Yes, you read that headline right: It is time for the Los Angeles Lakers to part ways with Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers need to let the Black Mamba go. Giving Bryant up is the bold decision Los Angeles needs to make to revitalize a team in flux.
The Bryant era has been a strange yet incredibly productive one for the Lakers. Bryant led Los Angeles to five titles and is currently the Lakers’ all-time leading regular season scorer with 29,914 points.
In fact, Bryant is the fourth all-time NBA leader in points with 31,617, only behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan.
As remarkable as Bryant’s tenure with the Lakers has been it is time to say goodbye. Ironically, the main reason for the Lakers to trade Bryant is the same one that was supposed to buy him more time in purple and gold.
Everyone said the success or failure of the Lakers’ newly formed Big Three would determine the future of the franchise, and they were 100 percent right. Based on this season, that future should not include Bryant.
After acquiring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Lakers were expected to take the West by storm and become the greatest threat to the Miami Heat’s bid for repeating as NBA champions. Despite making the playoffs as an unlikely seventh seed, the Lakers’ Big Three just never clicked.
Unless the Lakers somehow pull off what would be a ridiculous upset against the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs, their season will be remembered for an early coaching change, locker room turmoil and Bryant’s Twitter account.
Bryant admittedly had as prolific a season as ever, averaging 27.3 points per game, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds. But he never figured out how to play with Howard, who clearly wants to be the man on this Lakers squad.
If the Lakers are smart they will hand the keys to the franchise to Howard.
Here are the options: Howard is a 27-year-old, 6’11” Adonis who is by far the best center in basketball. During a season where he was plagued by back problems he still averaged a double-double with 17.1 points per game and 12.4 rebounds (not to mention 2.4 blocks).
Bryant may have history with the Lakers, but he is 34-years-old and is currently suffering from a torn Achilles that will probably leave him sidelined for a good portion of next season. Who knows if he will ever be the same when he comes back.
The Lakers clearly need to make some changes in the offseason. Their front office has an important decision to make. Will they center the team on a hobbled Kobe or the young and dominant Howard?
The last two games of the regular season showed what life might be like on a Howard-centric team. The sample size is way too small to draw any conclusions from, but it is telling that the Kobe-less Lakers won both games by spreading the love on offense much more.
On April 14 the Lakers beat the Spurs 91-86. Howard finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds, par for the course. Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison picked up the offensive slack with 23 and 15 points respectively.
The April 17 contest was even more indicative of a more balanced Lakers attack. Five Lakers finished in double figures (including a Paul Gasol triple-double) as the Lakers downed the Houston Rockets 99-95 in overtime.
Without Bryant, the Lakers’ offense no longer is “get the ball to Kobe and stay out of his way.” Instead, their offense runs through the big men, which creates more one-on-one post-ups and easy jumpers for Blake or Nash.
Gasol is known as one of the better passing big men in the league. Howard has also shown a willingness to give up the ball when an opening is not there for him near the basket. Only on the Lakers will you see a pick-and-roll between the power forward and the center, and only on the Lakers would it work.
The point here is that the Lakers’ offense has the potential to be much more dynamic without Bryant. The team could still use a few more defensive stoppers, but that is nothing the draft and/or free agency cannot cure.
Speaking of which, unloading Bryant’s salary would free up a lot of cap space to sign a free agent or two. Bryant is currently on the last year of his contract and will have the option to become a free agent next year. The Lakers could use this opportunity to get some value for him before he may decide to leave on his own.
Bryant will be paid $27.8 million by the Lakers this season, which according to Forbes makes him the highest-paid player in the NBA. Unloading that contract will not be easy, but there has to be a team or two with a rich owner who is willing to take a chance on an ailing Bryant’s return to glory.
The Lakers could dip into the 2013 free agency pool and sign, say, an Andre Iguodala who would fit in well with a new, balanced system.
Anyone who thinks trading Bryant sounds crazy needs to think long term. If the Lakers want to build a real contender then they need to hand the reigns to Howard and amicably part with Bryant.
This is not personal—it is strictly business. The Lakers’ investment in Bryant is about to stop returning a profit. To maximize future success, Los Angeles needs to transition from the Bryant era to the age of Howard.