With every loss the Los Angeles Lakers are handed, Kobe Bryant finds it harder and harder to explain why he’s getting paid so much money. He could have taken the wiser, more team-friendly route of Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, but too much ego and selfishness will always cause empires to crumble.
It was Bryant and O’Neal’s ego a decade ago that tore a three-peat team and four time finalists apart. Bryant thinking he’s fighting some big fight in favor of the players against the owners by taking a $24 million a year contract while not deserving it and constantly justifying it while doing terribly on the floor in terms of efficiency and helping his team win just makes it clearer what the agenda is for Kobe.
Lakers fans, or at least most of them who appear on social media, defend him blindly. According to them, this is the worst group of NBA players ever assembled, which leaves Bryant no choice but to shoot and shoot and shoot. He’s only making things worse. He’s only destroying his legacy instead of adding to an incredible one. But Bryant, like his die-hard fans, don’t really care or want to listen.
Tim Duncan took a massive pay cut in order to help the San Antonio Spurs, making $9.6 million in 2012-13, $10.4 million in 2013-14 (and winning the NBA championship) and will be making $10 million this season. He could have signed a bigger contract. Maybe not a max at the point he re-signed, but obviously more than $30 million for over three years, exercising his player option for this season, maybe his last in the NBA.
Dirk Nowitzki did the same. After his latest deal expired in 2014, Nowitzki knows the Mavericks can only compete for an NBA title and move back up after two rough years (not making the playoffs in 2013 and a first round exit in 2014) by taking a pay cut. He signed a three-year deal worth $25 million, which includes a player option for the third season (2016-17). It’s probably going to be his last.
Duncan will retire from the NBA with at least five championship rings to his name, and without the reputation of someone who is the cause for the Spurs’ decline, if they ever actually decline, which is doubtful considering Popovich is running this ship like the captain in Master & Commander. Bryant hates knowing that. Shaquille O’Neal isn’t too happy with it either, but that’s a different story, about another player who has too big of an ego.
Nowitzki might not get another championship, but he won’t be remembered as someone who pretty much forced his franchise into a terrible spot, taking away their chance to compete. Nowitzki and Duncan don’t have the market appeal of Bryant, but they’re probably just as good as him, even if they don’t score the same amount of points. They just help out in other ways. One of them is taking the pay cut when they could have asked for more. Another is by simply not shooting the ball at every opportunity.
Zach Lowe makes it seem like something incredible to see Bryant do his thing, which means taking 25 shots or more a game while ignoring everyone else. But the truth of the matter isn’t as romantic or worth sympathizing with. Bryant puts himself, not the team, first. It’s not about glory anymore, or championships. Bryant thinks he deserves to be paid this kind of salary, but forgets he doesn’t exist in a vacuum. He didn’t give the Lakers a chance to compete, unlike what he says. He doomed them to a terrible season.