younger and that’s a good thing. My opinion about how to do this is different, but not so much as to get so upset over:

I should clarify, not worth getting so upset over if you’re anyone but Jeremy Lin. In the lineup Scott played on Friday, Lin was the odd man out and as long as Scott’s love of Price remains at its current levels, that will likely continue. The fact that Lin is stuck behind Price is, to me, at least, comical at best. But, maybe that’s just me. It’s not because Lin has been some all world talent this year that has earned playing time without questions about how it should be deployed or adjusted from game to game. But, simply, that Lin is a better player than Price when you total the sums of their contributions and abilities on the court. The fact that Scott either A). doesn’t see this or B). does see it and plays Price anyway doesn’t much matter — both are wrong and that’s that.

Anyways, when it comes to tonight, the Lakers will play a Rockets’ team that will likely be without Dwight Howard. Dwight is a bit banged up – but the bigger takeaway is that the Lakers, especially without Kobe, have become the team you can rest your best players against and still likely win. If this game had more meaning to the Rockets or if the outcome was seriously in doubt, I’d bet Dwight plays. But, you know, those things aren’t true.

And, so, here we are. I could talk about what I’d like to see tonight, but I’ll probably just write about Jordan Clarkson another time. After all, he’s pretty much the only new thing to discuss when it comes to this team right now. And probably the only “fun” thing worth discussing too. Read those last two sentences again and poor out a cup for the Lakers’ season. This is what it has come to.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

 

The three or four games that the Lakers played against the Spurs were always a part of a select few games that were an absolute must watch for the matchup. The Spurs, as the defending champions, are still a team, as a basketball fan, that you still need to consume a fair amount of during the course of a season. Stylistically, they play one of the more gorgeous brands of basketball in the league. The names are still there, too. Duncan, Ginobili, Parker — the old faces are as they always were. There’s Kawhi Leonard and a cast of role players who have bought into Popovich’s system, have a higher turnover rate, but the kind of guys brought in are the same as they ever were.

The same cannot be said about this Lakers team. All of the pieces who were there for some of the more epic clashes between to two premier franchises of this new millennium’s first decade are either gone or, as of this morning, out with a season-ending rotator cuff tear. Darius briefly discussed the injury yesterday, and there was a small sliver of hope that Bryant could have an opportunity to come back this season, but that was ruled out according to ESPN:

The Los Angeles Lakers expect star Kobe Bryant to miss the remainder of the season with a torn rotator cuff, sources told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.

Bryant met with team doctor Steven Lombardo in Los Angeles on Friday, and Lombardo found a significant tear in the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Bryant is expected to take the weekend to decide whether to undergo surgery and has an appointment with Dr. Neal ElAttrache, another Lakers doctor, on Monday.

Without Bryant, any luster between a once fierce rivalry has shifted to a stodgy storyline, lacking any real character. While the two never officially matched up on the hardwood, the respective careers between Bryant and Duncan have always been in an ostensible fight for the greatest of an era. There are legitimate claims for either side; the steady plateau of greatness from Duncan is as admirable as the great peaks that oftentimes make it easy to overlook the depths of Bryant’s valleys. This was a storyline that we’ve held onto for almost two decades, and tonight the story shifts from two of the game’s all-time greats to an uneven matchup of basketball teams.

The Spurs are coming off a rare blowout loss at the hands of a Chicago Bulls team that have struggled through much of January. The Bulls had won only three of their previous nine games before routing the Spurs — which saw the core of the Spurs sit out for a large chunk of the second half — meaning a more talented team is also going to be well rested and looking to bounce back from an embarrassing loss on national television.

The Spurs, have been playing some of their best basketball of the season in January. In the 10 games before their loss, they won eight of those games, with the two losses coming against a Detroit team that has been thriving without Josh Smith, and a very good Washington Wizards team.

In their last four, they’ve seen the return of Leonard, who missed the previous 15 games, and 18 games total this season. And as it has been over the last three seasons, the Spurs have absolutely thrived with Leonard on the floor. Without Leonard this season, the Spurs have played .500 basketball. With him, they’re playing .654 ball and are nine points per game better with him on the floor than off. His versatility on both sides of the ball allows the Spurs to experiment with various lineups and different looks to keep the ball moving, and allow others to concentrate in areas they excel in more than others.

For the Lakers, every loss due to injury births new opportunity. Nick Young will become the Lakers primary perimeter scorer. There will be a larger emphasis on the point guard play from Jeremy Lin and Ronnie Price. Without Bryant consuming 30 minutes per game, it leaves the door open for Jordan Clarkson to see more minutes, and more games.

