Kobe Bryant is currently in China on what has become his yearly summer trek, engaging with fans, telling his story, and further embedding himself as the most popular basketballer in Asia. Seriously, when you watch clips of him there or see photos, he’s like a one-man Coachella. The fans there love him and he loves them back.
But while Kobe is planting seeds for future endeavors in China, his present in the US and with the Lakers remains front and center. There are many questions about the team he will return to, his ability to perform on it, and how much time remains in his career to still do it. Marc Spears of Yahoo! caught up with Kobe and got a lot of insight on these topics and more. The entire interview is well worth your time so give the full piece a read, but for our purposes, let’s unpack some of the more pressing questions:
Kobe, on this upcoming season potentially being his last:
“We haven’t set anything in stone and I’ve talked about it before. But could this be the last [season]? Absolutely. It’s tough to decide. It’s really tough to make those types of decisions. Players I have spoken to say, ‘Kobe you will know.’
“I’m making this very simple. Either I like playing the game and going through this process or I don’t. I try to strip it down to the simplest form. Either I like playing some more or I don’t. But I think that decision needs to be made after the season. It’s hard to make a decision like that before the season.”
The part about “going through this process” is something that has come up more and more in recent interviews with Kobe. While he’s always talked about loving the work (and he does that in this interview as well), he’s also begun to actually discuss it like it is work. The long hours, the rehabs, the time spent in the gym and the weight room, I get the sense it is evolving for him.
The shift might be subtle and there is a chance I am overplaying this, but my feeling is that it’s not necessarily who he is as much as it is what he does, now. I’m not in his head, of course, but the nature in which he speaks about the effort required of him to simply maintain his current level (or, in the case of rehabbing, to get back to where he was) isn’t the same as when he was younger and these discussions still centered on getting better and adding something new to keep him on top.
I cannot say how this might translate into any decision after this upcoming season concludes, but as Kobe notes, at some point he will not want to put in the work anymore. Even discussing the work in these terms makes me feel like we are close to that point.
On where the Lakers are right now:
“They have really set themselves up for a promising future going on years. I think they drafted very well. The free agents that we picked are extremely solid, [Roy] Hibbert, [Brandon] Bass, Lou [Williams]. We have a very good mix of young and veteran leadership. The challenge is going to be blending the two and cutting down the learning curve.
“How quickly can we get going? How quickly can we bring up [rookie D’Angelo] Russell, [Julius] Randle. [Jordan] Clarkson got valuable experience last year in playing that will benefit us tremendously. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to running with these young guns.”
And on whether this Lakers team can make the playoffs:
“Of course it can. Absolutely. We have talented players in their respective positions. We have some really young players. How exactly will the pieces of the puzzle fit? We really don’t know. We are going to [training] camp trying to piece this together just like every other team does. We have to figure out what our strengths are, figure out what our weaknesses are. And every time we step on the court we are going to try to hide our weaknesses and step up to our strengths.”
I combined these two, simply because I think this optimism is both genuine and, in a way, an example of how Kobe’s mind works. Kobe has long been someone who sees the game as a series of solvable problems. This is perfectly illustrated in how he’s dealt with injuries throughout his career — rather than, say, have surgery on a mangled finger, he would rather work with the trainer on innovative tape jobs and wear low profile splints, adjusting his shooting release and finding ways to manage his ball handling in the meantime.
Looking ahead to next year, then, Kobe doesn’t necessarily see inexperience, he sees a question of getting people up to speed faster. He doesn’t other teams as necessarily being that much more talented, he sees a question of fitting the Lakers’ talent together to maximize their strengths (and limit their weaknesses) in order to compete. For Kobe the challenge will never really be overcoming what the other team can do, but what he and his teammates can do to turn the tables and enforce their collective will on the opponent. I have always found this approach fascinating.
