The Kobe Bryant Conundrum

Kobe Bryant is one of the most competitive people alive. Whether you like him or not, there’s no debating his desire to win. Maybe the winning is an end in itself or maybe he wants to compete with Michael Jordan for the title of greatest player of all time. Either way, his competitiveness and work ethic has driven him to an elite level in the NBA and has gained him fans across the world. But what happens when that mindset meets with father time?

Once upon a time, Kobe said that he would call it quits at 35...but that seems to have been a thought that has since gone by the wayside. Now he’s clearly set on one thing: that sixth NBA championship ring. But coming off an Achilles injury and already at 35 years of age, Kobe is past his prime and his style of play is demanding on his body. As hard as he works, there is only so much that even an elite athlete like Bryant can endure. On his last leg(s?), he is poised for a not-so-graceful exit…much like Michael Jordan of the early 00s.

Two things are certain: 1) the Lakers will not compete for a championship in 2014 and 2) Kobe will try to get there anyway. As such, Kobe’s desire to win will ultimately prove to be harmful to his team. 

The end result of that is painful. You can argue that the Lakers will be better or worse than last year, but in the end they will land plus or minus the eighth seed and outside of the NBA Draft lottery. As Bill Simmons wrote on how he’d fix the Lakers, LA’s best option is to tank 2013. Thankfully for the rest of the league, that won’t happen.

Kobe Bryant really puts Los Angeles in a major conundrum. Do they help their legend win a sixth ring despite the odds or should they prepare for the post-Kobe era?

Kobe playing his entire career in LA is that feel-good story that people like (and choose to conveniently forget his multiple trade requests). But the problem with Kobe Bryant is that he’s good enough to keep his team afloat but not good enough to single-handedly battle the likes of Westbrook and Durant, Duncan and Parker, or even Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala. I’ve said many times before: great teams, not great individuals, win championships—and Kobe Bryant isn’t in a situation with a team that complements him well enough. Not only that but his coach is incompetent…39 minutes per game on a 17-year veteran in a season that clearly isn’t going anywhere? D’Antoni is not far from clueless.

So instead of tanking and getting a shot at Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, the Lakers will continue a slow, painful decline. Ironically enough, if Kobe were to acquiesce to sacrificing this year for the future, it might actually give him a better shot at tying Michael Jordan with that sixth championship in 2015 or 2016. And it would give LA somebody to build around in the post-Kobe era.

But instead Kobe will show how competitive he is and will prove how much he can accomplish individually—the very same mentality that he had when he ousted Shaq from LA back in the day. The “I can do it on my own” mentality did not work back then and it certainly won’t work a decade later.


  1. Ideally I would like to see the Lakers tank this season and then reload next year with a top 5 pick and a few free agent pickups. However, for all that Kobe has done in LA, he has earned the right to compete for a championship in every one of his seasons even if it doesn't seem likely at all that he will win one. The guy has given everything to this city, and any real Laker fan appreciates what Kobe has done. And after all, its not like this administration has given a damn what Kobe wants. He wanted Brian Shaw or possibly Phil back, and they picked Mike Brown, and (gasp) D'Antoni. So Kobe is supposed to "take it easy" for a year, using an entire year of a career that is close to over, while his team tanks for the future? I don't blame him in the slightest for not doing that. Pretty sure almost no veterans in his situation would do that either... I don't know of any that ever have. Bill Simmons' plan was great to read, but it involved trading Nash/Pau, something that management has not done. So that isn't related to Kobe's desires.

    At the end of the day if the Lakers truly wanted just to tank the season, they should've amnestied Kobe or traded him. They chose not to. So at the end of the day, its the organizations' choice, not Kobe's.

  2. You made some great points but there is also another option that actually Simmons brought up in his article: Kobe wait as long as possible to return. He could play it as "trying to make sure he's 100%." Everybody would buy that because people take it as a given that Kobe would come back ASAP but then it gives the Lakers a chance to do as poorly as possible for as long as possible.

    In the end, though, it does come down to management. They could've amnestied him (which may have been the right decision for the organization) but they didn't. However, there is a caveat that I still believe holds: Kobe could and should realize that he won't win a chip this year so he could "take it easy" which would be better for him personally. Whether that's a Derrick Rose-type injury delay or whatever, he should at least realize that a high draft pick should be the goal this year for him - that is unless he's going for statistical marks, which is possible, too.

  3. The problem is that I don't think NBA players (at least most of them) are wired this way. Even though its extremely unlikely that the Lakers will win a chip this year, nearly all elite, veteran, players come into every season with championship aspirations. They know that their careers are close to over, and that they have the skillset to either lead a team to a championship or to play a proper role in that process. Kobe is probably the fiercest competitor in the NBA, but this doesn't just apply to Kobe. There's a reason why many analysts (including Simmons) say the Celtics should trade Rondo if they really want to tank the season - because there is no way that Rondo is going to sit down and play half-strength all season. Neither KG nor Paul Pierce wanted to be part of a rebuilding effort, so they agreed to be traded as well. This can be said for essentially any veteran player in the league.

    Days are numbered when you are a veteran player, and you want to compete to the fullest every game because you never know when it may be your last one. Sure, maybe it seems "rational" for Kobe to sit out half the year and take it easy the rest of it and let the Lakers get a top-5 pick. But what if Kobe tears an ACL and the team doesn't want to resign a 35-year old with a torn ACL? What if they just don't want to resign him at all for some reason? (the NBA is a business after all, right, and Jim Buss has proven to be quite the... interesting owner?). What was all of the tanking for then?

    Although as a rational fan, who realizes Kobe is very unlikely to get a ring this year, I think that he should take it easy, I also respect what he's done for the organization, and completely understand and respect his stance on not tanking. Gotta love Kobe Bean

  4. Haha...yes, Buss is interesting to say the least. And just like you, you know I'm a huge fan of Kobe Bean!

  5. Another Kobe hater. Lol


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