Pros and Cons of Kobe Bryant as the Leader of the Los Angeles Lakers
After their big three—Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum—they drop off quite a bit down to Metta World Peace, Ramon Sessions, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill and Matt Barnes, who round out their top seven. Putting that up against the top seven of the Thunder would result in a loss in a seven game series nine out of ten times.
However, that doesn't mean the Lakers can't be disappointed. After all, they are the Lakers and any season that doesn't end with Kobe adding a ring to his empty left hand (righty is full) is a disappointment to the team, organization and city as a whole.
After a playoff loss in Los Angeles, what inevitably comes is the media firestorm that picks the team apart from head to toe. Head to toe, that is of course, save Kobe Bryant.
People will analyze what Kobe did wrong in the series, but nobody has ever really questioned his being the leader of this team since the rocky transition years after Shaq was traded.
So, is Kobe actually a good leader? Surely the answer to that question is yes... right?
Pro: Kobe's Determination
I am not sure that there is another player in the league who is as determined to win the title, year in and year out quite like Kobe Bryant.
There is a reason why he plays through every injury possible and wants the ball in his hands whenever the clock is running down. He wants to win, and he thinks that he is the best possibility for his team to win, every game.
That may seem like a bad thing at times, but I would rather have a guy leading my team who wants to take the last shot than a guy who shies away from the important moments.
At this point in his career Kobe Bryant has logged over 50,000 minutes on the court, 8,600 of which are bona fide playoff minutes which, given the intensity of the games, should count as a minute and a half for every minute.
Already in his career at the ripe age of 33, Kobe has recorded the 19th most regular season minutes and the second most playoff minutes, just 200 behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
At some point, Kobe is going to break down. When he does, the Lakers are going to be scrambling to find a new leader—which they don't have on their current roster.
Pro: He Is One of the Two Best Players over the Past 15 Years
I say "one of" because the debate between Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan as the best basketball player of their generation is a lot closer than people seem to talk about (but that's a debate for another day.)
Having a guy who is historically one of the 15 best players in basketball history is never a bad thing, and if he is the leader of your team, then that's even better.
I would rather have Kobe and his decade-plus of being one of the best players in the league than someone just getting used to being in the spotlight.
There is a certain attitude that Kobe has about him that is not conducive to his team seeing him as a great leader.
Great leaders know when to call their guys out. Kobe usually ends up throwing his players under the bus, making it difficult to discern the difference.
For instance, Larry Bird called out his team last night when he called them soft. The team needed a reality check after getting blown out and that is what Bird gave to them.
Kobe said that Metta World Peace was the only one he could trust to give a good effort night after night. With that comment, he was blatantly throwing stones at the rest of his team.
He needs to learn to either keep his mouth shut at certain times or learn to pick and choose when to productively criticize his team.
Pro: You Can Still Rely on Him Late, Regardless of This Season's Failures
Kobe Bryant was bad this season in the clutch—there is no doubt about that. He failed completely in games late, especially game two against the Thunder (although I guess the refs helped him do well in game four). I don't think that that's going to be Kobe for the rest of his career.
Usually, Bryant is one of the best late-game players in the NBA, but there is one thing he was missing this year to keep him near the top of the league—a number two.
Now, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are usually fine throughout the course of a game to get their points, but last year in the clutch, Lamar Odom was Kobe's go-to bailout man. This led to Kobe having good clutch numbers.
This year, with no one else to rely on and everyone on the defense knowing the ball was going to Kobe, there was nothing he could do but try to beat a double-team—which didn't happen as often as usual.
Con: His Stats Are Waning
Kobe Bryant averaged nearly 28 points a game and was a few good games away from winning his third scoring title. Surely he is playing as well as ever, right?
C'mon guys, you know basketball is more about putting the orange ball into a basket!
Kobe shot 43 percent this year. For those of you scoring at home, the last time he shot anywhere near that badly was in 2005 when he was dealing with a slow, lumbering Slava Medvedenko on the team. The last time he shot worse than that was his second year in the league.
Beyond that, Kobe had his worst three-point shooting season since his third year in the league, all while playing nearly 40 minutes a game.
Pro: He Can Still Carry a Team
There were multiple points throughout the season, and even a few times in the playoffs when Kobe Bryant was able to realize that his team wasn't playing as well as they could, he took the reigns of the game, scoring at will.
A stretch of 40-point games in January kicked off a Lakers winning streak, which came along with 38 and 43-point games by Kobe against the Nuggets to grab wins for the Lakers.
He also had 36, 38 and 42-point games over the final three of their series against Oklahoma City.
So, as long as you have a guy that can do this on a regular basis, your team is in a good position.
Con: His Superstar Years Are Waning
There are players that play well into their 40s effectively, but that is because they are willing to let someone else take over and opt for a lesser role on their team. That is the main reason why Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was able to play until he was 41.
Now, Kobe isn't that old yet, but the minutes on his knees make him quite old in basketball years, so him needing to step down could be closer than it seems.
Kobe has at best four or five more stellar years left in him, and more realistically we are looking at two or three before he has a marked drop in effectiveness.
Is Kobe really ever going to accept the fact that he is not the best player on his team? And if not, how much of a distraction will he be?
Pro: He's Kobe Freaking Bryant
There are few players in the history of basketball that have won a championship. Beyond that, there are few who have won multiple titles. Taking it even further, there are only 10 players in NBA history who have won more titles than Kobe himself.
If you have a guy with that kind of winning history, and who has been on your team for over a decade serving as the heart and sole of your team for the past seven-plus years, then you've got to ride that pony as long as he will run.
He is the leader of The Lakers for better or worse for as long as he can dribble a basketball. Right now, there is nothing wrong with Kobe as their leader.
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