Whether Kobe’s confidence and optimism is well placed remains to be seen. The West will be a gauntlet and while teams like the Mavs and Blazers — playoff teams from last year — are likely to take a step back, the Thunder, Pelicans, Jazz, and Suns are anxious to take their places as postseason participants*. The Lakers will be hard pressed to make a big enough leap to join that group.
That said, hearing Kobe’s thoughts on the matter are always worth your time, so, as mentioned, give the entire piece a read. It really does have good insight on several other topics including how money will play a role in his decision to retire and how he’s doing physically after another summer of rehab.
*The Pelicans actually made the playoffs last year. The Thunder, if healthy, have a top 4 roster in the West. In theory, this would leave only one playoff spot available if next season follows any of the trends from this past one.
Craig W. says
Kobe says what he loves to do is to inspire people. Therefore he wants to create a business thats prime purpose is to inspire action.
There is a lesson in that for all of us. First figure what you truly love, then choose to act in the arena that your love lies. If you start with money and figure out what you like in the area with the most money, you will always be simply working at a job. The earlier a person can figure out what things they love, the easier their life path will become – presuming they are able to focus their efforts on that love.
I just wish Kobe stays healthy and is able to contribute on the floor. I want him to go out, after this season, on his terms. He deserves it.
When Kobe retires is part of “his terms”.
This link gave me hope. Jack Ma is extremely rich probably knows nothing about running an NBA team. He is perfect.
I have to tell you I’ve been coming to this site virtually everyday since the LA Times blog went belly up. I pretty much stopped following the K brothers. This, in my opinion, is the best basketball blog on the planet. Thank you so much for keeping it running with quality articles and guest writers. Your followers are pretty awesome too. 🙂
Kobe is right. The Lakers definitely have the talent (if they stay mostly healthy) to grab that last playoff spot in the west this upcoming season.
he’s right Lakers making the playoffs is not totally out ofbthe window but depends on a couple things like 1.guys staying healthy 2.how quickly rookies catch up to NBA times 3.on everyone accepting their roles and buying in.
Marc & Jason: Lakers making the playoffs is mathematically possible but not likely.
Craig W. says
As a competitor you never write yourself off before the race starts. We fans can be as fickle as we want. That doesn’t mean I think we have much of a chance of making the playoffs next year, but it is not zero.
Warren Wee Lim says
The West is wilder this year as the balance of contenders vs pretenders have narrowed. The Warriors are no longer sure-fire repeaters with the off-season the other teams had, namely the Spurs and Rockets. The Mavs, on the other hand, will dictate what happens in the bottom of the West. The game is never won or lost on paper, but its fun projecting them nonetheless.
Golden State Warriors (1)
Houston Rockets (2) – provided Lawson gets himself right
San Antonio Spurs (3) – provided the assimilation of Aldridge is seamless and the loss of Splitter is mitigated by committee.
55-win team in danger of losing homecourt:
LA Clippers (4) – Chemistry issues, no hunger.
Memphis Grizzlies (5) – getting older, no perimeter threat still.
OKC Thunder (6) – healthy Durant could spring them up to top 3.
Up-and-Coming team that should make the biggest strides:
New Orleans Pelicans (7) – AD is just going to get better, and its scary.
Utah Jazz (8) – They are the team most-likely to make strides w/ healthy and intact core.
Teams that have nowhere to go but up:
Minny TWolves (9) – good balance, health issue and no reason to tank anymore.
LA Lakers (10) – something to prove, good balance of youth and veterans.
Teams that are in trouble:
Sacramento Kings (11) – Vivek, Vlade, Cousins, Rondo = trouble.
Team that is in limbo:
Phoenix Suns (12) – gained Chandler but lost Morris and could lose the other twin as well.
Teams that are rebuilding:
Denver Nuggets (13) – Mudiay era is ushered in. Overpaid vets that are not good at all.
Teams that are fighting for the top lottery spot:
Dallas Mavericks (14) – Just a disaster.
Portland Trailblazers (15) – Time to find Lillard’s running mate via the lottery.
