If Winning NBA Titles Is the Goal, Then Kobe Bryant Is Your Man

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IMarch 10, 2010

BOSTON - JANUARY 31:  Kobe Bryant  #24 the Los Angeles Lakers looks over his shoulder during the closing minutes of a game  against the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden on January 31, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts.  The Lakers won 90-89. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash /Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

In the midst of recent struggles by the Los Angeles Lakers, a new trend has emerged which blames all of the ailments of the team on its superstar Kobe Bryant, with some even going as far to say the Lakers are a better team without Bryant.

This is not an original idea because Kobe is used to assuming blame for the Lakers, win or lose, but this new theory has gained momentum because of opinions voiced by Bryant's teammates, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

Gasol said it was his opinion that much of the Lakers' issues could be solved if more of an effort was made to work the basketball into the post, which on the surface sounds like a good decision.

Any offense operates more efficiently when it begins with an entry pass to the post, because either you get an easy look close to the basket, or the defense collapses which allows uncontested shots from the perimeter.

However the irony in Gasol's statement stood out because he has just as much to do with an efficient Laker offense as Bryant, and is an equal conspirator in this latest version of Laker-Gate.

I'm not sure if what Gasol said was a thinly-veiled shot directed towards Bryant and his reluctance to pass the ball in certain situations, but if it was Gasol shouldn't throws rocks from the confines of a glass house.

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Gasol is a wonderfully talented seven footer with multiple skills, and is one of the more valued members of the Laker roster. Laker fans do have their issues with Gasol and most of them concern his play in the post.

Gasol has the ability to shoot with either hand, and his athleticism and lateral movement allows him to easily establish position in the paint, however the way he finishes at the rim has made him an object of disdain for many of the Laker faithful.

For all of Gasol's talent, he has a serious problem attacking the rim with authority on offense, and on defense there is a league-wide perception that Gasol is susceptible to a physical style of play.

He is not nearly bad as some would have you think, although there is truth in the above statement, but Laker fans have learned to accept Gasol's weaknesses because of his overall impact on the team.

So has Bryant, because he understands the importance of a talented seven footer from his days with Shaquille O'Neal, and even though he has a tendency to scold Gasol when he makes a mistake, he is the first to congratulate him when he makes a big play.

During the period Bryant was absent from the Laker lineup due to injury, Gasol performed like the superstar his skills suggest, and some of that was due to the watchful eye of Bryant being concealed.

Gasol was able to play without worrying about Bryant, and the same confidence which coursed through his veins also flowed through the rest of the team, as the Lakers looked like a tight cohesive unit.

Not only did they win games but they won them in impressive fashion, dominating opponents by double-digit margins, and playing with rhythm and cohesiveness.

It was during this time the whispers started about the Lakers playing better without the help of Bryant, and they became a full blown roar when his return ran parallel to the Lakers' recent slippage.

Regardless of this Gasol can be forgiven even if he indirectly accused Bryant because he is a leader of the team, and has earned the right to speak his mind without fear of reprisal.

Even though Gasol has drove fans crazy with his soft tendencies there is no question he makes the Lakers a better team, and his presence was a big reason Los Angeles appeared in two consecutive NBA Finals and won one championship.

Additionally, this type of response from Gasol is better than the nonchalant shoulder shrugs he shows on the court, because it demonstrates he cares, and is fully vested in the Lakers' quest for a repeat.

So I can accept Gasol's displeasure, but one would be hard-pressed to convince me to feel the same about Bynum in light of his own ambiguous comments regarding the team.

After a loss to the Miami Heat, Bynum told reporters that members of the Lakers were upset with each other about individual performances, and I can only hope Bynum was the target of most of the anger.

Bynum, like Gasol, is a wonderfully talented seven footer, but unlike Gasol he has never been able to find a consistent groove in his game, and has a tendency to play much smaller than his size.

In that game against the Heat, Bynum was constantly pushed around, out-muscled, and out-positioned in a game which he should have dominated due to the height disparity.

His poor efforts have called into question the Lakers' decision to extend Bynum's contract, and although he has the potential to be a great player, his indifference has led some to believe he may have to realize that potential elsewhere.

Something lost in this absurd discussion about Bryant's value to the Lakers, and a nugget which seemed to slip the minds of Gasol and Bynum as well, is the jewelry on their fingers.

Both players wear the label of NBA champions and they can both credit Bryant for that, because if not for his dominant attitude, they may have never been able to push themselves to the necessary heights.

Gasol is passive by nature, and Bynum is young so Kobe's constant scolding, his endless glares, and his encouragement helped elevate Gasol's game and Bynum's, especially in the 2009 playoffs.

All of that is relevant but there is another element that Bryant brings to the team, and without him this element ensures the Lakers are no more than a second round casualty in the postseason.

This element was on display Tuesday evening as Bryant ended the game against the Toronto Raptors with a short jumper from the corner 1.9 seconds on the clock, the sixth time this season Bryant has closed out a contest in similar fashion.

He is the only player on the roster with the gumption to take those shots, and the only one with the confidence and self-assurance to live with the consequences, good or bad.

Only Derek Fisher, O'Neal, and Tim Duncan can actively boast of winning as many championships as Bryant, and every Laker save Fisher can credit Bryant as the main factor for winning their first.

Gasol and Bynum have the privilege of voicing their opinions, especially for the benefit of defending their NBA championship, but it would serve them well to remember how they won the championship in the first place.