My church had a potluck (Make something that could possibly be tasty and bring it so you can eat things that are definitely tasty—I’m sure somebody needed that explanation) Sunday night. I wore my Lakers t-shirt. I think I wore it because they played Sacramento that evening (Yes, that’s true–they even won!). Anyway, people kept asking me “OMG Jordy are you a Lakers fan?!!?!!? Each time, it took me a minute or so to realize that I WAS WEARING A LAKERS SHIRT. Of course they’d ask me if I was a fan of the team!
Anyway, that’s the state of the Lakers, in my eyes. I don’t think any of their fans realize they root for the team at this point (I could be way wrong, obviously, but let’s just keep this narrative going). I know we’re talking about the Lakers, a team that people will even come to see when they’re the road team, a long history of legendary players (Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic, Kareem, James Worthy, Shaq, Kobe Bryant, Michael Cooper, George Mikan—we could go on for a while here). We live in a “what have you done for me lately?” world, though. Here are some “lately” moves:
- Traded for Dwight Howard (after he had a major back surgery, mind you, and did his part to ruin the Magic on his way out)
- Traded for Steve Nash, which could have been a really good move had it happened in…2003.
- Let Mike Brown, their coach at the time, say things (He’s a great coach, I think. He should never talk.)
- Panic fired Mike Brown, botched potentially bringing back Phil Jackson (not that awful, really) to bring in…Mike D’Antoni(??!!??). Mike D’Antoni walked out on the Knicks (call it what you want, he quit) just a few months before that
- Rolled out the red carpet to try to get Dwight Howard to stay, only for him to…uh, not.
- Sign Kobe Bryant to an extension. Kobe hasn’t played since this past spring, when he tore his Achilles tendon.
Now, let me clear up a few things:
- I do not dispute Kobe’s place in NBA history. He’s 4th(!!!!) on the all-time points scored list, while only playing in the 22nd-most games all-time (I can’t even think of 1239 times that I’ve done anything, if you wanted some silly comparison).
- Of players I’ve actually seen and remembered play basketball, Kobe is in the top five of my list (1. MJ, 2. LeBron, 3. Kobe, 4. Duncan, 5. uhhhh okay stop pulling my arm—Iverson)
- Take a look at Kobe’s player profile. I personally know a lot of people who are really good at what they do. Kobe is better at basketball than any of those people I know are good at what they do. We’re not here to debate those things.
- Everything that you probably know about the Lakers of today (and the past fifteen years, really) has involved Kobe Bryant in some facet. That’s not something to just bat your eyes at. He’s been able to remain relevant for a long time, and that does deserve some credit.
Okay, I think I can stop being nice now, right? Kobe’s last game was April 12. As a mentioned above, he tore his Achilles tendon during that game (okay, he did make two free throws after the injury, which means he might be an alien). If you scan a list of players who have suffered an injury like Kobe’s, (at the bottom) you’ll see that the prospects for a successful comeback aren’t very encouraging. I’ve waited until now to discuss that Kobe has played in the league for seventeen seasons. Not seven, not ten, not 11. Seventeen. How many effective basketball players do you remember who were still effective over the age of 34? You can get back to me when you have more than five.
But hey, what do the Lakers care? Kobe has to retire a Laker, everybody! So, with an upcoming free agent class that includes some dude named LeBron James, and with the Lakers already over the salary cap “threshold”, (it’s not like the NFL, where you HAVE to be under the cap, but whatever) the Lakers essentially guaranteed half of their salary cap to a guy in his mid 30s, who suffered a severe injury in the last game he played. I think Kobe Bryant is a fantastic player, but rewarding someone for past success with no eye on the future is idiotic, especially in sports! I tried to come up with a few reasons why this move by the Lakers makes sense, but look at how easily I talk myself out of them:
- Kobe Bryant gets to now retire a Laker. Okay, that’s really fantastic. But did he need a $50 million parting gift? I think the Lakers are simply refusing to put together the phrases like “torn Achilles,” “34 years old,” “17 seasons in the NBA” and “we haven’t done anything right as an organization in about six years.” The Colts told Peyton Manning bye. The Braves parted ways with Tom Glavine. The (Edmonton) Oilers shipped off Wayne Gretzky. The Cardinals let Albert Pujols walk. Nothing is guaranteed in life, much less sports. To think that there is some sort of law that says Kobe Bryant needs to retire with the Lakers is just plain silly.
- Sports is about loyalty. That’s an offensive statement if you’re using it to describe anything that involves Kobe Bryant. Sexual assault allegations aside, I’m not even sure if Kobe is loyal to himself. Actually, 1 and 2 work well together. There won’t be another Kobe Bryant, but the Lakers will continue to play basketball. The NBA will continue to exist. We’ll all move on. “Loyalty” is not something that you pay $50 million to.
- The Lakers could totally get another star to play with Kobe! Yes, this is theoretically true. The Lakers will have about $20 million in “cap space” to sign other players for next season. Is there some sort of universe that could really contain LeBron and Kobe, or Kobe and Carmelo, or maybe even Kobe and Kevin Love (who’s not a free agent until after next season, but we’re dreaming big here, y’all) within the same team/locker room/team charter? I remember saying once that things always seem to work out for the Lakers, so maybe one of those combos I just mentioned actually comes to fruition. But until then, that’s some serious dreaming in Lakerland.
- Kobe is worth this much and more to the franchise. Is he sharing this money with any of us? He’s got the NBA, Nike, and probably other endorsements to generate money for himself. Why should it be anyone’s responsibility for him to get more? (Okay, this was a pretty weak point, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who were worried about Kobe’s money when his wife filed for divorce, and there were a few articles floating around about his “value“. I need to get someone to write about how I deserve—I dunno, 50 thousand dollars? Anyway, this isn’t about me.)
So there you have it. The Lakers are 7-7 (they’ve beaten the Clippers and the Warriors by double digits, mind you) with Kobe on the shelf and Steve Nash only wanting to play once a week(?!!??!!!?!???). That’s pretty impressive. You could talk yourself into Bryant and Nash returning to give the Lakers a strong team for the rest of the season. But now the front office (you may laugh and cry when you learn more about Jim Buss) has severely hampered the team’s future prospects for a guy who may not be anywhere near as good as he once was. Of course, they didn’t even have to do it!
Oh well, at least I still have an excuse to pretend that I’m not really kind of sort of a Laker fan for a little while longer.