J C says
Nice post Darius.
Kobe has shown in interviews such as this that he’s extremely intelligent. In fact, in the way that he honed and labored his craft his entire life and became one of the greatest players ever – you could even say he is, in a way, a genius.
I think he’ll do remarkably well in his next career.
I don’t think we’ll see him in the bread lines next to some other less fortunate or more reckless ex-players.
Kobe is a living contradiction. For all his obvious talents and knowledge, if he had played the game a little differently, he probably could have truly rivaled Michael for the greatest player ever.
I hope he has a great ending to his career.
That may still be a few years away. But as the Chuckster says, Father Time is undefeated.
– I have yet to hear a player saying his team doesn’t have a shot to make the post season 3 months before their season starts. Kob joins 449 other NBA players who feel good or at the very least say they feel good about their teams upcoming season.
– Not surprised at all the China love Kob is and has rec’d thru out his career. This is a country still having a love affair w/ Stephon Marbury after all.
the other Stephen says
Mike Trudell’s interview with Gary Vitti is a really good one, particularly Vitti’s thoughts about the flow of a practice building and the nature of sports injuries: http://www.nba.com/lakers/news/150804_vittiqa
One such excerpt: “We have an eye in the sky (SportsVU) and every game we know how many accelerations and decelerations that every player has, and the trajectory of those: left, right, front, back. From that, we can tell the average speed that that player played at and how much distance they travelled. That’s going to give us a number that’s important to us, and that number we’re going to call “load.” Every game we look at the load that we put on a player. Then we’re going to take that number and divide it by the minutes they played. And that number reveals us their intensity.
If we see a direct linear relationship between load and intensity, we’re good. We’re in a green zone and can keep pushing that player. If we see load going up and intensity starting to plateau, that puts us in a yellow zone that gets our attention, and we have to do something like cutting back his minutes or training. If we really see a dip, then they’re in the red zone. Now we really feel they’re susceptible to injury. We’re looking at some other technologies that give us similar information, and we monitor our players in their way with the science and analytics that are out there right now…”
“…As a player fatigues, we look at three postural distortion patterns. When you fatigue, you go into one, two or all three of these patterns, and your movement efficiency goes down…You need to be able to work through some fatigue to be mentally tough enough to compete at this level…But you don’t try to punish them in frivolous practice.”
Lakers in 10th? that is almost as good as your 50 win prediction from last yr
Craig W. says
That interview with Gary Vitti was great. Got into a lot of areas we fans don’t often think about.
There are two ways the Lakers could sneak into the playoffs this year: if everything goes right and the young players are ready to immediately contribute on an NBA level, and Kobe stays healthy, they can back into the 7 or 8. The 7 would require quite a few mishaps on the part of other teams though–trades gone wrong, holdouts, coaches getting fired, freak injuries, and so on. What I’m saying is they would need to be immensely lucky and simultaneously cash in on other teams’ bad luck.
The much easier path is if, as rumored, they go to a “top 16 records get in regardless of conference” seeding, though it’s much likelier for the ’16-17 season. At that point they’d just need to be a few games over .500 (also hardly a guarantee right now) to get a 14-16 seed.
I’m not optimistic right now, but I remain hopeful.
The Lakers haven’t sniffed .500 the last two years and folks are talking playoffs — this season? Most of the names I see encouraging such an implausible rise in the standings are faithful FO supporters.
Folks you can’t have it both ways. The FO is coming off of a horrendous string of bad decisions which left the Lakers as bereft of talent as any team in the league. We have fallen like a rock in the ocean. Just because we’re the Lakers doesn’t mean our journey back is going to be easy and is only going to take a short while.
You supported the FO — you bought a round trip ticket. So enjoy the 3 to 4 year ride back to relevance.
Darius Soriano says
Thanks for the kind words, lkr_lov. Much appreciated.
JB August 5, 2015 at 10:15 am
I like the initials on this poster. 😉