A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Lakers needing to make a choice between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. In light of Bryant’s injury on Friday evening, this became a decision. Sure, it’s a hard one, but sometimes you have to make hard decisions in life. Before I start in on why Kobe Bryant will never play another game with the Lakers, I need to present a TL;DR for those not inclined to read the other article…
1. The new CBA ratchets up increasing, staged, linear penalties for teams over the cap. The luxury tax just got real as fuck.
2. Bryant and Howard present problems being on the same roster, at the same time–because Howard will want a maximum contract in free agency.
3. There is absolutely no way the Lakers would have used the amnesty provision on a healthy Bryant.
4. The Lakers were on pace to pay over $100,000,000 in luxury taxes by keeping both Bryant and Howard.
Sometimes, life’s problems tend to solve themselves. Rather than pay Bryant $30 million this season to sit around and do absolutely nothing, the Lakers can just cut Bryant from the team, and therefore avoid roughly $110 million in wasted money. How do I know Bryant will be wasted money? Because I have a brain.
Best Case Scenario
Bryant returns around Christmas to a shelled-out team that may or may not have Howard. He doesn’t trust his Achilles, and it’s obvious he’s lost a step. Rather than being one of the premier defensive players in the league, he becomes a liability. I don’t care how superhuman Lakers fans think he is, Bryant is still someone who has played 17 seasons, plus several deep playoff runs, and some Olympic games.
Unable to effectively create his own shots, Bryant turns into “Late Jordan 2.0,” relying on his fall-away jump shot. Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are both a year older and slower. The Lakers once again limp into the playoffs as a seven or eight seed, and get annihilated in five games by Oklahoma City, or perhaps even Memphis.
During his final, hobbled season, Bryant averages 16 points per game and barely manages five rebounds. True to his name, Bryant becomes a Black Mamba, but later in life. No longer a poisonous, dangerous snake, capable of taking down all comers, we instead witness an old Mamba, with speedy point guards darting around him, striking at will, picking the carcass of an injured snake.
Worst (But Actual Best) Case Scenario
Bryant realizes it’s over in Los Angeles, sitting out the entire season–and allowing Mitch Kupchak to amnesty his contract. After the season is over, Bryant holds a tearful press conference in Los Angeles, declaring how amazing it was to play there. He then announces his intent to become a free agent for the first time in his career. A few people in Los Angeles won’t get it, but Bryant will make it clear that he’s doing it because he loves the team, and “it’s time to move on.”
This technique has been seen recently in another sport, with an equally transcendent player: Peyton Manning. If an injury prevents your team from continuing into the future with you, cut your losses, take the season off, heal up, and come back somewhere else.
Where Bryant lands is a great question, and I already have the perfect fit: Memphis. He could probably last a season or two with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol,[ref]”Hey, I know your brother!”[/ref] playing wing for a defensive-minded team. Should Kobe go to Memphis after a year and a half of rest and rehab, we would probably witness a player still capable of 22-24 ppg, while being mostly efficient on defense. As a plus, Memphis plays the slowest basketball in the NBA, meaning fewer trips down the floor, and probably 28-34 minutes per game.
Just retire, Kobe. You have been doing this since you were 18-years-old. I remember playing NBA Live ’97 on my computer–and you were in it. I’m a professional Laker-hater, but watching you put the team on your back for this stretch run was perhaps your greatest career accomplishment. You may not win another championship, but this is your way of going out on top. I’ll remember watching you, through will and frustration, take a battered, old team through the greatest team turnaround in league history. Twenty plus-point fourth quarters, endless minutes . . . I mean, what we just saw for the past month and a half was on par with any great run by any player.
Don’t make them amnesty you. Don’t let the conversation happen. Don’t let the vultures at ESPN circle around your wounded carcass all season, “awaiting your return,” fueling a fire of endless speculation that you will ultimately never match with a championship.
We all remember Jordan going out on top, only to limp back a few years later. This is your opportunity to never have those “Washington years” the way Jordan did. It’s worth noting that even though Jordan went out with a ring[The, err, second time.[/ref], greatness isn’t always measured with rings. Sometimes, we measure greatness in determination.