Kobe Bryant’s Future With Lakers After 2015-16 NBA Season: Part II
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Welcome back for Part II of my exploration Kobe Bryant’s future with the Los Angeles Lakers. Yesterday, we took a look at the case for Bryant retiring at the conclusion of the 2015-2016 season, which does appear to be the most probable outcome.

However, there is another path, one that may be a bit unconventional, but has the potential to drastically alter the future for both Bryant and the Lakers. While it won’t be an easy road to travel, taking this route could extend his playing career while simultaneously giving the Lakers rebuild a shot in the arm.

A New Set Of Challenges

At one point, Bryant was king of the tough shot-makers, but with his athleticism waning the how-the-hell-did-he-make-that daggers are turning into wasteful offensive possessions. Efficiency is paramount in the modern NBA, which makes Kobe’s clanking is a big problem, one that has to be rectified if the Lakers are going to get back on track.

However, it’s not all Kobe’s fault. He was playing on a bad team that was struggling on both ends of the court, while the massive Lakers fan base grew more restless with every loss. The talent-deficient Lakers had little choice, but to once again look to their aging star to carry the load. After so many years of being able to will the team to victory, it’s not surprising that Bryant would default to the familiar and attempt to play the hero once more.

Bryant was frequently thrown the ball late in the shot clock after his teammates had failed to generate a good look, requiring him to make something out of nothing. This led to a number of percentage-busting shots that were make-able for the Kobe of old, but not so for old Kobe. Thanks to the combination of an athletic decline and poor team offensive execution, Bryant shot just 37 percent from the field during the 2014-2015 season, by far the low mark for his career.

Tough to blame Kobe when he’s hit shots like these:

Coach Byron Scott also has to take some of the blame, asking Kobe to carry a burden he is no longer physically able to bear. The 36-year-old Bryant averaged a whopping 34.5 minutes per game while Scott tried to squeeze out as many victories as possible, health be damned. As the season wore on, the impact of playing so many minutes became apparent as Bryant’s shooting percentage sank lower and lower. Compared to the San Antonio Spurs, who manage their star’s minutes religiously, Scott’s rotation was downright backwards. While it’s not easy for anyone to tell Bryant to take a seat, part of Scott’s appeal at the helm was that he has Kobe’s respect and would be able to make those calls, saving Kobe from his own competitive nature.

Kobe Death Stare

Whether Byron is immune to Kobe’s death stare has yet to be seen.

Regardless of where the blame for last season’s struggles lies, the bottom line is that Kobe cannot be the same player he once was, both in terms of impact and minutes. While Bryant can probably play one more season in Mamba mode (for better or worse), if he wants to stick around past that he is going to have to adapt to his limitations. It won’t be easy, but it’s time for a metamorphosis.

Fortunately, the blueprint for Kobe Bryant, Version 2.0 has already been created.

The Road Not Taken

Over the course of his career, Kobe Bryant has taken a lot of flak for his passing (or lack thereof). He’s been labelled a ball-hog, a glory-hound and a bad teammate. Memes litter the internet poking fun at his disdain for dishing (Google “Kobe Bryant meme” at your peril). However, these presumptions are overlooking the fact that Bryant is actually a phenomenal distributor.

Despite watching countless hours of Lakers Basketball as a child, it was Michael Jordan that captivated the basketball world during much of Kobe’s formative basketball years, and as such Bryant patterned his game after “His Airness”. Somewhere though, there is an alternate universe where Kobe mimicked the playing style of Magic Johnson instead, and that Bryant is likely just as successful as our own. Kobe has the ability to be a top-level distributor, he just didn’t build his game around that skill.

Last season, we saw a number of games where Kobe focused on getting teammates going before looking for his own shot, playing on the wing as a multi-faceted point-forward. With the offense flowing through a pass-first Mamba not only did the assists pile up, but teammates found plenty of open looks. In perhaps his best game last season, Kobe racked up an impressive 17 assists against LeBron James and the Cavs, while still chipping in 19 points on 7-14 shooting.

It wasn’t the first time that Bryant had played a pass-first game (he had double-digit assists three times before that outing) but it felt as though a breakthrough was being made, that he was truly mastering the use of the pass in order to create more efficient shots for both himself and others. When the defense collapsed on him, he found open teammates, and when opportunities were open he took in-rhythm, efficient shots. It was brilliant basketball, maximizing Bryant’s intelligence and skill while masking his weaknesses.

Unfortunately, Bryant would play just one more game, tearing his rotator cuff against the New Orleans Pelicans. The season ended in a cliffhanger, with no answers as to whether maestro Kobe was here to stay or not.

I’m more than comfortable just sitting back and scoring 21, 22 points or whatever and getting 10, 11 assists whatever the case might be. More than comfortable with that. It’s just a matter of the pieces that you have around you and what you can do to elevate everybody else.

