At 2-12, the Los Angeles Lakers record is bad enough, but what has made this season even worse has been the play of Kobe Bryant, who has looked like a shell of his former self.
Kobe is averaging 15.2 points, but is taking more than 16 shots a game to get there. He is shooting a career-worst 31 percent from the field and less than 20 percent from three-point range on more than seven attempts from deep. What has really hurt Kobe is that the majority of his shots have come in isolation situations, thus most of his shots are difficult, well-guarded jumpers.
The ball movement on the Lakers has been nearly non-existent and Kobe’s iso-heavy attack doesn’t help matters as the team tends to stand and watch him. His defense is also nowhere near the level it used to be, which is to be expected considering it is his 20th year in the league.
The Lakers have a number of young players worth developing and Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell getting the shots that Kobe is getting would only help them down the line. Those players would also be forced to be leaders on the floor and be the main playmakers which, in the case of Russell, is the reason he was drafted.
Of course, this is still Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest players of all-time. Even at his current level, it is hard to believe that a team would be better without him. So we asked our panel of experts if they believe the Lakers would be better off if Kobe Bryant retired right now. This is what they had to say:
Trevor Lane: There is no question that Kobe Bryant has had a difficult start to the season. It appears that Father Time has won, and in spite of the sharp basketball mind that Bryant still possesses the body is no longer willing. The fact that one can now legitimately question whether the team is better off without their marquee star is as telling as it is tragic.
For the Lakers organization Bryant is still a major draw, earning them several times the cost of his bloated contract in revenue. He brings national eyes to a team that has no other beacon, and keeps the purple and gold on the lips and keyboards of the media. If Bryant were to hang up the high-tops now it could mean an uncomfortable period of irrelevance for the Lakers, and the league as a whole thanks to the massive revenue sharing check that the Buss family has to cut to their competitors.
That said, on the court Kobe’s shortcomings have been monstrous. He gets burned time after time defensively, and every airballed jumper is eliciting cringes from basketball supporters–not just Lakers fans–who can’t believe how far the once superhuman Bryant has fallen. The young players on the team still defer to him on the floor, even when statistics scream that they shouldn’t, because that’s the kind of respect that being a legend brings.
Coach Bryon Scott seems to be enabling his friend to fire at will, with little regard to what it does to the team’s success or what kind of double standard it sets. With all that in mind, the Lakers on the court would indeed be better off if Kobe Bryant were to retire right now. Based on the evidence that has been mounting over the past few seasons it’s difficult to come to any other conclusion, as painful as it may be.
It doesn’t have to be like this though. There are ways for Bryant to continue to be a draw and improve the Lakers play on the floor. It wouldn’t be a comfortable conversation, but asking Bryant to take a role similar to the one Kevin Garnett has in Minnesota could conceivably allow him to succesfully finish the season.
Unfortunately, this metamorphis appears to be unlikely, even if it is completely reasonable, because all parties involved would have to be willing to make such a change. Bryant appears determined to go out guns blazing, raging against the dying of the light. In some ways it’s a fitting end for a player who routinely defied any and all limitations, but it feels as though those whose opinions matter most–Bryant, Scott, and the Lakers organization–are failing to understand just how painful it is to watch him struggle in vain against his own mortality.
Sometimes it’s ok to let go, to give in and accept the unacceptable. For the first time in 20 years, the Lakers are a better basketball team without Kobe Bryant.
Nathaniel Lastrapes The Lakers would not be any better off if Kobe Bryant retired right now, but it would not necessarily hurt them either.
I understand that people may believe that Kobe’s presence has disrupted the development of Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and D’Angelo Russell, but I disagree. Player development is Byron Scott’s responsibility, and it is impossible to develop young talent if they are sitting on the bench during key minutes where there is an abundance of potential learning experiences.
With that being said, Kobe Bryant has not taken these minutes from the young core. It has been a rough couple of years and Kobe has not been the superstar that we all have been familiar with over the course of his career, but I would love for him to finish this season healthy. This season has clearly been frustrating for Kobe, and as the season progresses it will continue to feel more and more like retirement a reality.
The inevitable end of his career is near, but Kobe will almost certainly finish his 20th campaign with the Lakers before he announces his retirement.
Alan Huerta: Although I know we can’t treat the Black Mamba like he’s just any other player because he’s not, but I do think the Lakers would be better off if Bryant retired.
Looking at his numbers, Bryant is averaging more shot attempts per game (16.4) than points (15.2) and is shooting a career-low 31.1 percent shooting from the field and under 20 percent from three. Those numbers are brutal, even for any player not named Kobe Bryant.
But seeing how bad this Laker team has been 14 games in (2-12), it’s time for Byron Scott to pull the eject button on the season and that includes Kobe. Scott refuses to reduce his minutes and role even though his struggles have continually worsened, and that puts jeopardy on what should’ve been team’s No. 1 objective this season – player development. This comes after Scott said Bryant would have “limited” minutes prior to the season, yet he’s second on the team in minutes per game (30.5).
I’d rather see D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson out there getting the experience needed in this rebuilding process. Growing pains and losses will occur, but it’ll pay off in the near future.
It’s hard for all of Lakers Nation to accept it, but Father Time is undefeated for a reason. Plus, if the Lakers continue to struggle this bad (29th in the NBA), there’s a chance they keep their top-3 protected pick in next year’s draft. Ahem, Ben Simmons anyone?
Corey Hansford: This is a very difficult thing to judge because we are talking about Kobe Bryant here. As it stands now, I do believe the Lakers would be better without Kobe Bryant, but it has just as much to do with Byron Scott as it does Kobe.
Kobe could still fulfill a role on this team and be extremely useful for the young players. The problem is that he is still trying to be that star player and Scott is content to let him keep going when that time has clearly passed.
The only person who believes in Kobe more than Kobe, is Scott, and that is a problem. Because Scott is clearly unable to alter the role Kobe has, the only way to bring about the necessary change these Lakers need would be for Kobe to not be here.
This would force Scott to entrust D’Angelo Russell as the lead playmaker and allow Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle more freedom to take charge as the top scorers on the team. It should also force player and ball movement as no one would be staring at one player waiting for him to make his move.
This would also free up more time for players like Larry Nance Jr. and Anthony Brown, each of whom have potential as role players for this team. At this stage, it just feels like there are more positives if Kobe retires, and while I don’t put all of this on him, it still feels like it’s time to say goodbye to the greatest player I’ve ever seen.
Jabari Davis (@JabariDavisNBA): While I’m certainly not in the crowd screaming for him to retire now based solely on poor play caused by his body simply appearing to give out on him, I absolutely would like to see this coaching staff find a way to properly or at least best utilize him at this stage.
My claim that Bryant is a currently a “dwindling shell of his former self” was met with obvious displeasure by some within the fan base, but folks have to understand the difference between acknowledging the reality of his game these days and somehow criticizing his entire career or legacy.
While the overall results have been disconcerting if we’re being honest about it, there have been moments and stretches where Bryant has been able to be effective for this team. Most of those moments surround him working primarily out of the post (or at least near/off the block) and as a playmaker rather than solely looking to assert himself as a scorer.
For as much as he’s struggled, he still manages to draw at least the attention of the defense from that position on the floor and has had moments where he was able to open things up for a cutting Clarkson, rolling Randle or in finding Russell spotting up behind the arc.
Again, I don’t think it’s any of our places to tell a guy like Bryant when he needs to walk away, but I would at least like to see the staff properly utilize what he has left to offer and at least put him in the most optimum positions to succeed on the court.