As great as Kobe Bryant has been, his words on Tuesday about Shaquille O’Neal are a major reason why the Los Angeles Lakers would have been better served to amnesty him prior to this season.
Bryant told the New Yorker:
“It used to drive me crazy that he was so lazy,” Bryant told me. “You got to have the responsibility of working every single day. You can’t skate through (expletive).”
Two things jump out of those quotes. First, that Kobe doesn’t know how to let things go.
Kobe and Shaq have not shared the court together since the 2003-2004 season. His passion in the quote sounds like this is a recent occurrence. Greater still, for all his whining about Shaq being in shape, they found a way to win three NBA titles and play in four NBA Finals.
The second thing that jumps out is that he holds everyone to his standards.
Kobe’s standards work for him. They are what make him great, but that doesn’t work for everyone. As much as people wanted Shaq to work harder and get in better shape, in eight seasons with the Lakers he averaged 28 ppg and 11.8 rebounds. Whatever he was doing was working.
The reason the Lakers should have let Bryant go is because he doesn’t let things go. He still thinks he is a top-five player in the NBA. He would be offended if anyone told him different. He still thinks he can be the main cog in a championship caliber team. Unfortunately, that is just no longer true.
Bryant not only thinks he should be the main offensive focal point of the team, he thinks that his approach is the way back to an NBA title.
One of the main reasons Dwight Howard is playing with the Houston Rockets and not the Lakers is Bryant. He would have never stepped back and let Howard become the focal point of the team.
According to NBCsports.com in 2012 Bryant said, “You think I’d hang around and average 18 points, 19 points… hell no.”
The problem is, now, that is probably who he is and he won’t accept it as fact. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t close out games, but his ego is too big to step back and not dominate the ball. His last healthy season, Bryant took 20.4 shots per game, and he will expect that same kind of green light when he returns.
Over the next two seasons the Lakers will pay Bryant $48.5 million basically for what he has done in the past. For nostalgic purposes, it is a wonderful idea. For the business of winning basketball games, it makes no sense. Sometimes a team has to let an all-time great star walk away.
Hakeem Olajuwon ended his career with the Toronto Raptors. Patrick Ewing played for the Orlando Magic and Seattle Sonics after leaving the New York Knicks. Karl Malone left the Utah Jazz and played for the Lakers. All the aforementioned players are remembered as members of their original team and leaving did not diminish their legacy.
For the next two seasons as the Lakers attempt to move forward, they are stuck with an aging player who refuses to give up getting back to the glory days and thinks his way is the only way.
Bryant is similar to Hulk Hogan in the sense that he still thinks he is the main event; if only the NBA were scripted.
The Lakers are banking on 2015 being the summer that they return to prominence. It will be interesting to see how Bryant affects whatever plans the team has.