It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are bad this year. LA is tied with Utah as the second worst team in the Western Conference. The Lakers are 6.5 games out of a playoff spot already, missing its coveted rookie Julius Randle and allowing the most point per game by any team in the league. It has been a rough year. Through all of its previous struggles, LA still has had its Golden Boy, Kobe Bryant. But the Golden Boy is starting to fade.
Bryant’s scoring, rebounding and assist numbers are pretty much on par with his career averages but his shooting is worse than ever. Kobe has been accused of being a bit of a ball hog in his time in the NBA but now more than ever he is taking even more shots. Maybe that is a product of the mostly average, if not mediocre supporting cast Bryant has played with this season. It should not mean that Bryant needs to be taking 22 shots per game. That is three more than Kobe has average throughout his career up to this point. That is not a huge difference, but it hasn’t led to any more production from the Lakers’ guard. He is shooting at a miserable career low 37.2% from the field. Bryant is only one of two players in the league taking at least twenty shots a game. The other is LaMarcus Aldridge and he is shooting converting on 45.1% of his attempts, well above Kobe’s conversion rate. Kobe is making the same number of shots he always has on even more attempts. Maybe it’s time to start spreading the ball around a bit more.
Several of Bryant’s teammates have that idea themselves. Lakers’ point guard Jeremy Lin told the press after Kobe missed his second game winning shot in a week that he, Lin, would like to have the opportunity to take a buzzer beater. Another Laker, Nick Young actually has had some success taking crucial late-game shots and has expressed that he would like a couple more touches himself. Clearly, I am not the only who thinks taking the ball out of Kobe’s hands might be worth some consideration.
It’s not as if the 18-year veteran is the picture of perfect health either. The Lakers have begun sitting Bryant just to rest him and he is still not completely back to the form he had prior to tearing his Achilles tendon. Slowly but surely, Kobe is seeing his game decline. He might have finally topped Michael Jordan on the scoring list but that is not a testament to his current skill. He simply played long enough to hit that mark. It definitely underlines his longevity in the league but that tenure has to be reaching an end.
The Lakers have looked better without Bryant in some games this year, including a win this week over Golden State. Los Angeles showed the opposite though tonight in a twenty-point loss in Chicago. The truth is that having the third all-time scorer no longer makes a major difference. The Lakers are not any better with Bryant in the lineup than they are without him in the lineup. But at the same time, sitting Kobe does not benefit them either. Sure, he can score, but he cannot score as effectively anymore which, in many ways, mitigates the scoring capabilities Bryant brings. He could try becoming more of a distributor but that seems incredibly unlikely because of his confidence in his shot as well as the marginal talent around him. This year will be just a year for the Lakers to see if there is anyone on the current roster to keep past this season.
I think Kobe should just retire following the end of this season. He might be under contract for the following season as well but, his game is deteriorating and it does not seem too likely that the Lakers will be making any shocking turn around next season either. This team is going to need to build through the draft and hope it can land a big name star in the 2016 free agency class. I think Kobe should just go out before it gets even uglier than it already has become. It definitely will not be getting any better. I know this guy is an incredible competitor but even the best have to know when it is time to hang them up and step away for good. Kobe won’t be doing himself or his team any good coming back for another year. That’s my take on the aging Lakers’ star. Let me know if you share my opinion.