Lakers Aren’t Ready for There to Be No Kobe, Not in 2014, Not Now

Kobe Bryant injuryRemember all those issues the Lakers used to have?

Humility was no farther away than their next game against a winning team on the second night of a back-to-back.

Perspective was seeing Kobe Bryant go to the floor, and the sidelines.

No one is forever, not even Kobe. An era just went “out indefinitely.”

No, a severely sprained ankle won’t end his career.

No one has said it will end his season–although it takes a lot to leave Bryant as glum as he was with the press after Wednesday’s loss in Atlanta.

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Yes, at 34 he has more than one good season left in him, even if he has only one under contract.

And yes, he’ll be missed, by the Lakers whose hopes of making the playoffs and, oh, by the way, their future, are in question… and by fans who want to see what’s possible in the game of basketball.

If Kobe isn’t Michael Jordan, he has one undying distinction all his own, as the high-wire act of all time.

No one ever hit as many impossible shots, and not just because no one else ever got to stay in games while taking so many, never mind 17 seasons worth.

MJ was the most refined, uber-athlete the game had seen. Bryant is the most daring, refined uber-athlete it has ever seen.

Of course, Bryant is too daring for his own good. With more caution–or any–he’d have been much more efficient, but then, he wouldn’t have been Kobe, would he?

The Atlanta loss was like a lot of Laker games in Bryant’s 17 seasons.

Kobe, who shoots them into a lot of games, shot them out of this one, going 10-31 from the floor, fizzling at the end when he uncharacteristically left shot after shot on the rim, which can happen at 34 when you try to put the team on your shoulders in the second night of a back-to-back.

And, of course, people said what they always say, he shot too much.

Yeah, and he shot too much when he scored 42/41, single-handedly bringing them back from down 21 against the Hornets and down 15 against the Raptors, or the four-game winning streak that would have been a two-game winning streak, and they’d be 32-34 instead of 34-32.

This just in: Kobe always shoots too much, always errors on the wild side, never gives up, never concedes a loss.

Bottom line: He’s a 34-year-old wild child with five championship rings.

He might have more if he had stayed with Shaquille O’Neal until, say, 2008, instead of 2004, but then he wouldn’t have been Kobe, would he?

Kobe Bryant Dunk on HornetsLaker fans are about to get a painful lesson in Kobe Bryant Appreciation 101.

When you see heroism on a nightly basis, whether it succeeds or fall short, it doesn’t seem so heroic.

No, he’s not a fireman running into a burning building. I’m talking about the sports version of heroism, the courage to dare, the strength to forget failure, the refusal to accept defeat, the greatness to overcome, no matter what the odds.

You have to go back to watching mere mortals to realize.

Oh my heavens, wasn’t he something?

No one will jack up 28-foot turnaround three-pointers like the one he hit late against the Hawks.

No one will be at the arc, pump faking a defender who’s smart enough to stay on the floor, throw another fake or two at him, then put it up anyway, jack-knifing backward, shooting harder to compensate, and hitting more of those than you could ever imagine.

His all-timer was like one of those old commercials in which Mother Nature says it’s nice to upset her, and snaps off a bolt of lightning.

It was the last game of the turbulent 2003-04 season at Portland, the last with Shaq, with Kobe running on rage after an anonymous teammate having just accused him of deliberately refusing to shoot in a loss at Sacramento.

—- Kobe Bryant has evolved over the years. Check this wallpaper of the Black Mamba! —-

Bryant confronted them all, brandishing the newspaper story, demanding to know who the #$#@! said it, or as a team official said that day, “Kobe’s melting down.”

By way of not apologizing, Kobe then went for 45 in a win at Golden State.

The next night in Portland, trailing by three at the end of regulation, with self-styled “Kobe stopper” Ruben Patterson draped all over him at the arc, Kobe ducked under his left arm and sidearmed in a three to tie it…. then, down two as time ran out in overtime, won it with a three-point moon ball he launched into the rafters over 6-10 Theo Ratliff.NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers

You hear announcers marvel about “willing the ball into the basket,” but I never heard a player say it, before Wednesday when Kobe allowed that’s what he was trying to do at the end of the game.

Even Kobe doesn’t know what his will is capable of–but it can’t protect him from injury as the years pass and the miles pile up.

For the Lakers, the sobering fact is they’ve barely been respectable despite nightly heroics by a 34-year-old player with 14 months left under contract.

If Bryant often muses about retiring in 2014, it’s hard to imagine someone who puts so much into it—he’s as zealous off the floor as he is heroic on it—walking off so casually.

At the All-Star break, things looked so tense between Bryant and Dwight Howard, it looked like keeping Dwight–as the Lakers are intent on doing–could run off Bryant. With insiders confident Howard will stay, and with Dwight seeming to fall happily in line behind Kobe in recent weeks, the Lakes seem, at least to be beyond the disaster scenarios.

Of course, that still leaves this season’s depression scenario.

In any case, if I was the Lakers, I’d be looking for a price they can afford in this repeating luxury tax penalty era that he could accept for two or three more seasons—and talking to him about it now.

Lakers aside, I’m not ready for there to be no more Kobe, not then, not now.

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