With training camp still a few days away, we can finally allow ourselves to get excited about this upcoming Lakers season. This was one of the more strange off-seasons I can remember. For starters, it still feels like summer outside my window. Since we’re not really allowed to complain about the weather in L.A., most people still have no idea that this past month’s heat has been brutal. But it isn’t just the weather. Even though last season ended only a few days after most seasons end, this off-season just felt shorter than most. Part of that might be because the NBA’s free agency period seemed to span the entire summer and part of that might have to do with the long-lasting and euphoric highs that came with the acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
But as great as things seem to be heading into 2012-13, it’s probably best to proceed cautiously optimistic. All is not entirely perfect and plenty can still go wrong. This team is still not the favorite to win the title even though they are one of only a few teams who can. There is still one glaring thing that needs to happen and I’m not sure there is anyone inside the organization that has the balls or the power to do it.
Kobe Bryant needs to understand that he is no longer the player he once was. That doesn’t mean he isn’t still great. It’s just that those moments of greatness come fewer and farther between.
We can’t expect Mike Brown to tell him because Mr. Potato Head already conceded power to Kobe. Phil Jackson is gone so don’t expect him to do it. Derek Fisher, the only guy on the team that had the same respect as Kobe, is no longer around to act as good cop to Kobe’s bad cop. Pau Gasol is just way too nice a guy and loves being a Laker so much that he won’t risk rocking the boat by calling Kobe out — at least not by name. Dwight and Nash are just way too new here and are more concerned with fitting in than they are with trying to assert any kind of power or control over the team.
So I guess that means I have to do it.
Let me preface this by saying that I will always be grateful and in awe of everything you’ve done for this city and the fans. I understand your place in the game’s history and I sympathize with both the expectations placed upon you as a teenager and the fact so many people hate you just because you broke their hearts on so many occasions. But I can’t let any of that take away from the fact that, more often than not, you are the world’s most selfish athlete. In your own mind, a 22-foot jump shot whilst double-teamed is a better shot than a wide open 15-footer from one of your teammates. And that’s part of what makes you great.
But it’s not true. At least not with this team.
This team finally has enough guys who can take big shots. As a result, it’s time your priorities were aligned with what’s best for the team and not with what’s best for your legacy. The better this team performs, the further your legacy will be enhanced. You have to trust me on this. History will look more kindly at you averaging 17 points and shooting 48 percent on a title team than averaging 28 points on 41 percent shooting and exiting the playoffs in Round 2 for a third consecutive year.
I’m going to be frank here. You can call it tough love. You can call it constructive criticism. I don’t really care what you call it. But there’s a definite concern that this team might have more wins without you than with you. I say that only because there’s enough talent on this team with a healthy Dwight and a healthy Steve that I don’t think your presence will affect the team’s overall record by any more wins than if you were replaced by someone like an O.J. Mayo or even Kevin Martin.
Keep in mind that I’m talking about the team’s won-loss record and NOT about how far they can go in the playoffs. This team needs you to win a championship. It’s in your ability to play the right way that will be the deciding factor as to whether or not this team wins a championship. Stray from the course and this team bows out earlier than it should. Stay the course and we’re talking about a parade downtown.
Do you see the difference?
You don’t have a lot of years left in this league. This current Lakers squad doesn’t exactly have the widest of championship windows either. In fact, the margin of error couldn’t be smaller. This team is taking the escalator down as far as their championship prospects are concerned while the Thunder are taking the elevator up.
So if I can ask anything of you as we approach your 17th training camp as a member of the Lakers it’s to focus on empowering your teammates and keeping them focused in a way that only you know how. Keep your demands of them sky-high. Rediscover your ability to defend the opponent’s best perimeter player without gambling for steals all the time.
But when it comes to your offense, less is certainly more. I know you know how to play a team game. I just need to make sure that you’re willing to do so. Figure out how to put your stamp on a game without scoring. Sure there will be those games where you’re shooting lights out and going for 50. I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about the ones where you’re shooting the opposite of lights out and going for 50.
This letter might not seem like it but nobody wants to see you win a sixth, or even a seventh ring, more than I do. And that’s why I’m telling you this. Because nobody else will.
In case you missed it – Dwight Howard talks about starting over in Los Angeles: