Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour has finally come to an end, but it’s only the beginning for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The NBA’s glitziest franchise has been stuck in purgatory for the past few years and much of that has been thanks to Kobe’s unrelenting desire to continue being the face of the team. Can you blame him, though?
Kobe took the torch passed down throughout the decades from Jerry West to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Magic Johnson. If it wasn’t for Kobe, Lakers’ fans might still be clinging to yesteryear.
‘Black Mamba’ recognised his worth to the franchise and city, which remains well beyond what his salary paid him, and rightly cashed-in the maximum amount, even as his play on the court rapidly eroded.
You can make that the case the large chunk of money devoted to Kobe on the Lakers’ salary cap had been holding the team back from rebuilding, but this isn’t the Milwaukee Bucks we’re talking about.
Los Angeles’ premier team (even still as a brand) has never lacked for resources or appeal to bring in star players. The problem, however, was that Bryant didn’t turn himself into a selfless pillar on the court in the same vein as Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.
The same attribute that made Kobe so great and so unique (apart from Michael Jordan) – his constant unquenched thirst to be a pure killer – was the same reason he limped into retirement on a bottom-tier team.
Kobe went out gunning. Before Wednesday night’s swansong against Utah, he attempted 20.4 shots in 34.5 minutes even as he converted just 37.3 per cent last season and slightly reduced that to 16.4 attempts in 28.0 minutes this season, while making a paltry 35.4 per cent.
When he’s sharing the floor with his team-mates, there’s a sense that Kobe has to be fed. It bogs down their offence as it’s often forced, which in turn stunts the natural development of the young players, namely D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle.
Kobe’s departure will now allow the Lakers to hand the reins fully to the new building blocks, facilitating a full-on rebuild.
Even if they choose to trade their assets and look for instant success, the void has now been created for stars to step in and make this Lakers team their own.
There are no more toes to step on, no more egos left to bruise and no one left to answer to. There’s also no more farewell tour hanging over the team’s head and dominating the narrative of every game.
For this team to return to the success they’ve so often enjoyed, Kobe’s retirement was a must.
It’s the end of a storied era, but stories have endings and this one was running several chapters too long.
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