The Kobe Bryant era is over. The five-time NBA champion went out in a blaze of glory last April scoring 60 points while leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a win over the Utah Jazz at the Staples Center in his finale.
With Kobe gone, the Lakers franchise has been turned over to a group of unproven, yet talented group of young players. Although no one knew what to expect in the post-Kobe era, the team has defied the odds and rallied around their new leader, head coach Luke Walton.
Now that the Lakers are 10-10 and seemingly a legitimate playoff contender, many have wondered whether Bryant held the team back from reaching its true potential with these up-and-coming players. Metta World Peace, who won a title alongside Kobe in 2010, believes the team’s success can be attributed to maturity rather than being without Bryant, as he told Maurice Peebles of Complex.com:
I think this year’s team is a year older; all of the core guys from last year were very young. I actually think that’s the biggest difference. And they’re developing really, really good chemistry. So, you know, that’s the main thing. People can say this team is better without Kobe or whatever—I don’t think that’s the case. I just think it’s a more mature team.
A strong case can be made for the fact that Kobe’s farewell tour was a huge distraction and indeed held the team back from developing into what it is today. Last season was all about Bryant and not much else mattered with the low expectations for the team with a 37-year-old superstar.
On the other hand, World Peace may be right on the money regarding the maturity of the team. Walton has seemingly helped in that regard with all of the squad’s young players buying into his system with no complaints and dedication to playing their hearts out for their new leader on the sidelines.
Regardless of the reason, this Lakers team has begun to right the ship in Los Angeles. The team has come out with a never-say-die attitude that has made them a threat in the Western Conference once again. The future seems bright for the storied franchise as they embark on a season which may very well end with a playoff berth.