Have you ever had that friend who the rest of the group just says: “Oh, that’s just so-and-so.” They’re late for everything; they skimp out on dinner and bar tabs; you don’t trust them with you significant other… But you keep making excuses for them because of what else they bring to the table or how long the friendship has lasted.
Eventually, it hits everyone that, hey, maybe that friend is just an a-hole. No one else gets those same excuses made for them, right? So what is it about that one friend?
For the Lakers and many fans, it appears we’re reaching that point with Kobe Bryant. For the last two decades, you’ve overlooked some chemistry issues, borderline selfishness on the court, and a manipulation of the various offensive systems at only his benefit because, you know, he’s Kobe. All the other stuff was worth it.
Now, at the end, though, those habits are rearing their ugly head, and at the detriment of the Lakers’ future. Tuesday night in Philadelphia was the absolute worst case scenario of his farewell tour taking priority over developing the rest of the roster. Or so we hope.
Look, if I was Kobe I might look at the current state of the Lakers and say something like:
I’ve been carrying this franchise for close to two decades. Now, I’d like to go out guns a-blazing. These kids have the foreseeable future to develop and the rest of these vets probably won’t be here after this season. Oh, and Byron is totally cool with whatever I tell him to be cool with.
(More on Byron in a bit)
There’s also the issue of the habits Kobe has formed as the driving force of the Los Angeles Lakers for so long. Kobe might actually think this is yet another situation he could shoot himself out of. It’s crazy to think, but old habits die hard, right? Almost every other form of adversity has been solved through shooting, why would this be any different for the Clint Eastwood-esque character who took said shots? He’s said as much in the past, Kobe might actually think he’s helping.
Back to Byron, in a semi-short aside… And this is all hypothetical:
His quotes have reached an incredible level of insanity as he’s tried to keep this locker-room from outright mutiny against either Kobe or Scott, himself.
There’s no surer way to get fired than to screw up the dynamic between him and Bryant. Once he loses that relationship, it’s over. Say what you will about the priorities the franchise should have, but if the team is losing and the youth isn’t developing, the front office can at least explain it away with growing pains.
If Kobe’s poor play continues, Byron calls him on it and Kobe decides it time to hang ’em up before all those home games pass, and the ratings fall off a cliff (as they have post-Bryant injuries recently), Scott fails at what feels like his top priority.
Basically, no one expects Scott to last past this year anyway. The only way to make it even that far is to appease the all-time great at the end of the line. It might just be this is the only feasible way to handle the situation.
For Kobe, the last two games might not necessarily be the best gauges as to his intentions the rest of the season. The question could be floated out there as to whether he cares about this team beyond his farewell tour, but the issue should only be asked about, not concluded upon. The first game occurred at home after an emotional farewell to the game he loves. The second came in his hometown. Of course he might force things a little.
Byron’s intentions and Kobe’s inability to balance his swan song with the betterment of the team do kind of absolve the Lakers’ youth of dealing with the situation they’ve been dealt. Scott and Bryant both probably expect Clarkson, Russell and Randle to deal with what’s been given to them. It’s a point of view lacking in nuance, but it’s still where the more old-school ideology comes from. Is it ideal that the kids deal with this? Not even remotely. Will it change anytime soon? Probably not, unfortunately.
While the Bryant-Byron relationship souring would be the surest way to see Scott’s tenure come to an end sooner than expected, the rift that appears to be growing between Kobe and the rest of the locker-room is certainly worrying. When Nick Young (the same guy who dressed up as God’s gift to women) is saying things like not wanting to be a circus, the tendency is to overlook them as mere ramblings.
Young does make a valid point, though.
Yes, the Lakers at this point are serving as the secondary band members to one of the greatest concert tours of all time’s final ride. No, the rest of the Lakers are not anywhere near as important at this very moment as Kobe has been over the last decade to the Lakers. Yet it’s still fair to get frustrated when each possession Kobe is involved in ends with an isolation that might end in a pass but probably won’t. When the coach is saying someone has earned the privilege to play poorly, of course that player’s teammates are going to wonder to what point that continues.
It’s not fair to assume Kobe will figure that out on his own. Neither is it fair to blame Byron completely for how much, if at all, the locker room dynamics deteriorate. Blaming the peripheral teammates is borderline ridiculous. The Lakers organization as a whole — while at times questionable — has very little to do with the day-to-day dealings of the team.
At some point, though, all parties involved have to ask whether that friend in the group (Kobe) is worth the excuses any longer. If things continue as they did Tuesday night as the organization hit a new low even by perpetual optimist Bill MacDonald’s standards, everyone involved might decide they are not. We just have to hope Kobe comes to something close to that realization along with everyone else.