So much was made of Kobe Bryant’s declaration of the Los Angeles Lakers being his team, but I’m not quite sure what the issue is? In fact, I’ll take it a step further and say he showed great restraint by even dignifying NBA.com analyst Craig Sager’s (and later followed up by Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLA.com) questions about whom this current edition of the Lakers ‘belongs’ to in the first place. Aside from stating the obvious (Buss family), I wouldn’t have faulted Bryant for resorting to the famed Bryce Harper (MLB) response of, “that’s a clown question, bro.” In fact, as you can see in the following clip, he nearly did, only in true ‘Mamba’ fashion:
The fact that he is even asked such a question, in my opinion, is ridiculous. Not because the additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard deserve no merit whatsoever, but due to the derisive undertone and provoking nature of the question in itself.
Of course, all of us should have seen this coming, as the overwhelming national media narrative coming into the training camp has been whether chemistry concerns/issues would derail the high hopes of Lakers players, owners, and fans alike. You’ve even had a plethora of opposing players going out of their way(s) to cast a disparaging shadow over what promises to be an incredibly entertaining season.
I don’t have to go into the details of Bryant’s Hall-of-Fame career in order to explain why he is still the leader of this team. We all know his credentials, and witnessed him maintain a high level of output with last year’s roster that lacked other play-makers. The difference is, this year (with the additions of Nash and Howard) you’re likely to see Bryant’s most efficient year over the past decade.
Sure, the points per game may dip a bit, but I fully expect his shooting percentage and assists to increase. Bryant has shown an obvious willingness to distribute and share the offensive responsibilities when he has teammates he can trust and rely upon to give a consistent effort each night. If you’re still judging Bryant as the brash, shoot-first/second/third guy he may have been seven or eight years ago, I simply don’t know what games you’ve been watching.
Is Bryant a high-volume shooter at times? Of course. He’s got a scorer/assassin’s mentality, but that won’t prevent him from finding a teammate that shows a desire and ability to score. In walks a legendary floor general and hungry beast on the block, and out goes that concern.
By the way, (speaking of the hungry big man) have you heard the news on Dwight Howard’s potential pre-season return? Yes, contrary to what so many hyperbole-driven ESPN analysts have been carelessly throwing out there (Dwight WON’T be back until January), Howard is actually ahead of schedule and is potentially targeting the preseason to make his Lakers debut.
Hopefully, I’ll be back for some pre-season games,” Howard said. “I think we’re going to need it for chemistry and all that stuff. But, like I said, I’m not going to rush it. I’m going to continue to practice. We’ve had some great practices. Today was really good, so I’m happy.
Lakers beat writer Dave McMenamin also reported that although Howard has already been ruled out for Sunday’s (Oct 7th) opening pre-season game, (according to the team) Howard wants to play in one or two pre-season games. The happiest man on the court will be the aforementioned Bryant, as he looks as though he is at total peace with the eventual transition. All he seems to be asking is for the rest of us not to force that negative tension upon the team before they’ve even had an opportunity to play together.
As you can see, when asked about the subject about passing the torch (again), although he is unequivocal in his reiteration of whose team it is currently, he is very quick and clear about his intention to fully prepare Dwight Howard to take the team into the future. Much like a young Magic Johnson may have been the best player on the Lakers during the early 1980’s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was still the respected leader of the team during Johnson’s first few seasons.
Could you have imagined the media or fans having the audacity to ask Abdul-Jabbar if those Lakers were Magic’s team in 1980? Even after the epic and storied Game 6 vs Philadelphia, no one would have dared ask such a question, because it simply wasn’t necessary. Eventually, Abdul-Jabbar, while still very effective, willingly watched Magic step forward, and the same is bound to happen as Howard develops into a true leader as he absorbs Bryant’s commitment to excellence.
As of now, while Howard continues to develop as a leader this is still Bryant’s team, and I’m fine with that.