There’s no polite way to say it. The 2015-16 edition of the Los Angeles Lakers are really bad. This is especially true in the impossibly tough Western Conference where they will be lucky to finish in any position but last.
The sad part is that – despite not being able to win yet – they could actually be an exciting team to watch. Their roster has lots of really young talent like rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.That’s enough young talent for there to be a glimmer of hope and plenty of exciting plays.
The Lakers aren’t exciting though. Why? Kobe Bryant. It’s a sad thing to watch. Kobe is unquestionably one of the best players of all time but now, at 37-years-old, he’s just another guy. When Kobe is on the floor – about 30 minutes a game – he’s still the center of the offense despite being one of the slowest and unathletic guards in the league. The future hall-of-famer shoots an abysmal 32% from the floor and holds the ball for painfully long periods of time before going through a half-hearted series of bad pump fakes and pivots before chucking the ball at the basket. There are only 4 players averaging more 3-point attempts per game than Kobe’s 8 per game and only 21% of Kobe’s attempts are actually going in. That is just god awful.
The tragedy is that Kobe used to do amazing things on a basketball court. He’d do things we hadn’t seen anyone – or maybe only Michael Jordan – do before. This is a guy who scored 81 points in a single game. He won an MVP, five championships, two Finals MVPs, and made 17 all-star games. Only two people in the history of the world have score more points than Kobe Bean Bryant. When his career finally comes to an end, it will be revered as one of the best ever. Unfortunately, that end can’t come soon enough. Kobe looks done.
Kobe’s last two seasons were marred by injuries and he looks like he entered this season in complete denial with regard to how much he had left in the tank. His once charming bravado has turned into something like a dark cloud hanging over the team. He’s held the franchise hostage by his ridiculous salary – $25 million this season – which can only be seen as something of a lifetime achievement award because he certainly isn’t capable of earning that on the court. Now, the Lakers have put a man at the center their team who is not capable of being the center of a pro basketball team.
To make it worse, Kobe came out of the gates insisting that he was still Kobe. Yep. Total denial. He scolded ESPN over its preseason player rankings that had him ranked as the 40th best player in the league – at this point that seems high. He called his young teammates soft and yelled at the general manager for the bad roster surrounding him.
I would say that it’s time for Kobe to start accepting some of the blame but he’s already gotten to that stage. Kobe has sunk into self-loathing saying “I suck right now. I’m the 200th-best player in the league right now.” I wish I could argue with him.
There’s nothing America likes more than a falling star. The Corpse of Kobe Bryant is simultaneously impossible to watch and can’t miss TV. It’s like a bad car wreck – you want to look away, but you just can’t. He is becoming the poster child for the sports adage that “father time is undefeated” and father time is definitely winning his one-on-one with Kobe.
It’s a funny thing. Kobe’s massive ego has always been a huge part of his game. It’s part of what made him great. No one could stop him and he knew it. I guess I used think that his ego would never allow him to continue playing the way he is playing now. He would never go out as an embarrassment. Yet, it’s probably that ego that’s kept him hanging on.
Five years from now we won’t remember this version of Kobe – in the same way that nobody’s first memory of Michael Jordan is in a Wizards jersey or Willie Mays in a Mets’ uniform. Kobe’s legend is cemented and he will be remembered long after we’re all gone. But as for now, it’s hard to do more than see an athlete that is dying a slow death and feel sorry for a legend that’s crawling to the finish line.