Team–(tm) n. a number of persons forming one of the sides in a game; a unit dedicated to the accomplishment of a given goal.
A few years ago Kobe didn’t have a team, so when he took ridiculous shots, hogged the ball for entire possessions, or threw his teammates under the bus in interviews you could understand. No one blamed him...not really.
The second best player on his team was an unmotivated Lamar Odom and his third and fourth options were guys named Smush Parker and Kwame Brown—not exactly a pair of NBA legends.
But now in the midst of the Lakers current three-game winning streak, they’re playing the best basketball we’ve seen from them since the start of the New Year, and they’re doing it with Kobe riding the pine.
Kobe’s been dealing with injury after injury since mid-December, but until very recently, he’s refused to allow himself any rest. There were reports that Coach Phil Jackson had talked to Kobe about resting, but that Kobe had convinced Phil that sitting him would do more harm than good.
But what came of allowing Kobe to play?
Kobe hoisted shot after shot after shot regardless of what kind of playing condition he was in or whether the shots were dropping or not. The extent of his selfishness was on full display against Memphis where he succeeded in passing Jerry West as the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer, a feat he only needed 29 points to accomplish, but even after passing West, Kobe refused to involve his teammates in the game.
Although he finished with 44 points, the Lakers lost the game and Kobe finished 28 shot attempts while the rest of the starters finished with 26.
Pau Gasol, who isn’t known for being vocal, vented his frustrations after Kobe became the Lakers’ No. 1 scorer saying, “I’m proud of him; I congratulate him. Now we can focus on winning games again.”
Doesn’t sound like much, I know, but often personalities like Gasol’s require you to read in between the lines. Was Gasol saying that Kobe was more focused on breaking the record than winning? It certainly seemed that way and if so, he wasn’t wrong.
Even Derek Fisher, Kobe’s locker room wingman, had a bone to pick with Kobe’s domination of the ball.
“I think you always know that Kobe’s going to lead in shot attempts. But the percentage of that has to balance out. When you think about him having 28 shot attempts last game out of 73 total, that percentage is not enough for our team to have the balance we need to have.”
What Kobe has shown us over the last two seasons is that selfishness isn’t always a bad thing, despite popular belief, but it is a double-edged sword.
In last year’s playoff series against Denver, Kobe averaged 34 ppg and the Lakers needed every bit of that to claw their way past the Nuggets. Kobe’s historical 81 point night came when he had more shot attempts than the rest of his teammates combined, and the Lakers were actually trailing for the majority of that game.
What Kobe needs to realize now is that he has as great a supporting cast as he could ever ask for and he needs to trust them. Kobe can no longer prove anything by scoring. Its already well documented that he’s one of the greatest scorers the game will ever see, but today the Lakers actually play better basketball without him and that’s a crime.
Don’t get me wrong, if Kobe were to ever walk away from this team, it would be nothing short of a catastrophe, but when he’s on the floor, the Lakers offense is more focused on catering to him than it is on efficiency and maximizing the talents they have available.
Fisher said it best, this team has to exist in a balance. This isn’t Cleveland where the team is comprised of role players that are just happy to be around LeBron James; besides LeBron does a better job of involving his teammates anyway, but that’s an argument for another day.
The Lakers are at their best when they’re actively passing, when the core players are getting their share of touches, and when they’re simply having fun. You don’t see nearly enough of that when Kobe’s on the floor.
He’s going to find himself at a crossroads very soon. Either he’ll finally realize that hogging the ball is no longer in the best interest of his team, or he’ll be stubborn, selfish, and the Lakers’ output will continue to fluctuate as often as their morale.
Kobe’s been down this path before. He’s alienated key teammates in the past with his domination of the ball, but one would hope that he’s learned from the experience.
Hopefully, Kobe will choose team balance over personal glory because for better or worse, he holds the Lakers’ fate in his hands.