3 In The Key
The Final Act
No player in the league this year has been presented in such an isolated view then Kobe Bryant.
A new head coach, a supporting cast that leaves much to be desired for (case in point: both Allen Iverson and Gilbert Arenas were linked to the team this week, and would’ve been an upgrade at the guard position for them) and two big men who are on the trading block and don’t seem part of the team’s immediate future.
Add to the fact that their Los Angeles counterparts completed a trade for Chris Paul that the Lakers couldn’t close (well, the league wouldn’t allow to be completed) and that’s a long list of things going against Kobe and his team.
And yet, as the Lakers fight for a playoff spot in this shorten season, Kobe remains everything we’ve come to know: amazing and frustrating all in the same breath.
He’s shooting as much as ever, with a reputation and five championship rings that insulates him from criticism that would otherwise be intensified on a team built around length and size in the post.
As the team struggles to find its offensive rhythm under Mike Brown, Kobe continues to do things his way, everyone else adjust accordingly.
There’s something strangely inspiring about all this. Even as watching Kobe this year feels as though he’s one man, and the other nine players are on a separate plane.
Kobe may be hurting the team’s long-term progress. But he’s also reasserting his individual brilliance with late game heroics such as the overtime win at Boston and his last minute masterpiece a few days later against Toronto.
He shoots too much. But he’s doing all this with a wrist injury few could play through. He’s ignoring his teammates. But without him, where would the Lakers be.
Amazing. Frustrating. The story of Kobe’s career.
The most revealing quote came after he passed Shaquille O’Neal on the all-time scoring list when he said: “I just want No. 6, man. I’m not asking for too much, man. Just give me a sixth ring, damn it.”
There’s two things to take away from that statement. First, Kobe knows he needs help, he knows the roster at the moment is good enough to get to the playoffs and have a puncher’s chance. When you have Kobe, you have the best puncher in the world. But at the moment, not much else. Kobe has reined in his selfish play in the past for the sake of winning, but only when he knows his teammates are good enough. Right now, there’s no desire to sacrifice his individual play for the greater good. That greater good doesn’t exist.
Second, Kobe is starting to recognize his basketball mortality. As his career winds to a close, he’s focused his goal on just one more championship. There are still years left on that body of his, but there will come a time when even dominating the ball on offense will not bring the same results. Just one more ring, that’s all that’s in Kobe’s sights. For now, he’ll craft another individually brilliant season for all the critics that thought the decline was coming. When the reinforcements arrive, and they will soon, we will see the final act of Kobe’s career. It’s going to be great theatre.