Change is inevitable however, growth is debatable. The Los Angeles Lakers have changed the players around Kobe Bryant several times in his illustrious 15-year career. Those changes have resulted in seven trips to the NBA Finals and five NBA titles.
Bryant has amassed a spectacular resume and was an instrumental cog in two different championship machines.
In his Shaq years, he was the second scoring option to the most dominate big man of our generation. While teamed with Pau Gasol, Bryant moved from the role of choir boy to the role of Eddie Kane. In the process, Bryant flourished and cemented himself as one of the games’ greatest ever.
Now the Lakers’ great is facing an opponent that has never been defeated, father time. Gone are Phil Jackson and any resemblance of the triangle offense that Bryant so beautifully mastered.
The Lakers have changed their coaching staff and will more than likely make at least one significant change to their current roster. This change will probably come without Bryant’s input or suggestion.
When asked at his end of the season press conference about what his plans were for the offseason Kobe answered that he would work hard in proving the “mo-fos wrong” who say he is done. That was the wrong answer and probably played a role in why the Buss family did not consult him in the team’s coaching search.
Yet, he believes this is nothing more than a blip on the radar and an offseason of training will allow the Laker great to return back to form.
WRONG WRONG WRONG
Bryant must evolve his game. He must not only change his approach, but also become a facilitator and seize moments not games.
More than anything else Bryant must show he has grown as a basketball player and is capable of being a PART of a championship team.
Here are five ways Bryant can not only help the Lakers but how he can also prolong his reign as one of the NBA’s elite.
Bryant has never been known as a willing passer, aside from his once a game alleyoop to Shaq and his penetrate and kick to Derek Fisher. Bryant rarely trusts his teammates to come through at critical moments. So asking a man who has built a career being the first in command to fall back to spot duty is going to be a challenge Head Coach Mike Brown should be dreading. Yet it is a necessary step if the Lakers are to be a championship team.
No. 24 must raise his career assist average of 4.7 to at least 7 per if he wants to still remain a viable option for his teammates. His willingness to share will inject confidence into a temperamental group who can struggle at times playing with any assertiveness.
He can still have his moments of greatness, but it is necessary for him to alter his game. Bryant will need to have multiple double digit assist games and will at times need to follow the offense instead of leading it.
The Lakers’ guard cerebral and physical supremacy has made him one of the greatest performers in the league. However, at this point in his career his game must become entirely cerebral. His career has been predicated on attacking and taking what he wants instead of what has been given to him, and now his must transcend into a distributor.
This will be a difficult task for a man who in the last two seasons has accumulated a total of 8 double digit assist games. That is 8 games of ten or more assists for a player who has played in a total of 155 games. To say this would be a feat is an understatement, but it is essential to prolonging his career and making the Lakers a better unit.
In the 2002 – 2003 season Bryant shot a career best .383% from the arc. Three point shooting has never been Bryant’s forte. In fact, last season he shot .323% which placed him 61st among shooting guards.
Now those numbers are slightly skewed by players who play fewer minutes, but regardless 61st is not acceptable.
This area needs to be addressed in Kobe’s off-season regiment. His three point shooting would create space for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to operate. The Lakers offense will go through the post whether Bryant is on board or not. So it would behoove him to find a way to contribute that does not include taking 20 plus shots a night.
Kobe for the better part of his career has avoided volume three point shooting, only attempting more than 500 once in 15 year career. He has moments of “lawd no” but overall has embraced the midrange shot. This is no longer an effective option for him because of his quickness or lack thereof. Knee operations and late playoff runs into June have robbed the Lakers’ guard of any remaining suddenness that used to accompany his game.
Adding or incorporating a three point shot to his repertoire changes his value to the Lakers tremendously. No longer will he need to dribble the air out of the ball trying to get a “quality” shot or a bailout foul call. His focus could turn to creating space for his teammates and getting open shots for them. His lack of ball control/dominance would not be lost on the opposition; therefore if an opportunity presents itself for Bryant to penetrate he would not have an entire defense facing him. This would make his parlay to the basket less likely to meet resistance and his body would take less punishment. Since Bryant has started all 82 games only four times in his career less is more.
Changing his game is just a minuscule part of what Bryant will need to do this upcoming season. The most important adjustment is growth, he most display his growth as a person as well as a player.
It is imperative that he embrace the new offense that Coach Brown plans to instill, even if it does not make him the first option. In practice Bryant must be vocal in his support and demand the same attention to detail that has provided him five championship rings.
His support cannot waiver in times of struggle his discipline and focus most be steadfast. There are going to be times when his teammates look to him before they react to see how the Lakers’ legend handles himself. So these will be the times when Bryant’s most noticeable quality, his stubbornness, needs to be on display.
It will not be enough for him to go through the motions, he must trust this offense with the belief it will lead him to his sixth ring.
This is not going to happen but needs to. Leaders never relinquish there position, it is taken away from them. In order to catch a wolf you have to think like a wolf, and unfortunately this Lakers’ roster is constructed of sheep. The likelihood of Bryant “giving” the reigns to another player is inconceivable, but the likelihood of it being taken is fathomable.
The only person built for this type of epic battle is Andrew Bynum. The Jersey native has to prove in his play and durability he is capable of being the new lead actor in Tinsel Town. Bynum’s career numbers are pedestrian, just 10.5 PPG 7.1 RPG and 1.5 BPG, but he has the heart and desire to be great. So now is the time for him to cease in asking for the ball and commence in taking the ball. Coach Brown was hired in part because of success coaching Tim Duncan and David Robinson to a championship in 2003. This would give credence to the idea that the offense will now be funneled through the post.
This will provide Bynum with multiple opportunities to prove he is Worthy, “pun intended.” If, and that is a huge if, Bynum can prove his game then Bryant must defer to him in critical moments. Kobe has to show faith in Bynum and Gasol even when they are struggling. Even if those struggles go past one two or even three games he must show his belief in them and so they can in turn believe in themselves.
The Lakers need help desperately at the point guard and small forward positions. They must get more athletic and have more production from those two spots. As we have all witnessed this summer, players can play a gargantuan role in deciding who comes and what talents are brought to them upon their arrival.
There are some quality players entering into the last year of their contracts and the Lakers have some bargaining chips, but Bryant needs to be their ace in the hole.
If he wants to win he needs to put his pride to the side and call some of the top tier players in this league, i.e. Deron Williams, and make his best sales pitch. Bryant needs to show Williams his sincere passion and belief that by adding the Nets’ point guard to this roster, they can be something special. He has to be convincing and contrite. Williams must feel that his life is incomplete unless he becomes a Laker.
Short of taking a podium or buying Williams a rare diamond Bryant must make his second best pitch to secure the dynamic point guard. This pitch must be reminiscent of what he told you-know-who after you-know-what. If it worked then it can most certainly work now.