If nothing else, the games that featured Kobe Bryant: Passing Prodigy may have given us a glimpse into the future; a blueprint to follow should he decide that this coming season will not be his last. With a minutes restriction, rest days, and a shift to a less-taxing, pass-first philosophy Kobe could very well play two or three more seasons, which would give him an outside shot at catching Karl Malone for second on the all-time scoring list. Furthermore, it would give the Lakers franchise and fan base more time to appreciate their transcendent star.

Bryant wouldn’t be the first to make such a radical change, either.

NBA history is populated with superstars who adjusted their games in order to stay effective as they aged. Jason Kidd and Vince Carter became three-point specialists who spaced the floor for their younger counterparts, just as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar allowed himself to become the secondary option to Magic Johnson’s run-and-gun Showtime attack. Accepting their limitations in order to benefit the team has, in varying degrees, required players to sacrifice their superstar status, but it also allowed them to continue playing basketball at the highest level in the world.

Should Kobe decide to do the same, he would be able to provide critical guidance to the growing collection of young talent that the Lakers are cultivating. Bryant has repeatedly said that he has no interest in coaching, but he could do a lot of good leading by example and showing the next generation of Lakers how to win.

These young guys are playing checkers. I’m out there playing chess.

Additionally, a pass-first Kobe would fit nicely with the organization’s push to catch up to the spacing and shooting revolution that has taken the NBA by storm, as evidenced by their selections of D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Brown in the 2015 NBA Draft.

For Kobe, molding the future of the franchise would be a fresh challenge, and would allow him to leave the team that he has given so much to in better shape than it is currently in. They wouldn’t be contending for the sixth championship that Bryant craves, but there is a certain joy in building and an appreciation of the journey rather than the destination.

Moreover, keeping Bryant in the fold on a more conservative contract next summer could be a decent draw for future free agents. While some insist that Bryant drives talent away, his massive contract and its impact on team building likely has a lot to do with that. Kobe the competitor still has a lot of fans amongst NBA players.

All that being said, with Kobe being who he is, it’s tough to see him changing his game so drastically at this stage of his career, even if it would extend his time in the sun. Retirement is still the most likely path for him to take, although fans and franchise alike certainly wouldn’t be disappointed to see more of their star.

All we know for sure is that Kobe Bryant’s hefty Lakers contract expires at the end of the season, and no definitive decision has been made regarding retirement. Still, it seems likely that this season will indeed end up being Bryant’s last. If he decides that he has had enough, that nearly two decades worth of NBA basketball have come to an end, then so be it. The changes I laid out here may be asking too much, and the burden of staying physically able to compete may be too great for it to be worth it. Still, the path to Bryant playing a few more years in the Golden Armor is clear, even if it isn’t particularly pleasant.

The only certainty is that Lakers fans will have at least one more season to watch one of the greatest of all-time compete, and one final opportunity to give him the ovation that he deserves.

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russell cant pass like kobe fact

  • Could that possibly be because Kobe’s been in the league for 17 years and Russell hasn’t even played an NBA game yet? Nahhhhh. Maybe it’s because Kobe’s possibly the GOAT and Russell’s played for a year in college? That can’t possibly be it.

  • great article on Kobe trevor and i couldnt agree with you more.
    you made valid points and backed them up with not just haters opinions but fellow teamates coaching staff and us fans.
    i respect your opinion and i also think he has 2-3 years more left in him.
    Having 3 years off his body has to feel great and well rested.
    And still only being 37 he has about 3 years he could possibly play more.
    as one of his biggest fans i dont want him to retire and let these Kobe haters have the last word.
    I want Kobe to go out his way whether he scores 20 or 15 ppg i dont care.
    Kobe haters are going to see him play and like it.
    i want Kobe to shove the cake in their face 3 more years.
    every night they will see him play and curse at themself like a bunch idiots and morons.
    Kobe haters are the worst thing ever in NBA basketball. and now they spread to other sports too. ruining everything they come across like a tornado.
    they are a rare breed a disease that cant be cured. all hope is lost for them anyways not Kobe.

  • When Kobe retires, you can also retire yourself from being a “Laker fan”. Seriously you want Kobe for another 3 years even if he plays worse than he did last season? You think getting 3 serious injuries is “taking 3 years off”. I honestly can’t believe some of the dreamers who think that Kobe is going to be back next season all fresh and healthy and like his old self. You people don’t live in reality.

  • I’m really taking a liking to this Trevor guy. Another great article, and a lot of good points about Kobe, that others fail to point out such as teammates passing the ball to Kobe late in the shot clock hoping the Mamba will bail them out, the whole Kobe not being a passer is a joke, highlighting Kobe’s game CAN adjust to being the facilitator role and still manage to get his on points (i.e. the Cavs game), etc.

