In the recent weeks most people have been discussing the blockbuster trades that have been shaking up the Western Conference.
Most writers are focused on how the new pieces will fit into each team’s puzzle but in reality, the biggest trade of the season was the one that never happened.
This past offseason there were tons of reports circulating around Kobe Bryant’s wish to be traded. Kobe voiced that he was unhappy with the way the organization had acted and that they had not done what was necessary to build a championship caliber team around him.
He was right.
Perhaps in frustration Kobe belittled his young center, Andrew Bynum, saying that he was not going to be good enough to help him win an NBA title. Most media people attacked Kobe for making these comments about a teammate, but that was the comment that changed the Lakers coming into this season.
When Bynum heard the remark made by Kobe, he said that it motivated him to work extremely hard during the offseason and to do his best to show Kobe that he belonged. With some help from Kareem Abdul Jabbar, his hard work paid off as he has emerged as one of the top young centers in the league.
What is there to take from all of this?
The signs of a leader.
There are times when players need to be comforted and pampered, but there are other times when they need a wake-up call or a jumpstart to help fulfill their potential.
There was never any question about Bynum’s talent. Just a few years ago, in a game between the Lakers and the Heat, Bynum made his presence felt in just a mere 30 seconds of play. Facing off against Shaq, Bynum proceeded to slam dunk over him and block him on the subsequent play. After that, Shaq introduced his forearm to Bynum’s chin.
Even as a rookie, Bynum showed he had tenacity and grit, muscle and speed, and tons of potential oozing out of him. Bynum was only 18 at the time, a mere boy in a big man’s body. He was playing with Kobe Bryant, one of the best to ever play, and the fear of failing him was clearly a factor in his development as well.
This season the whole demeanor of the Lakers has completely changed.
Kobe has shown that he not only expects, but trusts that his teammates will make plays. Many analysts look at the statistics and see that Kobe’s shots per game have dropped from 27 to 23 to 20 in the last three years, but statistics cannot even begin to tell how Kobe’s game has changed.
Some argue that he is more mature, but it really only shows how badly he wants to win.
In the past it was clear that sometimes Kobe believed he needed to put up 40 a game for his team to win. He would come out ready to go and if he was hot the Lakers would win, if not, they would usually lose. These days, more often than not, Kobe is reserved in the early stages of the game instead looking to get his teammates involved rather than look to take over the game himself.
By instilling this trust now, he will be rewarded in the postseason as his teammates become more confident the more the ball is in their hands.
Kobe trusts that Bynum will slide to the hoop when he drives the opposing team’s center so that they can have an easy dunk. Before Bynum’s injury, he was second in the league in total dunks. Kobe has faith that guys like Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, and Sasha Vujacic will drain the open trey when the defense collapses on him. All three of them are shooting at least 38 percent from beyond the arc this year.
Kobe exudes confidence, and now the whole team has that self-belief as well.
Kobe always knew he could win another championship as he had been there before but his teammates never seemed to have the same belief that he did. Now they do.
It is not only his offensive intensity that rubs off on his teammates; it's his hard nose defense as well. That is why guys like Ronny Turiaf are banging bodies with big men and hustling for loose balls. It's why Farmar is constantly harassing the other teams point guard down the court.
Kobe is guiding this team, showing them what needs to be done in order to win, and setting the tone. When the game is on the line it's Kobe out there guarding the other team’s best SG or SF, looking for the all important defensive stop.
That is what makes Kobe one of the best all around players. But even though everyone knows Kobe is one of the best to ever play, many have questioned his ability to lead and win a championship on his own. Many credit the three championships he has to Shaq, which is a valid case.
Now his time has come. No. 24 now has the pieces he needs to get his fourth ring, and put all his doubters to rest. He is a winner and has one of the most lethal benches in the league.
Do not forget Kobe can still turn it on when he needs to.
This season, Kobe has decided to lead by example and become the epitome of a superstar in the NBA. He has set out a goal for his squad to win a championship. It is said that when great leaders talk, everyone listens. When they walk, everyone follows.
Kobe is walking. The Lakers are following.