Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have been here before. Five years ago to be exact. They know they have one great player, but the team around him, built to grant him yet another championship ring, isn’t good enough, and crumbled around him in the few moments he tried to get a breather.
In the last three games between the Thunder and the Lakers in this series it’s been pretty similar. Bryant exploding by ignoring the rest of his teammates, especially in crunch time, while the rest of the starting five finish in double figures or close to that. On the other side of the court, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden combine for 60-70 points and the rest falls down to guys who step up and how well the Lakers defend.
With their backs against the wall in Game 5, no one really showed up except for Bryant, who wasn’t trying to make his teammates feel better about themselves. It’s everyone’s fault – The guys playing with him, who can’t seem to do anything right by themselves. His coach. The front office, who made mistakes with trading/not trading.
So Bryant scored 42 points. The most he has in the series. It didn’t make the Lakers look better. It didn’t even keep them in the game, as the Thunder ran away in the fourth quarter. Bryant took 33(!!!!) field goal attempts. He hasn’t shot this many since the 2009 NBA Finals, pulling up for 34 against the Orlando Magic. That Lakers team, with a younger Pau Gasol, with a better Lamar Odom, won the NBA title. This time, Bryant finished with o assists and 1-6 from beyond the arc.
Can Bryant really do whatever he wants? On one hand, he sees Gasol slowly fading away, Ramons Session realizing once again that postseason point-guarding is nowhere near what he did in the regular season, an empty bench and Andrew Bynum simply not giving it his all on both ends of the floor when things aren’t going well for him.
These Lakers rely on Bryant. Even at his age, after so many battle scars, he’s still capable of doing incredible things. But it doesn’t win games anymore. Not without Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. While Bynum had a very good regular season, he took a step back in the postseason and in the series against the Thunder.
The physicality of Perkins and Ibaka in the paint and the harder job of coming out to stop the penetrating Thunder players made him regress. Not a man for challenges and hard work when he’s in the spotlight, when he’s the one eyes are turned to. Instead of standing by Bryant and trying to take over this game, Bynum decided that responsibility isn’t his cup of tea.
So where do the Lakers go from here, and more importantly, where does Bryant? I offered trading Bryant and rebuilding the whole thing earlier this season. Despite what this team has shown from time to time, the core of the problems from the beginning of the year haven’t changed. Bynum may be a better player than before, but that doesn’t change his personality and his will for struggles and battle. Bryant remains the go to guy, and the rest just stand aside, hoping they don’t get called up to make a play.
But the Lakers are back in the same position, that’s the main issue. Trading Gasol or Bynum is a must if Bryant isn’t really even close to being on the table. It’s the same situation from five years ago, just Bryant is older and despite his numbers, not as good as he was. These huge scoring efforts come at a price to the team. Now what will be the price that finally convinces them to make a move with one of their big men so they become more than a second round playoff team?