    Also, I thought I’d make point this out for Lakers fans, the only real big free agent next year is KD and I doubt we’ll land him, since we’ll be still be a bit too young, but promising. There is really no one in the free agency class next season to pursue, including role players, maybe Kobe should come back and take a reasonable contract to shut everyone up and further the growth of this team. I really don’t want a guy like Swaggy P to be the mentor for this team, if Kobe does retire, so maybe Kobe should stay.

  • how about you retire from being a Lakers fan right now.
    your disrespect for Kobe is disgusting,and your disrespect for fellow Lakers fans.
    go root for the clippers boy.

  • I think you are failing to see the other side of Reality or in Pure Denial…..Once again….Those 2+ yrs Kobe didn’t play Can be a Blessing in Disquise…..2+ yrs of Body Rest….So don’t be surprised seeing Kobe play at an High Level.

  • Pure naïvety, serious injuries at Kobe’s age don’t just magically heal. If you’ve ever had a serious injury or indeed played any team sport past your 30’s you’d know that you don’t get better with age and the injuries you pick up linger on robbing you of what you once had, at this point all of Kobe’s joints and ligaments are in decline. If Usain Bolt took a couple of years off, he would not magically get faster after two years of “rest”. Kobe’s latest injury is especially critical as it deals with his shooting stroke and can severely restrict flexibility in the shoulder. You need to wake up and face reality or at least go play some actual sports rather than sitting behind your keyboard pretending that you are playing NBA 2k where players are not affected by injury or age.

  • Listen any Lakers fan who wants Kobe playing for another 3 years wants continued lottery finishes, just so they can see Kobe play like a shell of himself. I was a Laker fan long before Kobe and will be one long after him. It’s time to move on, I understand you are young and probably don’t know the Lakers without Kobe. Kobe Bryant is not the Lakers don’t confuse the two things.

  • who said Kobe is going to get faster or jump any higher?
    tell me who please? i really wanna hear this…..
    for 1 i said he could play 2-3 more years passing taking a lesser role on the team passing and picking and choosing his shots kinda how he did last year he had 1 game with like 17 assists and some others around 12 or 13.
    he also had a few triple doubles which isnt bad at age 36.
    Kobe still has more left.
    Do you remember anyone telling MJ to retire at 37?
    he would only have 4 rings instead of 6 lol.
    MJ won in 1998 then retired and when he come back it was too late. Kobe doesnt need to retire and come back he just needs to STAY.
    fans like you are mentall retarded and dont know anything.
    please keep your opinion to yourself k?

  • Kobe, for your own good, just retire after this season. We love you, the City of Los Angeles appreciates you so much and all the glory you brought to this city, but there’s really no point for you to play beyond this upcoming season, why would you go through this painstaking rebuild with no real help in sight.

  • was Magic the Lakers?
    yes he was he made showtime what it was.
    Kobe is the man now and has been since 1996.
    Kobe is the Lakers NOW JC Dangelo and Randle are the Lakers FUTURE.
    2-3 years from now sure but right now who is “the man”
    Kobe still is. are you that stupid dude?
    even Jordan Clarkson as badass as he is on his BEST is only about half as good as Kobe on his WORST day.
    Fact.

  • Unlike you I’m about “the team” not “the man”. I watched Kobe put himself above “the team” all last season when he shot the team out of every game up until he got passed MJ’s scoring record. Then he decided to be part of “the team” again, he was bad, real bad and if you want another 3 years of that for “the team” you don’t really support “the team” you support “the man”. You are like those Jeremy Lin only fans, you’ll be gone when Kobe goes too.

  • What the hell are you talking about? MJ had pretty much just turned 35 when he won his last ring, he retired at 35. He played for two fairly poor season’s after that, he probably wishes he didn’t because it was not the Jordan of old. Kobe is also no longer himself and is continuing on. Kobe has said himself he will never take a lesser role, he would be an excellent guy to come off the bench to add offense but he will never accept this. His defense last season was non existent and he played as a facilitator for all of 3 or 4 games mostly due to the embarrassing shooting. Kobe is playing now exactly how MJ did with the Wizards, he won’t sniff another championship because his body has failed him long ago. MJ also didn’t play anywhere near the minutes that Kobe has played and didn’t have 3 successive serious injuries requiring surgery.

  • Great story. Glad to see somebody point out that Kobe was passing brilliantly leading up to his shoulder injury…. a great blueprint for the coming season. I wish it would hurry and get here, but then I am old and don’t want time to pass any faster than it already is. Go Kobe, Go Lakers.

  • Finally a decent writer who actually point out the complete facts and game of Kobe. Most try to blame him for the Lakers woes and doesn’t mention that he is a willing passer if his teammates are not afraid to take the shot. Being the first player to have 30, 000 points and 6000 assists and as a shooting guard contradict haters of Kobe who says he doesn’t pass

  • Can we please move on from kobe? This team and it’s fuyure legacy will not include kobe…. he’s done. Move on.

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