But Nick Young is Nick Young. So they can't.
"At times, we fall into relying on No. 24 a lot," Young told reporters on Nov. 23 (via Mark Medina of InsideSoCal.com). "We got to believe in ourselves. I believe in everybody on this team. Kobe is going to be Kobe. But we have to find a way to put the ball in the hole with everybody else."
A little background is necessary before we get into why Young's words fall flat.
The above quote came after a game against the Denver Nuggets in which Bryant made explicit what so many have long suspected—that he doesn't respect his teammates or a rational approach to end-game situations.
Tied up in the waning seconds, Kobe made it very clear how things were going to go on the next pivotal play.
Warning: Video may contain NSFW language.
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Herding teammates out of the way like so many head of cattle isn't necessarily cause for criticism. Lots of greats have marginalized teammates in exactly this manner. In fact, we have a tendency to celebrate the willingness to take the big shot Bryant displayed in that clip.
But a few things make Kobe's gimme-the-ball routine different.
For starters, the Lakers have been a better offensive team with Bryant on the pine this season. Field-goal percentage, assist percentage, offensive rating, general happiness—you name it, Los Angeles has had more success with Kobe benched, per NBA.com.
|Lakers With and Without Kobe on the Floor|
On the season, Bryant is shooting 38.1 percent while leading the NBA in usage rate. No one in the league this year has embraced high-volume, low-efficiency play like Bryant. Maybe that's why Young, in the next still, looks a little bothered by Kobe's takeover plan.
Now, it's possible Young was considering all of the season-long stats indicating the Lakers would have a better chance of getting a quality look if Bryant were to pass the ball, play in some semblance of an offensive system or, perhaps best of all, not take the floor altogether.
The Mamba is killing his team.
To be fair, the Lakers have been complicit in their own demise. L.A.'s supporting cast has turned deference, standing around and watching into an art form. The Lakers usually don't even need Bryant to tell them to get out of the way because they're already stepping aside.
In some ways, it's hard to blame them. Defying Kobe, whose personality and track record have obviously earned him special status, isn't easy. Plenty of All-Stars have tried and failed. What's someone with Ronnie Price's status supposed to do?
Perhaps Young was rolling that question over in his mind. More likely, he was disappointedly realizing "Crap, this means I'm not going to get to shoot."
That's where the messenger starts to matter more than the message. Young is a zillion percent right to criticize and stare incredulous daggers at Kobe.
Right as Young is, he simply can't be the guy advocating for unselfishness. He was 2-of-12 in Kobe's "get outta my way" game against Denver, and his career assist average is 1.1 per game. Bryant's assist percentage in this remarkably selfish season is 22.5 percent, the lowest it's been since the turn of the century, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Young's is 4.6 percent this season, and it has never cracked 10 percent in any year of his career.
When Young argues for better ball movement, it's the equivalent of Godzilla looming over the Tokyo skyline and yelling at Mothra to be more careful with those buildings he's destroying. He's not wrong, but his credibility on the issue is basically nil.
The question, then, is this: If Young isn't the guy to convey the point, who is?
The fantasy scenario here (if you'd rather the Lakers play smart basketball instead of continue whatever weird performance art we've been watching so far), is that Young's comments start a snowball effect, and other Lakers chime in as it gets rolling, eventually effecting change.
Individually speaking, you'd think Steve Nash might have enough dual-MVP clout to reach Bryant. But now that his playing days are finished, it's hard to see Nash's voice making a real impact.
Jeremy Lin hasn't been much of a talker.
And head coach Byron Scott is generally too busy enabling Kobe to criticize him. B/R's Kevin Ding nailed that point here:
There is a fundamental problem with the template.
You want to build the team around Bryant's free rein on offense while he is encouraged to 'rest'—Scott's own word—on defense, yet every other guy is being held to fantastic standards that must be met for the team to overachieve?
How is anyone besides Kobe ever going to think that's cool?
Carlos Boozer's a loud guy. Maybe he'll say something.
OK, Carlos, that's not helpful.
That's just it with this Lakers team. Everybody knows what the right message is—from Young to Nash to Lin...even all the way down to Scott, hard as that may be to believe. But there's just no reaching Bryant. Not now, and not with the "get out of the way" ethos calcifying more and more every day.
It's too late for Young—for anybody—to deliver the message. It seems Bryant has already made up his mind about his approach this season. There'll be no changing it.
Besides, the Lakers organization already sent the strongest signal anyway—one that pretty much supersedes any others that might come from Bryant's teammates or his coach. That message reinforced Kobe's belief in his own singular basketball heroism.
It came in the form of the two-year, $48.5 million contract that prevented L.A. from attracting real help while effectively telling to Kobe: "We still trust you. This is your team. Go nuts."