When confetti fell from the TD Banknorth Garden on June 17, 2008 & the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to earn their 17th championship, pundits and fans alike placed blame on a lot of different people. Few attributed it to Trevor Ariza's absence. Some pointed to the loss of the injured Andrew Bynum. Many charged it to Pau Gasol, and his perceived soft play.
Incredibly, Kobe Bryant remained unscathed. For a good majority of that series, the 7 time All-NBA First Team Defender didn't guard Paul Pierce; the Celtic's premiere wing scorer who went on to win NBA Finals MVP. Bryant didn't defend Ray Allen; the elite SG who went on to post 20.3 ppg in the Finals. Instead, Kobe Bryant defended sophomore PG Rajon Rondo for the entire NBA Finals.
Kobe Bryant has a sterling reputation as a standout defender. He is a staple on the All-NBA First Team Defense (7 appearances, plus 2 other All-NBA Second Team Defense appearances). He'll likely make it again this year. And it is simply egregious. I agree that Bryant used to be an elite defender. I know he's capable of being the best defender in the NBA. And I understand that he can't guard the opponent's best player all the time. But it is simply inexcusable at the end of games, particularly playoff games. Watch these 2010 playoffs. Kobe Bryant will not concern himself with defending his All-Star counterparts.
No city has a love affair with a player like Los Angeles and Kobe Bryant. 14 years of continuous service, 4 NBA Championships, 2 other NBA Finals appearances. 2 NBA Scoring Titles. 12 NBA All-Star appearances. 1 NBA Dunk Contest Title. The guy has brought excitement, success and an incredible body of work to Los Angeles. Six years ago he feuded with arguably the best center in NBA history, ultimately leading to him being traded; and the majority of fans still remained loyal to Bryant. In there eyes, Bryant can do no wrong. And so consequently, the fans don't even notice Kobe's incessant coasting on the defensive end.
This column isn't to bash something that happened nearly two full years ago. This is to shed some light on the fact that, in my opinion, Kobe Bryant has been taking it easy on defense since Shaquille O'Neal was dealt in 2004. Whether it was Kobe requesting to play off the ball to conserve energy for offense, or whether it was Phil Jackson's decision, I'm perplexed at why. I have a very difficult time believing this was Phil Jackson's choice. While playing under Phil Jackson in Chicago, Michael Jordan didn't play the roaming defender role that Kobe does. Anything but. Jordan was renowned as one of the premiere defenders in the entire league. His 1988 Defensive Player of the Year trophy attests to that.
Over the course of the regular season, the Lakers have directed Ron Artest, all 260 lbs. plus of him, to defend much quicker & faster players in order to accommodate Kobe Bryant's request to take it easy on defense. That would be like asking Darius Songaila to stop these All-Star caliber swingmen. Artest has drawn impossible assignments including Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Manu Ginobili, Brandon Roy, Tyreke Evans, Monta Ellis, LeBron James & Kevin Durant. Most of those players play the same position as Kobe. On paper, that workload should fall squarely on Bryant.
And that will be the Laker's ultimate undoing this year. Because Kobe Bryant won't defend the Kevin Durants, the Brandon Roys, the LeBron James' of the NBA.