There's No Reason Why Kobe Bryant Should Have To End His Career As A Laker
It's not news that the L.A. Lakers are projected to be bad this year. They're getting all-time great Kobe Bryant back after he missed almost all of last season with a knee injury, but they lost Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Jodie Meeks in the offseason and replaced them with Jeremy Lin and the corpse of Carlos Boozer. Maybe Julius Randle will be transcendent as a rookie, but it's hard to imagine the Lakers climbing out of the West's cellar even if Bryant returns to peak form, which is unlikely. There's just not enough talent there.
In the wake of ESPN's bombshell hit piece on Bryant, which essentially blames him for the current state of the franchise, it appears that the Lakers are content to play out the string with their legendary guard and rebuild after his massive contract is off the books. The reality that the team won't be competitive until after the 2015-16 season is hard to fathom.
The mood around the team and the league appears to be "Oh well." Even if having to pay Bryant nearly $50 million over two years is karmic payback for all his earlier success, this is a confusing thought process. It's all based on the idea that Kobe Bryant, Laker great, must retire as a Laker.
From a practical standpoint, Kobe's contract would be tough to move, but not impossible. Who wants to pay a 19-year veteran $25 million next season? Not a lot of people. But this isn't any 19-year veteran -- it's Kobe Bryant, a five-time champion who even at half-speed is better than 90 percent of the league. Anyone who says they don't want his scoring ability, experience and competitiveness is lying, if not an asshole.
Which teams might want him? Our own Jake O'Donnell suggested the Knicks could swap Amar'e Stoudemire for him (throw J.R. Smith in there too, why don't you), an idea I like. This puts the Lakers one season closer to clearing the books, while the Knicks gain another member of the Phil Jackson extended championship-winning family. How about the Thunder (for Doron Lamb, Steven Adams and two draft picks?), which would then have a starting five of Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Nasty. Hell, keep Kobe in L.A. and send him to the Clippers for DeAndre Jordan. Any of these scenarios puts the Lakers back on track to being a contender, and puts Kobe back in contention for another ring.
(Here's my favorite, by the way: Phoenix. Steve Nash did the unthinkable by leaving the Suns for the Lakers in order to chase a ring; let's see if Kobe would do the same, in reverse. Plus, Phoenix is known for practicing incredible medical magic and extending/revitalizing careers of past stars.)
But, of course, it isn't about the practicality of trading Kobe -- it's an emotional issue. How can one of the greatest Lakers ever finish his career in a non-Lakers uniform?
You mean besides the fact that the team is garbage and can't compete at the level Kobe's used to? This is hardly the team Kobe joined in 1996, or helped retool in the late 2000s. His sidekick was just ruled out for the year with back issues. His coach is Byron Scott. The next best offensive weapon calls himself Swaggy P. Are we really about to embark upon a two-year nostalgia kick just because the idea of Kobe playing for another team is too painful?
Guys who were great for one team get traded (or sign with other teams) all the time. Karl Malone finished his career in L.A. Patrick Ewing finished his career in Orlando. Paul Pierce, the most Celtic-y Celtic since Larry Bird, played in Brooklyn last year and will be with Washington this year. MICHAEL JORDAN PLAYED FOR THE WIZARDS. How weird was that? Nobody is safe. We got over it, after awhile, and today Bulls fans don't hate MJ for the comeback -- in fact, we rarely ever talk about it.
While it's nice and romantic and sweet to imagine Kobe being lowered into his basketball casket wearing only a Lakers jersey, it's naive to pretend like there aren't alternatives here.
We hear it all the time: Basketball is a business. It's why players leave hometown teams, or the team that drafted them, for more money and a chance at greater glory. If there's anyone who should be able to take off the rose-colored glasses that is the concept of "retiring having only played for one team," it's the Black Mamba; and that's how we should feel about him, too. Kobe has been a lone wolf -- a grumpy dick? -- for his entire life. Why do we wait until he's old and overpaid to feel this much love for him?
A split between Kobe and the Lakers appears mutually beneficial -- he gets to compete at a high level, and the Lakers get the break they claim to need in order to rebuild. If things like "respect" and "nostalgia" are the only things standing in the way of it, it might be time to reconsider the concept that Kobe will be a "#Laker4Life."
Photo via Getty
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