The Los Angeles Lakers have already admitted that this season is about Kobe Bryant, which puts the development of this team on hold. Bothersome injuries are making it difficult for Bryant to force his retirement tour on everybody recently. Him actually retiring earlier than announced because of those injuries could work out perfectly for everyone.
One of the worst things for Bryant’s health is having a head coach like Byron Scott who isn’t willing to butt heads with him. Bryant is playing 30.4 minutes per game, something no one has ever done on their 20th season. The team’s trainer, Gary Vitti, thinks shutting down Bryant from time to time for a week or maybe more, especially now, could be good for him and help him finish this season still running. Bryant isn’t having any of that, and Scott, who ran Bryant into the ground last season by playing him like he’s 25, isn’t stopping Bryant from doing too much once again.
And that may be the issue with Bryant retiring early. If he does, or simply gets shut down with an injury and doesn’t return, it means the Lakers can start playing something that looks a lot more like their featured lineup without “interruptions”. But Scott can’t be the head coach they’re counting on to move forward with, right? Do they fire Scott in the middle of the season? Is the guy they’re hoping would coach them available in the middle of the season?
It’s slightly funny, slightly sad to see an NBA team being held by the throat with one player doing the shakedown. But it’s been like this for years, and only getting worse with time. Maybe the Lakers offer some sort of spectacle value this season, with interesting players like Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell on the payroll, while many like to see the few times Bryant doesn’t go on an horrendous shooting spree, but overall, there’s very little value to what they’re seeing: So much of the basketball and action revolves around Bryant, and it means nothing as to what it’s going to look like 12 months from now, when the Lakers are free from this burden.
Bryant won’t give anyone (certainly not us) see him give up on his one last chance of being the center of attention. And after all, so much of this retirement announcement is about being given a shot to be headlining news tickers and twitter discussions. He hasn’t been one of the best players in the NBA for three years, maybe more. He’s been more harm than good on the Lakers for most of that time form a franchise and direction standpoint. But this season every game is his “last” something, giving him the opportunity to bask in some last, fading away threads of glory. It’s all gone once he actually retires, which is probably scary for him, as it’s been for anyone who leaves something he’s been doing since he can remember himself. The Lakers will be better for it, but as usual, Bryant doesn’t see it that way. It’s always been about him.