The front court rotation doesn’t change, but the impact of these guys, especially against this Spurs team should be substantial. The Spurs have struggled keeping opposing bigs at bay in recent weeks — especially active, athletic bigs like Jordan Hill and Ed Davis. In the Lakers win against the Spurs, both Hill and Carlos Boozer helped tremendously with double-doubles, and the team will need that kind of impact from the front court if the Lakers are to leave San Antonio with a season series win.

A win isn’t expected, but this Lakers team has been resilient at weird times this season, and tonight is an opportunity for them to rally around some bad organizational news.

Where you can watch: 5:30 p.m. start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

The Lakers don’t have an injury bug, they have an injury parasite that eats away at their innards like a ravenous zombie in the Walking Dead.

After completing a basic two-handed dunk after a nice drive baseline in the third quarter of Wednesday’s loss to the Pelicans, Kobe ran up court with a bit of a grimace and held his right shoulder. He’d later return to the game, only to play almost exclusively with his left hand — even attempting some shots southpaw — exiting with a little over a minute left to play in the game. He headed straight to the locker room to receive treatment.

After the game, the Lakers said that Kobe would receive an MRI on the joint while Kobe himself almost blew off the injury entirely. He said he’d fly to San Antonio, get in his regular routine, and go from there. Well, it turns out it’s a bit more serious than that.

Per a report from ESPN, Kobe will fly back to Los Angeles today to see a team physician. After that an update will be given that, hopefully, reveals how severe the tear is and how long he might be out of action. Until then, wish good thoughts for Kobe. After all, the Lakers were bad with him playing and will continue to be bad without him. But I hate to see Kobe on the shelf again, injured, with real questions about recovery times and what this means for his basketball future pushed to the forefront another time.

While the X’s and O’s of this game will matter — they always do — tonight’s Lakers game in New Orleans against the Pelicans will likely be impacted just as much, if not more, but who plays and who does not. Both teams have been dealing with players sitting out lately and while the news is mostly good for both sides, there is some not so good news as well.

Starting with the former, Kobe Bryant will be back in the lineup after missing the last two games. The team lost both games (and the three previous to those as well) and could have used his playmaking severely in both contests. Joining Kobe will be Ronnie Price who returns after missing a couple of games with a sore elbow. Price’s return sends Jeremy Lin back to the bench to steer the fate of the team’s reserves. This is a role Lin has done well in and I’m sure those guys will welcome his return as his aggressiveness with that unit aids in shot creation and makes the group harder to defend in general.

For the Pelicans, their good news is that Anthony Davis will play tonight after some doubts in the last couple days he would be able to. His bad big toe had him questionable as late as early yesterday, but he was then upgraded to probable to, now, playing. Davis’ return is should have the biggest impact of either return for either team — yes, even more than Kobe — as his two way play and ability to impact the game is as much as any player in the league right now. Even if Davis is not 100% (which is like the case) his mere presence will make a huge difference.

On the other end of the injury spectrum, point guard Jrue Holiday will not play tonight for the Pelicans. The former Bruin and 76er is out two to four weeks with a stress reaction in his leg and will be “replaced” by Tyreke Evans at PG with Eric Gordon and Dante Cunningham filling in on the wing for Evans. This little bit of musical chairs will hurt the Pelicans, but their hope is, surely, to get enough from Gordon offensively and have Evans be adept enough at running the offense to still be able to down the Lakers.

From the Lakers standpoint, the key to tonight’s game will be keeping Evans out of the lane and slowing down the big men out of the P&R. Davis is excellent at either diving to the rim or at popping to shoot his jumper so he must be marked at all times unless he proves he’s not ready to play above the rim or hit his jumper. Omer Asik can score as a roll man, though he’s not as fluid or smooth on the catch and is not nearly the finisher that Davis is. He must still be marked, however, and when the Lakers do dig down to slow either when rolling (or stunt on the perimeter to cover Davis or Ryan Anderson who will also pop) the defensive rotations behind that first action must be crisp or the scrambling and breakdowns will be too much to overcome — even against an offense that is not especially creative.

Offensively, the Lakers must hit shots from the outside and get Davis moving away from the ball to create the types of slashing angles and openings around the basket that can allow for higher percentage shots to be converted. If he is around the ball, he will disrupt what you want to do so the Lakers must try to get him on the move and rotating so the ball can be quickly moved on again with him not in the vicinity. Even then, with Asik around to cover, the team will still have their issues getting great looks, but if the team can hit a few threes and get defenders closing out hard, driving lanes will open up which can create the type of space that they can exploit for baskets.

Where you can watch: 5pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.