A lot was made of Kobe Bryant playing his (possibly) final game at the Madison Square Garden. If this season was going to be about the Los Angeles Lakers giving him a farewell tour instead of actually trying to improve as a team and build something for the future, they should have told us earlier.
Bryant didn’t play well, to everyone’s astonishment (not really). He finished with 18 points on 6-of-19 from the field. Yes, this is what it looks like when Bryant takes a step back and lets others, younger players, take over. Shooting 19 times. He, Lou Williams Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson couldn’t get anything going as they blew a small lead late in the game. But that’s not surprising, even against the New York Knicks, who play like a team and not a bunch of players simply put together for some mysterious goal.
It’s not that it’s Bryant’s sole fault that the Lakers are 1-5 after almost two weeks of NBA basketball. It’s not his fault that they are the worst defensive team in the NBA, and quite terrible offensively as well (38.3% from the field). It’s not his fault that Byron Scott shouldn’t be on a sideline of an NBA team, at least not as a head coach. It’s not his fault that the Lakers missed out on Kristaps Porzingis and took D’Angelo Russell instead, someone who seems to need more time in order to come into his own. Playing next to Bryant isn’t helping.
But Bryant has always been more than just a player who does what he’s told. He determines things for the Lakers, even if he and the front office try to deny it. It’s not against his will that the Lakers are playing almost 30 minutes a night (32 against the Knicks) while he’s shooting 32% from the field, in what seems to be an embarrassing goodbye to a legendary career. It is his fault, along with Scott, who is willing to torch this entire team but not point a single finger at Bryant, that the Lakers are much better during the minutes he’s off the floor.
This season isn’t going to be a success, and it won’t be filled with happy moments for the Lakers. It’s difficult to reach those when there’s a player who is above and separate from the team. An isolated entity, getting full protection from a weird head coach, while he helps sinks the team further and further down towards the lowest point possible, which is slightly above where the even more pathetic Brooklyn Nets are.